Friday, July 29, 2011

The Resurrection of Ronald Reagan

The Democrats have re-anointed former Democrat Ronald Reagan into their party! They are lecturing Republicans to follow their hero’s example. But, what is the real lesson the GOP should draw from the Left’s sudden infatuation with Reagan?

Ronald Reagan is the icon of the modern conservative movement. He is also the only American politician that I have ever been passionate about. To be sure, he was a very mixed bag from an Objectivist perspective. But he stood for certain definite principles, even though in practice he was far from consistent. On the positive side, he went to bat for the productive members of society, he extolled the individual and the private sector against the state, and his agenda of income tax rate cuts, modest regulatory restraint, and sound Federal Reserve monetary policy ignited a nearly two decade long economic expansion that blasted Keynesian economics into the dust bin of history, despite its vampire-like reincarnation of the past few years. From the early 1980s to the late 1990s, unemployment, interest rates, and price inflation all trended steadily lower simultaneously. This was thought to be impossible according to Keynesian dogma (along with the 1970s “stagflation” – the combination of high price inflation and slow economic growth).

Perhaps the biggest blockbuster of his presidency was his policy towards the Soviet Union. He firmly championed, and pursued policies to reflect, the fervent belief that Soviet Communism was a house of cards that would collapse of its own weight if only the West would stop propping it up economically. The results were dramatic.

He had plenty of flaws and inconsistencies, however. He supported the New Deal, and as president signed a bill raising Social Security taxes in order to save it for 75 years (remember that?). He helped ignite the Religious Right by courting them as part of the “Reagan Coalition”, swinging to their authoritarian social agenda including eroding the separation of church and state. He failed to fight hard enough to reign in government spending.

The Left has seized upon this last to transform Reagan into a welfare state icon. In The new party of Reagan, Dana Milbank writes:

After he switched to the Republican Party in 1962, Ronald Reagan famously quipped: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”

Now, the Republican Party is doing the same thing to him — and Democrats are happy to take Reagan back.

Milbank then reels off a litany of compromises Reagan made, both as Governor of California and President of the United States. They range from tax hikes to debt limit increases to a Medicare expansion. He is “revered by many Democrats”, a “procession” of whom “claimed Reagan’s support for their position…during the debt-limit debate”. Audio recordings of Reagan warning of the dangers of failing to raise the debt limit is the new rallying cry of the Democrats. There is even a quote from Mike Huckabee about how “he made deals with Democrats [and] compromised on things in order to move the ball down the field.”

But what are the Democrats really saying? Perhaps not exactly what they think they are saying. There is a lesson hidden behind the Democrats’ sudden resurrection of Reagan from liberal hell.

The NJ Star-Ledger weighs in:

[The GOP] is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan, who raised the debt limit 18 times and included tax hikes in 11 of them. He saw that deficits were skyrocketing on his watch, and he understood that compromising on his conservative principles was not the same as betraying them. He was a realist.

In answer, I left the following comment:

Zemack, posted July 22, 2011 at 6:59PM

In their enthusiasm to trash the Tea Party, the editors made the “radical Republicans’ ” case. Every budget Reagan sent to congress in the 1980s was declared “dead on arrival” by the liberal Democrats, who then so larded them up that even the surging federal tax revenues of the ‘80s, which doubled under Reagan’s watch, couldn’t keep up. Yet, Reagan “compromised his conservative principles” in the name of “realism”.

Imagine if, instead, Reagan had taken the “radical” stand of drawing the line somewhere along that parade of debt ceiling and tax increases? Imagine if he had stuck to his conservative principles and demanded that congress bring its spending into line with the generous revenue stream emanating from the Reagan economic boom? Imagine if his party then picked up where he could have left off, rather than go the way of neo-conservatism and George W. Bush.

The obvious lesson to be drawn here is that the explosive growth of the welfare state spending juggernaut – now at an astounding and destructive 25% of GDP - is driven by the Left’s best secret weapon, those principle-compromising Republicans. It’s a pattern that has been going on for decades. The Republicans are guilty, all right. We’ve been brought to the economic precipice by welfare statists traveling on a long road paved by conservative compromises.

Democrats are trying to save their winning strategy, by posthumously re-anointing Reagan back into their party. Suddenly, Reagan is the liberals’ new hero! But any retreat by the GOP on the very modest principle of no tax hikes would be disastrous. In fact, we need true reform proposals, starting with the complete privatization of SS and Medicare through personal accounts and a new low-rate flat income tax. The GOP – or at least part of it - is merely trying to hold the line, and only because of the much-needed intransigence of the Tea Party. You call that radical? I call it a starting point, because that’s not enough. The West’s and America’s economic crisis is a failure of the soft socialism of the welfare state. The Republicans need to go on offense with a pro-free market, pro-individual rights economic agenda. I have hope, but I’m not holding my breath.

But at least the editors clarified the issue for us, and demonstrated the value of today’s Tea Party.

Where did Reagan’s repeated compromises with the Left get the country. For one thing, they killed his own “Reagan Revolution”. Since Reagan, the welfare state has surged, especially over the past dozen years. No wonder the Dems suddenly want to hold Reagan up to the country as a model for today’s Republicans to emulate.

Of course, Reagan had his strengths, as I pointed out at the outset of this article – strengths that Democrats ignore. I believe that his strengths outweighed his weaknesses, even though his weaknesses – his compromises – helped sow the seeds for the problems we have today. The implications behind Reagan’s economic policies of income tax rate cuts, regulatory restraint, and support for a sound Fed monetary policy should be a model for any president who has widespread prosperity as a goal. But, as Steve Forbes recently observed, “Sadly, …President [Obama] does not … have much interest in slowing down Washington's spending machine, recognizing that big spending means more power for the central government.”

Amen! The Democrats are not interested in learning from Reagan’s strengths, either, because they are not interested in emulating Reagan's pro-growth economic policies and actually compromising on their principles. Their phony exaltation of Reagan contains a lesson for Republicans that they ignore at their, and the country’s, peril: compromising on your principles of free markets and limited government paves the way for expanded government and shrinking freedom.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Balanced Budget Amendment is not the Answer

What is the purpose of a constitution?

Government holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force: It is the only institution in any society that is sanctioned to use force against people. Accordingly, some means is necessary to tell those in charge of the apparatus of government under what circumstances they may and may not exercise its powers. That is the purpose of a constitution. Its sole purpose is to define the limits of government power, for the purpose of protecting from government power the individual rights of its citizens. Government officials – politicians, bureaucrats, employees, all of them – may act only within the confines of the enumerated powers granted by the constitution. In other words, government acts by permission only.

A constitution is not designed to define the limits of personal private behavior (such as with amendments forbidding flag-burning or limiting marriage to one man and one woman). That is the purpose of laws created by government officials operating within the limits imposed upon them by the constitution. Nor is the purpose of the constitution to specify particular government policy. A proper constitution doesn’t spell out how to deal with the Middle East, what level of taxation is appropriate, or what criminal penalties are appropriate for Bernie Madoff. It will simply lay out the abstract parameters within which such policies and laws may be enacted and carried out.

The Balanced Budget Amendment being pushed by the Republicans does not measure up to these constitutional criteria. As Robert J. Samuelson writes over at the Washington Post: “The Constitution is the repository of the nation’s basic political principles, …not a handbook for the day-to-day operations of government.” A balanced budget mandate may be a good idea, but that belongs under the purview of elected legislators. Should they decide to enact one, it - like all laws – must then pass muster with the basic political principles enshrined in the constitution. But any attempt to muddy up the constitution with such concrete minutia would render it unworkable. As Samuelson writes:

The fatal flaw of the BBA is that it would take the Constitution in precisely this direction. It not only says the budget should be balanced, but one Republican version says it should be balanced at 18 percent of the economy (gross domestic product). That’s not a principle; it’s an instruction. Why not 17 percent or 22 percent of GDP? What happens in a national emergency?

All this threatens to turn many budget disputes into constitutional crises, as one side or the other takes to court to prove the other side violated the nation's Magna Carta. Do we really want to force unelected judges to make what are fundamentally political decisions? Didn’t we learn anything from Bush v. Gore?

Beyond that, a Balanced Budget Amendment may hinder but will not stop the welfare state express, as many conservatives hope. The driving force behind the rise of socialist statism in America is moral and philosophical. It is only on moral/philosophical grounds that the welfare state can be successfully challenged. As long as statism’s fundamental altruist/collectivist intellectual underpinnings are in place in the culture, the politicians will always figure out a way to get around the constitutional restrictions posed by the amendment. Samuelson continues:

The BBA is another example of congressional evasion. “It’s showcasing. It plays to the public,” says political scientist Allen Schick of the University of Maryland. What it does not do is balance the budget, now or ever. Only unpopular decisions to cut spending, including Social Security and Medicare, and raise taxes can do that. The BBA distracts from this and, if ever adopted, would undermine the Constitution.

I, of course, don’t favor raising taxes. But, Samuelson does raise an important point. Those “unpopular decisions” belong in the legislature. Furthermore, given the philosophical corruption of the collectivist mindset, it is not at all certain that a BBA will translate into much in the way of spending cuts. Such a constitutional mandate could (and will) empower judges to impose tax hikes to enforce that mandate. (This in fact happened in New Jersey, where in the 1970s the State Supreme Court essentially rammed a state income tax down the throats of the legislature and the state’s residents to enforce a constitutional education mandate. See my post New Jersey's Constitutional Roadblock to Reform.) A BBA could well become a tool for further entrenching the welfare state.

There are good reasons to oppose the Republicans’ initiative. (There may also be good reasons to support such a constitutional amendment. If there are, I have not seen them.) Not all opponents base their reasoning on respect for our basic constitutional principles, however. No discussion of our constitution is complete outside of the context of the philosophical principles that form our original constitution’s foundation. Stepping outside of that context is the means by which statists have been able to dominate over the past century. A good example of this tactic is provided by Doug Kendall and Dahlia Lithwick in a piece entitled The Balanced Budget Amendment would make the Framers weep.

The principles that must always form the framework for any constitutional question are laid out in the Declaration of Independence, this nation’s philosophical blueprint. The principles of unalienable individual rights and a government whose sole purpose is to protect those rights is the frame of reference upon which all aspects of the constitution must be considered. Rights are sanctions to freedom of action in a social context, not an automatic claim to unearned benefits. The freedom of action that rights convey also defines the limits of that freedom. Since rights are unalienable and held equally by all people at all times, each individual is free to act only so long as he respects and refrains from violating the same rights of others. Equally important, the principle of individual rights defines the limits of government’s power – a broad limitation indeed. In regard to the relationship of the government to the people, the Founders fundamentally intended this: The domestic laws and their agents – the police and the law courts - protect the people from criminal predators, while the constitution protects the people from governmental predators. Despite some imperfections and contradictions it contains, the original constitution was mostly true to its fundamental principles.

Kendall and Lithwick try to make the case that the Founding Fathers would have opposed the BBA. They are almost certainly right. So, it’s interesting that they sneak in Chief Justice John Marshall's 1919 quote that our constitution is a document that may be “adapted to the various crises of human affairs”. The “Living Constitution” doctrine attempts to airbrush our founding principles out of existence, a la “1984”, and has done far more to undermine our constitution than anything the Republicans have proposed. That helped paved the way for the ongoing stealth transformation of America from a constitutionally limited republic to a democracy. But the Founders understood majority rule as an institution that must be severely limited, because democracy unconstrained by the principle of individual rights is another form of totalitarian tyranny. Redefining America as a democracy is the Progressives’ real intend. Kendall and Lithwick take the right position for the wrong reasons. They oppose the BBA not to preserve the constitution or in deference and respect to the Founders or America’s founding principles, but because they fear it “would remove huge swaths of lawmaking power from majority rule and arbitrarily limit the size of government to a level not seen since the 1960s. Under the guise of promoting fiscal responsibility, we would be creating a government that could not govern.”

The 1960s are notable for a huge wave of rights violating “social welfare” legislation. Those programs clearly violate our founding principles. But the distorted view of our constitution that took hold mostly in the 20th century paved the way for democracy-driven welfare statism. Kendall and Lithwick fear the BBA not because it contradicts the roper purpose of a constitution, but because they fear that it will hamper the Progressives’ ability to “govern”. And to “govern”, in the Progressives concept, means to dictate.

I agree that the Founders probably would not have approved of the BBA. But they would have been horrified at the Progressives’ view of the constitution as a document devoid of the very principles that formed the basis for their achievement in creating this country.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

There's more to the Light Bulb Controversy than Efficiency

A recent move by House Republicans to repeal the upcoming ban on incandescent light bulbs is mainly symbolic, politically, since there’s no chance their efforts can succeed this year. But the episode is valuable because it highlights a tactic used by statists: to expand government by means of narrow concrete issues that may only be framed in regards to its practical desirability.

Of course, all legislation presupposes an abstract view of such broad philosophical issues as the proper role of government. Viewing legislation and law from that philosophical perspective is anathema to statists, because that view automatically draws upon the nation’s Founding principles – principles that clash with the statists’ agenda. So, defenders of rights-violating, nanny-state laws like the light bulb mandate seek to discredit any attempt to measure government action against the yardstick provided by the Declaration of Independence and the original constitution. Instead, they try to keep the dialogue grounded in concrete trivia about the practicality of the legislation’s intent. The new fluorescent bulbs may or may not be better than the old incandescent ones, but that is not the point. Statists just want it to be the point, because otherwise their case collapses. Fluorescents may be objectively better, but the standard of individual rights forbids them from forcing it on others through an act of law. So to get their way, they employ the gimmick of brushing off principled opposition through ridicule and evasion. The NJ Star-Ledger provides a good example of this tactic. In an editorial entitled Republican lawmakers screwing up light-bulb debate, they write:

How many lawmakers does it take to screw up a light-bulb law? Maybe we’re about to find out.

On Tuesday, the House defeated an attempt by some dim bulbs to repeal a law that requires light bulbs to be more efficient. Now, the Light Brigade is bringing the bill back for another vote.

For weeks, conservatives had been making “Give me filament or give me death!” speeches, insisting that light-bulb liberals were encroaching on their personal freedoms.

Creating jobs? A debt-ceiling deal? Reworking Social Security benefits? Rescuing the middle class? Nah, the pressing issue for many conservative Republicans is whether they should have to pluck their eyebrows or read their Grover Norquist pledges in the harsh light of fluorescent bulbs.

See what I mean? But, aren’t “Creating jobs [economic policy], the debt-ceiling, Social Security, and Rescuing the middle class” tied in with the same fundamental issue, personal freedom? By allowing the debate on light bulbs to shift onto the higher plane of individual rights, the editors would establish a premise of having to measure their entire statist agenda against that principle. I’ve left the following comments:

Zemack, July 16, 2011 at 8:50PM

Why do statists ridicule “Ideological Claptrap”, as the print version of this editorial is headlined? Because abstract ideas – principles – drive human events. This country – the freest, most prosperous, most powerful ever – was the first to be founded explicitly upon an ideology. Read the Declaration of Independence, the philosophical foundation for the Constitution. It is an extremely abstract document. Supporters of the omnipotent state are powerless against its principles. They know that they have no answer to those who understand the fundamental issues involved where the relationship of the state to the individual is involved.

Freedom – and by that I mean individual rights - can not survive except on a foundation of sound political principles. For those who want to empower government to run the lives of its people, it is those principles that must be expunged from political dialogue. Since statists don’t dare attack the Declaration’s message directly, they seek to disarm their pro-freedom adversaries philosophically. This is why the S/L editors ridicule some Republicans’ noble attempt to properly frame the debate – as one of principle. A principle is a universal truth, an essential premise that can apply to an unlimited number of concrete issues.

It’s not about light bulbs. Absent government coercion, the debate over which bulbs are superior can be objectively decided in the market, where all participants – manufacturers and consumers electric companies – deal with each other voluntarily. All considerations – pros and cons - get fleshed out in relation to the personal voluntary choices of individuals – the cost of the bulb vs. the cost of electricity vs. the quality of the light, etc. (Never mind such vague rationalizations as “we all pay for pollution and climate change, and we all pay for additional power plants”. If those collectivist notions are a proper justification for violating individual rights, then the Soviets and the Nazis had it right.) The key here is the principle of voluntarism, a core necessity of freedom. No one – not private citizens nor citizens acting in the capacity of government officials - may initiate force against another. All are restricted to rational persuasion – until and unless some people decide that they may employ government’s force to impose their will on others.

If the Republicans can successfully overturn this law based not on the narrow technical issues surrounding the “efficiency” of light bulbs but upon the principle that a proper government protects the individual citizen’s right to decide for himself – or, for that matter, merely raise the public’s awareness that “This is about more than just energy consumption, it’s about personal freedom” - then the entire regulatory welfare state that was built on the opposite premise is under assault. A philosophical debate on the proper role of government and of its relationship to the people is long overdue. Statists such as the editors fear that debate, otherwise this editorial would have been a serious discussion about the connection between the light bulb law and freedom, rather than an end run around the issue raised by the GOP. Instead, they seek to bury the only means of seeing where they want to take the country: the ability to see the forest for the trees, or the principle behind the law - which only ideology can provide.

Fortunately, a much more mature (to use the liberals’ latest mantra to describe statist attitudes) analysis comes from a correspondent. MarkM defends the law by relating it to the constitution. For this, I commend him, for he at least bases his position on a proper framing of the issue:

MarkM, July 18, 2011 at 4:40PM

In a recent article in NewsFeed, the author wrote: "The energy-efficient bulbs are more expensive than regular incandescent light bulbs, a point of contention for Republicans who said their constituents can not afford the more expensive bulbs." This would be the first time in recent memory that Republicans expressed any concerns whatsoever about those a the lower end of the economic spectrum. To date, their principle focus has been the opposite end of the scale.

For those believing in abstract political ideas, then the notion of the "Common Good" ought not be neglected in their analysis. The idea behind the common good is the notion that individual liberties ought necessarily be limited in certain cases to attain a desirable goal which is identified as the "Common Good." This idea goes back to the very early stages of English Common Law and probably beyond. Thomas Paine writing in "The Rights of Man" addresses this issue.

Given the real and acute energy crisis that we face, especially at a time when we are experiencing a down economy as we currently are, it makes sense to weigh the common good, versus individual liberties. In this case we are weighing a sensible energy policy versus the right to use outdated technology that wastes energy. The tension between individual liberties and the common good has existed long before we came along and will be around long after we are gone. People debated it then, are debating it now, and will debate it in the future. There is no handy guide that says, "this good outweighs that personal liberty." These things must be decided according to the needs of a given society.

The Constitution of the United States which is a concrete manifestation of abstract political ideas, call for our government to "provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare." As many other provisions of the Constitution, Americans have argued over what the "promote the general Welfare" part means. The "provide for the common defense" clause seems self-evident to most of us.

So what does this have to do with light bulbs? Well, the Department of Defense is the government agency which is entrusted with the lion's share of the work of "providing for the common defense." Over the years, active duty and retired military officers have written extensively about the role of energy in national security. It is unsettling reading to say the least. In its its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, there was a lot said about this topic. To save you the trouble, the short summary is:
1. DoD sees affordable energy, or lack thereof as one of the principle security threats to the United States in the years going forward
2. DoD is greatly concerned that an acute energy shortage will result in a lack of readiness of US armed forces.
3. DoD sees enhanced probability that in the future, we may have to secure foreign energy resource by direct intervention in other countries affairs.

Recently, we read in at: that high energy costs are actually forcing the DoD to change ground level strategies and tactics to adapt to the reality of more expensive and increasingly scarce energy supplies.

Saving energy is getting to be more and more of a security issue, not just some ephemeral goal or talking point for politicians.

Should we burn up expensive oil that we buy from overseas while our troops are having to change the way they go about the business of carrying out their mission?

I do not know what the answer is in the common good/individual liberties tradeoff. What I am suggesting is that it is a much more complex calculus than simpletons the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Michele Bachmann would suggest.

Here is my response to MarkM:

Zemack, July 18, 2011 at 10:08PM

Thoughtful commentary, MarkM - much more so than this editorial. Very refreshing. I have a few dissenting comments, though:

There is no answer to the “common good/individual liberties tradeoff”, because there is no tradeoff. To suggest that there is, is to obliterate “individual liberties” – i.e., individual rights. The common good means the good of every individual. And the good of every individual, as understood by the Founding Fathers and codified in our founding documents, is served only by recognizing and protecting individual liberty. The term “to promote the general welfare” means government’s job to ensure the social conditions necessary for each individual’s right to the exercise of his unalienable rights, which means to live and freely act by the judgement of his own mind. The “tension between individual liberties and the common good” is easily resolved by a proper understand of rights. You are free to act to pursue your own life, so long as you respect and refrain from violating the same rights of others. In other words, the principle of individual rights both sanctions your right to freedom of action and defines the limits of your actions, based upon the premise that rights are unalienable for every individual. Thus, the common good means individual liberty, and only individual liberty.

Any other definition of the common good is antipodal to the concept of unalienable rights – rights held equally, by all people, at all times, and protected equally and at all times for all people. Any claim that the common good conflicts with individual liberty is a claim that the interests and rights of some people are to be sacrificed to the interests and privilege of others, based upon the political expediency and pressure group victors of the moment; i.e., “decided according to the needs of a given society”. In today’s usage, the “common good" (or public interest) is used as a weapon to bludgeon away people’s right to their own life and to empower government to run our lives. To say that our national security depends on violating our rights to decide for ourselves which bulbs to use is to obliterate the very justification for a military, whose job it is precisely to protect and defend our right to make such decisions – i.e., to “promote the general welfare”.

Every issue implies certain principles, whether one chooses to recognize them or not. Once you can identify those essential premises you will find that it really is quite simple to find the right answer. This is not to say that codifying the principles of individual rights into law is necessarily easy – it can be quite complex. But with our founding principles as a frame of reference, the path to sound, objective, right-respecting laws is easy to identify, especially in regards to such clear-cut issues as who should decide which bulbs to use.

PS – There is no “energy crisis”. There is a crisis of political meddling driven largely by environmentalist dogma.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Backlash Against NJ's Charter School Expansion

A major backlash has erupted against NJ Governor Chris Christie's aggressive charter school expansion program. Driven by a suburban grassroots resistance, the backlash has taken the form of a bill that would require a community vote before any charter school could open in any district. Currently, charter school proposals need only be approved by the state Department of Education. Recently, the Christie administration approved 23 of them.

NJ Star-Ledger columnist Bob Braun covered this emerging development. In Parents push for laws allowing communities to vote on charter schools
, Braun writes:

On the polished floor of the community center in Millburn’s Taylor Park, a small group of children sat quietly, hands folded, as their mothers chanted:

"What do we want? A vote! When do we want it? Now!" while an assortment of politicians pledged obeisance to what these parents demanded: An end to the unchecked growth of charter schools.

The scene was repeated elsewhere last night, in South Brunswick and Highland Park, where this mothers’ crusade known as Save Our Schools-New Jersey pushed for the passage of laws allowing local communities a vote on permitting charter schools and subjecting the privately operated schools to strict accountability.

The legislation may not survive the opposition of Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic leaders — including Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Camden) but the message has found traction.

"The bills may be bottled up, they may be blocked,’’ said state Sen. and former Acting Gov. Richard Codey (D-Essex), who attended the Milburn rally, "but the state’s leaders cannot ignore this message. These people are angry. They can’t be ignored.’’

They’re angry, and they want it now! What do they want now? To “check” the growth of educational alternatives sought by other mothers unsatisfied with the public schools in their districts. What’s actually going on here? This bill is a double-barreled attempt to crush charters. First, vote them down. If that fails, suffocate their innovative appeal by switching “accountability” from the charter parents to the school board or some other dictatorial committee.

I’ve left some comments, which triggered a short comment thread
, republished here with some added unpublished commentary, shown in italics:

Zemack - June 23, 2011 at 3:54PM

This bill should be entitled the Empower the Mob bill.

The charter school movement is driven by pent-up market demand – i.e., the desire of thousands of individual parents to seek a better education for their children. They are taxpayers, too. If the schools paid for by the taxes they are forced to pay don’t measure up in their judgement, who has a right to stand in their way? This bill says; that mystical entity called the “community”, as represented by any ballot box majority that decides protecting “its schools” requires crushing the rights of the minority.

But this is the nature of tax-supported schools, of democracy, of collectivism. When everyone is required to pay for the education of everyone else’s children, but not their own, they give up the sovereignty over their own children. Then, children become political pawns, with their education delivered into the power of special interests - grass roots, organized, or otherwise.

We are seeing a good demonstration of the naked face of democracy in action; mob rule.

saveourschoolsnj - June 23, 2011 at 4:13PM

"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." (Churchill, from a House of Commons speech on Nov. 11, 1947)

Zemack - June 23, 2011 at 4:43PM

But what was Churchill referring to? In essence, a constitutional republic. A democratic majority is only legitimate when its power is limited by a constitution that protects individual rights. Today, America has morphed into a combination of a republic and a democracy.

Democracy is a form of totalitarianism, in its pure form. This charter vote bill is a manifestation of pure democracy, in that it places the parents and their children at the mercy of a legalized mob. Charter schools are not a panacea, but they make a bad situation – government-run schools – a little more tolerable by offering some choice and innovation.

luvsewemore - June 23, 2011 at 5:01PM

So it is your considered opinion that a handful of parents and private investors should be able to use public funds to open a Mandarin Chinese immersion school in a district that is rated 14th in the state? Just because they WANT this for their children? Tell me with a straight face that the parents in Milburn and Livingston are so disturbed by the horrible quality of their public schools that there are thousands crying out for alternatives for their children.

Zemack - June 23, 2011 at 7:10PM

And others should be able to stop them, just because they WANT to?

No. It is my considered opinion that no one should be educated with public funds. But since that’s the situation we have, it must be remembered that the “handful of parents and private investors” are tax payers too, and thus have as much claim to those “public funds” as you or any other taxpayer, no matter how large a group. Therefor, if a group of “investors” wants to establish a “Mandarin Chinese immersion school” and some parents are willing to voluntarily send their children there, then the public funds should follow. If a parent chooses to relieve the traditional public school in her child’s district of the responsibility to educate that child, on what grounds can that school claim the public funds – which belong as much to that parent as to any other?

That there are thousands of parents in Milburn and Livingston (or any other municipality) who are satisfied with their local public schools does not justify them legally (i.e., forcibly) being empowered to stand in the way of the small number that isn’t (to say nothing of the non-parent voters). Even the “best” schools will fail some students. I consider this to be a fundamental moral issue.

Publicly funded ventures always set up irreconcilable conflicts of interest – conflicts that would not arise in a fully free, private education market. That’s not what we have, so one alternative is for the state to allow whatever numbers of charters are necessary to meet the demand.

By the way, true “investors” invest their own money, not public funds.

URnoexpert - June 23, 2011 at 8:44PM

"And others should be able to stop them, just because they WANT to?"

No. It is because the removal of those funds could be detremental to a successful district. If someone wants to build a boutique school to cater to a small minority they should do it on their own dime, rather than the parasitic way charters aim to feed off the host. Want to learn a foreign language not offerred? Buy Rosetta Stone and leave the successful school districts alone.

Zemack - June 30, 2011 at 5:18PM

Nor should the "successful district" parasitically feed off of the taxes of the minority. There is an old saying: "Never lose sight of the forest for the trees". But the oppoisite is also true. Collectvism blinds you to the individual human beings that make up any group. Again, my arguments have not been refuted, because collectivist slogans will not do.

And on whose judgement are those districts “successful” – your “experts”? And on what basis do the experts draw their conclusions – some average drawn from standardized testing? The mental corruption wrought by collectivism is obvious here. Every student is an autonomous individual apart from that mythical average student. The enemies of school choice ignore those actual human beings. What if a district is detrimental to some students? No district is successful for a student whose needs his parents believe are not being met. And those parents’ judgement on that district is just as valid as any majority of parents who believe otherwise. And again, they’re taxpayers.

Aggalapta - June 28, 2011 at 9:17PM


Give me a break and knock off the drama--mob rule--please...its called democracy--something very foreign to republicans for some time now.

Zemack - June 30, 2011 at 5:02PM

Be careful what assumptions you make: I am not a Republican (most of whom also preach the "democracy" line). And don't worry about the "drama". Words have specific meanings. If you can refute my "mob" analogy, I'd like to hear it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Title 2: A Lesson on Activism - from the Left

How does one fight "the good fight"? Here is a lesson on the only way to do it; stand on principle, even at the risk of taking an unpopular stand or "defending to the death" the most abhorrent individuals.

In my post of 7/10/10, I opened this dialogue on Title 2 with a discussion of the crucial importance of principles. So, when I read this editorial by my favorite Left-leaning media outlet, I seized the opportunity to use the words of a staunch defender of Title 2 to demonstrate the importance of principles - and the hollowness and utter futility of attempting to pragmatically cherry-pick one's principled stands.

In a short editorial entitled, ACLU of New Jersey: 50 years of defending rights on left and right, the NJ Star-Ledger praises the American Civil Liberties Union for its adherence to principles. They write:

"For 50 years, the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has defended rights that many take for granted — or that some would withhold from others.

"The ACLU has taken a purist view of the U.S. Constitution: It applies to every American regardless of race, faith, gender or sexual orientation. As might be expected, controversy has never been far behind.

"Most people recall the ACLU defending the free speech of American Nazis, or fighting to keep religious displays off government property."

I've left the following comments:

zemack June 16, 2010 at 1:45PM

Now, why would the Star-Ledger praise the ACLU for defending a Nazi’s right to freedom of speech? Could it be that principles matter? According to the Editors, “The ACLU has taken a purist view of the U.S. Constitution.” A “purist” view recognizes that the Constitution is derived from the philosophical groundwork laid out in the Declaration of Independence, which holds unequivocally that rights are political guarantees to freedom of action, are unalienable, possessed equally and at all times by every individual, and protected by government equally and at all times. So long as you don’t violate the same rights of others, your rights can never be stripped away by government.

In other words, the implied meaning behind the ACLU’s Nazi stand is that when you violate the rights of a single individual, you invalidate the principle of unalienability, and thus the rights of “every American regardless of race, faith, gender or sexual orientation.” You cannot defend any right, unless you are prepared to defend that same right for everyone, including those of the most despicable practitioners of that right. Therefor, it logically and morally follows that a Nazi (or National Socialist) has the same unalienable right to act on his free speech guarantees as anyone else.

So, I have to wonder. Where does the ACLU, and for that matter the Editors, stand on Title 2 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which trampled another unalienable right of the individual – his property rights? That Act swept away the last remnants of legally sanctioned, government-imposed segregation. This monumental advance for justice and a civilized society was marred by the “public accommodations” clause, known as Title 2, which denied the individual’s right to freedom of association on his own private property. An individual’s earned property is the means by which he sustains his life. Thus his right to his property – which means the right of use and disposal – is tied irrevocably to his right to life. All other rights, including to speech and religion, rest on a foundation of property rights – which makes them the most important of all rights. When the government takes away property rights, it takes away a person’s means of sustaining his life. Without property rights, all other rights are effectively rendered a fraud.

Property rights are unalienable just as are free speech rights. The same logic that applies to the defense of Nazis’ free speech rights applies to private segregationists’ property rights. Both Nazis and private segregationists hold despicable and evil ideas. Both are racist ideologically, with Nazism being the worst because it also includes the totalitarian element. And, just as a Nazi exercising his own free speech rights is violating no one else’s free speech rights by doing so, so to a business owner who exercises his own property rights by excluding certain customers for irrational reasons is likewise violating no one else’s property rights by doing so. And for the very same principled reason that a Nazi’s free speech rights must be defended, so to must a private segregationist’s property rights be just as vigorously defended, however hard and nauseating that may be.

As the Editors correctly seem to be saying in praise of the ACLU, “a purist view of the U.S. Constitution” requires a fully consistent defense of “rights that many take for granted — or that some would withhold from others.” A purist view demands taking an uncompromising stand regardless of how controversial or unpopular, because rights apply “to every American regardless of race, faith, gender or sexual orientation” or anything else so long as he refrains from violating the same rights as others.

I don’t recall the ACLU rushing to the defense of Rand Paul, who was recently vilified because of his long-time principled opposition to Title 2 based on that’s clause’s violation of property rights. If the ACLU doesn’t stand with Rand Paul on Title 2, it is exposed as blatantly hypocritical and devoid of credibility.

The editors might object that Title 2 involves action, while free speech is just expounding a viewpoint and thus not hurting anyone. But freedom of thought without the freedom to act on that thought means no freedom at all. The act of speech is action, in and of itself. The right to hold views without the right to expound those views is a contradiction in terms. So is the right to property without the right to set the terms of use for that property. To deny a person freedom of association on his own property is tantamount to denying a person the right to speak his own mind.

I also want to point out some excellent comments made by another correspondent:

individual June 16, 2010 at 1:36PM

Excellent editorial. Our rights under the First Amendment are for everyone, not just those that we agree with. A common conservative myth is that the ACLU "supports" various nefarious groups (take your pick). Nothing could be further from the truth. When the ACLU says that Nazis have the right under the First Amendment to express their views, the ACLU is not "supporting" the Nazis' views. They are only supporting the First Amendment freedoms of everyone, including even Nazis.

Generally, when conservatives support "freedom," they mean freedom for themselves, not anyone else. While talking about "less government intrusion in our lives," these same conservatives want laws banning abortion from the moment of conception, laws censoring erotica and even laws telling consenting adults what kind of sex they can have in the privacy of their own home (Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia takes this view). Yes, some conservatives have more of a "libertarian" view and don't support the Scalia mentality. But the vast majority of conservatives are not libertarian, and want the government to intrude into the most intimate aspects of our lives.

Unlike conservatives, the ACLU recognizes that freedom is for everyone, even the hated, even the despised. Freedom is not just for those we agree with.

Of course, individual is only half right. The same as what he says about conservatives can be said of liberals. Neither side is a consistent defender of individual rights. Certainly, when it comes to property rights, the liberals are not proponents of the belief "that [to paraphrase] freedom is for everyone, even the rich, even the successful". If they believed that, they would have to oppose the redistributive welfare state down to its core. It's true that conservatives are social authoritarians. But, liberals are economic authoritarians. Certainly, under Title 2, the 1964 Civil Rights Act empowers "the government to intrude into the most intimate aspects of our lives" - our personal beliefs on our own property.

That aside, individual makes a good overall point. He writes that "When the ACLU says that Nazis have the right under the First Amendment to express their views, the ACLU is not 'supporting' the Nazis' views. They are only supporting the First Amendment freedoms of everyone, including even Nazis." Well, how does he feel about Title 2? Since he criticizes only "conservatives", one might logically infer that he is a "liberal". So, would he agree that "When Rand Paul (or John Stossel, or I) say that any private individual has the right under the principle of property rights to exclude people of a certain 'race, faith, gender or sexual orientation' from his own place of business, Paul is not 'supporting' the bigot's views. He is only supporting the property rights freedoms of everyone, including even bigots".

The Editors conclude with:

"By taking up these important and sometimes unpopular causes, the ACLU of New Jersey exemplifies what fighting the good fight is all about."

If the Star-Ledger really believes that defending individual rights is "what fighting the good fight is all about", then it has a lot of rethinking to do on a whole host of issues it holds dear. It needs to learn that "what fighting the good fight is all about" requires unbending philosophical consistency. Without that, the editors, and the ACLU, are exposed as opportunistic phonies.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Behind The Debt Ceiling Debate

This NJ Star-Ledger editorial appeared in May 2011. It discusses the political impasse regarding the raising the debt ceiling to accommodate the insane Federal spending binge. Since that impasse is still with us, I thought I’d publish a bit of activism I engaged in back then.

Basically, the editors chastise the Republicans for refusing to “compromise” by accepting tax increases in exchange for spending cuts. The S/L writes:

House Speaker John Boehner … issued an ultimatum. His party will agree to raise the debt limit only if Democrats yield to the Republican solution on the debt — $2 trillion in spending cuts and no tax increases.

A $2 trillion spending cut over the next decade is reasonable if it is done in a way that protects the most vulnerable, as the president’s bipartisan commission attempted to do.

But the Republican budget plan fails that test. While protecting tax cuts for the wealthy, it imposes two-thirds of its spending cuts on programs that serve families of limited means. Medicaid, food stamps and college scholarships would face deep cuts, to name a few.

The bigger problem with Boehner’s ultimatum is that he pretends we can solve the debt problem without raising taxes.

The federal government today is taking in revenue equal to about 15 percent of the GDP. It hasn’t been that low since the 1950s, before programs like Medicaid and Medicare existed. To keep revenue that low as Baby Boomers retire is simply not realistic.

This is classic. Raise taxes now, and we promise to cut spending, but not on the really important programs (which is just about anything the statist Left wants). The Republicans, in my mind, have already compromised too much by failing to demand tax cuts along with those spending cuts. But my comments concerned other aspects of this. As usual, I used my screen name Zemack. First, I answered this:

Eatontownbob May 12, 2011 at 8:02AM

Cut the $4 billion in subsidies (our money) for the top 4 oil companys which combined made $18 BILLION in first Quarter profits. With oil trading for aprox $100 a barrel, I don't think they need tax breaks to be encouraged to explore/drill.

Zemack May 12, 2011 at 12:08PM

A tax break is not a subsidy. It's a taxpayer (individual or corporate) keeping more of what he earned. There is no government money - i.e., other taxpayers' money - involved.

Aside from that fact, eatontownbob is on to something. Our income taxes - both corporate and personal - are corrupt, special interest-driven monstrosities that empower politicians to manipulate the private economy and dole out political favors. I would agree with eatontownbob if he endorsed the general idea to eliminate all tax breaks, including the massive renewable energy subsidies. That industry is a gigantic corporate welfare scheme that should be freed to compete and sink or swim on it own economic merits.

Then, how about lowering both taxes to a single flat rate with no deductions except for personal exemptions for each individual? It would be economically stimulative (promote production, trade, profits, and jobs), more justly progressive, much fairer politically, and thus more moral than what we have now.

Here is another comment and the exchange that followed:

Zemack May 12, 2011 at 1:14PM

The Star-Ledger is being incredibly disingenuous here. It states that “The federal government today is taking in revenue equal to about 15 percent of the GDP. It hasn’t been that low since the 1950s”.

But revenue receipts are not the true measure of the governments tax take: Spending is. And today, federal spending as a percentage of GDP is at about 25%. That means 25% of America’s wealth is being consumed by the federal budget alone, the highest since WW II.

The Editors fail to mention inflation – the artificial expansion of the money supply via the government printing press to finance the deficit. Inflation is a tax that confiscates your purchasing power, while leaving you with increasingly devalued dollars manifested in rising prices.

The real problem is not the deficits, but rather the government’s consumption of the nation’s wealth. The only way to address that problem is through spending cuts, which means the privatization and gradual elimination of the immoral wealth redistribution programs that constitute the bulk of federal spending.

The editors call for compromise as the ultimate solution to the latest crisis, and berate the Tea Party for refusing. But more and more people are on to the sinister game that has been going on for more than a century in America. The current state of affairs has been built on such compromises as the Coburn/Durbin deal the editors trumpet. The spending cuts are non-existent, because the programs that feed the growth of spending are not being phased out and eliminated. The tax hikes are real, however, and will only serve to feed the cancerous growth of socialism in America.

Conservatives and the GOP have historically caved time and time again, always falling victim to the god of compromise. But any compromise between Left and Right always benefits the Left. And yes, compromise sometimes is a moral failing. And yes, it is “time to settle long-standing grievances”: to attack the fundamental causes of the crisis. If not now, then when? Putting that day of reckoning off time and again is irresponsible, irrational, and immature. Real adults think long-term and don’t continually punt the problem down the road, as the editors would have us do once again.

BigMarbles May 12, 2011 at 2:56PM

zemock- Your numbers are bad.

The Congressional Budget Office last Thursday released its latest projection of the 2011 deficit - an astonishing $1.5 trillion. The spending that goes along with the deficit has been the focus of news and commentary around the country. The other culprit hiding behind the deficit is of course Federal Government Revenue levels. Revenues are projected to be some where around 15% of GDP an all time low over the last 60 years. The average revenue level as a percent of GDP for the last 30 years is 18%.

Yes, some of the revenue short falls are due to the recession, but much of it is related to the extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Why is it you eightballs who constantly attack the SL are ALWAYS proven wrong? And the SL is ALWAYS RIGHT???

Some people do get my point, though.

Deceiverbo May 13, 2011 at 8:36PM

Lost Marbles, it appears you have a serious comprehension problem. The poster wasn't denying the 15% figure, he was pointing out the flip side of the coin (spending) which people like you and the liars at the SL try to hide.

I tried one more time with BigMarbles.

Zemack May 12, 2011 at 7:50PM

If government is spending 25% of the nation’s income (GDP), and only 15% is supplied by direct taxation, where does the balance come from? Borrowing - which means pulling investment capital and savings out of the economy. But to the extent that the state can't sell its bonds in the open market, as is mainly the case now, it grabs your wealth indirectly through inflation.

One way or another, the government is taxing the economy to the exact tune that it is spending. The combination of direct taxation, borrowing, and inflation (ex. - Bernanke’s “quantitative easing”) adds up to a commutative tax take of 25%. There is no way around these numbers. Reality is the final arbiter. I stand by my numbers. The wealth consumed by government spending doesn’t come out of thin air, or grow on trees, or miraculously appear from government printing presses.

Governments nationalize their monetary systems under central banks so they can grab a much bigger share of their nation’s wealth than people would tolerate through direct, easily perceivable taxation. That so many people never catch on to the monumental crime of inflation is a testament to the ability of governments to hide the truth by distorting the teaching of basic economics in their government-run schools.

BigMarbles May 13, 2011 at 12:14PM

zemac- Geeeez...............Who should i believe..........who's numbers are correct??....................
The Congressional Budget Office...............................or ZEMAC??.............................................
CBO or Zemock?????...................this is a tough one..................................................................
I gotta tell ya, zemock,..........................I GOTTA DO WITH THE CBO!!!!!

Sigh! I really didn’t think this guy that can’t spell would understand. But I made my point.