Tag Archives: Legislature

#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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#127: New Jersey 2016 Election Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #127, on the subject of New Jersey 2016 Election Results.

We provided some advance explanation of the two Public Questions which were on the ballot, and did a quick rundown of the major candidates in the twelve congressional districts, and now we’re following up with the election results.  After all, with a lot of these events there is a great deal of coverage in anticipation of the moment, and then if you blink, you miss the outcome.  That shouldn’t be.

In the Presidential race, New Jersey consigned its fourteen electoral votes to the loser, Democrat Hillary Clinton, as Republican Donald Trump won comfortably.

Map of New Jersey's Electoral College vote, from Google, 3:00 Wednesday morning.
Map of New Jersey’s Electoral College vote, from Google, 3:00 Wednesday morning.

Public Question #1:  Constitutional Amendment to permit casino gambling in two counties other than Atlantic County, went down hard, about four to one against.  That means for the present casino gambling will be confined to Atlantic City, and the city will have to figure out how better to manage what it has.

Public Question #2:  Constitutional Amendment to dedicate additional revenues to state transportation system, ran very close, but sometime after midnight had clearly passed by a narrow margin, under fifty-five percent of the vote favoring it.  That means the state government will be forced to put the gasoline tax revenue into a dedicated account strictly for use by the Department of Transportation, which was the justification for the tax originally.

In the House of Representatives, all the incumbents were re-elected easily except in Congressional District 5, where Republican incumbent Scott Garrett was hurt by Libertarian Claudio Belusic in his race against Democrat Josh Gottheimer.  The Libertarian’s two-point-two percent of the vote was the best of any Libertarian candidate in the state (Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson took two percent of the vote in the state, the best showing of any third-party candidate), but even apart from that Gottheimer would have edged out a victory, with fifty-point-five percent of the vote in his favor.

This tips the balance of New Jersey’s Congressional delegation, which for the past several years has been evenly split with six Republicans and six Democrats; with Gottheimer replacing Garrett we will be sending seven Democrats and only five Republicans to Washington.  Nationally the Republicans still hold the House, with two hundred thirty-six seats, a few lost from their current majority.  In the Senate, Republicans also lost one seat (in Illinois), but still hold a bare majority at fifty-one.

Here are the incoming United States Congressmen from New Jersey by district:

  1. Donald Norcross, Democrat, Incumbent.
  2. Frank Lobiondo, Republican, Incumbent.
  3. Tom MacArthur, Republican, Incumbent.
  4. Chris Smith, Republican, Incumbent.
  5. Josh Gottheimer, Democrat, Newcomer.
  6. Frank Pallone, Democrat, Incumbent.
  7. Leonard Lance, Republican, Incumbent.
  8. Albio Sires, Democrat, Incumbent.
  9. Bill Pascrell, Democrat, Incumbent.
  10. Donald Payne, Jr., Democrat, Incumbent.
  11. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Republican, Incumbent.
  12. Bonnie Watson Coleman, Democrat, Incumbent.

That gives us the shape of our Federal Government for the next two years.

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#125: My Presidential Election Fears

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

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

img0125candidates

I am not afraid of a Donald Trump Presidency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am afraid of a Hillary Clinton Presidency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#123: The 2016 Election in New Jersey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#60: Federalism and Elected Senators

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #60, on the subject of Federalism and Elected Senators.

The Utah House of Representatives has passed a measure and sent it to the Utah State Senate, calling on the United States legislatures to begin the process of repealing the 17th amendment to the United States Constitution.

This is a bit ironic, I suppose.  Although there are several states which never ratified that century-old amendment, Utah is the only state which voted against ratification.  On the other hand, the amendment itself came into existence through a process very like this:  state legislatures around the country passed motions asking the federal legislatures to introduce this constitutional amendment.  It took the better part of a century for it to be accepted, and now one state that tried to reject it then wants to reject it now.

They are not entirely alone, though.  The repeal of the seventeenth amendment is one of the ideas supported by the Tea Party; and since it is apparently growing in favor, we should understand what it is, what it changed, and why we passed it originally.

Utah State Capitol Building
Utah State Capitol Building

All Americans are familiar with the phrase “checks and balances”.  It is why we have three “co-equal” branches of government.  Jefferson would have been happy with a single legislative house as the sole branch of government, on his belief that rational men would always do the right thing given opportunity to discuss it among themselves.  Between the representatives themselves and the existence of “reason” as a nearly divine entity guiding man, they had their checks and balances inherent in their interactions.  (We think that naive, but it was the view of many intellectuals of the time.)  Our independently-elected executive (parliamentary governments have the legislature select the executive) is charged with performing that which the legislature directs, but has one chance to veto any law he finds objectionable, subject to the ability of the legislature to override that if they’re really serious (two-thirds majority vote in both houses).  Our judiciary can originate nothing, but can veto anything if it is brought to them in a legitimate case.  These powers prevent any individual or to some degree any faction from dominating government.

One of those balances rarely mentioned is our “bicameral legislature”–that there is a House of Representatives and a separate Senate.  The membership of the House is based on the population of the states, each state divided into districts with proportional population such that voters across the nation are roughly equally represented there in a process that brings the representation almost to your neighborhood.  The Senate, by contrast, is comprised by exactly two Senators from each state.  Representatives serve two-year terms, and are constantly seeking to be returned to office; Senators serve six-year stretches, each state appointing one or the other every three years.  As originally designed, Senators were selected by the state legislatures, not by the voters.

To understand that, you have to get back into the mindset of the late late eigthteenth century.  Having come out of a “War of Independence” also known as the “American Revolutionary War”, thirteen former colonies were now independent of Great Britain.  Each was now called a “state”–but the word “state” then did not have the meaning we understand.  France was a “state”; Russia was a “state”.  The word meant “country” or “nation”  At that point we regarded ourselves as thirteen independent countries, each with its own government.  I would have been regarded a citizen of New Jersey.  This, though, was still the Age of Imperialism–not only England but France, Spain, Portugal, Russia, and Austria held sway over colonies around the world.  “Czar” was the Russian spelling of “Caesar”, and Austria was the home of the Holy Roman Emperor.  Little countries did not stay independent long in that world.  So the colonies created a treaty alliance, something akin to NATO, to provide for the mutual defense.  They also agreed, in principle, to something like free trade with each other, similar the European Economic Community.  However, it was evident that under the original Articles of Confederation it was not working as envisioned:  states would impose tarriffs on goods imported from or exported to other states, crossing state (read:  international) lines was sometimes complicated, and laws enforced in one state would be different in another.  It led to a Constitutional Convention, intended officially to revise the Articles of Confederation to address a few trade issues, and resulting in the composition of The Constitution of the United States of America.

The Constitution is very much a Federalist document.  At that time, the Federalists wanted to reduce the power of individual states and fuse them into a single nation, converting the “confederation” into a “federation”.  The Democrats, though, were opposed to this.  They wanted as little government as possible, as close to the individual as possible.  A federal government that could exercise authority over thirteen countries was too much like an empire, and its emperoror, even if called “President”, was inherently too powerful as a concept.  Those thirteen countries that were going to be united under this treaty called a Constitution were going to have to be protected from that central imperial power.  The states themselves as such needed to be represented at the federal level.  This was achieved by three provisions.

The first is that the election of Representatives was to be done on a state-by-state basis, that is, district by district within individual states.  This may seem obvious, but it isn’t, really.  If we had a perfectly equal voter-to-representative ratio, small states like Delaware would not have their own representative but would be represented by someone whose district overlapped with adjacent states.  Israel’s Knesset does not divide the country into districts but lets everyone vote for any one candidate, and the one hundred twenty candidates with the most votes nationwide are elected.  Our Constitution provides that each state is apportioned Representatives based on state population, to be elected directly by the eligible voters in geographical districts of roughly equal population–but the state government gets to define those districts, as long as they comply with that requirement.  So the state, as a state, has some influence over those elections, and is represented through those Representatives which represent its people.

The second provision which gave the states representation at the federal level is the Electoral College.  Technically, the voters do not elect the President of the United States.  The voters elect individual Electors who represent their individual states in electing the President.  As we have noted, the individual state governments get to decide how that is done–two states proportion their electors based on the proportion of voters supporting each candidate, the remaining states having winner-take-all elections.  Thus in a very real sense the State of New Jersey casts its fourteen votes for President of the United States, and the State of Delaware casts its three votes; the voters in these states vote not for the President but for who they want their state to support.

However, the biggest provision creating representation of the states as states in the federal government was the fact that Senators were appointed by state legislatures, not directly by the voters.  They did not run state-wide campaigns, but sought the approval of their political colleagues; and they were not beholden to voters or donors but to those legislators, who could exercise some direct influence over how those Senators would vote.  Senators were, in a sense, ambassadors to the United Nations, when those united nations were thirteen former British colonies forming a federated union.  It meant that the two houses of Congress were different in kind, one representing the people, the other representing the states, and thus that they would have different interests.

The seventeenth amendment changed that.  Our first two questions are why and how, and after that we have to wonder why Utah and the Tea Party want to change it back.

The how is simple enough.  The seventeenth amendment to the United States Constitution took the senatorial appointment power away from the state legislatures and gave it to the voters directly.  Each Senator is now chosen by the majority of all the voters in his home state, and so, in theory, each represents the interests of all of them.  There is also a provision stating that in the event of a vacancy, the legislature can empower the governor to appoint an interim Senator and schedule a special election (as we saw here in New Jersey a couple years back when Senator Lautenberg died).  The legislature no longer has the power to appoint or approve the appointment of Senators.

Two reasons for the change were advanced at the time.  One was the potential for political corruption.  It was asserted that it was possible for a wealthy individual to bribe enough state legislators in essence to purchase a seat in the Senate.  It was alleged that this had happened, maybe two or three times.  It had not been a severe problem, but it was viewed as a potential problem.  It was also an occasional problem that gridlock in a state legislature caused a Senate seat to remain unfilled for extended periods–sometimes several years–which of course meant that those states were not adequately represented in Congress.

Ultimately, though, the driving force seemed to be a push toward centralized government, to reduce the power of the state legislatures in favor of a stronger connection between the federal legislators and the voters.  In theory it is supposed to make the federal government more directly responsive to the people.  It makes state government less relevant at the national level.

That was one of the key arguments against it then, and one of the key arguments against it now; but now that we have had a century of the new system, a new objection has been raised.  It is asserted that the Senators, now elected by the populace instead of selected by the legislatures, no longer represent the interests of the people at all, but rather represent the interests of big money.  In most states it is very costly to run a Senate campaign; if the salary was the only benefit, the return on investment would be minimal.  Candidates are very dependent on financing, and financing, particularly in the larger states, is very dependent on business, or banking, or unions, or other large financiers.  Thus while you are your Senators’ constituent in name, in practice he is far more indebted to, and far more interested in pleasing, those who give the big contributions which support his campaign every half dozen years.  He owes you nothing–and his long six-year term means he is well insulated against any effort you might make to replace him.

That is what Utah asserts:  our Senators are not responsive to the states the way they were originally intended to be, and they are not responsible to the people who elect them as the change was supposed to induce, but only to the wealthy special interest groups who finance them.  It might have been a good idea to take the power from the state legislators and give it directly to the voters, but the effect has been to give the power to the people with the money.  Better to give it back to the state governments where the founders intended than to leave it where it is.

So that’s the argument.  Now the question is, should we go back to the original way?

Here in New Jersey it is difficult to imagine the state as a unified entity.  We are viewed by outsiders as predominantly “blue”, that is, Democratic, and our state legislature is dominated by Democrats and both of our Senators are Democrats–but we have a Republican Governor at the moment, and our Representatives in the House break evenly between the parties.  The northeast is dominated by urban industrial and business interests, the south is largely rural and still strongly agricultural, the northwest mountainous bordering on wilderness.  Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) sports teams are the home teams in almost half the state, New York (New York) teams in the other half, and those out-of-state cities also provide our local television, radio, and to some degree newspaper coverage.  Public Television offers a New Jersey Network, but it is not much watched, New York and Philadelphia Public Television dominating their respective markets.  There are perennial calls for the southern part of the state to secede from the more populus north, thwarted in part by the problem that both halves want Atlantic City and want the other to take Trenton.  The notion that my state legislature could pick Senators who represent this state seems ludicrous.

Nor is New Jersey the only state with this kind of problem.  Predominantly rural and wilderness upstate New York often complains that the populous metropolitan area of its namesake city dominates politics and government, and talks of dividing into two states.  Nor is this a new idea.  West Virginia was once part of Virginia.  One calculation suggests that if every state secessionist movement had been successful, there would now be between two and three times as many states.  Our states are not more unified than our nation, really; it only seems so to those outside because they only see the results of the elections, and only for the top offices.

And the question of how well our state legislatures represent our state populations is similarly suspect.  We hear much about redistricting when it applies to the House of Representatives, but it also applies to our state legislatures, in which one way or another the sitting legislators periodically decide how to divide the voting districts which select them, with all the gerrymandering that often involves to create districts that will keep the party in power in power.  Repealing the seventeenth amendment will not put the power in the hands of the people.  It is not supposed to, of course; it is supposed to put the power in the hands of the state government, so the states themselves will be represented at the federal level.  Yet if we have trouble with state governments adequately representing their own constituents, that will be compounded by letting the party which wins a slim majority in the state legislature decide who will represent them in the federal one.

It might have the positive effect of making voters interested in state government elections.  There is a tendency for voter turnout to be highest when there is a Presidential election, relatively high when there is a Senator on the ballot, and progressively lower for a Congressional election, state government election, and local election.  Yet if it became the case that our choice of New Jersey State Assemblyman became our vote for United States Senator from New Jersey, it might well become the case that New Jersey voters would be more interested in who those were and for what they stood.  Injecting national politics into state politics might be a boost for the state system.

On the other hand, in some states giving the choice of Senator to the state legislature would be de facto giving it to the party committee of the political party that controls the state.  We have only sections of that in New Jersey, where there are still “party bosses” who choose candidates and put them in office because they control the party that always wins the district.  The old system is subject to a new form of corruption, giving more power to the party in power and making it more difficult for the voters to wrest that power from it.

So Utah is right to the degree that there is a problem, a corruption in the present system; but the solution does not seem to be returning to the old system.  It is difficult, though, to envision a new system that would work.  We might have the Governor of each state select one of the Senators and the legislature the other; or have one elected by popular vote and the other the legislature, or perhaps have a two-stage election in which the voters in essence nominate several candidates and then the legislature selects one.  Some way of choosing Senators might be devised which at least reduces their dependence on big money without making them too beholden to party interests.  That way is not the repeal of the seventeenth amendment but its replacement with a better idea not yet envisioned.

Quite a few articles on the site are at least peripherally related to issues in this web log post, among them particularly Coalition Government which includes explanations of the Electoral College system, Polarization on why the country is so divided, Re-election Incongruity on why everyone claims that Congress should be recalled but incumbents are consistently re-elected, and Election Law, which includes discussions of redistricting issues.

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#15: The 2015 Election Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #15, on the subject of The 2015 Election Results.

I previously gave a quick look at the anticipated election.  You have by now probably heard the national news–Democrats did not win in Virginia, and there are quite a few other stories hitting the national headlines.  I feel only that I am obligated to give you some notion of the situation in New Jersey.  That previous mark Joseph “young” web log entry, #12:  The 2015 Election, identified all the candidates in all the state-wide races.  This article will be much shorter, and is here to tell you who won.

img0015Seal

The short answer is that in the main the incumbents won.  Here are the exceptions.

In district one, Republican Sam Fiocchi was unseated in a close race by Democrat Bruce Land.

In district five, where Democratic incumbents Gilbert Wilson and Angel Fuentes did not run for re-election, they have been replaced by Democrats Patricia Jones and Arthur Barclay.

In district eleven, Republican incumbents Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande were edged out by Democratic challengers Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey.

In district sixteen, Republicans incumbent Jack Ciatarelli was re-elected, and it appears that Republican incumbent Donna Simon was edged out by Democrat Andrew Zwicker in a very close three-way race including Democrat Maureen Vella in a very close last place.

In district twenty-two, Democratic incumbent Linda Stender did not run, but was replaced by Democrat James Kennedy.

In district twenty-four, Republican incumbent Alison McHose did not run, but was replaced by Republican Gail Phoebus.

In district thirty-one where Incumbent Democrats Jason O’Donnell and Charles Mainor did not run, they were replaced by Democrats Angela McKnight and Nicholas Chiaravalloti.

In district thirty-three where Democratic incumbent Carmelo Garcia did not run, he was replaced by Democrat Annette Chaparro.

Assuming the sixteenth district seat goes to Democrat Zwicker, the Democrats have increased their hold on the Assembly from forty-eight/thirty-two to fifty-two/twenty-eight.

That’s the election coverage for the Garden State this year.

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