Thursday, August 28, 2008

COAH, Mt. Laurel, and Fines For Disaster Victims in New Jersey

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, along comes this story. According to the Star-Ledger on August 26, 2008:

Thomas and Jacqueline Ferraro of Sussex County lost their home in a fire in March. They want to rebuild but are ensnared in the tentacles of the state's affordable housing law that now requires disaster victims to comply with the expensive fees developers and businesses face.

Because the Ferraros' house burned, it is considered a demolition and that triggers a Council on Affordable Housing fee under regulations that took effect June 2, said state Sen. Steve Oroho (R-24th Dist.) of Franklin…

In the Ferraro case, depending on which formula is used, that could range from a few thousand to nearly $20,000, borough officials said.

“It's the height of absurdity,” said Oroho, who wants COAH to exempt the Ferraros and Franklin Borough from the fee. “I'm in disbelief that this could happen, that a family who lost their home in a fire would be charged with something.”

One thing not made clear in the article is whether the Ferraro home is a subsidized “affordable housing unit.” If so, then the strings that come attached to that subsidy (the “fee”), however outrageous, is the price of dependence on government “favors.” But since not specifically stated, I must assume that it is not. This makes this case particularly egregious. Either way, it highlights the unjust and dictatorial powers of this monster called the state “Council on Affordable Housing.” That it has the power to arbitrarily force some people to subsidize the housing needs of others is a gross violation of individual rights. It is no more right to impose that fee on developers and businesses and towns (i.e., other taxpayers) than it is on the Ferraros.

In protesting this “fee,” Michael Cerra states that “The problem isn't the town's implementation of the fee, the problem is the regulation itself.”

No, it is COAH itself. COAH, however, is not the fundamental problem, but a consequence. It is an outgrowth of the Mount Laurel Supreme Court rulings, which was a consequence of the exclusionary zoning practices of municipalities across New Jersey. And the root of those zoning practices is those very zoning powers themselves.

In a related article by Tom Hester published the same day in the Star-Ledger, lawyer Stuart Koenig “said that for Bernards to meet a state demand for 206 affordable houses and apartments, it would have to allow developers to erect 1,131 units by 2018.”

By what right does Bernards (or any town) claim to “allow” or disallow private development on private property? It has the power, yes. But what right? Rather than a particular COAH regulation, what should be questioned is the very government zoning and land-use power that is at the root of the problem. Rolling back the so-called “home rule” powers of local governments, not the shifting of those powers to state agencies like COAH, is the answer.

Had local governments not interfered with the economic activities relating to the housing market, there would have been much greater availability of housing at much lower prices than we currently have. (There are a number of causes for the affordable housing crisis in NJ, but restrictive zoning and planning board practices is a major one.) By imposing these restrictions on land use, property owners are effectively barred from selling their land at market prices, builders from constructing housing to meet market demand, and potential buyers are frozen out of the market by artificially inflated prices and lack of supply in many locations.

Mike McNeil of Lakewood, the NAACP housing chairman, said “It's not just racism, it's not just because you are working poor. Someone says you are building affordable housing and they automatically assume the people are jobless and out on the street.” There is undoubtedly an element of truth to that statement. But it misses the point. When local groups use municipal zoning powers to impose land-use restrictions…whether for reasons of race, income level, preserving the “quality of life” of existing residents, esthetics, or to impose their own utopian vision of what the “character” of “their” town should look like, etc…they are violating the individual rights, including property rights, of property owners, builders, and homebuyers to enter into voluntary contractual agreements for the sale of property, and the construction and purchase of homes. (Never mind the “rights” of the local groups. Rights belong to individuals, and only individuals. There is no such thing as group rights.)

This does not mean that builders and property owners can do as they please regardless of the consequences to others. The government’s proper role is to protect individual rights. The builder cannot, for example, design his project so as to allow stormwater runoff to flood adjacent properties…or install insufficient sanitary waste removal facilities that can contaminate the property of others. In these or similar instances, the government can properly step in to require corrections and the payment of restitution to the affected property owners, as determined in a court of law. But as long as the builder causes no physical harm to the property or lives of others, he has violated no one’s rights and thus should be free to build according to his best market judgement.

There is a strong demand here in New Jersey for affordable housing. The answer to the housing affordability problem is not to impose arbitrary “fees” to artificially create “affordable housing.” The solution is to eliminate the source of the problem…government impediments. The property and housing markets should be liberated from the tyranny of local “planners” using the illegitimate and un-American zoning powers of municipal governments to create “ideal” communities at the expense of individual rights, and to the exclusion of large segments of the population. So long as no one else’s rights are violated, the location, price range, and quantity of residential development should be determined by the voluntary, uncoerced judgements of landowners, homebuilders and homebuyers…i.e., by the free market…and nothing else.

The NJ Supreme Court was right to address the “exclusionary zoning” issue, but their solution was worse than the disease. Rather than grant to the state the power to impose housing mandates on local communities and citizens, they should instead have rolled back the “home rule” authority of towns to arbitrarily block the construction of the low and moderate-income housing that the market demands.

Post Reference 37

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Poor Choice in TX 18 CD

John Faulk is a republican seeking to unseat incumbent democrat Sheila Jackson Lee in the 18th congressional district in Texas. Ms. Lee is a sponsor of H.R. 676. Below is my response to his comments regarding my post of August 18, 2008.

Mr. Faulk’s latest comments sound more promising, as they indicate that he understands the stakes involved in H.R. 676 as well as in the upcoming election. He seems to understand that the GOP leadership is essentially intellectually bankrupt, and in need of new blood. I also respect the fact that he is willing to run against an entrenched socialist congresswoman.

But his comments mask an agenda that is every bit as dangerous as that of his opponent, Sheila Jackson Lee. In examining his platform, I find an unprincipled hodgepodge of pragmatic, contradictory, middle-of-the-road positions, which is far worse than ineffectual, considering the stakes involved in this year’s election. Up against an openly collectivist/socialist opponent, no principled defense of free-market capitalism or individual rights is to be found. For example:

*On education, he is fully committed to the public schools, simply wanting to reduce federal intrusion into local schools. What’s needed is to break the government’s public school monopoly with such ideas as tax credits (but not vouchers) which enable parents to use their education tax dollars to educate their own children with their own money before it goes to the public school system. It’s probably too much to ask any modern politician to endorse what is really needed…the complete privatization of American education. But tax credits are a good start in the direction of an education free market, because they break the government’s guaranteed tax take for its schools, while enabling parents to exercise their rights to control their own children’s education.

*On energy, taxes, and Social Security, he is weak and vague. Under Social Security, Mr. Faulk states that “We have to learn to not depend on the Government for our welfare, happiness, or our retirement.” Then where is the call for, at the very least, personal self-directed accounts within S.S., let alone making it voluntary or phasing it out? Where is the call for an end to the graduated income tax? Of Medicare? He opposes eminent domaine “abuse,” but not eminent domaine…an untenable position. And strangely, despite it being perhaps the most pressing domestic issue in the coming election, there is no position presented in his platform concerning least that I could find.

Mr. Faulk would fight “a National Health Care Plan and all of the other socialist plans to destroy the United States of America.” What about the existing socialist plans that are slowly destroying the United States of America? Mr. Faulk’s platform is a hodgepodge of weak, inconsistent and ineffectual generalities that is worse than no opposition at all.

But the real danger lies in the following:

*On judicial appointments, Mr. Faulk clearly doesn’t respect the American doctrine of church-state separation, our crucial protection of religious liberty (which includes the right to hold no religious beliefs at all). He states that he supports “people with good judgment, proven values, a belief in God.” Who’s proven values? Those who have “a belief in God?” Mr. Faulk states that “it is important that those sitting on the bench understand that they have a responsibility to strictly interpret our nation’s laws and not legislate from the bench with their own political or social agenda (emphasis added).” A “strict interpretation” of the U.S. Constitution clearly forbids a religious test “as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (Article VI, Section 3). A belief In God is clearly a religious test. He also indicates that he supports a legal ban on abortion. As a father of two and grandfather of six, I can certainly identify with the statement that “the unborn are precious.” But they do not and cannot have rights, for that would negate the rights of the mother to decide if her fetus “should be protected.” America was founded on the revolutionary principle of unalienable individual rights. If a woman’s right to abortion…i.e., to control her own body…is violated, then rights are not unalienable, and America’s ideals go up in smoke. Much as I abhor abortion in most circumstances, the bid to outlaw abortion is an attempt to impose a religious position on the entire country.

*Mr. Faulk is for the marriage amendment. I am not exactly for gay marriage. But neither would I forbid gays their individual rights. A marriage is a legal contract that no one should be forbidden to enter into, based on the principle of inalienable individual rights, possessed by all people at all times. No religious organization should ever be compelled to sanction practices (such as gay marriage) that violate its doctrines. But neither does it have the right to impose its doctrines on the nation. The marriage amendment in fact inverts the purpose of our constitution as well as the proper function of government, which is to protect the rights of the individual…all individuals. It would use the constitution to impose the social agenda of some on others, something Mr. Faulk claims to oppose when it comes to judges (see above). It would set a dangerous precedent of turning the constitution into an instrument for violating, rather than protecting, individual rights.

*The same goes for the Right to Life Amendment, which would obliterate America’s primary founding principle of unalienable individual rights, as I stated in regards to abortion. The Right to Life Amendment, the Marriage Amendment, the religious test for judges…all represent the imposition by law of a religious agenda…a profoundly un-American platform.

I get the feeling that you would like to debate the Health Care Plan in the committee rooms of the House. I want to defeat Sheila Jackson Lee and National Health Care in the BALLOT booth.

Debating "in the committee rooms of the House" would be an exercise in futility. The politicians in that committee room were put there by their constituents, and are beyond debate on the fundamental issues. My purpose is to fight on the battleground of ideas in order to change the minds of the people who put those politicians into that committee room.

I think the demographics of TX 18 CD have changed enough for me to win. Will you help me defeat Sheila Jackson Lee? Why not?

I don’t expect any modern politician to present a platform that I could fully agree with. But I look for certain principles embodied in a candidate’s overall views…those being individual rights, limited government that defends those rights, and free market capitalism. Advocating a consistent platform based on those principles would require a willingness to risk losing elections in the short term. It means challenging the sacred cows of the status quo but, more importantly, presenting dynamic, positive new ideas as an alternative. It takes time to educate people and build support, but that kind of long-term investment in ideas is what is required to reverse the current statist, anti-capitalist tide in America. Mr. Faulk is not that politician.

Tyranny by any other name is still tyranny. Mr. Faulk is no advocate of individual rights. In fact, he is a poster child for the modern GOP…a “moderate” owned by the religious right. Defeating Ms. Lee would simply replace a socialist with a theocrat. I support individual liberty. Therefor, I cannot support Mr. Faulk or any like-minded Republican.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Victory For Homeschoolers...Or Is It?

In my post of April 6, 2008, entitled Is Your Child State Property? I wrote about a California court ruling that effectively outlawed homeschooling. Having unleashed a storm of outrage, that same court has recently overturned its own ruling.

But Ayn Rand Institute legal analyst Thomas A. Bowden sees it for what it is…a superficial victory.

He writes in an op-ed:

But where’s the real victory for parents’ rights? Rights identify actions you can take without permission. A true victory would have been a judicial declaration that parents have an absolute right to control their children’s upbringing--and that they therefore don’t need government permission to educate their children as they see fit.

Instead, as this decision makes clear, California’s parents are expected to accept the status of perpetual supplicants, knees bent and backs bowed down to an all-powerful legislature that can decide at any moment to revoke its homeschooling “permission.”

To give parents a permanent victory, California would need to make its law consistent with America’s founding principles. Parents are sovereign individuals whose right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness includes the right to control their child’s upbringing. Other citizens, however numerous or politically powerful, have no moral right to substitute their views on child-raising for those of the father and mother who created that child.

Instead, a proper legal system recognizes and protects parents’ moral right to pursue the personal rewards and joys of child-raising.

By confirming that homeschooling is legal in California (at least for the time being), the recent court decision will undoubtedly quiet the shockwaves that were threatening to impact the apologists for government education--teachers’ unions, educational bureaucrats, and politicians. Their political and financial survival depends on a policy that treats children as, in effect, state property--but they have nothing to gain, and everything to lose, when the undiluted collectivism of that policy is trumpeted publicly.

The defenders of public schooling can now go back to papering over their system’s own failures--the very failures that helped fuel the homeschooling movement…

As the smoke clears from the current round of litigation, the battle lines remain as they were, clearly drawn. Are parents mere drudges whose social duty is to feed and house their spawn between mandatory indoctrination sessions at government-approved schools? Or are they sovereign individuals whose right to guide their children’s development the state may not infringe?

The answer could determine not only the future of homeschooling but the future of education in America.

Confronted with an explicit demonstration of tyranny in America, millions of people responded in typical American fashion…rebellion. But make no mistake, the government-run public school monopoly is itching to shut down all private education in America…including pre-school. The California court reversal is only a tactical retreat for them. The underlying cause that must be abolished is the government’s power to control education.

Homeschoolers and all advocates of educational freedom should not rest easy.

Monday, August 18, 2008

H.R. 676 (continued)

In response to my previous post, H.R. 676-The Battle is Joined , a congressional GOP candidate, Mr. John Faulk, left a comment to my essay. Rather than respond as a commentator, I thought it necessary to respond more forcefully. Hence, this post. His comment highlights the ineffectual way that most Republicans approach the crucial issues evident in this watershed election.

I have sent the following e-mail to the Faulk campaign:

Mr. John Faulk;

Re: comments left on my blog in response to my essay H.R. 676, The Battle is Joined;

H R 676 will have American Taxpayers picking up the health care cost for all 'RESIDENT" read that as illegal aliens. In Sheila Jackson Lee's supporting documents she states the 'VISITORS" to the USA will be given a National Health Care Card. Will we taxpayers have to pay for their trip to the sates also?
John Faulk
Help me defeat Sheila Jackson Lee

What you say is true enough, and it misses the point entirely. Would it make any difference if Sheila Jackson Lee dropped her demand for coverage for illegal aliens? NO! The issue is not who should be “covered” under HR676, but whether anyone should be forced into a government-run healthcare system at all.

As I made clear, the battle over HR676 or any other “universal healthcare” scheme is a moral fight involving the rights of the individual and the government’s proper role, which is to protect those rights. “American Taxpayers picking up the health care cost for all…illegal aliens” is a minor issue considering the enormous stakes involved in the Lee plan. By reducing the argument to one of who should or should not be “covered,” you are evading the essential issues involved, and thereby conceding defeat to the Sheila Jackson Lees of the nation.

I respectfully ask that you re-read and study my post, especially the links at the end of the essay. They provide a practical and moral roadmap to a true free market alternative to the dictatorial designs of Lee and her ilk. The fight over HR676 is a crucial one for America, which cannot be fought over minor technicalities. There is too much at stake here. If the Left is successful on HR676, it will not stop there. Food, clothing, shelter, higher education…the list is endless, and at the end of that road lies totalitarian socialism. The Dems have come down squarely on the side of the state against the individual. The GOP must offer a clear alternative, which means a principled, moral defense of individual rights.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be up to the task. Instead, I see one compromise after another after another. As a lifelong 59 year-old Republican, this is dismaying and demoralizing. Until the GOP steps up and re-establishes a principled commitment to free-market capitalism, limited government, and individual rights, it will continue to be hard for me to identify as a Republican.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan…I did not leave the Republican Party; the Republican Party left me.

Respectfully submitted;

Mike Zemack

Mr. Faulk's focus on the immigrant issue is an example of fighting with muskets a battle that should be fought with nuclear missiles. It is all too common to the current Republican Party. Mr. Faulk focuses on a technicality. The bill’s (HR 676) sponsors will likely compromise by acceding to his objection to including illegal aliens (and perhaps a few other points), the bill gets passed in a “show of bi-partisanship,” and the Left scores a major victory.

HR 676 cannot be challenged except at its root…by challenging openly and consistently the very sacred cow of Medicare itself. It was inevitable that this day would come. There is quite simply no way one can rationally support government-run medicine for people over 65, but not under 65. If Medicare is good for some, it is good for all. If the "Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act" is bad, then Medicare is bad for all and should be abolished. It’s either-or.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

H.R. 676-The Battle is Joined

“A political battle is merely a skirmish fought with muskets; a philosophical battle is a nuclear war.”-Ayn Rand

“This issue isn't about ideas, or theories, or philosophy, or idealism. It's about providing healthcare.”-Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)

To paraphrase Sean Connery in the movie, The Untouchables: “Isn’t it just like a liberal to bring a musket to a nuclear war!”

Just as was predicted decades ago, the enactment of the government takeover of medicine for seniors would become the springboard for a complete takeover of the entire healthcare industry. Having crippled the health insurance market while eroding the quality and availability of healthcare through Medicare and Medicaid, the socialists are now ready to complete the task. The takeover attempt began officially on January 24, 2007, immediately upon the convening of the new Democratic congressional majority in congress.

But the real battle is just beginning. On July 18, 2008, a town hall meeting-style congressional hearing hosted by two of the bill’s sponsors, Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) and John Conyers (D-MI), took place in Houston. The subject was H.R. 676. Here are the key provisions.

(a) Short Title- This Act may be cited as the `United States National Health Insurance Act (or the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act)'.

(a) In General- All individuals residing in the United States (including any territory of the United States) are covered under the USNHI Program entitling them to a universal, best quality standard of care.

(a) Requirement To Be Public or Non-Profit-
(1) IN GENERAL- No institution may be a participating provider unless it is a public or not-for-profit institution.

(a) In General- It is unlawful for a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act.
(b) Construction- Nothing in this Act shall be construed as prohibiting the sale of health insurance coverage for any additional benefits not covered by this Act, such as for cosmetic surgery or other services and items that are not medically necessary.
(Emphasis was added.)

What this amounts to is the enslavement of the doctors, a destruction of the incentive to invest in healthcare improvements, a violation of the fundamental human right to profit from one’s own productive work, a complete transfer to the state of the individual’s right to make his own healthcare decisions, a ban on the right to purchase health insurance outside of the government plan. In other words, this bill establishes a healthcare dictatorship in America.

To be sure, this is not the only “universal healthcare” plan floating around. But Objectivist Gus Van Horn, who attended the July 18, 2008 town-hall-meeting style congressional hearing, has posted a detailed synopsis of what transpired. He reported:

You may not be aware of this, but in January 2007, John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation (HR 676) which will, for all practical purposes, nationalize the medical sector. Last Friday, after having attended a meeting I had heard nothing about until two nights before it was to occur, I was horrified and angered to learn not only that fact, but that a sizable contingent of Congressmen are working feverishly to build support for this bill among various pressure groups while deliberately keeping the voting public -- supporters and opponents alike -- in the dark about its nature.

According to the OpenCongress web site, the bill has 90 co-sponsors. (The Library of Congress lists 78.) Literature passed out on behalf of Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), further claims that HR 676 has the support of 14 "national/international" labor unions, 33 state AFL-CIO federations, 19 "national/state" organizations (ranging from the Hip Hop Caucus to the American Medical Students Association), and thousands of physicians and nurses. (emphasis added)

This particular bill may be the rallying point around which all supporters of “universal healthcare” congeal.

Sylvia Bokor, who also attended the hearing and who supplied the above Conyers quote, said in a letter to the Houston Chronicle:

When healthcare does not deal with ideas, theories, philosophy or idealism, it can only deal with "practice" -- the practice of non-thinking, uneducated, brain-dead zombies who will stick a knife into you without an idea, theory, philosophy or ideal to guide their action. That's what socialize medicine boils down to. No wonder those speakers described themselves as "bleeding heart liberals." That organ, too, is no longer viable, having been bled out. [As reported on the FIRM website]

Another attendee left the following comment on Gus Van Horn’s website:

At one point Conyers spoke about doctors making $1M a year being opposed to 676 because they would have their “goose that lays the golden eggs” taken away. He was almost gleeful as he said this.

As sick as this was, I’m glad I went. It showed me how mean and petty our enemies truly are.

Mean and petty does not begin to describe the evil that lurks inside the soul of one who can make a statement of that kind. Who does Conyers think will be responsible for “providing healthcare”? But “providing healthcare” is not the motive of the socialist crowd. The government, in fact, cannot provide healthcare. Only doctors and pharmaceutical companies and other professional healthcare and health products professionals can do that. That $1M bucks is earned by doctors who actually do provide healthcare. That $1M bucks is peanuts compared to the priceless life-giving benefits provided to us by those doctors. If Conyers and his ilk really cared about “providing healthcare,” he wouldn’t be scheming to strip away the “golden eggs”…the hard-earned rewards…from those without whose vital talents there would be no healthcare for them to take over!

The true motive of the Conyers and the Lees of the world is, in part, power-lust and prestige-seeking. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Ayn Rand discovered the underlying evil behind that “golden eggs” statement. She called it hatred of the good for being the good.

With Obama and the Democrats set to sweep (seemingly) this fall, it appears that they are preparing to throw caution to the wind and go for broke. But with John Conyers declaring that “This issue isn't about ideas, or theories, or philosophy, or idealism,” he is effectively announcing a unilateral retreat from the intellectual battleground.

And therein lies their incredibly juicy Achilles heel. There is a reason why they want to avoid the field of ideas. Collectivism is a vampire that can’t stand the light of an intellectual opposition. Make no mistake, Rep. Conyers did not make an off-the-cuff statement. He meant it. “It's about providing healthcare.” Who would be against that? By keeping the battle on the concrete-bound, emotional level of discourse, the true nature of what is at stake…individual liberty on all matters concerning healthcare…can be conveniently obliterated.

The healthcare battle ahead is a philosophical/moral, not a political, battle. By and large, the GOP doesn’t seem to get it. So the fight will have to be fought at the grassroots. But armed with the right ammunition, this seemingly daunting task is far from hopeless. Letters-to-the-editor, blog posts, on-line forum activism, everyday conversations, letters to one’s congressmen…all can be effective ways to spread ideas.

Whether H.R. 676, or some other “universal healthcare” scheme dressed up with free market-sounding cliches, a sound grasp of the issues involved…especially the moral issues…is crucial to defeating the socialists. So, as Gus Van Horn has done, I am providing a list of resources for those who want to fight for their rights. There is plenty of ammunition here. Nuclear ammunition…of the kind that the Left doesn’t want to hear. A couple of articles are missing the moral component, but are valuable none-the-less in demonstrating concrete facts showing how government-run healthcare just doesn’t work. The list is published below.

The enemy is armed with muskets. We are armed with nuclear warheads…facts, truth, and moral certainty.


We Stand FIRM

Americans for Free Choice in Medicine

The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights

Essays and Articles:

Health Care is Not a Right

Ted Kennedy vs. Universal Healthcare: A Double Irony

Moral Health Care vs. “Universal Health Care”

The Right Vision Of Health Care

FAQ on Free Market Health Insurance

A Moral Outrage

Government Medical Care Always Becomes Political Medical Care

The Grass Is Not Always Greener: A Look at National Health Care Systems Around the World

Health Care in a Free Society: Rebutting the Myths of National Health Insurance


"Universal Health Care: The Wrong Prescription"

Friday, August 8, 2008

Eminent Domain- Always an Abuse

Zohar Laor reports in the Star-Ledger on a court victory for the victims of eminent domain in Long Branch, New Jersey. He reflects on the Kelo decision, calling it “a decision taken straight out of American mythology's Gotham City, [that] shocked conservatives, liberals & everyone in between by ruling that local governments may force property owners to sell out and make way for private economic development.”

In fact, though, that decision in Connecticut should not have shocked anyone. From as far back as the 19th century, eminent domain has been a tool of private parties to coercively advance their own economic interests. According to a Hoover Institution report:

Here again, we see nineteenth-century takings in which the government condemns land and immediately transfers it to a private party (i.e., a railroad company)…

The Supreme Court made clear the extremely close nexus between the taking of land for railroads and the public purpose to be served, circling back to questions of grave necessity, public use

The court reasoned that if government itself had the power to regulate commerce by building highways, bridges, and the like, then it would be a legal absurdity to insist that it could not — to use the modern parlance — outsource the work to a private corporation. (emphasis added)

Eminent domain “abuse” going on today is a logical consequence of historical trends, demonstrating again the incredible power of legal precedent. . Note that the court links the justification of eminent domain to the commerce clause (article 1, section 8) of the constitution, then “circling back” to that vague, undefinable term, “public use.”

I have left the following comments to Mr. Laor’s article:

The U.S. constitution is the greatest political document ever written, because it is the only one that holds the individual as the supreme value, on principle, and seeks to protect him and his inalienable rights from the power of the state. Unfortunately, the Founders allowed into the constitution certain unfortunate loopholes that violated its own principles. Eminent Domain is one of them.

When government acquires a power, such as eminent domain, to violate the rights of any of its citizens, it inevitably becomes the tool of any group able to gain access to the lever of that power. It becomes a means for some to achieve politically...i.e., by force...what it cannot achieve through voluntary, uncoerced persuasion and trade. It makes no difference what size that group is or what their purpose is. It makes no difference what compensation is paid to the victim. The end result is the same...the violation by some of the rights of others.

There is no essential difference between the taking of property for the benefit of a private developer, or for some "public" benefit such as roads, schools, or hospitals. Each represents the interests of some private person or group. Each is achieved through the negation of the rights of others. And each is immoral.

The modest pushback against the Kelo decision, while welcome, will be only a temporary reprieve from Eminent Domain's inevitable expansion to new levels of "abuse." As long as we accept as valid the fundamental premise that government can take by force the property of any law-abiding private citizen, for whatever purpose, there is no way to contain it long term. Eminent Domain must be confronted on principle as unjust and immoral, at all times and in all circumstances.

Like most Americans, I have for most of my life accepted eminent domain as a necessary evil. But the history of eminent domain, from the railroads of the 19th century to the present, has been one of steadily expanding reach and abuse. I have concluded, then, that an uncompromising stand against eminent domain on moral grounds...i.e., on the basis of individual the only viable position. There is simply no way one can fight eminent domain "abuse" by declaring it invalid...except when it meets one's own approval. There will always be some next person who views his exception as valid.

The only way to stop eminent domain abuse is to abolish eminent domain.

Mr. Laor’s heart is in the right place, as evidenced by his concluding comment:

This episode of abuse-of-power has ended on the side of justice but at the cost of time, money and anguish.
All for a battle which shouldn't even be fought in a free society.

But his allowance for “road, schools or hospitals” undercuts and negates his “gut” opposition to eminent domain. The inherent contradictions in that stance are manifest. It is OK to take private property to build a school, a road, or a hospital. But it is not OK to take private property so a developer can build condos, which will be filled with people who will use that school, that road, and that hospital…the very things that it is OK to take private property for. The “public” in public use applies only to the users of that school, road, or hospital, but not to that property owner thrown out to make room for them. Unless, of course, the displaced landowner happens to avail himself of the use of that school, road, or hospital…in which case he becomes the “public” in public use!

The power of ideas is inexorable. Bad ideas can be fought only by means of the consistent…i.e., principled…advance of better ideas. It is not enough to fight eminent domain abuse. Eminent domain is abuse.

Abolish eminent domain!

Post Reference 35

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Statistics...and Bounty Hunters

FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine) has shed some light on the nature of the statistics that “prove” that socialized medicine is better than our bruised and battered, but still semi-free, American healthcare system. Referring to a piece written by Dr. Linda Halderman, Dr. Paul Hsieh (Co-founder of FIRM), cites these excerpts from her article:

FAQ-If socialized medicine is so bad, why are infant mortality rates higher in the U.S. than in other developed nations with government or single-payer health care?

...According to the way statistics are calculated in Canada, Germany, and Austria, a premature baby weighing <500g is not considered a living child.

But in the U.S., such very low birth weight babies are considered live births. The mortality rate of such babies -- considered "unsalvageable" outside of the U.S. and therefore never alive -- is extraordinarily high; up to 869 per 1,000 in the first month of life alone. This skews U.S. infant mortality statistics.

...Forty percent of all infant deaths occur in the first 24 hours of life.

In the United States, all infants who show signs of life at birth (take a breath, move voluntarily, have a heartbeat) are considered alive.

If a child in Hong Kong or Japan is born alive but dies within the first 24 hours of birth, he or she is reported as a "miscarriage" and does not affect the country’s reported infant mortality rates.

As Benjamin Disraeli once observed, there are “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Also from FIRM, it appears that our government is getting desperate. Medicare and Medicaid are now employing bounty hunters to track down “greedy”doctors who “overcharge” the government-run programs for medical services. Dr. Hsieh, referring to Dr. Evan Madianos’ post at Med Politics, writes:

The article also describes in detail the "Kafka-esque" nightmare of Dr. Jeffrey E. Kaufman, a urologist accused of overbilling for drugs. Only after he spent "countless hours of unpaid work" submitting numerous records and appeals, did he finally clear his good name of the accusations of financial impropriety.

Many physicians don't even bother to dispute the charges but instead just pay the penalty, because "the cost to the practice of retrieving the corresponding record and forwarding the information could be 10 times that amount" of the requested fine.

If this program is implemented nationwide, I expect we'll see large numbers of RAC "bounty hunters" making money by alleging real or imagined billing errors by physicians who are caught in a maze of increasingly-complex Medicare regulations that no one can be reasonably expected to follow…

The end result will be that the bureaucrats and parasites who create no actual value will make out like bandits, while the producers (i.e., the physicians) get sucked dry.

When doctors are obliged to pay the salaries of their own destroyers, this takes us dangerously close to the nightmare scenario depicted in the classic novel, Atlas Shrugged.

But the most interesting comment comes at the end of Dr. Hsieh’s post:

(Of course some doctors have decided to opt of the Medicare altogether and adopt alternative practice models, such as concierge medicine. If Medicare continues to create disincentives for physicians, I expect this trend will accelerate, just as the large numbers of Baby Boomers hit retirement -- in which case things are going to get very interesting very quickly...)

This begs the question…what if the Left’s quest for a total government takeover of medicine is successful? What if doctors no longer have the option of going into “alternative practice models”? Will doctors who cannot submit to the government’s heavy-handed tactics yet have no private-practice alternatives simply leave the field? Who will replace them? Perhaps Dr. Hendricks, the surgeon in Atlas Shrugged who quit after the government takeover of healthcare, should be heeded here:

Let them discover the kind of doctors their system will now produce. Let them discover…that it is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled. It is not safe, if he is the sort of man who resents it- and even less safe, if he is the sort who doesn’t.

I suspect there will be a lot of Dr. Hendricks’

Monday, August 4, 2008

New Jersey's Assault on the First Amendment

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

That quote is widely attributed to Voltaire, although it may actually be a take-off of Voltaire’s "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write."

Either way, Voltaire speaks for anyone who cherishes his First Amendment rights, myself included.

On July 31, 2008, New Jersey’s Supreme Court expanded the reach of the state’s “anti-discrimination” statutes by declaring that “Making jokes and comments about a person's religion can create a ‘humiliating and painful environment’ and be a form of on-the-job discrimination…,” reports the New Jersey Star Ledger. According to staff writer Kate Coscarelli;

The New Jersey Supreme Court said remarks about someone's faith -- even as a form of ribbing or "breaking of chops" -- cannot be tolerated in the workplace.

Clarifying anti-discrimination law, the court declared that a person claiming religious-based harassment does not face a higher legal hurdle than people who claim they were discriminated against because of their sex or race.

"It is necessary that our courts recognize that the religion-based harassing conduct that took place ... in this 'workplace culture' is as offensive as other forms of discriminatory, harassing conduct outlawed in this state," Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote for a unanimous court.

The ruling holds the borough of Haddonfield in Camden County accountable for discrimination claims made by a Jewish police officer whose co-workers made crass comments -- claimed to be poor attempts at humor -- about his ethnicity and pasted stickers of the flags of Israel and modern Germany on his locker.

By now it should be obvious where we are headed. The power of legal precedent has been unleashed against our free speech rights and the First Amendment. As a result, we are witnessing the logical consequence…a steady reduction on what we are “allowed” to say. In other words, we are fast approaching the day when American citizens think and speak only by permission, not by right. At the end of that road lies dictatorship.

The First Amendment right to free speech is limited only when it can objectively and reasonably be proven to result in physical harm, or the threat thereof, to others. The proverbial “yelling fire in a crowded theater” is an example of that. (Indirect physical or material harm such as in the case of libel can be addressed through the civil courts.) In other words, only when the rights of others are violated can government properly intervene. Otherwise, the right in a free society to speak out is absolute.

But once we accepted a single breech in the absolute principle of free speech, the die was cast. From campaign finance laws, to “commercial” speech restrictions, to "hate” crime and “hate’ speech legislation (prevalent in Europe), to attacks on lobbyists, to laws against “offensive” speech, to FCC restrictions on “violence” and “obscenity” in media content, to the attempt to revive the “fairness-doctrine”…the government’s ever-expanding encroachment on our freedom is evident. All of these restrictions require the government to determine what is offensive, or hateful, or fair, etc…i.e., to engage in the coercive control of ideas. That kind of power in the hands of the state is inevitably the death knell for any free society.

If any politician were to openly advocate for the repeal of the First Amendment, he would be “tarred and feathered” at the polls. But the First Amendment is being systematically repealed, piece by piece, right before our eyes.

Those who are the victims of offensive or insensitive remarks, or of a “hostile” work environment, have the same free speech rights as the offenders. He can fight back verbally, and enlist the support of co-workers or his superiors to put a stop to it if necessary. He can form an ad hoc group to resort to social ostracism of bigoted offenders. In a worst case, he is free to quit and seek employment elsewhere, or start his own business. And, of course, there is that great strength that is the hallmark of a free society…rational, non-coercive intellectual and social activism. Or he can simply ignore the bigot, which is usually the best course of action except in the most extreme circumstances. As long as the initiation of or the threat of force is absent, the same free speech rights that enables the offender can be employed by the victim (or any motivated person) in a myriad of ways.

Short of instances where an employee’s actual rights are violated, it is the responsibility and right of the employer to determine what kind of behavior is appropriate in his workplace and what is not, and to act accordingly. Yes, some may face the injustice of being fired by an insensitive employer for being a “trouble-maker.” Never-the-less, what one does not have the right to do is to agitate for the negation by governmental action of anyone’s free speech rights, because that would also negate the rights of the innocent, including one’s own. If one person’s rights are violated, then the rights of all are violated.

Loyalty to any principle, including the principles underlying the First Amendment, requires…demands…that the rights of all are protected including those of its worst practitioners. Flag burners, Ku Klux Klaners, Nazis, Black Separatists, Communists, and there ilk all have the right to express themselves, however “offensive” that may be. The same goes for those who engage in verbally offensive behavior or who express discriminatory viewpoints. (The vandalizing of the property of others, such as with the pasting of stickers on another’s locker, is wrong and should be punished. But that is a property rights, not a free speech, issue.) The line that separates the vague and undefinable term “offensive,” or one’s right to discriminate (however irrational), from true harassment is determined by when the initiation or threat of physical force commences.

A government may enact bad policy and law. But as long as people are free to speak up, there is open the possibility for change. If there is a single turning point where a nation tips from freedom into outright tyranny, that turning point is at the juncture that separates the coercive power of the state from the individual’s ability to speak freely. By failing to protect the First Amendment rights of its worst practitioners, we are careening toward that tipping point. As distasteful as it may be to defend the rights of bigots or “harassers” …and it is very distasteful to me…that is what is required to defend the First Amendment. Our Constitution guarantees not what you can say, but that you can say it.

So to paraphrase Voltaire, I detest the kind of offensive and unjust racial, sexual, religious or any other kind of despicable language that is the target of the laws that led to the Court’s decision. But for the sake of the survival of a free society, I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Post Reference 34