Tag Archives: Legislature

#214: New Jersey 2017 Election Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #214, on the subject of New Jersey 2017 Election Results.

The results are in, and there are perhaps no surprises, only disappointments.

We looked at the gubernatorial candidates last week.  Our new governor is Democrat Phil Murphy, former Golman Sachs investment banker and formerly National Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee and United States Ambassador to Germany.  His running mate, Democratic Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, is former Assembly Speaker.  The pair handily defeated Republicans Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and Mayor Carlos Rendo, with 55% (1,065,706 votes) of the nearly two million votes cast, against 42% (811,446) for the Republicans.  New Jersey’s governor serves for four years, and can serve up to two consecutive terms.  Re-elections are perhaps the norm in the state, as everyone has heard the name of the governor.

The five third-party tickets each pulled less than one percent, with the leader, “Lower Property Taxes” party candidate former Long Hill Mayor Gina Genovese and running mate Derel Stroud leading with 9,830 votes, followed by Green Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale and Lisa Durden with 8,192, Libertarian Peter Rohrman and Karese Laguerre at 8,178, Constitution Party candidate Matt Riccardi with 5,614, and “We the People” candidates Vincent Ross and April Johnson with 4,252.

New Jersey voters almost always approve Public Questions, and did so again, with both the library bonds issue and the environmental lock box.

Looking at the State Senate, most but not all of the incumbents were re-elected.  In district 2, incumbent Democrat Colin Bell was defeated by Republican Chris Brown; in district 11, incumbent Republican Jennifer Beck was defeated by Democrat Vin Gopal.  Meanwhile, there were three districts in which incumbents did not run for re-election.  In district 13, previously held by Republican Joseph Kyrillos, Republican Declan O’Scanlon defeated Democrat Sean Byrnes.  In district 20, previously held by Democrat Raymond Lesniak, Democrat Joseph Cryan defeated Republican Ashraf Hanna.  There was a turnover in district 7, previously held by Republican Diane Allen, where Democrat Troy Singleton defeated Republican John Browne.

This increases the Democratic control of the State Senate by one seat (two votes), 25 to 15, but does not give them a “supermajority”.

Although as of this writing the two seats in district 8 are considered too close to call, it is clear that the Democrats have picked up at least two seats, at 54 (out of 80), while the Republicans are guaranteed at least 24.  Democrats in district 2 sent John Armato to replace Republican incumbent Chris Brown, who in turn defeated the Democratic incumbent to move to the Senate.  In district 13, where incumbent Declan O’Scanlon moved to the Senate, Republicans kept control of the seat with the election of Serena DiMaso.  Democrats picked up a seat in district 16, as Republican incumbent Jack Ciattarelli retired and was replaced by Democrat Roy Freiman.  Democrat Yvonne Lopez replaced her retiring Democratic colleague John Wisniewski in district 19.  In district 24, Republican Harold Wirths replaces his retiring Republican colleague Gail Phoebus.  Finally, in district 40 Republicans kept control of the seat, with Christopher DePhillips replacing a retiring David Russo.

In district 8, although it appears that incumbent Republican Joe Howarth has been re-elected (27,820 votes), and Republican Ryan Peters will probably replace his retiring Republican colleague Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (27,603 votes), Democratic candidates Joanne Schwartz (27,226) and Maryann Merlino (27,057) are close enough behind them that the race has not yet been officially decided.  If those results are certified, the Republicans will have 26 seats, a loss of 2 (4 votes) and less than a third of the Assembly, giving the Democrats a two-thirds supermajority in that house.

It is overall a dark day for Republicans, and a bright one for Democrats.

#211: New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #211, on the subject of New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions.

New Jersey tends to be blase about our off-year elections–no President, no United States Senators, no United States Congressman, why bother going to the polls?  Yet as we noted this year the election is not insignificant.  Every State elected office is on the block, from our Governor and Lieutenant Governor to all forty of our State Senators to all eighty of our State Assemblymen.  Additionally, there are two ballot questions put forward, asking the voters to approve spending more money.

That’s certainly more than we can cover.  We have already examined the gubernatorial race, and promised to return to look at the ballot questions.  There are two:

  1. The Bonds for Public Libraries Measure;
  2. The Revenue from Environmental Damage Lawsuits Dedicated to Environmental Projects Amendment.
AppleMark

The Bonds for Public Libraries Measure has tremendous support; more than half the members of the State Assembly are listed as sponsors of the bill.  It passed both houses overwhelmingly, and was signed by Governor Christie.  However, the few objectors have some good points.

Approval of the question would allow the state to issue bonds in the total amount of one hundred twenty-five million dollars, the proceeds to be used as matching funds for projects within the state to build, equip, or expand public libraries.  Those grants would have to be matched by like amounts from local governments and/or private donations.  Despite the increasing use of the internet for many of those resources for which once libraries were the primary providers, the library system continues to be important and to update itself to modern needs.  It thus makes sense to continue to support our libraries.

On the other hand, New Jersey is already in the top five states for per capita expenditures on libraries; we have one of the best library systems in the country.  The words “issue bonds” really mean “borrow money at interest”, and would be committing the state to repay one hundred twenty-five million dollars plus interest over the years ahead.  It is worth asking whether there would be sufficient return on the investment.  That is, would we be getting our money’s worth?

I am inclined to think not, but I rarely use the libraries and do not have a card.  I also think that our county library is well funded and well equipped, and while I can imagine (but do not know) that there are urban areas in the state with underfunded libraries, the matching funds clause will make it at least challenging for these areas to take advantage of the benefits.  If we had the money, it might be money well spent, but to borrow money for that which is not a problem is looking to make a bad fiscal crisis worse.  It’s like the family that can’t keep up with the mortgage taking out a second mortgage to pay for a vacation.  We don’t really need this, and we probably can’t afford it.

The Revenue from Environmental Damage Lawsuits Dedicated to Environmental Projects Amendment is about creating a “lockbox” for certain state income.

If you remember the ballot questions last year, you may recall that the issue with the fuel tax question involved whether to “dedicate” that income to transportation matters.  That question of dedicating specific funds for specific purposes arises again in this question, and with a more solid basis.

New Jersey has held the lead in industrial waste and toxic waste sites over the decades.  Periodically the State sues offenders, and either in awards or settlements often collects millions of dollars.  Cases related to the pollution of the Passaic River brought three hundred fifty-five million dollars from defendants.

The State is in one sense like any other plaintiff.  If you’re injured in an automobile accident and win a substantial settlement in a lawsuit, we might think that this is going toward your long-term medical bills–but if you want to spend some of it on a new car, or a Jacuzzi®, or a vacation, it’s your money.  You might in the long term wish you’d saved it for medical care, but no one is going to force you to do that.

In the same way, once the State has won a lawsuit or obtained a settlement from one, it can do whatever it wants with the money.  We might think that the money from the Passaic River lawsuits would go to clean the Passaic River, or at least to meet other environmental needs in the area.  Some of it of course would pay the legal fees for the suit, but ultimately the reason for the money is the damage done to the environment, and so the money should repair that damage.  However, just like you, the State is not so constrained.  Of that three hundred fifty-five million dollars from the Passaic River damages, Governor Christie applied two hundred eighty-eight million to the general funds to balance the budget.  A substantial number of Democrats in the state legislature believe that that should not be allowed, although the Democratically-controled legislature did approve his budgets.

Approval of this question would pass a constitutional amendment which would restrict the use of such monies to environmental purposes.  It would allow up to ten percent of such income to be spent on related government agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection, and would allow the legal costs of prosecuting such cases to come out of the funds, but the bulk of it would have to be spent on the environment, reclaiming damaged areas and protecting others.  Many think the amendment makes sense.

On the other hand, had such a restriction already been in place, we would have been looking at a two hundred eighty-eight million dollar budget shortfall.  That means either the State would have had to raise two hundred eighty-eight million more dollars through taxes or it would have had to cut a like amount in services, or some combination of the two.  The big ticket items in the New Jersey budget are education (about thirty percent) and Medicaid (almost twenty-five percent).  There is not a lot of fat in the budget to cut.

Further, while there is merit to the notion that money collected as legal damages for harm to the environment ought to go to environmental care and repair, there is also a significant question concerning the consequences of sequestering that money.  Damage to the environment almost always means secondary damage as well–damage to public health, damage to infrastructure, economic damage.  If my accident prevented me from finishing college, the damages I won in the law suit will, among other things, cover the fact that I was unable to finish college.  The damages from these environmental lawsuits ought to be available to pay for the injury inflicted to the State beyond the first level of harm, covering these other losses.  Sequestering the money in a “lock box” prevents the state from using it to meet needs that might well be consequential to the damage.

Desite the merit in the idea, I think it ultimately a bad choice.

Those are the questions on New Jersey’s ballot this year.

#210: New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #210, on the subject of New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election.

New Jersey tends to be blase about our off-year elections–no President, no United States Senators, no United States Congressman, why bother going to the polls?  Yet this year the election is not insignificant.  Every elected State office is on the block, from our Governor and Lieutenant Governer to all forty of our State Senators to all eighty of our State Assemblymen.  Additionally, there are two ballot questions put forward, asking the voters to approve spending more money.

That’s certainly more than we can cover.  We’re going to limit our attentions to the state-wide issues–that is, the gubernatorial ticket and the Public Questions.  We begin with the governor’s race, and follow-up with the Public Questions in a future post.

New Jersey’s governor serves for four years, and can serve up to two consecutive terms.  Current Governor Chris Christie, considered by political pundits the most moderate Republican governor in office, is coming to the end of his second and thus is ineligible to run again.

His Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guadagno, heads the Republican ticket.

Guadagno has not been a rubber stamp for Christie.  She opposed the recent gasoline tax bill, which Christie supported, because she saw political maneuvering around it to increase state spending beyond what the bill promised to raise.  Among the leading campaign promises, she has a plan to at least cap if not reduce property taxes, by tying a ceiling on the education share of property taxes to household income and making up the difference in education costs from a state fund.  She also has plans to fix the state’s pension and health benefits programs, and talks of improving conditions for veterans.

Her running mate is Cuban-born Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo.

Rendo’s family fled Cuba, and he grew up in Union City, graduating from Emerson High School, with degrees from Rutgers University and Temple University.  His 2015 mayoral election is his earliest reported involvement in politics, but his degrees are in political science and government, and law.

Observers are expecting a strong victory for the Democratic slate, giving that party control of what they call the “trifecta”, both legislative houses and the executive.  The Democratic nominee is Phil Murphy.

Murphy’s political background includes being National Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee and serving as Ambassador to Germany.  Otherwise most of his experience is in economics, primarily at investment banking firm Goldman Sachs.  His platform focuses on trying to bring innovation back to New Jersey–leader in invention from the time of Edison to the end of AT&T’s Bell Labs–and so improve the economy.  He speaks of increasing funding for education, but does not suggest whence this money will be obtained.

His running mate is New Jersey Assemblywoman, former Assembly Speaker, and one-time United States Senate candidate Sheila Oliver.

Oliver is strongly liberal, but has not been a popular candidate outside her district.

There are five other gubernatorial candidates in the state race.

The Libertarian party is supporting Peter Rohrman, with running mate Karese Laguerre.  Neither have any experience running for or serving in elective office; they put forward the standard Libertarian platform of less government.

The Green party offers Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale, a Reformed minister who has been involved in social causes.  His running mate Lisa Durden is a political commentator, formerly a professor at Essex Community College terminated after making public statements supporting a decision by a local chapter of Black Lives Matter to hold an event open only to African-Americans.  Neither has any experience in elected office.

Veteran Marine Matt Riccardi is the gubernatorial nominee for the Constitution Party; they did not register a running mate for the lieutenant position.  His ticket is focused on reducing taxes across the board and increasing jobs in the state.  Riccardi is new to the political process.

Former Long Hill Mayor Gina Genovese is running on the Lower Property Taxes ticket; she is also cited in the press as the LGBT candidate.  Her running mate, Derel Stroud, has been a state Democratic party political organizer since 2009.

The We the People party has placed as official candidates on the ballot the ticket of Vincent Ross and April Johnson.  Both candidates are unknown in the political and online worlds at this point.

Those are the candidates, in brief.  Much can be learned about them online once you know their names.  The Democrats are thought to have a strong lead, but the Republicans do have a chance, particularly in an off-year election when younger Democratic voters are less likely to go to the polls.

So plan to vote Tuesday if you have given thought to the future of New Jersey and the directions the candidates would take us.

Watch for an upcoming article on the public questions.

#203: Electoral College End Run

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #203, on the subject of Electoral College End Run.

A bad idea which we mentioned in passing some years ago is apparently gaining ground, thanks in large part to Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 Presidential bid.

The idea, which we mentioned in Why We Have an Electoral College (in the page Coalition Government), is to nullify the original Constitutional intent, that the President be selected by the States as States, by having states pass a law assigning their electors to vote for whichever candidate wins the majority of the national popular vote.  Even some Democrats recognize that the current popularity of this idea is because the losing party are sore losers, and the fact that Hillary Clinton has added her voice to the chorus only underscores that sense–but as the map provided by the idea’s promoters shows, in green, eleven states have already passed the necessary legislation.

(In fairness to Hillary, sort of, she spoke out for the elimination of the Electoral College the last time the Democrats lost the Presidency in a close race.)

That legislation is designed to prevent states from being obligated until there is what they consider a consensus, that is, the legislation passed by each state specifically states that it becomes effective when, and only when, similar legislation is passed by states representing enough Electoral College votes to constitute a majority of the College, 270 votes, that is, one half of the 538 electors plus one.  At that point, whoever receives the majority of the national popular vote would, by dint of this legislation, receive at least two-hundred seventy votes and win the election.

There is a flaw in the reasoning.  Let us suppose that the total is not reached by 2020, and thus it does not impact the 2020 election; but it might be reached in 2021.  However, 2020 is a census year, and the primary reason the Constitution mandates that we have a census every ten years is to adjust the representation of each State in the House of Representatives.  Following the 2010 census New Jersey lost a seat, and there is every likelihood that some States will lose and others gain seats before 2024.  That matters because the number of electoral votes each state gets is determined by the sum of its Representatives plus its Senators, and it might well be that in 2021 the states having passed the law provide sufficient votes to cause it to be enacted, but by 2024 there would not be quite as many.  This might be unlikely, but it is not impossible–New Jersey, which has passed the law and has been shrinking proportionately, might lose another seat, and Texas and Florida, which have showed no interest in passing the law, have been growing and might gain another seat or two each.

However, that is not really the significant point here.

Some years ago a young liberal actress got in serious public relations trouble when she suggested carpet bombing all the conservative states in the central United States because they were impeding the progress that the liberals dominating the coastal states were pushing.  That is an extreme example, but the fact is that several of the big states are coastal states, and tend to be liberal–California, New York, Pennsylvania.  That means on some level we’re talking about the big states trying to take over.

California is an important example.  It tends to be liberal, but is short-changed in the Electoral College because it is short-changed in the House of Representatives:  there is a cap on the number of Representatives any state can have, and California’s population would give it quite a few more seats were it not for the cap.  Let’s face it, though:  California is a large piece of real estate with several very large population centers within it.  It could plausibly dictate law and policy for the entire country just by flexing its popular vote.

That, though, is exactly why the Constitution is designed the way it is.  When the big kids tell the little kids what to do, we call it bullying, and we look for ways to punish and control it.  The Electoral College is designed to try to keep the big states from bullying the little states.

The proposed law disenfranchises the little states.  In doing so it disenfranchises the voters in those states.  There is good reason for the states to vote for the President chosen by the majority of their own citizens, and not the majority of the citizens of every other State in the Union.

We would ask our New Jersey legislators, and those of the ten other states which have already passed such legislation, to repeal it.  It is bad law.  It is also, as one author already cited has observed, probably unconstitutional–it is an effort to end run the Constitutionally-mandated process.

If not, voters in New Jersey and elsewhere should prepare to file suit against the legislature.  The law disenfranchises the voters of this state, taking from us our constitutional right to choose the candidate of our own choice, not that of the rest of the country.

#190: Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #190, on the subject of Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion.

To read the conservative press, you would think that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in writing the majority opinion in Sessions v. Morales-Santana 582 U.S. ____ (2017), had turned her back on women’s rights and struck a blow for men.  Yet even from that reporting I could see that Ginsberg was simply staying true to her principles of equal protection (we had discussed her commitment to this previously in web log post #63:  Equal Protection When Boy Meets Girl).  Still, from the sound of it, I thought she ought to be commended for this consistency even when it seemed to go against her more feminist views.

However, unwilling to write about a court opinion I had not read, I took the time to find it and read it (link above to the official PDF), and found that it was a considerably less impressive story even than I had supposed.

I should perhaps have been tipped off by the fact that the decision was effectively unanimous–seven of nine Justices joining in the majority opinion, Justice Thomas writing a concurring opinion in which he agreed with the result but thought the equal protection language went further than necessary to reach it, and the new Justice Gorsuch not having heard oral arguments not participating in the decision.  The court did not consider it controversial.  They did, however, overturn part of the decision of the Second Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, so apparently there was a difficult issue in the matter.

It is also of some interest to us because although couched as an immigration case it ultimately proves to be a citizenship case, and we have addressed the statutes and cases involved in whether or not someone is a natural born citizen in connection with The Birther Issue when it was raised concerning President Obama, and more recently in web log post #41:  Ted Cruz and the Birther Issue.  The terms under which someone is, or is not, born an American citizen are sometimes confusing.  That was what was at issue here.

Morales-Santana was arrested in New York on a number of relatively minor charges, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service decided to deport him to the Dominican Republic, claiming that he was not a United States citizen.  That was where the story started to get interesting.  It seems that the Respondent’s father, José Morales, was an American citizen, having been born in Puerto Rico, and having lived there for almost nineteen years.  Twenty days before his nineteenth birthday he moved to the Dominican Republic to accept a job offer, and soon moved in with a native Dominican woman.  She gave birth to the Respondent, and the father immediately acknowledged paternity and shortly thereafter married the woman, making the child a member of his household.  Everyone assumed the child was an American citizen like his father.

However, the statute defining whether an unwed U.S. citizen father confers citizenship on his out-of-wedlock child specified, among other things, that the father had to have lived in the United States or its Territories or Possessions (Puerto Rico qualifies) for at least five years after reaching the age of fourteen.  José Morales, having left Puerto Rico less than a month before his nineteenth birthday, fell short of that requirement by twenty days.  Therefore he himself was a citizen, but his child, born abroad out of wedlock to a non-citizen mother, was not.

Morales-Santana, however, recognized a flaw in the law.  Had the situation been reversed–had his mother been an American citizen who bore a child out of wedlock with a non-citizen father–the statute only required that such a mother have been in residence for one year following her fourteenth birthday.  That meant, Morales-Santana argued, that women were being given a right that was being denied to men, in violation of the Equal Protection rights as understood by the United States Supreme Court.

The Second Circuit Court agreed, and decided that the citizenship conferred on children of unwed mothers ought equally to be conferred on those of unwed fathers, and stated that Morales-Santana could not be deported because he was, in fact, a United States citizen.

The government appealed, resulting in this decision.

What Ginsberg tells us is that the anomaly in the statute is the exception for unwed mothers.  The five year rule applies in all other related cases–not only unwed fathers, but married couples in which either spouse is an American citizen and the other is not.  If the Court were to rule that the unwed mother status applied equally to unwed fathers, it would have to rule that the same status applied in all these cases–but the legislature clearly intended that the five year rule would be the norm, and the one year rule a special exception for pregnant unmarried girls.  They would essentially be discarding the entire statute in favor of the exception.  Instead, they ruled that the one year exception was unconstitutional–a ruling whose only effect on the Respondent was that he could not claim citizenship through his father based on the inequity of a rule covering mothers but not fathers.

So Ginsberg certainly did strip some women of a statutory right, but she deserves to be credited for doing so consistently with her express view of equal protection.  Asserting that men and women should be treated the same does mean that sometimes women will be treated worse than they otherwise might have been.  This is one of those cases; it otherwise is not that important.

As a footnote, the court notes at one point that the statute asserts that a child born out of wedlock whose father acknowledges him and takes responsibility for his care will be regarded a citizen from the moment of his birth.  That is relevant to our discussion of what it means to be a natural-born citizen.

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#182: Emotionalism and Science

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #182, on the subject of Emotionalism and Science.

This recounts a true story told me decades ago which it occurs to me has relevance to our present situation.

img0182Baby

It occurs to me that at least one of my readers might remember Mr. Ernest “Ernie” Larrat, whose lifetime of involvement with the Boy Scouts of America has impacted many lives of which mine is perhaps a drop in the bucket.  You will be pleased to hear that I saw him last year, at my mother’s ninetieth birthday party, and he looked well, not much different than I remembered from the two hundred mile canoe trip for which he and I were leaders forty years previously (although I doubt either of us could make that Bicentenial Delaware River trek today), and was still involved in the Ramapo Council.  He also had a day job, somewhere in the chemical industry, from which he recounted this story.

It takes place in the late nineteen-sixties.  An issue had been raised concerning children’s pajamas.  Someone had realized that clothing made of natural fibers such as cotton and wool burned, and so did clothing made of modern synthetics such as polyester.  Infants and toddlers dressed in such clothing who were caught in house fires were frequently burned alive when their clothing caught fire, and sometimes fires started when such clothing came in contact with high heat sources such as candle flames.  Somehow the concern reached the ears of our elected officials, and they held a Congressional hearing on the matter.

The first presenters at this hearing were connected to Ralph Nader’s group of consumer advocates.  I do not intend to denigrate them; they have done much good over the decades.  They presented the problem, with graphic images and details of children burned alive by pajamas catching fire.  It was a horrid thought, a very moving and emotionally gripping presentation.  By the time the presentation was completed, our lawmakers were ready to take action–so ready, in fact, that they ended the hearings immediately and drafted and passed legislation requiring that all child and infant sleepwear be treated with flame-retardant chemicals so as not to ignite when exposed to flame.

They never heard any presentations from the chemical industry or the garment manufacturers.  After all, what could they possibly have to say, other than suggesting that the costs of such treatment would reduce their profits?  It was clear that something had to be done, and Congress was going to do it.

What the chemical industry was prepared to explain, had anyone cared to listen, was that there was only one known chemical that could be used to make such cloth permanently flame retardant.  It was known as Tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate, or just Tris for short.  (There is another chemical, Tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate, more recently used as a flame retardant, more commonly known as TCEP.)  It had not been used in children’s garments, though, because of other properties.  It was known that when exposed to elevated temperatures not high enough to cause ignition of common fabrics, Tris would begin to break down and release a noxious gas rapidly and painfully fatal if inhaled.  I don’t know, but I suspect that this is at least part of why it was flame retardant:  as it heated, it robbed the fire of oxygen, preventing ignition.

However, its use was at the time the only way to comply with the law, so the chemical industry began providing large quantities of Tris to be used by the garment industry in the manufacture of children’s clothing.  Now fewer children were burned alive, because many more were killed by the gas released by treated clothing heated by the fire long before the clothing itself would have ignited without such treatment.

Over a very brief period of years, it was also determined that the chemical was a carcinogen when absorbed through the skin.  In 1977 the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned its use in children’s clothing, and clothes went back to being untreated cloth for lack of an alternative.

The lesson to be learned is that it is important in addressing a problem to research the potential consequences of any proposed solution.  Congressmen who voted in favor of flame-retardant treatment of children’s clothing knew they were addressing a serious problem.  They did not know that they were creating a more serious problem.  Within the narrow confines of the problem, indeed mandating flame-retardant chemicals in children’s clothing seems the ideal solution–but it is magical thinking, it is believing that direct solutions to problems do not have effects that might cause other problems.

And that is what is happening in the climate change hysteria today.

No one doubts that there are environmental problems that must continue to be addressed.  No one wants to undo the progress that has been made since the nineteen sixties.  Those of us who have lived so long can attest that conditions are better now than then, and that much more is being done to protect the environment now than then.  However, environmental extremists are drawing pictures of burned babies to provoke an emotional reaction and induce us to take extreme measures to protect the environment before this happens–and in this case, they are theoretical pictures, descriptions of what might happen if current trends go unchecked.  We have no burned babies, no real cases of environmental disaster causing or caused by climate change.  We have educated guesses–educated guesses on which many scientists disagreed until they were pressured by threats of funding cuts or ostracization or banishment from publication venues, to bring them into the fold.  We are supposed to react to these images by taking immediate action to protect the metaphoric babies, passing the legislation that metaphorically protects them by treating their clothing with a carcinogenic poisonous chemical that prevents ignition.

We should not move so quickly on this.  We should attend to the fact that every action has consequences, and extreme and hasty actions usually have severe consequences.  There are many problems that have nothing to do with the environment, and indeed even our supposed efforts to repair the environment may have unanticipated environmental consequences.

This has all been said before.  It was not so long ago that I wrote #175:  Climage Change Skepticism, and only about a year ago that I wrote #80:  Environmental Blackmail.  Before that, though, I gave you #10:  The Unimportance of Facts, suggesting that to many in the political world the truth does not matter, only the victory.  Let’s try to get back to learning the truth, instead of trying to use scare tactics to get our preferred outcomes.

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#179: Right to Choose

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #179, on the subject of Right to Choose.

It made the news this past week, that a teenager in Arizona (her name is Deja Foxx, and her stated age is 16) challenged Republican Senator Jeff Flake with the statement, condensed in headlines as “Why is it your right to take away my right to choose?”

Senator Flake, Photo by Gage Skidmore
Senator Flake, Photo by Gage Skidmore

Let’s be fair to Miss Foxx.  What she actually said, according to transcripts of the town hall meeting, is

So, I’m wondering, as a Planned Parenthood patient and someone who relies on Title X, who you are clearly not, why it’s your right to take away my right to choose Planned Parenthood and to choose no-co-pay birth control, to access that.

That’s a little different, and a considerably more defensible question.  I also want to examine the more fundamental question, though, the one presented in the headlines, because that question comes up quite a bit, particularly in arguments about abortion:  why does anyone have the right to take away anyone else’s right to choose?

The first thing to say is that law is fundamentally about taking away the right to choose–or more precisely, about creating negative consequences for choosing conduct we as a society want to prevent or discourage.  You do not have the right to choose to help yourself to retail products off the shelves of a store without paying for them.  As much as you might wish to do so, you don’t have the right to kill your annoying little brother.  You don’t have the right to operate a motor vehicle on public roads while under the influence of an intoxicating substance.  You can, if you wish, choose to do any of these things; if you are caught, you will face penalties for doing them.  Whether or not you have the right to do things, in our society, is defined by the laws on which we, through our legislatures, executives, and judiciaries, agree.

So the people of Arizona who elected Senator Flake to office gave him the right to take away some of our rights, to curtail our freedoms, to put limits on what we can and cannot do.

Yet that is not quite what Foxx means.  She had prefaced her question with a tirade about how she, as an underprivileged homeless black girl trying to finish high school, was dependent on Title X (read “ten”) funding for Planned Parenthood, recently cut by a new law barring funding for any family planning center that also provides abortions.  She was fundamentally asking what right America has to refuse to pay for that; she would not have put it in those terms, but that’s the essence of the question.

There are a lot of questions we could ask in response to this.  What right does she have to expect that we are going to fund her promiscuous life choices?  When I was sixteen I did not need any funding for birth control.  I knew, and everyone I knew knew, that if you had sex you risked having children, and there were a lot of consequences to that.  There were ways to reduce the risk, but it could not be entirely eliminated.  Most of us made the intelligent choice:  we did not have sex.  If you want the privilege of making stupid choices, you should expect to bear the costs of that yourself.  If you stupidly steal from grocery stores, expect to go to jail.  If you stupidly drive while intoxicated, expect to lose your driving privileges.  If you stupidly engage in sex, expect to face the risk of pregnancy (which is clearly a risk for boys possibly even more so than for girls).

Of course, hidden in both sides of that is the fact that the new law has not terminated funding for low-cost no-co-pay birth control.  It has cut funding to organizations that fund or perform abortions.  There are other programs that provide birth control and birth control advice that do not promote abortion in the process.  Further, Planned Parenthood could continue receiving as much money as it has been receiving simply by terminating all programs related to terminating pregnancies–and in the process would have more money for the other birth control programs because none of its funds (which as we previously noted are a fungible resource) are going to those cancelled programs.  The government is not providing less money for birth control services and advice; they are only refusing to provide that money to or through those who would advise you to kill your unborn baby, and who would help pay for that.

So if the question is who has the right to decide that American taxpayer money will not be given to organizations that kill unborn babies, the answer is that American taxpayers have that right.  In fact, American taxpayers technically have the right, if we so chose, to refuse to provide any kind of support for teenager promiscuity.  It is American generosity that provides those things; Foxx has no superior right to expect them from us, whatever she thinks about supposed entitlement arising from her lack of privilege.

There is, though, the other level of all of this, the level hinted by the headline, the question Foxx was not asking but which Planned Parenthood undoubtedly wants us to hear in her question:  what right do people like Senator Flake, people like me, people like roughly half the American population plus anyone else who agrees with them, have to tell a pregnant woman that she cannot abort the preborn child she carries?  What right does anyone else in the world have to tell that woman that she does not have the right to choose whether to give birth to that child or not?

And let me agree that for millions of women, their choice of what they do with their own lives, their own bodies, is not my business.  Should they want facelifts or breast implants, stomach banding or tattoos or piercings, however they wish to improve or mutilate their own bodies, my approval or disapproval is immaterial.

However, your own body is where that right ends.  If you want to kill that annoying little brother, I think he has a right to object to that–and I think the rest of us have a responsibility to protect his right.  Indeed, if you want to kill your own annoying preschool child, that child has a right to choose to live, and we have a responsibility to intervene on behalf of that child.  Further, if that child happens still to be inside you, it has the right to choose to be alive, and we the corresponding responsibility to speak on its behalf to protect that right.  We certainly have the right to refuse to help you do it.

So ultimately the question

who gave you the right to take away my right to choose?

is one that every unborn child can ask of its mother, and of Planned Parenthood and anyone else who becomes involved in deciding that the child does not have the right to live.

Jefferson wrote that we were endowed with inalienable rights–rights that no government could take from us without just cause and due process–and the first of these is life.  They, those unborn children, have the right to choose life.  Who are you, to take that right away from them?

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#172: Why Not Democracy?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #172, on the subject of Why Not Democracy?.

As I was writing the previous web log entry, #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), I was reminded that we, in the United States of America, do not live in a democracy.  We live in a representative republic.

That fact was brought home to a lot of people in the recent Presidential election, some of whom are still reeling from it.  I have heard many complaints, mostly from young people, that our elected President did not win the majority of the voters, and therefore does not represent the majority of the people.  (It is at least worth mentioning that the actual vote totals will never be certain:  the vote count was never completed in quite a few voting districts because the total would not have changed the Electoral College outcome in those states.)  We should, they insist, change to a more democratic system, in which every vote counts the same.

We could do that.  Things are a bit more like that in other countries, particularly Israel where everyone votes for whatever parliamentary representatives they want and the entire country is treated as a single district.  Even England’s system is more democratic than ours.  However, note that in these countries the voters do not vote for their chief executive–they vote for their legislative representatives, and these in turn choose the chief executive.  Sure, British Prime Minister Theresa May campaigns for the position, but she does so by touring the country telling voters to support their local Conservative Party candidates for Members of Parliament, who in turn vote her into the Downing Street office.  It is still not strictly democratic, although by taking the vote for head of government away from the people and giving it to their elected representatives it actually becomes a bit closer to it.  However, it still can produce the outcome that the party in power, and thus the chief executive, did not actually have the majority of the votes.  It is a flaw of representative government, but representative government is the only way to avoid having every citizen in the country vote on every law.

The electoral map of the 1824 Presidential election, in which Andrew Jackson took the clear plurality of both the popular and the electoral vote but not the majority of either, throwing the decision to the House of Representatives, who selected John Quincy Adams to serve.
The electoral map of the 1824 Presidential election, in which Andrew Jackson took the clear plurality of both the popular and the electoral vote but not the majority of either, throwing the decision to the House of Representatives, who selected John Quincy Adams to serve.

There are, of course, other ways to achieve a more democratic election of the President of the United States.  People have been complaining about it since at least the 1824 election, when the failure of Andrew Jackson to gain fifty percent in the Electoral College resulted in John Quincy Adams, with less than a third of the vote, being selected for the office by the House of Representatives (the only time in history where no candidate obtained fifty percent of the Electoral College vote).  Some years ago when we were examining the Electoral College in detail in connection with Coalition Government, we noted one suggestion, that each state allocate its electoral votes based on the percentage of voters supporting each candidate–and why that would never be enacted.  More recently, someone proposed that states begin changing their system for apportioning electoral votes such that the votes within the state were irrelevant, that each state would give all its electoral votes to whomever won the popular vote nationally.  That would achieve the desired “democratic” outcome.  It would prevent situations like that of the recent election.  The question is, do we want that?

The first point that should be recognized here is that the majority always wants the democratic system.  That’s because in a democratic system, the majority can always impose its will on the minority.

Of course, that often happens anyway–but many great strides forward in these United States have happened precisely because minorities were empowered.  Certainly it is sometimes the case that majorities become entrenched, resisting necessary change until overwhelmed as public opinion shifts, but it has also been the case that minorities have used the system to gain a voice within the process.  There is something called the tyranny of the majority, when minority voices and positions are overwhelmed and trampled by majority opinions.  Our system was designed in part to prevent that.  There is also a tyranny of the minority, when a small group prevents the majority from doing what it deems right through legal intervention, and our system is supposed to prevent that, as well.  Our system produces gradual change by trying to keep everyone somewhat satisfied.  Younger people are less patient, wanting rapid change.  Older people have usually learned that not all change is for the better, but all change has unintended consequences.  Our country advances a bit, then eases back, then advances again, feeling the path carefully.

Meeting of the Electoral College in Ohio, 2012.
Meeting of the Electoral College in Ohio, 2012.

Many other countries have suffered from what we might call “rapid cycling”.  Because they are so controlled by the majority, and because the majority is mostly in the middle shifting a bit to one side and then to the other but the politicians tend to be at the extremes, it is common for one party to be voted into office, make major changes to everything, upset the bulk of their constituents who only wanted things to change a little and don’t like the unanticipated parts, and so be voted out of office and replaced by an opposing party which proceeds to repeal everything the first party did and pass its own extremist programs, leading to its failure at the polls and the return of the original party, or often yet another party, whose agenda then dominates.  Remember, as we have often mentioned in connection with coalition government, we are not in our chosen parties because everyone in those parties agrees with us on every point; we are there because we have agreed to support each other on those points each of us think important.  That means some of the things you want your party to do other members of your party strongly oppose–the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party wants open borders, but the Labor wing definitely does not; the universal healthcare driven through by the Democratic Progressives has gone very badly for labor unions, whose members lost much of their superior healthcare benefits under the program.  Majority opinion is more fickle than a twelve-year-old girl’s crushes.  Democracy leads to such rapid changes.  People think they want one thing, but when they start to see where that leads, they change their minds and want something else.

Our system does not always give us stability.  In recent years the fracturing of political opinion has led to some very unstable situations.  However, rapid change is always unstable, and we have seen much rapid change over those years.  The system is working to slow the change, to keep things at a pace people can accept.

A more democratic system would not be a better one.

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#171: The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention)

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #171, on the subject of The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention).

One subject that intrigues me is what is called church polity, that is, the way various churches and denominations organize and operate themselves both locally and globally.  We call our various subdivisions synods, presbyteries, conferences, and quite a few other names.  Among the Baptists, a highly democratic and congregationalist group (“congregationalist” polity means that the church is run entirely from the bottom up, as church members decide what the denomination believes and does, and anyone who disagrees either goes along for the sake of unity or leaves the group), divide themselves into “conventions”, gatherings that attempt to agree on what is important to them.  Each convention elects a president, who sets the agenda for his term; they also hire staff to provide services for the member churches, such as publications.  I am not an expert on church polity, with only passing familiarity with a half dozen or so denominations, but my mind was caught particularly by the practice of one denomination, the Seventh Day Baptist Convention, and I thought it might have lessons for non-religious people immersed in the secular political world.

Seventh Day Baptist Churchof Plainfield, New Jersey
Seventh Day Baptist Church
of Plainfield, New Jersey

For those who care about such things, the Seventh Day Baptists were founded in England and are the oldest denomination in America to observe a Saturday Sabbath.  Some are perhaps a bit legalistic about that while others are more relaxed–much as found in Sunday-observing churches.  (I have written On Sabbath elsewhere.)  They are otherwise like most Baptist churches.  Once a year–in the United States, it happens in August–they hold a major meeting of the convention, Conference, hundreds of members getting together somewhere for a week of meetings and services and discussions.  (The week prior to this, they have a major gathering for the youth of the denomination in the same location, many of whom then stay for the convention itself.)  It is at this conference that they elect a president.

The interesting aspect is that the president does not at that moment take office.  He is elected to replace the current president, but it is expected that he will take time to tour the denomination, talk to the churches, and develop his “vision” for the denomination during his term.  He remains effectively “president-elect” during this time–an entire year, as the following year at conference he will step into the role, introduce his vision for the year ahead, and oversee the election of the person who will replace him as president elect.  He now has a year to serve as president of the denomination, to make his vision a reality, before the new president takes the office at the next annual conference.

There are a lot of interesting aspects to that.  For one thing, I don’t believe anyone has ever served two consecutive terms, but in the several centuries of history (our local congregation was established before the American Revolutionary War) I could not say whether anyone has filled the position more than once.  It is a small denomination, the sort in which ordinary members all over the country know each other, partly because in addition to this annual meeting they have another annual business meeting one weekend to which everyone is invited, hosted by one of the member churches, and several smaller multi-church gatherings.  So the fact that I know a father and a son who both held the position (many years apart) does not suggest nepotism as much as tradition.  It also means that no one runs on his record–you are not going to be elected to serve two consecutive terms.  Interestingly, you are not really elected based on what you promise to do; you are elected based on the belief of the electorate that you will do something that needs to be done, something that will be good for the denomination.  You are elected, in essence, because people trust you to discover the needs in the church and address them.

Ultimately, too, the system reminds us that all leaders are temporary.  In a democratic system such as a representative federation, almost all leaders serve terms of office which end after a few years.  (Our federal judiciary is appointed for life, but even that ends eventually.)  Some can be re-elected, but many have term limits, and re-election is never guaranteed.  The people we have picked to be our leaders were picked because a large number of us from a very large area of the country thought they would do what needed to be done.  It was not exacty because we liked their policies, although that is part of it and in truth it was also partly because many of us feared the policies of the alternative.  It was, rather, because we perceived these as people who would try to do what America needed to have done.  It might not be exactly what they intended to do initially, and they might not succeed in their objectives, but we needed to change the course of the Ship of State, and this crew seemed to be the best chance to do so.  We know that we are committed to this choice for the short term, and if we are unhappy with it there will be a chance to change in the not too distant future (already serious politicians are working on their twenty twenty presidential campaigns).

Every once in a while I find myself trying to reconstruct the sequence of Presidents and Vice Presidents who have served during my lifetime.  They are all important, and they all have done things that mattered at the time.  Some have also done things with long-term consequences, but despite their importance at the time there are few who can tell you what significant actions were taken by the Eisenhauer administration, or that of Johnson, or Ford, or Carter, or even Clinton.  We remember the scandals, but what Presidents do is rarely remembered outside history books.

So stop worrying about it.  A Presidential term is really a rather short moment in history, even in the course of your life.  There will be other Presidents, some better and some worse than the present one.  Let’s see what this one does, and build from there.

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#160: For All In Authority

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #160, on the subject of For All In Authority.

O.K., show of hands:  how many of you have been praying for our new president?

I see that hand.

img0160Trump

No, I appreciate this.  I have never been much of one for canned uninformed “pray for the President/pray for the leaders”–I never know what to pray, and I’ve been a political writer for several years, and still don’t know what to pray.  Part of the difficulty I face is that we are told to give thanks for the answers to our petitions, but for most of what I can imagine asking I have no reason to expect to see how God has answered–I am not privy to cabinet meetings nor to the thoughts of men.  Part of the problem is that it is very easy to want God to move our leaders to my political opinion, and God does not generally do that, or at least not that I’ve recognized in others.

But I am upset about the people who have been protesting, and particularly because I know that at least some of them would take the name “Christian”.  I do not mean that Christians should never protest.  I am not even saying that Christians should never be involved in overthrowing governments–that’s simply more than I know.  However, the call we were given was to pray, not to condemn.  In a modern democracy, the proper function of protest is to communicate our opinions to our leaders, not to condemn them for theirs.  Communicate, certainly; do not condemn.

One of those who taught me along the way made the statement God gives you the person that you need, not necessarily the person that you may want.  I do not even now remember to what exact situation he was applying that, but I have recognized it in connection with spouses, pastors, and particularly governments.  (I suspect it applies as well to parents, although I was out of the house and married before I heard it; I wonder to what degree it applies to children.)  Proverbs has a verse which in the original speaks of a lot falling in a lap, an archaic concept among archaic concepts for which the Christian Gamers Guild has found a modern translation, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines where they fall.”  Benjamin Franklin noted that if sparrows do not fall without God’s notice, nations certainly do not rise without His aid–and that would undoubtedly apply as well to governments.  At this point we know, incontrovertibly, that God chose to make Donald Trump President of these United States.  We may debate whether that is upon us a blessing or a curse, a reward or a punishment, a path forward or an impediment to truth, but whatever it is, it is what God decided we needed.  This is God’s gift to us, what He has given.

And every gift God gives is good.

Don’t choke on that.  Understand, as I know I have said previously and elsewhere, that when the Bible says that God’s gifts are good, it does not mean necessarily that we will like them.  All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose it says in Romans 8, but it does not mean that everything that happens to us will be pleasant.  Eat your spinach, it’s good for you–this is the kind of good Paul meant there, that whatever comes to us benefits us, whether we enjoy it or not.  Suffering produces endurance.  When Jesus says that God gives both sun and rain to the good and the bad, the righteous and the unrighteous, He did not mean that we all get good things and bad things–he meant that we get the good that is the sun and the good that is the rain.  I do not yet know whether this presidency will be steak or Brussels sprouts–the good I will enjoy or the good I need to endure–but I know that it has been given to us and it is good.

In the early days of the church, nearly all Christians lived in or near Jerusalem.  Then a terrible thing happened.  A Christian named Steven was lynched by a mob.  Instead of the rioters being brought to justice, the local ruler arrested one of the top people in the church, a man named James, and had him executed.  The persecution of believers had begun.  Many, including some of the leaders themselves, fled Jerusalem, left the province known as Judea, and sought homes elsewhere in the Roman Empire.  It was undoubtedly something they would have prayed to end, despite the fact that Jesus told them it would happen–and we see in hindsight that these fleeing believers carried the message with them into places it would not have reached nearly as quickly otherwise, so the church spread and grew as others heard the gospel and believed.  Christians had been told to take the message into the whole world, but were rather complacently sitting in the one small town (and face it, as capital cities of the time went, Jerusalem was a small one) sharing the message mostly with people who had already heard it or knew where to hear it if they were interested.  We needed that trouble to move us in the right direction.

Therefore I know what to pray.  I pray that God will give wisdom to this man and his advisors, so that they will accomplish the task God has given them in the best way possible.  I do not know what that task might be, nor do I know to what degree the answer to my prayer will involve God clearing the path for what the man wants to do and to what degree it involves God impeding that path so that only part of the human program will be accomplished.  I do know that God will accomplish His purpose, one way or another, and the current presidency is part of that.  We are instructed to pray, and not given much understanding of what to pray, but this is enough.  One way or another, this should move us in the right direction.  We might not know what the right direction is (and for those first century Christians it seems to have been every direction as long as it was motion), but we know that God is moving somewhere and will bring us where He wants us to be.

So let us pray.

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