#126: Equity and Religion

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #126, on the subject of Equity and Religion.

I saw an article online, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, entitled Amendment 3:  A Stealth Attack on Religious Freedom  The title intrigued me, since I had no notion of what was happening in Missouri, so I skimmed the piece–and was rather surprised at what I found.  It struck me that the author did not have a very good grasp on exactly what “religious liberty” is, so I decided to pursue the matter here.


The purpose of “Amendment 3”, apparently Missouri’s version of what we in New Jersey now call a Public Question, is to create a cigarette tax and use the money to fund early childhood education.  The tobacco industry has not made a lot of noise about it, at least directly–they have learned that people who smoke are very unlikely to stop simply because the amount of money they burn increases.  It seems like a positive idea, that if people are going to kill themselves slowly at least they can help fund the education of our children.

At issue is text that says the disbursement of funds raised will not be limited or prohibited by the State of Missouri Constitution’s “Prohibition of public aid for religious purposes and institutions” clause.  That means that if whatever method of distributing the money to help with preschool education would otherwise mean that a Lutheran- or Baptist- or Muslim or Jewish-run facility would qualify for some of that money, that facility is not automatically disqualified simply because it is administered by a church, mosque, synagogue, or other religious organization.  Opponents of the measure say that this is an attempt to bring funding of religious organizations in through a side door, and so force people to pay for religious education with public money.

It is not at all clear that that is what this is, and in fact from the description it sounds rather as if it is an attempt, not to show religious preference, but in fact precisely not to show it.  It is saying that the fact that a group of people trying to provide early childhood education happen to be believers of a particular religious philosophy will not disqualify them from being funded by this program–exactly what freedom of religion means, that we will not discriminate against you on the basis of what you believe.  As long as the program is administered impartially, part of that impartiality has to be that a program is not disqualified based on religious connections.

That is important for multiple reasons.

Social programs and particularly education have always been spearheaded in the Anglo-Saxon world by Christians and Christian organizations.  Our Ivy League colleges and many other schools and universities were originally founded by Christians to educate doctors, lawyers, and ministers.  Christians were the first to attempt to help the poor in England through education of their children.  In America, many settlers would arrive in a new location and build a church and a school as the fundamental institutions of society.  Meanwhile, the Jews have long put a heavy emphasis on educating their children, going back more than centuries, possibly millennia–a Hebrew boy became a man by proving he could read from the Torah, at least as early as the first century.  Religious people have been proponents of education, and education for all, even when the approved thinking was that education was for the privileged and powerful, to maintain their power and privilege.

Encouraging a group to do what we want them to do and they want to do anyway is good politics.

Besides, if the objectors are saying that it is a violation of the principle of freedom of religion to fund any organization that promotes a religious position, they’re going to have to stop funding public education as well.  St. Louis is a particularly interesting case, as it is the home of the headquarters of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church–not the most conservative Lutheran group, but conservative enough that they honestly believe in a six-day creation.  You might disagree; I don’t know that I agree.  However, whenever the State of Missouri uses its collected tax money to teach the scientific views about the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution, it is spending money to promote a religious idea–the idea that the Missouri Synod Lutheran belief in six-day creation is wrong.  Our objectors say that they do not want their tax money spent to fund organizations that will promote religious notions with which they disagree; now they know how their Lutheran neighbors feel.

The only way to treat religious people and their organizations fairly is to make the question of religious belief irrelevant to the question of funding social efforts.  Otherwise, it would be the same as saying that the government will not fund a day care run by a black man, or a preschool run by a woman.  Not discriminating on the basis of religion means that religious views are not a factor in the decision.  That’s what the amendment is saying.

How those programs are going to work has not yet been determined.  The simple way, though, is for the government to provide scholarships or tuition reimbursement for needy families trying to send their children to whatever preschools are available.  Some have argued that this kind of “voucher” system unconstitutionally funds religious schools because the parents can give the money to those schools and the government winds up paying the church, as it were.  However, to do otherwise unconstitutionally discriminates against religious groups, requiring that parents send their children only to schools which reject religious views entirely–itself a religious view–or forego the government assistance they cannot afford to be without.

It would be akin to refusing to provide food stamps to any family that says grace before meals.

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#125: My Presidential Election Fears

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #125, on the subject of My Presidential Election Fears.

I mentioned (originally in #68:  Ridiculous Republicans back in March, most recently this past week in #123:  The 2016 Election in New Jersey) that this election was going to be about whom you vote against.  A lot of people are afraid, very afraid, that one of these candidates will win–probably equally applicable to both candidates, and some voters are afraid of both.  I have thought about it, and agree that there is reason to be afraid, but I think I am afraid of only one of them.  So permit me a moment to explain.


I am not afraid of a Donald Trump Presidency.

I recognize that Trump presents a lot of bluster and arrogance.  He is perceived as a buffoon, a cartoon, a joke.  However, he probably has laughed all the way to the bank more than once.  He is a successful businessman, with experience in the real world both nationally and internationally.  He knows how to run a business, even several businesses.

The perception of Trump from the outside is that he will make many rash decisions.  One does not become ludicrously wealthy by making rash decisions–bold, yes, rash, no.  Rather, there are two things which someone successful in business learns very early, or he does not continue to be successful for long:

  1. Hire experts who know their subject, listen to their advice, and follow it.
  2. Hire executives who know their jobs, and let them do them.

This, incidentally, appears to be how Ronald Reagan ran his White House:  surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing, and trust them to do it.  I don’t say that Trump is another Reagan; I do expect that he would follow that same effective pattern.  Presidents who think they know how to do everything and try to control it all are generally viewed as lesser successes–Wilson, Carter.  Those who know how to obtain good advice and delegate important tasks and decisions prove to be the best executives–and the President of the United States is ultimately an executive, not different in kind from the president of a multi-national corporation.

I don’t know that he has always been completely honest, but I believe that he has avoided doing anything illegal, and I think that he means what he says even if he’s a bit dramatic at times.  I think in those senses he is trustworthy.  He might rattle the big stick quite a bit, but under the bluster he obviously has enough sense to make things work.

As far as some of his “crazy policies”, well, despite the nonsense our present President has tried with his executive orders attempting to end run the legislature, Presidents do not get to do whatever they want.  I don’t see even a solidly Republican Congress rubberstamping his ideas, and I’m doubtful we’ll have a solidly Republican Congress.  The laws that do get passed will be no more nor less ridiculous than those passed in the past, because we have a good system that works well in that regard.  The legislative branch is totally independent of the executive, and has a fair amount of influence over executive appointments and actions, so there is a check in place for all of that.

I am afraid of a Hillary Clinton Presidency.

The simple reason is that I do not trust her.  I believe that she lies to obtain power, wealth, and fame.  I don’t see that changing simply because she gets it.  There are serious concerns about whether she and her staff are guilty of treason in leaking classified information through carelessness–and while one might thereby excuse it because everyone makes mistakes, there are also serious allegations of influence peddling when she was Secretary of State.  There is the potential that she will be indicted for any of these offenses before she can take the oath of office.

I do not want our President to be available to the highest bidder.

I do not want our President to lie to us about her intentions or her actions.

I do not want our next Supreme Court nominee, or appointee to the State Department, or any other government official to be selected from the short list of Clinton Foundation donors.

I have had enough of government corruption and overreaching with the present administration, and would like to see it ended.  A Clinton Presidency would more likely escalate it.  There is good evidence that she has lied, cheated, and stolen in the past, and no evidence that she will do otherwise in the future.  I would prefer not to give her that opportunity.

I believe that we are all in God’s hands; that does not mean He will protect our nation.  We will get either the government we need or the one we deserve.  That might not be the one we like, but God knows what He’s doing.  My fears might become reality, or they might be allayed; I might be wrong in my assessment of the dangers in either direction.  However, I am going to vote against the candidate I most fear.  We do not need a Democratic version of Richard Nixon.

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#124: The 2016 New Jersey Public Questions

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #124, on the subject of The 2016 New Jersey Public Questions.

We previously gave a quick overview of the New Jersey Congressional candidates in #123:  The 2016 Election in New Jersey, and promised to return with a look at the Public Questions, two issues on which the voters are being asked to vote.  Both of these involve amendments to the New Jersey State Constitution, a popular topic for such questions since there are quite a few things that the constitution does not permit the state government to do without the immediate consent of the voters, many of them involving taxing and spending.


Public Question #1:  Constitutional Amendment to permit casino gambling in two counties other than Atlantic County.

This appears to be a long-sought hard-fought compromise, and a bit of a history lesson is in order.

About forty years ago Atlantic City was dying.  It had long been a vacation hot-spot and convention go-to, but was fading.  Transportation had gotten cheaper and easier (despite the gasoline crisis of the seventies) so wealthy vacationers could easily visit Disney World.  The Boardwalk had been overshadowed significantly by Great Adventure and several other theme parks in nearby Pennsylvania.  Other tourist-dependent cities such as Las Vegas pushed for the convention business, and convention centers were springing up everywhere.  Meanwhile, the originally pleasant locale was becoming a dirty, crime-ridden city where tourists weren’t always safe.  The city had to do something.

Noticing that the state had made a lot of money running a lottery–the first concession to gambling as a legal activity beyond contests run by non-profit organizations–they pushed for permission to open a few casinos.  At the time, Las Vegas was the only place within the United States where casino gambling was legal, and that was far enough away that an east coast establishment would be a serious competitor.  There were a lot of concerns, including questions about organized crime, but ultimately the state agreed and approved casino gambling in Atlantic City.  It was a huge success which significantly benefited the city, in no small part because the law stipulated that Atlantic City would get the lion’s share of the tax revenue from the venture to rebuild its failing infrastructure.

It is still debated whether in sum casino gambing has been good or bad for the city.  Many of the jobs go to people in its suburbs.  However, it has become an established part of the world, and many east coast states have followed suit, opening casinos on a limited basis.

Many New Jersey cities have wanted to have the same deal Atlantic City got, but Atlantic City and other southern New Jersey groups have argued against this.  After all, the revenue from those casinos keeps the city afloat, even though it has been declining over the years as other states attempt to compete with them.  Open casinos in Newark, it is argued, and northern New Jersey gamblers will save a few miles by going there; do the same in Camden, and the southern New Jersey crowd will be split.  Another casino anywhere in the state will mean lost business for Atlantic City.

Two things are evident in the information presented on the ballot.

The less important is that no city within seventy-two miles of Atlantic City will be permitted to have a casino.  That means that it is more than an hour’s drive between them, although it also means that some people will be within perhaps forty minutes of both locations.  That distance excludes Camden; it excludes Jackson Township, home of Six Flags Great Adventure.  It appears that it might permit a casino at the very tip of the western end of Salem County in Pennsville, but is intended to help the northern half of the state.  Seventy-two miles might allow one in Asbury Park, north up the coast, Freehold, and of course just about anywhere north and west of that arc, including Trenton, Newark, and nearly all of what is called “north Jersey” by people who live at least as far north as Burlington County.  (People who live down here by the Delaware Bay tend to think that Camden is in North Jersey–it’s clear up across the river from Philadelphia.)  Clearly the new casinos are intended to benefit the northern half of the state at the expense of the southern half–which is why it was such a fight.

The more important aspect of the amendment is that a signifcant amount of the tax money raised by these casinos goes to Atlantic city for the next quarter century.  This should minimize the impact of losses there, in what we might think the short term, and is undoubtedly the compromise there to reduce southern opposition.  The total amount of revenue from casinos should increase, and the amount going to Atlantic City should also increase.  The revenue is also intended for property tax relief for the elderly and disabled.  There is also a provision to assign some of the money to aiding New Jersey’s horse breeding industry, for both thoroughbreds and standardbreds.

Of course, the host cities will also benefit from the increased tourism revenue–people who come to casinos also sometimes see the sights, eat in local restaurants outside the casino hotel, and otherwise spend money in the area.  Property taxes on the hotels also go into local, not state, coffers, so there are significant benefits here.

The law apparently gives preferential treatment to those already operating casinos in Atlantic City; they have half a year to produce proposals for the new sites before bidding is opened to others.

There are quite a few who oppose the amendment, mostly because it is vague leaving too much to the legislature and giving too much influence to those running the casinos, although some have suggested that the present model for casinos in New Jersey is not working and expanding it to include northern locations will only complicate that.

The text of the amendment is available on Ballotpedia.

Public Question #2:  Constitutional Amendment to dedicate additional revenues to state transportation system.

Remember that abrupt increase in the price of gas this past week?  That’s the new tax passed a while back now coming on line.  The government who raised the cost of gasoline did so because the Department of Transportation is, frankly, broke–they can’t afford to maintain the state-run roads and bridges and tunnels, and are facing serious layoffs.  Tolls were increased on our few toll roads, but the revenue from that is relatively small next to the costs, and the limitations on the use of that money leaves a lot of roads in serious trouble.

The complication is that the government can authorize the tax, but not restrict the spending.  They are now collecting more money on every mile we drive, and on the petroleum industry generally, which is going into the general budget.  It can be used for transportation, but it can be used for anything else.  Supporters of the amendment claim that this puts that revenue it into a “lock box” that goes directly to the Transportation Trust Fund, and so can’t be raided to pay for other programs (New Jersey governments have raided state trust funds in the past, only to find that money wasn’t there when it was needed.)  The amendment also dedicates that part of the tax on diesel fuel not already bound to transportation to that fund.

Opponents have several arguments.  One is that this Transportation Trust Fund doesn’t pay solely for roads and bridges, but also covers mass transit costs such as rail lines, and the government is hoping to spend a lot of money on those.  It is also noted that a law has already been approved which permits the state to borrow a lot of money for transportation projects–about three times the anticipated revenue–if the amendment passes.  As with Question 1, they say there are too many holes in the proposal, too many points on which the legislature would be given a lot more power than the voters anticipated.

It is also to some degree seen as asking the voters to endorse the recent 575% increase in the state gasoline tax–from four cents per gallon to twenty-seven cents per gallon.  To be clear, that tax does not get rescinded if this question does not pass; it is merely a question of whether the revenue from it will be limited to use by the Department of Transportation or available for the legislature to use however it wishes.

It is also worth noting as an aside that the same law that authorized the gasoline tax also reduced several other New Jersey state taxes, including (in 2018) a slight reduction in the sales tax.

Again, the text of the amendment is available on Ballotpedia.

Although the arguments that the proposals are incomplete is a sound one, on balance Question 2 seems to be an important control on the use of the money from the gas tax, despite concerns that government officials have some pet transportation projects they want to fund from it.  Question 1 is more difficult, but seems to be a reasonably fair compromise that should in the short term increase revenue to Atlantic City, help two as yet not selected northern cities, and resolve the long-standing conflict concerning casinos elsewhere in New Jersey.

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#123: The 2016 Election in New Jersey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #123, on the subject of The 2016 Election in New Jersey.

We are days from the quadrennial presidential election here in these United States, and I have, perhaps negligently, not written about the election at all since March.  At that time I published Dizzying Democrats and Ridiculous Republicans,img0123candidates
a pair of articles in which I decried the nonsense happening in both parties and concluded with the words

…we are looking toward a highly polarized election which at this point looks like the exit poll question will be, “Whom did you vote against?”

(Those who follow this web log will already have guessed that I am far more afraid of Clinton than of Trump; those who do not follow my writing probably are not particularly moved by that.)

But even if it has not been negligent for me to have ignored this ludicrous Presidential race between the Jackass and the Snake (I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which is whom), the fact is that the election is about more than merely choosing the next President of the United States.  Here in New Jersey, at least, we are electing a dozen members of the United States House of Representatives, and have two significant Public Questions on the ballot.  You can learn more than you want to know about the Presidential candidates anywhere; I owe you the opportunity to learn more about the local candidates.

After the brief assessment of the candidates, we have some thoughts about voting for people, for parties, and for third party candidates, that apply to everyone, so if you’re not from New Jersey (or you are and have found the information on your district) skip down below the numbered list and read that part.

Fortuitously, we provided sufficient coverage of the election of the current office holders in 2014, including the election results, and so it is simple enough to find your incumbent–and since probably your incumbent has been the familiar name bombarding you with political ads in your mailbox, you can work backwards from that to your district.  It is a bit tougher to find the opponents, but with the aid of sites like Ballotpedia you can usually find just about any politician in the country and his positions on a wide range of issues.  Here’s a quick rundown, with links to that site for more information.

  1. In the First Congressional District, covering most of Camden and parts of Gloucester and Burlington Counties, Democratic incumbent Donald Norcross is defending his seat against newcomer Republican Bob Patterson, writer and lobbyist, along with three other third-party candidates including a Libertarian.
  2. In the Second Congressional District, covering all of Salem, Cumberland, Cape May, and Atlantic Counties plus portions of Camden, Burlington, and Ocean Counties, Republican incumbent Frank Lobiondo is defending his seat against young Democrat Dave Cole, a Rutgers political science graduate who sought this seat in 2014 but lost in the primary, and against five other candidates including a Libertarian.
  3. In the Third Congressional District, covering most of Burlington and portions of Ocean Counties, Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur faces Democrat Frederick John LaVergne, who lost this same race two years ago, plus a third-party Libertarian candidate.
  4. In the Fourth Congressional District, covering most of Monmouth and parts of Mercer and Ocean Counties, long-time Republican incumbent Chris Smith faces Democrat Lorna Phillipson, failed candidate for the New Jersey Assembly who was put on the ballot here when the winner of the Democratic primary dropped from the race, and by two other candidates one from the Libertarian party.
  5. In the Fifth Congressional District, covering northern portions of Warren, Sussex, Passaic, and Bergen Counties, Republican incumbent Scott Garrett defends against Democratic newcomer Josh Gottheimer, a well-educated former (Bill) Clinton speechwriter and Microsoft executive.  Again there is a Libertarian party candidate in this race.
  6. Democrat Frank Pallone is the defending incumbent in the Sixth Congressional District, covering parts of Monmouth and Middlesex Counties, against Republican newcomer and small businessman Brent Sonnek-Schmelz, along with third party candidates from both the Libertarian and Green parties.
  7. Republican incumbent Leonard Lance is defending his seat in the Seventh Congressional District, covering Hunterdon and parts of Essex, Somerset, Union, and Warren Counties, against Democratic newcomer Peter Jacob, union supporter from an immigrant family, and against both Libertarian and Conservative Party candidates.
  8. Democratic incumbent Albio Sires defends in the Eighth Congressional District, covering parts of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Union Counties, against unknown Republican Agha Khan, and two others including a Libertarian.
  9. Democratic incumbent Bill Pascrell defends his seat in the Ninth Congressional District, covering parts of Bergen, Passaic, and Hudson Counties, against Republican Hector Castillo, previous candidate as a Republican for New Jersey State Senate and as an independent for New Jersey Governor, and against two third-party candidates, one a Libertarian.
  10. Democratic incumbent Donald Payne, Jr., continuing to hold his father’s seat in the Tenth Congressional District, covering parts of Essex, Union, and Hudson Counties, defends it against Republican David Pinckney, twice-failed candidate for the New Jersey State Assembly, and against two third-party candidates.
  11. The Eleventh Congressional District, covering parts of Morris, Passaic, Essex, and Sussex Counties, has long been held by Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen, who is defending against Democratic newcomer Joseph Wenzel plus two third-party candidates, one a Libertarian.
  12. In the Twelfth Congressional District, covering parts of Mercer, Middlesex, Union, and Somerset Counties, incumbent Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman defends her seat against former Libertarian now Republican Steven Uccio, failed candidate from both of those parties in several previous races, and against five third-party candidates including a Libertarian and a Green.

There is an argument in favor of voting for the candidate who best represents your views, regardless of his party affiliation.  There is also an argument in favor of voting for the party that has the best chance to bring at least some of your views into action.  Several of the candidates in various races this year are Greens, and quite a few are Libertarians, both parties representing some significant worthwhile positions–and yet their presence in the race actually decreases the probability that those policies will be enacted.

We have discussed the two-party system in our piece on Coalition Government, that particularly in Presidential politics but to a significant degree at every level elections are won by forming coalitions of disparate groups who can agree on a few policies they consider most important.  The Democrats agree with the Greens on critical environmental issues, but the Greens feel that the Democrats do not prioritize these sufficiently; the Republicans similarly stand with the Libertarians on limited government, but the Libertarians believe that the Republicans do not go far enough in this direction.  Yet every vote for a Green party candidate is one less for the Democrat who might have been elected and who would to some degree have supported Green policies, and every vote for a Libertarian is one less for the Republican who similarly might have advanced Libertarian causes.

The argument in the other direction is, of course, that the two parties which currently exist are not the original two parties, and over time coalitions dissolve and reform anew.  Prior to the Kennedy administration the Republicans were the Civil Rights party and the Democrats the oppressors of minorities.  Libertarians and Greens hope that they will attract enough support to become one of the two parties.  Yet they are viewed as single-issue parties, and single-issue parties, again as we previously noted in The Republican Dilemma, fail to form the coalitions necessary to win elections.  They work, generally, when a single issue has so divided the nation that many voters will support one side or the other above any other question and the two major parties have failed to take clear sides; but that is not the case in the present despite the severe polarization of our nation.

It is also worth considering that particularly in legislative bodies the party with the best representation often controls the procedural aspects of the agenda–a major advantage frequently that goes beyond what your individual representative can do.  Thus if you prefer Republican policies but like the Democratic candidate, you should at least consider voting for the Republican you don’t like, because that will make it more possible for Republican policies to advance even if your representative does not support them entirely.

So with that advice, I encourage you to vote in this election, and promise to return before then with a look at the two public questions on the New Jersey ballot.

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