Category Archives: Law and Politics

#375: Fixing the Focus

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #375, on the subject of Fixing the Focus.

I have previously written decrying polarization, and have touched on it enough times since that it is a key word in this web log.  It concerns me that things are not improving.

Being a moderate, I have discussions with people on both sides of the divide.  In the wake of the past few months, some–Christians–have been actively attempting to prove that the Presidency has been stolen by voter fraud on a massive scale, while others–also Christians–have been thanking God that the madman has been removed from the White House.  Both reactions seem extremist to me, and somewhat foolish, but I understand them.

Obviously the attack on the Capitol building in Washington was unreasonable.  The degree to which President Trump was responsible for this is something that will probably be discussed for a long time, even if it is decided by Congress.

As to that, I think that the impeachment action is a vindictive and undemocratic display of fear.  There are only two reasons to impeach a departing President.  One is to make it possible for him to face criminal charges for actions taken while in office, which means that the evidence will have to be taken to the courts if the impeachment motion carries.  The other is to prevent the man from running for office again–and that’s the undemocratic part of it.  It suggests that the party in control of Congress believes it is possible that the outgoing President could be re-elected in a future run, and they want to prevent his millions of supporters from being able to put him back in office–clearly an attack against their rights.

As my friend John Walker recently posted on Facebook,

When either side of a political structure tries to convince you that the the opposite view is the enemy, it’s time to stop believing in sides.

Yet both sides have been espousing this for most of this new century, and our political landscape is riddled with people who believe it.

It has been so for long enough that I am fairly certain nothing I can say will have a significant impact on this.

Yet I will not say nothing.

I will, rather, cite a preacher I heard on my local Christian radio station this week.  He very wisely said that Christians are called to bring about spiritual change, not political change.  Political and economic and social change might come from spiritual change–it has happened in the past–but our calling is to focus on the spiritual, to point people to Christ.  Christians fighting political battles are probably missing what is truly important.

‘Nuf said.

#371: The Twenty-Twenty Twenty/Twenty

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #371, on the subject of The Twenty-Twenty Twenty/Twenty.

I believe the correct greeting is Happy New Year, as we enter 2021.  That means it is time for us to look back at everything that we published in 2020.

The big deal is the book, in paperback and Kindle format, Why I Believe, a compilation of evidence on the basis of which intelligent people believe in God and in Jesus Christ.  I’m told the hardcover version is out, joining the paperback and Kindle versions, but haven’t seen it yet.

The year began, appropriately, on January 1st with a look back at the previous year, web log post #325:  The 2019 Recap, doing then what we are doing now, providing a quick look at everything from the previous dozen months.

On the first of the year I also published a song, the first of a dozen continuing from the seven of the previous year:

  1. web log post #326:  The Song “Mountain Mountain”;
  2. web log post #328:  The Song “Still Small Voice”;
  3. web log post #334:  The Song “Convinced”;
  4. web log post #337:  The Song “Selfish Love”;
  5. web log post #340:  The Song “A Man Like Paul”;
  6. web log post #341:  The Song “Joined Together”;
  7. web log post #346:  The Song “If We Don’t Tell Them”;
  8. web log post #349:  The Song “I Can’t Resist Your Love”;
  9. web log post #353:  The Song “I Use to Think”;
  10. web log post #356:  The Song “God Said It Is Good”;
  11. web log post #362:  The Song “My Life to You”; and
  12. web log post #366:  The Song “Sometimes”.

That series continues with another song later today.

On the subject of series, there are several others, including both the Faith in Play and RPG-ology monthly series at the Christian Gamers Guild.  These are both indexed, along with other excellent material from other contributing authors, at 2020 at the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed, posted yesterday.  Thanks to the editorial staff of the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, a large collection of the original Game Ideas Unlimited articles, thought to be lost when Gaming Outpost closed, have been recovered and are now appearing slightly repolished in these series.  (Quite a few of them plus other articles have been translated into French for their site.) We also finished posting the rest of the novel Versers Versus Versers, along with updated character sheets in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages, and started on the seventh, Re Verse All, which will continue well into the new year.  There were quite a few behind-the-writings web log posts connected to those, but they are indexed in the novel table of contents pages so we won’t burden this entry with them.

There was also the continuation of another series, reminiscences on the history of Christian contemporary and rock music from the early 1980s, which picked up with:

  1. web log post #329:  CCM Guys at the Beginning, a conglomerate of artists from Randy Matthews and Randy Stonehill through Michael W. Smith;
  2. web log post #332:  The Wish of Scott Wesley Brown;
  3. web log post #335:  Bob Bennett’s First Matters;
  4. web log post #342:  Fireworks Times Five, one of the best rock bands of the era;
  5. web log post #345:  Be Ye Glad, one of the best vocal bands of the era;
  6. web log post #358:  DeGarmo and Key, Not a Country Band, another excellent early rock ensemble.

I should mention for the time travel fans that there is indeed a book in the works, possibly with a sequel, but it’s still in the early stages so that’s on the list for the coming year.  Meanwhile, temporal anomalies were not ignored, as we had several posts and pages.

Among the miscellaneous posts this year is one about the fact that my work appears under several slightly different names–Mark, Mark J., M. Joseph, M. J., and Mark Joseph–and the story behind that is explained in web log post #331:  What’s With the Names?  A musician asked a question on a Facebook group, which I answered in web log post #352:  Why No One Cares About Your Songs.

Giving extra confusion to the year, in February my second grandchild, my first grandson, was born, roughly a decade or so after his half-sister.  That was the beginning of a saga that still is not completely resolved, but it was several months before he came home, in time for Halloween.

My book reading slowed drastically, due largely to the fact that my Kindle was smashed and I’ve been trying to get it repaired, but there are a few book reviews (one of a book on writing) at Goodreads.  Also appearing are two republished book reviews, as web log posts #351:  In re:  Evil Star and #368:  In re:  Cry of the Icemark, recovered from the lost Gaming Outpost archives.

We were quiet on the political front until June, when events related to Black Lives Matter prompted the writing of web log post #344:  Is It O.K. Not to Make a Statement?  Some argued that it was not.  We later explained the mail-in ballot system adopted by our home state in web log post #360:  Voting in 2020 in New Jersey, with a follow-up a couple weeks later in web log post #363:  The 2020 Election in New Jersey.

The year ahead looks promising.  There should be another song posted today, with Faith in Play and RPG-ology articles already queued for publication later this month and well into the year ahead, chapters of the novel Re Verse All with their accompanying behind-the-writings peeks standing by, more CCM history, some time travel movies awaiting my attention, and–well, we’ll have to see what appears.  Meanwhile, this is your opportunity to catch anything you missed or re-read anything you forgot.

I would be remiss if I did not thank those who have supported me through Patreon and PayPal.me, and to invite and encourage others to do so.  The Patreon web log is the first place where all new pages are announced, and the place to go for glimpses of what is to come, and even as little as a dollar a month helps me immensely and gets you that information delivered several times a week.  Thank you.

#363: The 2020 Election in New Jersey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #363, on the subject of The 2020 Election in New Jersey.

I was waiting for the vote count to be complete so I could pass the information to you, and it seems that there were a couple of congressional seats that were close enough that the counting continued into sometime Saturday.  The last to be resolved happened to be my own district, District 2, which was also perhaps the most interesting district election in the state, but we’ll get to that.

Perhaps not surprisingly, all three ballot questions passed.  I say not surprisingly because in as long as I’ve been covering New Jersey political news (which is not really so long as all that, but it’s been a few years now) I have never seen a ballot question fail.  I am reliably informed that sometimes they do, but not this time.

So what do they mean?  We discussed them last week in web log post #360:  Voting in 2020 in New Jersey, but here’s a quick review and summary.

Question #1, on the Legalization of Marijuana, has been widely misunderstood by people eager to get their hands on the stuff.  It does not mean that you can now legally grow your own marijuana.  It means that you can legally buy it from state-sponsored distribution outlets, of which I understand there are eight set up to provide cannabis for medicinal use which will now also handle recreational supplies.  The legislature is expected to create some laws next year that will regulate other aspects of its legal use, but don’t rush out and set up your own business just yet.  Expect to pay the state price plus the state sales tax, plus potentially up to a 2% local municipal sales tax which the municipalities are authorized to add.

Question #2 provides Tax Relief for Veterans, extending a property tax break previously given to veterans who served in time of war to all veterans.

Question #3 updates Redistricting Rules in anticipation of the possibility that the census data might be delayed, to give the state sufficient time to create new districts in that case.

All incumbents up for re-election, which means all federal offices on which we voted, kept their seats.  That means Senator Cory Booker plus twelve members of the House of Representatives, by district:

  1. Democrat Donald Norcross;
  2. Republican Jeff Van Drew;
  3. Democrat Andrew Kim;
  4. Republican Chris Smith;
  5. Democrat Jeff Gottheimer;
  6. Democrat Frank Pallone;
  7. Democrat Tom Malinowski;
  8. Democrat Albio Sires;
  9. Democrat Bill Pascrell;
  10. Democrat Donald Payne, Jr.;
  11. Democrat Mikie Sherrill;
  12. Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman.

As mentioned, the interesting race–and the one that was decided last–was district 2.  In New Jersey, some say that what gets you elected is name recognition, others say it is party affiliation.  Van Drew has held the District 2 Congressional seat since 2012.  He might not be a household name, but his name is not unfamiliar.  On the other hand, when he was elected he was a Democrat, and during this most recent term, influenced by President Trump, he became a Republican.  So the question was, would name recognition return him to his seat, or would party affiliation get him bumped?  It was apparently close, but he remains the Congressman from District 2, giving the state two Republicans in the House against its ten Democrats.

Again not surprisingly Democrat Joe Biden carried the Presidential race in the state, and as of this writing most media outlets have declared him the winner nationally.  There are a number of legal actions nationwide, but none of them look promising enough to overturn that.  The Senate is currently 48 Democrats to 47 Republicans with five races still undetermined.  The House still has forty-two undecided races, with Democrats ahead 201 to 192; thus far Republicans have gained six seats (winning eight previously held by Democrats but losing two to the Democrats).  There is a good chance Democrats will hold majorities in both houses, but it is not certain.  Since Georgia is going to have at least one and possibly two run-off elections, it might be months before the dust settles completely.

#360: Voting in 2020 in New Jersey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #360, on the subject of Voting in 2020 in New Jersey.

I was watching for my annual sample ballot, and realized that what I received instead was a mail-in ballot, and that due to its not entirely unjustified COVID paranoia the state wants all of us to mail in our votes.  They are not opening as many polling places this year, and would rather no one come to them.  (Given the public fights that have occurred over the current Presidental race, one might think that the disease issue is an excuse, but we’ll take their word for it that that’s the reason.)  In the past such mass mail-in voting systems have been fraught with fraud, and already there are reports of fraud in the present election, but the penalties are fairly severe including loss of the right to vote, so the best advice is don’t tamper with any ballot that is not your own.

My initial reaction was to write this article on how to vote.  Then I saw that both Google and Facebook were promoting pages on how to vote, and thought I would be redundant.  Then I rummaged through the pack of papers which came in the envelope and decided that it was a bit confusing, and perhaps I should tackle it.

It is important to understand that your packet contains two envelopes, and you might need them both.  Mine also contained two ballots, one for the general election and a second for the school election, so be aware of that as well.

You will need a pen with black or blue ink.  Ballot readers cannot process red ink or most other colors, and pencil is considered subject to tampering.

The school ballot, assuming you receive one, is specific to your district, and probably is just candidates for the local school board.  It should be marked and placed with the other ballot in the envelopes, as discussed below.

The general election ballot is two sided, at least in my district, with candidates for office and three somewhat extensive and controversial public questions on the other.  Avoid making any marks outside those indicating your selections.  The ballot this year includes:

  • President Trump and his Vice President Pence, with those running against them;
  • Senator Booker, with those running against him;
  • one seat in the United States House of Representatives, specific to your congressional district
  • Some number of county/local offices.

Each candidate name is in its own box, rows across identifying the office, columns down generally the political party.

In the upper right corner of each candidate’s box is a small hard-to-see red circle.  fill in the circle completely of each candidate for whom you are voting.  You are not obligated to vote for anyone simply to have voted for someone for that office, that is, you can decide to leave a row blank.  There is a write-in space to the far right end.

In most districts, you will have to flip the ballot over to get to the ballot questions, and these are somewhat important this year.  The questions are, of course, yes/no votes, with the little red circles at the bottom of the page below the Spanish text.

Question #1:  Legalization of Marijuana.

The state wants to amend the (state) constitution to allow regulated sales of something called cannabis to those at least 21 years old.  There is already a Cannabis Regulatory Commission in the state to control our medical marijuana supply, and they would oversee this.  The bill includes a clause permitting local governments to tax retail sales.

It should be observed that the restriction to those at least 21 years old is likely to be about as effective as the similar restriction on alcohol use.  On the other hand, a lot of our court and jail system is clogged with marijuana user cases.  Yet again, whatever the state decides, marijuana use will still be a federal crime, and it will still be legal for employers to terminate an employee who fails a reasonably required drug test.

This would be a constitutional amendment, so if the change is made, it is permanent.

I have previously suggested issuing drinking licenses which I indicated could be used if the state decided to legalize other drugs.

Question #2:  Tax Relief for Veterans

When you enlist in the military, it’s something of a crap shoot:  even if you know we are at war when you enlist, you don’t know whether you will wind up fighting.  Still, there is a benefits distinction between those who served during times of war and those who served, ready to fight if necessary, during times of peace.  One of those distinctions is that those who were enlisted during times of war get property tax deductions, and those who are disabled get better ones.  Question #2 would extend those benefits to veterans who served in peacetime, including those who are disabled.

Veterans get a lot of benefits; on the other hand, we should not begrudge them these.  There might be a difference between those who fought and those who didn’t, but that’s not the distinction the law makes–it rather distinguishes those who served during a war even if they were behind a desk in Washington from those who served during peacetime even if they were part of military aid to other war-torn countries.  There are good reasons to remove the distinction, and I’m not persuaded that the reduction in property tax income is a sufficient counter argument.

Question #3:  Redistricting Rules

The United States Constitution requires a census every decade.  The states are then required by their own constitutions to use that information to create new voting districts that more fairly represent their populations.  This year the fear is that due to COVID-19 the census data is going to be delayed and will not be delivered to the state in time to create the new districts for the fall 2021 election cycle.

To address this, the legislature has proposed an amendment that states that if census data is not delivered to the governor by a specific date in the year ending 01, previous districts will be used for those elections and the redistricting commission will have an extra year to get the issue addressed.

It sounds simple and logical, but there are those opposing it as potentially racist and benefiting politicians, not people.  On the other hand, it solves a potential problem before it becomes serious.  It would apply to any future situations in which a similar information problem occurred, and while this has never happened before and might not happen even now, contingencies are worth having.

Submitting the Ballot

One of the two envelopes has some bright red and yellow coloring on it plus your name and registered address and a bar code.  Once the ballots are completed, they go into this envelope.  I will call this the ballot envelope.

It is necessary that the information on the flap of the ballot envelope be completed.  This includes your printed name and address at the top and your signature, the same signature that is on the voter registration rolls.

Once you have completed this, you have three options, one of which creates more complications in filling out the envelopes.

One is to use the other envelope to deliver the ballot by United States Mail.  This envelope has the postage pre-paid business reply certification, addressed to your County Board of Elections.  I will call this the mailing envelope.  If you do this, it must be postmarked not later than 8:00 PM Eastern Time on Election Day (November 3 this year) and must be received within a period of days specified by law.  After having sealed the ballot envelope, place it in the mailing envelope such that your name and address on the ballot envelope appears in the clear window on the back of the mailing envelope, and seal that as well.  Your name and address should be written to the top left on the front.  It can then be mailed by any normal means.

The second is that there are reportedly ballot drop boxes, generally at polling locations, and you can insert the ballot envelope in the ballot box (without the outer mailing envelope) to deliver it directly to the board of elections.  This too must be done by or before 8:00 PM Eastern Time on Election Day.

The third is that you can use either of these methods but have someone else deliver your ballot either to the ballot box or the mailbox on your behalf.  No one is permitted to deliver more than three ballots, including his own, in an election, and no one who is a candidate can deliver a ballot that is not his own.  A person who handles your ballot must put his name, address, and signature on the ballot envelope and, if mailed, on the mailing envelope.

So that’s the whole ball of wax, as they say.  Remember, you should vote if you have reason to do so, but you should not feel obligated to vote for any office or any issue about which you are uninformed.

#344: Is It O.K. Not to Make a Statement?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #344, on the subject of Is It O.K. Not to Make a Statement?.

Recent events have raised this question in my mind.

I don’t want to discuss the political issue; I want to discuss the discussion.  There are many people on one side and very few on the other, and the people in the majority–or at least the loudest group–appears to be of the opinion that no one is permitted to be quiet.  Everyone is required to agree with them or face consequences.

That’s how we get polarization, and the major issue with polarization is that everyone stops listening to the other side and compromise and progress become impossible.

And there are innocent victims along the way.

The Origins Game Fair, one of the longest-running major game conventions in the United States (old enough that the original Dungeons & Dragons game was debuted at it, and that was a minor incident in its ongoing history), faced with the problems of the COVID-19 virus, cancelled its event, the annual June game convention in Columbus, Ohio.  Efforts were progressing toward holding a massive online convention.

That has now been cancelled due to the Black Lives Matter protests.

The official reason seems to be something like (and I’m paraphrasing hearsay) it would be inappropriate to do something as frivolous as celebrate games during this time in which people are being horribly oppressed based on race.

The unofficial reason seems to be something like (and now I’m paraphrasing gossip) that people supporting the Black Lives Matter movement were pressuring this non-political corporation to make a statement in support of the movement, and when the non-political company chose to remain non-political the supporters of the movement began a boycott.

Well, the official reason is, if that’s actually it and you’ll forgive the expression, bull droppings.  Following its logic, and recognizing that someone-or-other has been oppressed for centuries, it would never be appropriate to celebrate anything good.  Cancel Thanksgiving; it is inappropriate to celebrate the abundance of the harvest as long as there is still oppression in the world.  But oppression of blacks and black poverty is much improved since half a century ago–and yes, I was there.

Besides, it has long bothered me that black poverty is made such an issue when there are so many impoverished whites living alongside them.  I looked up some statistics online (got 2018 numbers), and there are one and three fourths white people below the poverty line for every black–15.7 million whites, 8.9 million blacks.  That turns out to be a larger percentage of the black population, and you will get that statistic thrown at you quite a bit, because as Mark Twain once said, “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damn lies, and Statistics.”  Yes we need to do more to help impoverished blacks; fundamentally, though, we need to do more to help impoverished people.  We need to understand that lives matter, and color doesn’t.

But in my mind the issue is not the issue.  Sure, I support protesters speaking out for better treatment for blacks.  I further think that those who for some reason want to protest against this (I can’t think of one right now) should organize intelligent counter-protests and not, as is allegedly happening, attempt to sabotage the peaceful protests of their opposition.  What I find objectionable is this outside-the-protest pressure on people who would prefer to remain neutral, insisting that they take sides in the debate and declare themselves, and so offend one side or the other, or be deemed an enemy of the movement and a target for reprisal.

This, though, seems to be the new strategy of public debate.  Not so long ago when it was still possible to question global warming there were honest scientists threatened with losing funding and positions if they didn’t toe the line and join the global warming brigade.  That was not the only time it has been done.  To recall the words of Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes:

Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition….[but] the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas–that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

So hold your opinion.  Hold it strongly and express it loudly and clearly.

But accept that there are people who don’t hold your opinion, or don’t hold it as strongly, or don’t wish to be identified with one side of an issue, and have some human decency and respect and let them hold their opinion or keep it to themselves, as they prefer.  Demanding that they take sides publicly on a publicly controversial issue is more than just rude, it’s a violation of our Constitutionally protected rights.

#325: The 2019 Recap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #325, on the subject of The 2019 Recap.

Happy New Year to you.  A year ago I continued the tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #278:  The 2018 Recap.  I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable, so that if you missed something you can find it, or if you vaguely remember something you want to read again you can hunt it down.  Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.

For example, that day also saw the publication of the first Faith in Play article of the year, but all twelve of those plus the dozen RPG-ology series articles are listed, described, and linked in 2019 at the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed, published yesterday.  There’s some good game stuff there in addition to some good Bible stuff, including links to some articles by other talented gaming writers, and a couple contributions involving me one way or another that were not parts of either series.  Also CGG-related, I finished the Bible study on Revelation and began John in January; we’re still working through John, but thanks to a late-in-the-year problem with Yahoo!Groups that had been hosting us we had to move everything to Groups.IO, and I haven’t managed to fix all the important links yet.

At that point we were also about a quarter of the way through the novel Garden of Versers as we posted a Robert Slade chapter that same day, but that entire novel is indexed there, along with links to the web log posts giving background on the writing process.  In October we launched the sixth novel, Versers Versus Versers, which is heating up in three chapters a week, again indexed along with behind-the-writings posts there, and it will continue in the new year.  There are also links to the support pages, character sheets for the major protagonists and a few antagonists in the stories.  Also related to the novels, in October I invited reader input on which characters should be the focus of the seventh, in #318:  Toward a Seventh Multiverser Novel.

I wrote a few book reviews at Goodreads, which you can find there if you’re interested.  More of my earlier articles were translated for publication at the Places to Go, People to Be French edition.

So let’s turn to the web log posts.

The first one after the recap of the previous year was an answer to a personal question asked impersonally on a public forum:  how did I know I was called to writing and composing?  The answer is found in web log post #279:  My Journey to Becoming a Writer.

I had already begun a miniseries on the Christian contemporary and rock music of the seventies and early eighties–the time when I was working at the radio station and what I remembered from before that.  That series continued (and hopefully will continue this year) with:

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it is evident that the music dominated the web log this year.  In May I was invited to a sort of conference/convention in Nashville, which I attended and from which I benefited significantly.  I wrote about that in web log post #297:  An Objective Look at The Extreme Tour Objective Session.  While there I talked to several persons in the Christian music industry, and one of them advised me to found my own publishing company and publish my songs.  After considerable consideration I recognized that I have no skills for business, but I could put the songs out there, and so I began with a sort of song-of-the-month miniseries, the first seven songs posted this year:

  1. #301:  The Song “Holocaust”
  2. #307:  The Song “Time Bomb”
  3. #311:  The Song “Passing Through the Portal”
  4. #314:  The Song “Walkin’ In the Woods”
  5. #317:  The Song “That’s When I’ll Believe”
  6. #320:  The Song “Free”
  7. #322:  The Song “Voices”

I admit that I have to some degree soured on law and politics.  Polarization has gotten so bad that moderates are regarded enemies by the extremists on both sides.  However, I tackled a few Supreme Court cases, some issues in taxes including tariffs, a couple election articles, and a couple of recurring issues:

I was hospitalized more than once this year, but the big one was right near the beginning when the emergency room informed me that that pain was a myocardial infarction–in the vernacular, a heart attack.  Many of you supported me in many ways, and so I offered web log post #285:  An Expression of Gratitude.

Most of the game-related material went to the RPG-ology series mentioned at the beginning of this article, and you should visit that index for those.  I did include one role playing game article here as web log post #303:  A Nightmare Game World, a very strange scenario from a dream.

Finally, I did eventually post some time travel analyses, two movies available on Netflix.  The first was a kind of offbeat not quite a love story, Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies unravels When We First Met; the second a Spike Lee film focused on trying to fix the past, Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies unravels See You Yesterday.  For those wondering, I have not yet figured out how I can get access to the new Marvel movie Endgame, as it appears it will not be airing on Netflix and I do not expect to spring for a Disney subscription despite its appeal, at least, not unless the Patreon account grows significantly.

So that’s pretty much what I wrote this year, not counting the fact that I’m working on the second edition of Multiverser, looking for a publisher for a book entitled Why I Believe, and continuing to produce the material to continue the ongoing series into the new year.  We’ll do this again in a dozen months.

#321: The 2019 New Jersey Election Ballot

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #321, on the subject of The 2019 New Jersey Election Ballot.

I haven’t actually been negligent in relation to this election; it’s just that when New Jersey holds its State Senate and Assembly elections there are more candidates in more districts than can reasonably be considered.  However, having pulled myself out of my indifference, I determined that there is something on every district ballot in the state this year.  We have a Public Question.

The title is New Jersey Public Question 1, Property Tax Deduction for Veterans Extended to Continuing Care Retirement Communities Amendment (2019), and the text reads

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO GIVE CERTAIN VETERANS’ BENEFITS TO RESIDENTS OF CONTINUING CARE RETIREMENT COMMUNITIES

Do you approve amending the Constitution to allow eligible veterans to receive the value of the veterans’ property tax deduction if they reside in a continuing care retirement community? The deduction shall be provided to a continuing care retirement community, which shall pass the value of the deduction on to the eligible veterans who live there.

Now for language clarification.

In the state of New Jersey, every veteran who owns real property such as a home, or who is a stockholder in a housing cooperative, receives a $250 deduction on property taxes.  This constitutional amendment extends that deduction to reach veterans who live in nursing homes and similar long-care facilities.  The system would give a $250 property tax credit to the nursing home itself for each veteran residing in its care, and require that this credit go to the accounts of those veterans, reducing the costs of their stay.

There are certainly many veterans in nursing homes that are self-paid, fully or partially, and there is an inequity in subsidizing the housing costs of those who live in private homes but not those who have been forced into long-term care.  There are undoubtedly potential problems here, though.  For those whose costs are covered by various types of insurance, will the insurer view this as a reduction in the cost and thus in the benefit, shifting the cost from private insurers to taxpayers?  On the other hand, $250 annually is a drop in the bucket against the price of long term care, and the administrative costs to the facilities are going to confuse the issue further.

Still, the measure appears to have strong bipartisan support, and if it helps only a few thousand veterans, they deserve the support.

Disclosure:  my wife works at a long-term care facility.  I did not discuss this question or this article with her.

#309: Racially Discriminatory Ticketing

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #309, on the subject of Racially Discriminatory Ticketing.

A music festival in Detroit aimed at a black audience openly advertised that tickets for white people (“non-persons-of-color”) would cost twice what the same tickets would cost for “persons of color”.  This clearly racially discriminatory policy had a justification, which we will address, but the justification was just as discriminatory.

Praise goes to Jillian Graham, who goes by the stage name Tiny Jag, a rapper who withdrew from the concert when she learned of this discriminatory policy, and informed her fans concerning the reason for her withdrawal.  Prejudice is just as ugly when reversed, and this was a case of reverse discrimination.

Afrofuture Youth, Detroit-based sponsors of Afrofuture Fest, explained their policy:

OUR TICKET STRUCTURE WAS BUILT TO INSURE (sic) THAT THE MOST MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES (PEOPLE OF COLOR) ARE PROVIDED WITH AN EQUITABLE CHANCE AT ENJOYING EVENTS IN THEIR OWN COMMUNITY(BLACK DETROIT).

AFFORDING JOY AND PLEASURE IS UNFORTUNATELY STILL A PRIVILEGE IN OUR SOCIETY FOR POC AND WE BELIEVE EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE ACCESS TO RECEIVING SUCH.

WE’VE SEEN TOO MANY TIMES ORGASMIC EVENTS HAPPENING IN DETROIT AND OTHER POC POPULATED CITIES AND WHAT CONSISTENTLY HAPPENS IS PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF THE COMMUNITY BENEFITING MOST FROM AFFORDABLE TICKET PRICES BECAUSE OF THEIR PROXIMITY TO WEALTH.

THIS CYCLE DISPROPORTIONATELY DISPLACES BLACK AND BROWN PEOPLE FROM ENJOYING ENTERTAINMENT IN THEIR OWN COMMUNITIES.

The prejudice is obvious here:  Afrofest attaches wealth absolutely to color, that all white people are wealthy and all non-white people are impoverished.  That’s not only not how it works, that’s a set of stereotypes damaging to everyone.

I can assure you that Thomas Sowell, Justice Thomas, Barrack Obama, and Beyoncé Knowles are all “persons of color” and all have considerably more money than I have.  I suspect that at least some of them have more money than most of my readers, black, white, or other.  Were I better versed in people I could probably list hundreds of “persons of color” who are among the wealthy, from entertainment, sports, business, politics, medicine, and law.  But I suspect the reverse is similarly true.  AfroFuture wants to serve the poor of Detroit, but mistakenly assumes that there are no poor white people in the city.  Certainly the deep metropolitan areas of Detroit are predominantly black–but demographic statistics shows a not-negligible caucasion contingent.  Do they live in the wealthy Detroit neighborhoods?  I think there are no more of those.

AfroFest’s goals of ensuring access to entertainment for the impoverished in Detroit are admirable; their methodology is deplorable.

They could have achieved much the same goal by selling discounted tickets not to people of color, but to people with proof of residency:  create a set of tickets for Detroit residents, possibly including immediate suburbs similarly blighted, and require that anyone over a certain age presenting such a ticket at the gate also present proof of address.  That way people from the impoverished neighborhoods get the discount without reference to whether they happen to be black or hispanic or Asian or poor whites.  That would be a considerably less prejudicial way of discriminating, that is, of catering to poor people and making wealthier people pay more, instead of selling cheap tickets to wealthy blacks and making poor whites pay extra for theirs.

Of course, if AfroFest is correct that there are no wealthy blacks or poor whites in the Greater Detroit metropolitan area, they get the same result–and they don’t have to use racial profiling to do so.

#308: Assembly Candidate Edward Durr Interview

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #308, on the subject of Assembly Candidate Edward Durr Interview.

I received a letter from Edward Durr, seeking my support for his candidacy for New Jersey State Assembly in the 3rd Assembly District.  It was one of those fortuitous mistakes–he was contacting churches, and Google Maps somehow has determined that there is a church at my address.  Yet as Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild I am in a real sense clergy, and TheExaminer never, to my knowledge, revoked my title as Newark Political Buzz Examiner, even though I no longer write for them–I simply don’t submit articles, and since I don’t do that I don’t get paid for them.  However, as I sent Mr. Durr an e-mail to explain the mistake, I recalled that in 2015 I published interviews with several New Jersey candidates for House of Representatives.  Although I am not actively going to attempt to contact all the candidates for State Assembly in this election cycle (with eighty seats and two party candidates plus some number of independents for each, there must be near two hundred of them), I will commit to interviewing any candidate for state office who contacts me.  Mr. Durr was pleased to do so, and I sent questions within a couple days which he answered promptly.

Thank you, Mr. Durr, for taking the time to answer a few questions.

First I want to thank you for taking the time to do this and provide me the chance to share with your readers my position.

Next I want to take this time to wish you and yours and Happy 4th & may it be safe.

You are running on the Republican ticket for New Jersey State Assemblyman in the 3rd Assembly District.  Looking at the map (correct me if I’m mistaken), it appears that this includes all of Salem County and parts of Gloucester and Cumberland Counties including the cities of Glassboro and Bridgeton. I’m assuming you live in the district; have you lived here all your life, or when and why did you come here?

Yes you are correct about the counties and district.  Yes I live in the district however I grew up just a little north of where I live. I was born and raised in NJ and grew up in Gloucester city where I lived til I was 18 when my parents moved where they live now in Logan [T]wp.

Two years ago you ran for that seat as an independent, and did fairly well for an independent in a heavily party-oriented state, drawing about one half of one percent of the vote.  As far as I can tell you have no other political experience.  What prompted you to run this time?

I ran as Independent in 2017 because I jump[ed] into it after primary so I was made to list that way.  I decided to run again because I still believe NJ can be turned around.  Yes it is true I have no political experience but I do not think that should be considered a negative.  So I approached the NJGOP end of last year letting it know I wanted to run again and they welcomed me in giving me full endorsement.

Although in national politics district 3 has been something of a swing vote (supported Trump in 2016, Obama in 2012), Democrats have rather solidly held the Assembly seats for quite a while.  One of your incumbent opponents has been in the Assembly since 2001, and the other has been there since he was appointed to replace a predecessor in 2015.  In 2017 the incumbent Democrats defeated their Republican opponents by a three-to-two margin, and while incumbency certainly has a lot to do with that, an unknown Republican candidate has an uphill battle here.  What prompted you to run as a Republican?

I am conservative so only natural for me to run as [R]epublican.  I believe in fiscal responsibility I am firm believer in the constitution and all it entails including the right of self defense including the owning and bearing of firearms.  Yes I am fighting an uphill battle but I believe my fight is needed.

Online information suggests that you have worked as a carpenter and a truck driver, but is a bit sketchy otherwise. What about your experience do you think qualifies you to serve in the State Assembly?

I have had a number of jobs over my life.  It is true I am not a lawyer or doctor or have a PHD but I do not think that is needed to understand that our state is in trouble.  Look at all the lawyers and doctors and executives in Trenton and consider the job they have done I think maybe we should not worry about degrees so much.

I’m going to ask you about three issues you listed on Ballotpedia as your top priorities.  The first is cutting taxes, which appears primarily to mean reducing property tax rates.  As I understand it, the State spends every penny it collects and is not permitted to borrow money without approval by the voters.  That means to reduce taxes you have to reduce spending.  Do you have any specific ideas on how to do that?

Yes I believe we need to cut taxes.  I believe home owners are in desperate need of tax relief.  Yes we have many pork items in the spending and should be cut.  Lets go with first no legal aid for illegal aliens or free college aid.  I also do not think we should be funding Plan Parenthood.  Tax payer money should not be used for abortions when as a society we are split on issue.  [It w]ould be like funding the NRA when many citizens are not in favor of guns.

Second on your list is concealed carry for law abiding citizens.  Our State has quite a few locations in which gun violence is a problem, and it is growing–I recently read that there was a drive-by shooting in so small a city as Vineland.  Why should we permit concealed carry?

I believe the 2nd amendment says it all[:]  “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”.  The constitution is for all 50 states, name me another amendment that we need to pay to exercise or be told from state to state what we are allowed.  No man has the right to tell me how I should defend myself, my family or my property.  It is not why we should allow, we already have the natural right of self defense by any means, spelled out in the 2nd amendment.  It is why we should stop infringing upon people[‘]s rights.

Perhaps the most controversial of your positions is support for a Heartbeat Bill, which has passed in some of the more conservative states, essentially saying that an unborn child is a person protected by law as soon as there is a detectable heartbeat.  If my information on fetal development is correct, that is generally about the twenty-fourth day of pregnancy, which would make abortion for practical purposes impossible, save for methods which prevent implantation.  Do you think this position has popular support?

Yes the topic of abortions is very controversial but that does not mean we should not discuss it.  The states that have passed the #HeartBeatBill use the guide lines between 8 & 12 weeks the heart is detectable.  I feel this allows those who are against abortion the comfort of curbing abortion while not outlawing it altogether. Abortion is not healthcare.  I do think the democratic party [] went too far with abortion so I do feel my stand on having a #HeartBeatBill is reasonable and would have support.  When Roe v Wade was passed it was intended for 1st trimester which is about 12 weeks I believe and rare after that.

Perhaps connected to that, you were contacting churches in the area for support for your candidacy.  Some would say that churches, as non-profit organizations, should not support or endorse political candidates; others would say that to have a voice in the political world Christians need to be politically organized, and their churches are the best starting points for that.  How do you view this disjunction between church and state?

First I want to say that people always go to separation of church and state.  That statement was taken from Thomas Jefferson and what he was actually intending was that he wanted government to stay out of people’s religion.  If you recall in England Henry VIII created the church of England when he could not get his way with the pope.

Plus no one seems to have issue with non profits like Plan[ned] Parenthood or SPLC or AARP pushing their political interest.  So yes I think churches do need to start getting involved.  They have every right just like others to make their voices heard.

What else do you think the voters should know about you, personally, or your positions politically?

I believe things need to change in Trenton and the only way that can happen is if the voters make the change.  People talk all the time about “term limits” yet they continue to vote the same people in year after year.  What is the definition of Insanity:  [“]Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”.  I want the voters to know I am not looking to be a ruler, I want to be a voice for the people.  And I promise I will work hard for every one to make NJ better.

You appear to be running alongside someone named Beth Sawyer, about whom there is even less online information than about you.  She slightly outpolled you in the Republican Primary, but has no other reported political experience.  Do you know her or know anything about her that you would share with the readers?

Yes I have met Beth and she is a nice person.  I did not know her before the primary, I really can not tell you anything about her except I know she is in real estate.

If readers want to know more about you or want to contact or support you, what are the best means to do this?

They can find me on all sorts of social media.  My web page is http://www.3D4NJ.com  Twitter @edwarddurr1  Instagram edward.durr.9  Facebook.com/ED4NJ/ and email is edward_durr@yahoo.com.

Thank you for your time.

I thank you for this opportunity and hope to hear from you again.

Thank You.

As previously said, I am not seeking candidates, but will gladly interview any candidate for state office who contacts me.  Facebook is the most efficient means of doing so.

#305: The Cross Case: Supreme Court Sours on Lemon

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #305, on the subject of The Cross Case:  Supreme Court Sours on Lemon.

I have been watching for this case since it hit the circuit court, and so was pleased to see that the Supreme Court had decided it.  It seems on one hand to be a simple question:  is a century-old war memorial in the shape of a forty-foot cross originally built by private citizens but for half a century maintained on public land at public expense a violation of the “establishment” clause, that is, a constitutionally impermissible promotion of a particular religion by the government?  That’s the question; yes or no?

So imagine my surprise to discover that although Justice Alito managed to write a seven-to-two majority opinion that said no (that is, the cross can stay), there were five concurring opinions (a concurring opinion is one that agrees with the conclusion but not with all the reasoning) plus a dissent.  So how is there so much confusion over so simple a question?

At the time of this writing, I was unable to find the official Supreme Court PDF online; however, Justia has it in an easy-to-access form.  The Court combined two cases into one, so the title reads

THE AMERICAN LEGION, et al., PETITIONERS

v.

AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION, et al.; and

MARYLAND-NATIONAL CAPITAL PARK AND PLANNING COMMISSION, PETITIONER

v.

AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION, et al.

A lot of the trouble revolves around what’s been called the Lemon Test, named for Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), in which the court articulated a three-part test for whether something violated the establishment clause.  The short version is:

  1. Does the action/activity have a secular purpose?
  2. Is the principle or primary effect one that neither advances nor inhibits religion?
  3. Does it avoid fostering an excessive government entanglement with religion?

By these three questions all such cases were supposed to be answered.

Let’s get some backstory.

Just after World War I, a citizens group in Bladensburg, Maryland wanted to honor the forty-nine men from their community who died in that conflict.  Quite a few of the fallen in that war were never returned, and more were never identified.  The monument would serve as a surrogate grave for them, for their families to visit, and as a recognition of the service of so many others.  They hired an architect/sculptor, who designed a large Latin Cross, modeled on the crosses that had been used as temporary grave markers for the over one hundred thousand Americans buried in European graveyards.  (The Star of David was also used for such markers, but only about five percent of American casualties were Jewish, so crosses dominated the photos that came home and were emblazoned in the minds of the mourners.)  The citizens group raised money through donations, but ran out before completing the work, so the American Legion took over, adding their emblem to the cross, finishing the work, and maintaining it at their own expense into the early 1960s.  At that time, actions were taken to transfer the ownership of the property to the Maryland Parks Department, in part because the road around the monument had become a major traffic problem, in part because the American Legion was no longer able to afford it, and in part because the State wanted to expand the surrounding area into a memorial park with monuments for all the other wars.  Since then the monument has been maintained by state funds.  However, a few years back the American Humanist Association filed suit claiming that the cross was offensive and an impermissible endorsement of the Christian religion.  They wanted it removed, or demolished, or at the very least stripped of the crosspiece so it would be an obelisk instead of a cross.

The Federal District Court applied the Lemon test and sided with the park service, stating that the primary purpose of the cross was to honor the dead of World War I, and there was no evidence that any religious purpose was intended in its design or its present maintenance; any impartial observer who knew the history of the monument would conclude that it was not about promoting Christian faith, but about honoring the war casualties.  A three-judge panel of the Circuit Court, however, disagreed in a split decision, again applying the Lemon test but asserting that the cross was so tied to Christian belief that anyone seeing it would think it was an emblem promoting that religion.  The full court declined to review the case en banc (that is, all the judges), and the Supreme Court granted certiorari (or cert., agreeing to hear it).

Justice Alito wrote that there were many problems with applying Lemon, and that since the the test has a lot to do with motivations and intentions it is particularly difficult to apply the case to situations with deep historic roots.  It can’t be said that those who originally erected the monument had a religious purpose in view.  He cites other situations in which crosses are used as an emblem that do not have a religious purpose, notably among them the International Red Cross, whose red cross on a white field was designed to call to mind the white cross on a red field that was the flag of the neutral country Switzerland, and so marking the deliverers of medical care as neutral.  So, too, the crosses that dotted graveyards throughout Europe had become an image of the fallen in that war, popularized alongside the poppy even more by the poem In Flander’s Field.  Shortly after the war the same emblem became the basis for the national congressional medals known as the Distinguished Cross and the Navy Cross.  There was no reason to suppose that the original designers of the cross intended it to have any greater religious significance than that which is attached to any grave marker.  Indeed, one of the members of the committee which began the work and approved the design was Jewish.  Further, there is no evidence of bias or prejudice, sectarian or otherwise.  At the dedication ceremony, a Catholic Priest opened with an invocation, a politician gave the keynote address, and a Baptist minister gave the closing benediction.  Although racial tensions were high in the country and the Ku Klux Klan held a rally within ten miles of the site within a month of the dedication, black and white soldiers were listed together on the plaque.  To claim that the original intention was religious is to read our own ideas into their situation; we cannot do that.  Further, he argued, the fact that the monument has been there for almost a century means it has taken many other significances, historical and cultural.  We might think there is a religious significance to it as well, but it is a relatively small part of a memorial that has been part of the community for so long.  Besides, to destroy or deface it would appear to be an act against religion, not an act furthering religious neutrality.

The opinion did not overturn Lemon; it simply said that in dealing with matters steeped in history, it was generally impossible to know the motivations of those who made the original decisions, and so Lemon was rendered useless in such cases.

Justice Gorsuch in the main agreed, but went further.  Lemon, he said, was useless as a test.  Case law demonstrates that a court using the test can reach any conclusion it wants.  More pointedly, the notion of the response of a reasonable observer (whether a reasonable observer would think that the purpose was primarily religious) has created an “offended observer” status, that someone can file suit against an action on the grounds that it offends him.  This, Gorsuch argues, is not real injury and the Constitution gives no basis for anyone to sue without real injury.  Overturning Lemon and getting rid of its test would resolve much of the confusion in the courts and mean in the future cases like this, in which someone claims to be offended by the sight of a supposedly religious object, would be dismissed perfunctorily.

Justice Thomas agreed with that, but went further.  The Establishment Clause, he observed, begins “Congress shall make no law”.  He explains what kinds of laws had existed that were eliminated, but asserts that the protection has nothing to do with actions that are not based on laws made by Congress.  He suggests that one might apply the I Amendment to the States by virtue of the XIV Amendment, but even so the original purpose of the Establishment Clause was to forbid legislative actions compelling citizens to support a specific church or denomination.  Local creches, non-sectarian thanksgiving services, opening invocations and closing benedictions, and memorials to the dead are not covered by this, as they are not compulsory and in the main are not legislative acts.  Lemon, he asserts, should be overturned because it goes far beyond what is Constitutional.

Justice Kagan also wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing with nearly all of Justice Alito’s opinion but for two sections.  The important disagreement is that she asserts that Lemon, with its focus on purposes and effects, is still very valuable even though it does not resolve every Establishment Clause problem, and she would retain it.  Her lesser disagreement is that Justice Alito suggested that history would play an important part in Establishment Clause analysis, which she does not reject entirely but does not wish to see embraced as a principle of law.  She agrees, though, that it might be important to consider whether long-standing monuments, symbols, and practices reflect respect for different views and tolerance, with an honest effort to achieve non-discrimination and inclusivity, and a recognition of the important role that religion plays in many American lives.

Justice Kagan also agrees with the concurrence written by Justice Breyer, who has long said that no one test works for all Establishment Clause cases, but that in each case the court has to consider the purposes of the clause, “assuring religious liberty and tolerance for all, avoiding religiously based social conflict, and maintaining that separation of church and state that allows each to flourish in its “separate spher[e]”.  He says that the majority opinion is correct that there is no significant religious importance to the Bladensburg Cross, and that its removal or destruction would signal a hostility toward religion against the Establishment Clause traditions.  However, he objects to any sort of “history and tradition test” that might permit religiously-biased memorials on public lands in the future.

That, apparently, is a suggestion in Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence.  He fully joins the majority opinion, but emphasizes the importance of reviewing history and tradition in such cases.  He suggests that the Lemon test has proven useless and is never really used by the Supreme Court.  He also expresses sympathy for those, particularly Jews, who feel alienated by the cross, which he says must be recognized as a religious emblem.  The fact that it is a religious emblem does not mean the government cannot maintain it–but the government does not have to do so, and other branches of the government could take action to remove the cross or transfer its ownership and care to a non-governmental entity.  The objectors do have recourse to the political process if they wish to pursue this; what they don’t have is a court decision declaring that the cross cannot be maintained by the State.

Which leaves Justice Ginsberg’s dissent, joined by Justice Sotomayor.

Ginsberg maintains that the Latin Cross, defined as one in which the lower upright is longer than the other three branches, has always been recognized as a Christian symbol, and has never had a secular meaning or application.  (This in contrast to the Greek Cross, in which the four branches are equal.)  The Bladensburg “Peace Cross” is thus offensive to anyone of any other religion or of no religion.  Marshaling evidence that even in the aftermath of World War I the cross was identified by the government as a sectarian symbol to be put on the graves of all Christians and of any persons not known not to be Christian (in case they were), with Stars of David placed on all graves of soldiers known to be Jewish.  (Those who were known not to be either could, at the family’s request, have a plain stone, be transported home, or be interred in a private cemetery overseas with a headstone of their choice.)  There has never been a case in which a Latin Cross was identified as a non-sectarian emblem of death, and historically it has been regarded as conveying the message that Christians are saved and all others are damned–an offensive message to all those others.

While Ginsberg’s claim is well-supported, it is not clear that the modern cultural view of crosses as memorials perceives them as specifically Christian.  It comes to me that many graves of pets are marked with crosses, but no Christian denomination of which I am aware supports the theological belief that animals can be Christian, The Vicar of Dibbley notwithstanding.  (The eternal destiny of animals is not something the Bible tells us, which makes sense, as C. S. Lewis would have said, because it’s not actually something we need to know.)  Crosses are also frequently used in decorative graveyards such as in Halloween displays.  To many, the cross says “grave marker” much more than it says “Christian”.

I can’t say that everyone perceives such memorials as non-sectarian, but I do think that over time they have become more so.  It appears that the Court, in the main, agrees with that:  memorials using crosses in their imagery have become non-sectarian by their use over time, and the Bladensburg Cross far more represents the fallen of World War I and, since its rededication in 1985, all the American casualties of all our wars.  Lemon has not been overturned, but it has been significantly limited in its application in the future.

The Peace Cross stands.