Tag Archives: New Jersey

#267: A Mass Revival Meeting

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #267, on the subject of A Mass Revival Meeting.

On September 27 through 29 (coinciding with the Feast of Tabernacles) an organization called Awaken the Dawn is planning a massive effort entitled Tent America 2018.  In all fifty United States capitals and on many college campuses they are planning to hold huge meetings over several days, comprised of worship music and intercessory prayer.  The hope is to lead America to revival.

I received an invitation to participate, but after some investigation I declined, for a number of reasons.  I am sure that it will be a wonderful time of praise and worship for those for whom such meetings are worthwhile, and I would certainly encourage anyone to participate who benefits from such meetings.  However, I think the organizers, at least at the Trenton New Jersey location, have made two serious mistakes.

The first mistake is entirely common in our present time:  they have assumed that anyone who is a Christian musician is de facto a worship leader.  As I have elsewhere noted, just as the majority of Christians are not what we call “ministers” (although all are called to serve), so too the majority of Christian musicians are not “music ministers”, and even among those who are only some are what we call “worship leaders”.  Leading people in worship is fundamentally pastoral ministry.  It’s not about standing up front with a guitar singing the right songs; it’s about being called to that as a ministry.

I say it’s a common mistake–just as back in the 1970s it was assumed that anyone who was a Christian and a musician was automatically an evangelist.  It wasn’t true.  Today the assumption is that such people are automatically worship leaders–overlooking the fact that a worship leader is, pretty much by definition, a pastor, although very few will say this of their worship leaders.  I know they’re making this mistake because when they told me what they wanted, it pretty much came down to standing on the stage singing worship songs, not speaking more than necessary.  I am a teacher, but they did not want me to teach even a little bit.  Very few of my songs are “worship songs”; most of them teach.  I also have talked with another Christian musician planning to play there who readily admits not being a worship leader, but who is planning simply to play a few worship songs; if someone else is leading worship, that’s fine, and I fully agree with that attitude of being willing as a musician who is not a minister to support another minister with musical gifts.  However, it is a mistake to expect such musicians to be ministers just because they’re musicians and they know some worship songs.  It doesn’t work that way.

The other mistake is that they expect mass meetings of worship and intercession to result in revival.  I don’t want to say that it doesn’t work that way, but history and scripture both suggest that it doesn’t.  Revivals do not arise from Christians being involved in praise meetings; nor do they come from intercession.  Every revival whose roots can be traced began with believers repenting, confessing our own sins and admitting that we have not been what God wanted us to be.  These meetings are not telling anyone that.  Rather, they are focused on enjoying our relationships with God (which is certainly a good thing) and praying for other people.  It is not until we pray for ourselves, ask forgiveness and seek to change our ways, that we are launching the roots of revival.

To that end, it’s not going to be songs like You Are My King (Amazing Love) by The Newsboys, or Revelation Song by Phillips Craig & Dean that bring revival, as wonderful as they are, but songs like For King and Country’s Oh God, Forgive Us.  It is when we meet to confess our own sins and change our own lives that revival begins–always with the household of God.

#253: Political Messages at Polling Places

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #253, on the subject of Political Messages at Polling Places.

You may have heard that the Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, struck down Minnesota’s law forbidding the wearing of anything “political” when you go to the polling place to vote.

One of the appellants was turned away from voting for wearing a shirt like this.

The case is Minnesota Voters Alliance et all. v. Mansky et al., and continuing his interest in leaving a mark on I Amendment law, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion.  The law is a fairly common sort, the court identifying thirty-six other states and the District of Columbia as having similar laws.  In New Jersey we have N. J. Stat. Ann. §19:34–19 Insignia at polls

19:34-19. No person shall display, sell, give or provide any political badge, button or other insignia to be worn at or within one hundred feet of the polls or within the polling place or room, on any primary, general or special election day or on any commission government election day, except the badge furnished by the county board as herein provided.

A person violating any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a disorderly persons offense.

It does not appear that the New Jersey law would withstand the scrutiny of this case, because of the problem the majority had with the use of the word “political”.  That word, it argued, was too broad; and when they questioned the State’s attorney at oral argument it became more problematic.  An NRA shirt would always be banned, but a Rainbow flag shirt would only be banned if there were an issue of gay rights on the ballot.  A shirt displaying the text of the I Amendment (freedom of speech, press, religion, and association) would always be permissible, but one with the text of the II Amendment (right to bear arms) would always be excluded.  Guidelines issued by the State to polling place judges did not, in the Court’s view, clarify the matter.

Justice Sotomayer dissented, joined by Justice Breyer.  Their objection could be summarized as stating that the decision is premature, that they should not have decided the case but deferred it to the Minnesota State Supreme Court.  The majority claimed that they could not imagine any interpretation of the law as written that would pass muster with its concerns, but the dissent said that in matters of state law that have not yet been interpreted by the state, it is if not normal at least common for the Supreme Court to ask the State’s highest court to provide its understanding of the law, and then determine whether that understanding passes constitutional muster.  This law has been in place for over a century, dating back to the end of the nineteenth century when polling places were often filled with hecklers and vote privacy was minimal.  Until this case (seven years ago) it has never been challenged and no one had been prosecuted for violating it, nor had anyone been refused the right to vote.  It probably has been applied reasonably, even if the Supreme Court doesn’t know how, and an opinion from the State courts would have been an appropriate step before striking down such a long-established statute.

There’s a solid argument there, but the majority apparently didn’t believe the State court could provide a viable response and didn’t wish to delay the matter.

Thus there is a good chance that whatever rule your state has regarding wearing political messages to the polling place has just been ruled unconstitutional.

#219: A 2017 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #219, on the subject of A 2017 Retrospective.

A year ago, plus a couple days, on the last day of 2016 we posted web log post #150:  2016 Retrospective.  We are a couple days into the new year but have not yet posted anything new this year, so we’ll take a look at what was posted in 2017.

Beginning “off-site”, there was a lot at the Christian Gamers Guild, as the Faith and Gaming series ran the rest of its articles.  I also launched two new monthly series there in the last month of the year, with introductory articles Faith in Play #1:  Reintroduction, continuing the theme of the Faith and Gaming series, and RPG-ology #1:  Near Redundancy, reviving some of the lost work and adding more to the Game Ideas Unlimited series of decades back.  In addition to the Faith and Gaming materials, the webmaster republished two articles from early editions of The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, the first Magic:  Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy from the magic symposium, and the second Real and Imaginary Violence, about the objection that role playing games might be too violent.  I also contributed a new article at the beginning of the year, A Christian Game, providing rules for a game-like activity using scripture.  Near the end of the year–the end of November, actually–I posted a review of all the articles from eighteen months there, as Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website.

That’s apart from the Chaplain’s Bible Study posts, where we finished the three Johannine epistles and Jude and have gotten about a third of the way through Revelation.  There have also been Musings posts on the weekends.

Over at Goodreads I’ve reviewed quite a few books.

Turning to the mark Joseph “young” web log, we began the year with #151:  A Musician’s Resume, giving my experience and credentials as a Christian musician.  That subject was addressed from a different direction in #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, from the advice I received from successful Christian musicians, with my own feeling about it.  Music was also the subject of #181:  Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration, the steps involved in creating the song Even You, with link to the recording.

We turned our New Year’s attention to the keeping of resolutions with a bit of practical advice in #152:  Breaking a Habit, my father’s techniques for quitting smoking more broadly applied.

A few of the practical ones related to driving, including #154:  The Danger of Cruise Control, presenting the hazard involved in the device and how to manage it, #155:  Driving on Ice and Snow, advice on how to do it, and #204:  When the Brakes Fail, suggesting ways to address the highly unlikely but cinematically popular problem of the brakes failing and the accelerator sticking.

In an odd esoteric turn, we discussed #153:  What Are Ghosts?, considering the possible explanations for the observed phenomena.  Unrelated, #184:  Remembering Adam Keller, gave recollections on the death of a friend.  Also not falling conveniently into a usual category, #193:  Yelling:  An Introspection, reflected on the internal impact of being the target of yelling.

Our Law and Politics articles considered several Supreme Court cases, beginning with a preliminary look at #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, the trademark case brought by Asian rock band The Slants and how it potentially impacts trademark law.  The resolution of this case was also covered in #194:  Slanting in Favor of Free Speech, reporting the favorable outcome of The Slant’s trademark dispute, plus the Packingham case regarding laws preventing sex offenders from accessing social networking sites.

Other court cases included #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, examining the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley case in which a church school wanted to receive the benefits of a tire recycling playground resurfacing program; this was resolved and covered in #196:  A Church and State Playground, followup on the Trinity Lutheran playground paving case.  #190:  Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion, admires the decision in the immigration and citizenship case Morales-Santana.

We also addressed political issues with #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), noting that political terms of office are not eternal; #172:  Why Not Democracy?, a consideration of the disadvantages of a more democratic system; #175:  Climate Change Skepticism, about a middle ground between climate change extremism and climate change denial; #176:  Not Paying for Health Care, about socialized medicine costs and complications; #179:  Right to Choose, responding to the criticism that a male white Congressman should not have the right to take away the right of a female black teenager to choose Planned Parenthood as a free provider of her contraceptive services, and that aspect of taking away someone’s right to choose as applied to the unborn.

We presumed to make a suggestion #159:  To Compassion International, recommending a means for the charitable organization to continue delivering aid to impoverished children in India in the face of new legal obstacles.  We also had some words for PETA in #162:  Furry Thinking, as PETA criticized Games Workshop for putting plastic fur on its miniatures and we discuss the fundamental concepts behind human treatment of animals.

We also talked about discrimination, including discriminatory awards programs #166:  A Ghetto of Our Own, awards targeted to the best of a particular racial group, based on similar awards for Christian musicians; #207:  The Gender Identity Trap, observing that the notion that someone is a different gender on the inside than his or her sex on the outside is confusing cultural expectations with reality, and #212:  Gender Subjectivity, continuing that discussion with consideration of how someone can know that they feel like somthing they have never been.  #217:  The Sexual Harassment Scandal, addressed the recent explosion of sexual harassment allegations.

We covered the election in New Jersey with #210:  New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election, giving an overview of the candidates in the race, #211:  New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions, suggesting voting against both the library funding question and the environmental lock box question, and #214:  New Jersey 2017 Election Results, giving the general outcome in the major races for governor, state legislature, and public questions.

Related to elections, #213:  Political Fragmentation, looks at the Pew survey results on political typology.

We recalled a lesson in legislative decision-making with #182:  Emotionalism and Science, the story of Tris in flame-retardant infant clothing, and the warning against solutions that have not been considered for their other effects.  We further discussed #200:  Confederates, connecting what the Confederacy really stood for with modern issues; and #203:  Electoral College End Run, opposing the notion of bypassing the Constitutional means of selecting a President by having States pass laws assigning their Electoral Votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

2017 also saw the publication of the entirety of the third Multiverser novel, For Better or Verse, along with a dozen web log posts looking behind the writing process, which are all indexed in that table of contents page.  There were also updated character papers for major and some supporting characters in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages section, and before the year ended we began releasing the fourth novel, serialized, Spy Verses, with the first of its behind-the-writings posts, #218:  Versers Resume, with individual sections for the first twenty-one chapters.

Our Bible and Theology posts included #160:  For All In Authority, discussing praying for our leaders, and protesting against them; #165:  Saints Alive, regarding statues of saints and prayers offered to them; #168:  Praying for You, my conditional offer to pray for others, in ministry or otherwise; #173:  Hospitalization Benefits, about those who prayed for my recovery; #177:  I Am Not Second, on putting ourselves last; #178:  Alive for a Reason, that we all have purpose as long as we are alive; #187:  Sacrificing Sola Fide, response to Walter Bjorck’s suggestion that it be eliminated for Christian unity; #192:  Updating the Bible’s Gender Language, in response to reactions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s promise to do so; #208:  Halloween, responding to a Facebook question regarding the Christian response to the holiday celebrations; #215:  What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means, reacting to Facebook applause for our anniversary with discussion of trust and forgiveness, contracts versus covenants; and #216:  Why Are You Here?, discussing the purpose of human existence.

We gave what was really advice for writers in #161:  Pseudovulgarity, about the words we don’t say and the words we say instead.

On the subject of games, I wrote about #167:  Cybergame Timing, a suggestion for improving some of those games we play on our cell phones and Facebook pages, and a loosely related post, #188:  Downward Upgrades, the problem of ever-burgeoning programs for smart phones.  I guested at a convention, and wrote of it in #189:  An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience, reflecting on being a guest at the convention.  I consider probabilities to be a gaming issue, and so include here #195:  Probabilities in Dishwashing, calculating a problem based on cup colors.

I have promised to do more time travel; home situations have impeded my ability to watch movies not favored by my wife, but this is anticipated to change soon.  I did offer #185:  Notes on Time Travel in The Flash, considering time remnants and time wraiths in the superhero series; #199:  Time Travel Movies that Work, a brief list of time travel movies whose temporal problems are minimal; #201:  The Grandfather Paradox Solution, answering a Facebook question about what happens if a traveler accidentally causes the undoing of his own existence; and #206:  Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus, deciding that the movie in which Christopher Columbus reaches India in the twenty-first century is not a time travel film.

I launched a new set of forums, and announced them in #197:  Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums, officially opening the forum section of the web site.  Unfortunately I announced them four days before landing in the hospital for the first of three summer hospitalizations–of the sixty-two days comprising July and August this year, I spent thirty-one of them in one or another of three hospitals, putting a serious dent in my writing time.  I have not yet managed to refocus on those forums, for which I blame my own post-surgical life complications and those of my wife, who also spent a significant stretch of time hospitalized and in post-hospitalization rehabilitation, and in extended recovery.  Again I express my gratitude for the prayers and other support of those who brought us through these difficulties, which are hopefully nearing an end.

Which is to say, I expect to offer you more in the coming year.  The fourth novel is already being posted, and a fifth Multiverser novel is being written in collaboration with a promising young author.  There are a few time travel movies available on Netflix, which I hope to be able to analyze soon.  There are a stack of intriguing Supreme Court cases for which I am trying to await the resolutions.  Your continued support as readers–and as Patreon and PayPal.me contributors–will bring these to realization.

Thank you.

#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.

#150: 2016 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #150, on the subject of 2016 Retrospective.

Periodically I try to look back over some period of time and review what I have published, and the end of the year is a good time to do this.  Thus before the new year begins I am offering you a reminder of articles you might have seen–or might have missed–over the past twelve months.  I am not going to recall them all.  For one thing, that would be far too many, and it in some cases will be easier to point to another location where certain categories of articles are indexed (which will appear more obvious as we progress).  For another, although we did this a year ago in web log post #34:  Happy Old Year, we also did it late in March in #70:  Writing Backwards and Forwards, when we had finished posting Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  So we will begin with the last third of March, and will reference some articles through indices and other sources.

I have divided articles into the categories which I thought most appropriate to them.  Many of these articles are reasonably in two or more categories–articles related to music often relate to writing, or Bible and theology; Bible and politics articles sometimes are nearly interchangeable.  I, of course, think it is all worth reading; I hope you think it at least worth considering reading.

I should also explain those odd six-digit numbers for anyone for whom they are not obvious, because they are at least non-standard.  They are YYMMDD, that is, year, month, and day of the date of publication of each article, each represented by two digits.  Thus the first one which appears, 160325, represents this year 2016, the third month March, and the twenty-fifth day.

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Let’s start with writings about writing.

There is quite a bit that should be in this category.  After all, that previous retrospective post appeared as we finished posting that first novel, and we have since posted the second, all one hundred sixty-two chapters of which are indexed in their own website section, Old Verses New.  If you’ve not read the novels, you have some catching up to do.  I also published one more behind-the-writings post on that first novel, #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One 160325, to cover notes unearthed in an old file on the hard drive.

Concurrent with the release of those second novel chapters there were again behind-the-writings posts, this time each covering nine consecutive chapters and hitting the web log every two weeks.  Although they are all linked from that table-of-contents page, since they are web log posts I am listing them here:  #74:  Another Novel 160421; #78:  Novel Fears 160506; #82:  Novel Developments 160519; #86:  Novel Conflicts 160602; #89:  Novel Confrontations 160623; #91:  Novel Mysteries 160707; #94:  Novel Meetings 160721; #100:  Novel Settling 160804; #104:  Novel Learning 160818; #110:  Character Redirects 160901;
#113:  Character Movements 160916;
#116:  Character Missions 160929;
#119:  Character Projects 161013;
#122:  Character Partings 161027; #128:  Character Gatherings 161110; #134:  Versers in Space 161124; #142:  Characters Unite 161208; and #148:  Characters Succeed 161222.

I have also added a Novel Support Section which at this point contains character sheets for several of the characters in the first novel and one in the second; also, if you have enjoyed reading the novels and have not seen #149:  Toward the Third Novel 161223, it is a must-read.

Also on the subject of writing, I discussed what was required for someone to be identified as an “author” in, appropriately, #72:  Being an Author 160410.  I addressed #118:  Dry Spells 161012 and how to deal with them, and gave some advice on #132:  Writing Horror 161116.  There was also one fun Multiverser story which had been at Dice Tales years ago which I revived here, #146:  Chris and the Teleporting Spaceships 161220

I struggled with where on this list to put #120:  Giving Offense 161014.  It deals with political issues of sexuality and involves a bit of theological perspective, but ultimately is about the concept of tolerance and how we handle disagreements.

It should be mentioned that not everything I write is here at M. J. Young Net; I write a bit about writing in my Goodreads book reviews.

Of course, I also wrote a fair amount of Bible and Theology material.

Part of it was apologetic, that is, discussing the reasons for belief and answers to the arguments against it.  In this category we have #73:  Authenticity of the New Testament Accounts 160413, #76:  Intelligent Simulation 160424 (specifically addressing an incongruity between denying the possibility of “Intelligent Design” while accepting that the universe might be the equivalent of a computer program), and #84:  Man-made Religion 160527 (addressing the charge that the fact all religions are different proves none are true).

Other pages are more Bible or theology questions, such as #88:  Sheep and Goats 160617, #90:  Footnotes on Guidance 160625, #121:  The Christian and the Law 161022, and #133:  Your Sunday Best 161117 (on why people dress up for church).

#114:  St. Teresa, Pedophile Priests, and Miracles 160917 is probably a bit of both, as it is a response to a criticism of Christian faith (specifically the Roman Catholic Church, but impacting all of us).

There was also a short miniseries of posts about the first chapter of Romans, the sin and punishment it presents, and how we as believers should respond.  It appeared in four parts:  #138:  The Sin of Romans I 161204, #139:  Immorality in Romans I 161205, #140:  Societal Implications of Romans I 161206, and #141:  The Solution to the Romans I Problem 161207.

Again, not everything I wrote is here.  The Faith and Gaming series and related materials including some from The Way, the Truth, and the Dice are being republished at the Christian Gamers Guild; to date, twenty-six such articles have appeared, but more are on the way including one written recently (a rules set for what I think might be a Christian game) which I debated posting here but decided to give to them as fresh content.  Meanwhile, the Chaplain’s Bible Study continues, having completed I & II Peter and now entering the last chapter of I John.

Again, some posts which are listed below as political are closely connected to principles of faith; after all, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are inextricably connected.  Also, quite a few of the music posts are also Bible or theology posts, since I have been involved in Christian music for decades.

So Music will be the next subject.

Since it is something people ask musicians, I decided to give some thought and put some words to #75:  Musical Influences 160423, the artists who have impacted my composing, arranging, and performances.

I also reached into my memories of being in radio, how it applies to being a musician and to being a writer, in #77:  Radio Activity 160427.

I wrote a miniseries about ministry and music, what it means to be a minister and how different kinds of ministries integrate music.  It began by saying not all Christian musicians are necessarily ministers in #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect 160724, and then continued with #97:  Ministry Calling 160728, #98:  What Is a Minister? 160730, #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle 160803, #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry 160808, #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry 160812, #103:  Music Ministry of the Pastor 160814, #106:  The Teacher Music Ministry 160821, and
#107:  Miscellaneous Music Ministries 160824.  As something of an addendum, I posted #109:  Simple Songs 160827, a discussion of why so many currently popular songs seem to be musically very basic, and why given their purpose that is an essential feature.

In related areas, I offered #111:  A Partial History of the Audio Recording Industry 160903 explaining why recored companies are failing, #129:  Eulogy for the Record Album 161111 discussing why this is becoming a lost art form, and #147:  Traditional versus Contemporary Music 161221 on the perennial argument in churches about what kinds of songs are appropriate.

The lyrics to my song Free 161017 were added to the site, because it was referenced in one of the articles and I thought the readers should be able to find them if they wished.

There were quite a few articles about Law and Politics, although despite the fact that this was an “election year” (of course, there are elections every year, but this one was special), most of them were not really about that.  By March the Presidential race had devolved into such utter nonsense that there was little chance of making sense of it, so I stopped writing about it after talking about Ridiculous Republicans and Dizzying Democrats.

Some were, of course.  These included the self-explanatory titles #123:  The 2016 Election in New Jersey 161104, #124:  The 2016 New Jersey Public Questions 161105, #125:  My Presidential Fears 161106, and #127:  New Jersey 2016 Election Results 161109, and a few others including #126:  Equity and Religion 161107 about an argument in Missouri concerning whether it should be legal to give state money to child care and preschool services affiliated with religious groups, and #131:  The Fat Lady Sings 161114, #136:  Recounting Nonsense 161128, and #143:  A Geographical Look at the Election 161217, considering the aftermath of the election and the cries to change the outcome.

We had a number of pages connected to the new sexual revolution, including #79:  Normal Promiscuity 160507, #83:  Help!  I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body! 160521, and #115:  Disregarding Facts About Sexual Preference 160926.

Other topics loosely under discrimination include #87:  Spanish Ice Cream 160616 (about whether a well-known shop can refuse to take orders in languages other than English), #130:  Economics and Racism 161112 (about how and why unemployment stimulates racist attitudes), and #135:  What Racism Is 161127 (explaining why it is possible for blacks to have racist attitudes toward whites).  Several with connections to law and economics include #105:  Forced Philanthropy 160820 (taxing those with more to give to those with less), #108:  The Value of Ostentation 160826 (arguing that the purchase of expensive baubles by the rich is good for the poor), #137:  Conservative Penny-pinching 161023 (discussing spending cuts), and #145:  The New Internet Tax Law 161219 (about how Colorado has gotten around the problem of charging sales tax on Internet purchases).

A few other topics were hit, including one on freedom of speech and religion called #144:  Shutting Off the Jukebox 161218, one on scare tactics used to promote policy entitled #80:  Environmental Blackmail 160508, and one in which court decisions in recent immigration cases seem likely to impact the future of legalized marijuana, called #96:  Federal Non-enforcement 160727.

Of course Temporal Anomalies is a popular subject among the readers; the budget has been constraining of late, so we have not done the number of analyses we would like, but we did post a full analysis of Time Lapse 160402.  We also reported on #85:  Time Travel Coming on Television 160528, and tackled two related issues, #81:  The Grandfather Paradox Problem 160515 and #117:  The Prime Universe 160930.

We have a number of other posts that we’re categorizing as Logic/Miscellany, mostly because they otherwise defy categorization (or, perhaps, become categories with single items within them).  #92:  Electronic Tyranny 060708 is a response to someone’s suggestion that we need to break away from social media to get our lives back.  #93:  What Is a Friend? 060720 presents two concepts of the word, and my own preference on that.  #112:  Isn’t It Obvious? 160904 is really just a couple of real life problems with logical solutions.  I also did a product review of an old washing machine that was once new, Notes on a Maytag Centennial Washing Machine 160424.

Although it does not involve much writing, with tongue planted firmly in cheek I offer Gazebos in the Wild, a Pinterest board which posts photographs with taxonomies attempting to capture and identify these dangerous wild creatures in their natural habitats.  You would have to have heard the story of Eric and the Gazebo for that to be funny, I think.

Of course, I post on social media, but the interesting ones are on Patreon, and mostly because I include notes on projects still ahead and life issues impeding them.  As 2017 arrives, I expect to continue writing and posting–I already have two drafts, one on music and the other on breaking bad habits.  I invite your feedback.

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#124: The 2016 New Jersey Public Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The text of the amendment is available on Ballotpedia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#48: Inequities in the Justice System

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #48, on the subject of Inequities in the Justice System.

I have a story that intrigues me on so many levels I have to tell it.  It is, as they say, a true story–that is, I have my information largely from the first-hand account of one of the key persons involved, but for parts of it that I on the one hand witnessed myself or on the other hand deduced.  I shall attempt to keep them clear.  It is a case of an injustice that was, in large part, remedied, but the sense of injustice looms over it nonetheless.

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The story begins with a young man in his early twenties out for a walk on a late summer afternoon.  He happened to pass what must be the main intersection in the sprawling sparsely populated town, as it is the only traffic signal, and there are two gas stations on the corner, owned by the same near-eastern immigrant family, the only gas stations within the town.

He was at least three blocks from there, around a corner out of sight, when two police cruisers arrived behind him.  The young man has been detained by police before, largely because he has friends who have been in trouble with the law on several occasions, although he himself has never been charged with anything.  They asked him to identify himself, and he gave his name but was reluctant to tell more.  After some discussion he gave his address, and was told he was not permitted to leave until they had identified him.  They then insisted on patting him down, then handcuffed him and informed him that he was under arrest.

I have to interject here.  The police are indeed permitted to stop a person if they have a reasonable suspicion of possible involvement in a crime, and if we stretch that–as you will see–they might arguably have had that here.  The purpose of such a check is to ensure that the person with whom they are speaking is not able abruptly to produce a weapon; the rule exists to protect the police.  It’s called a “Terry Stop” after the case which confirmed that it was legitimate.

On the other hand, an arrest requires “probable cause”.  At this point all the police have–well, we’re getting ahead of the story.

They emptied his pockets into a plastic bag, and put him in the back of one of the patrol cars.  The officer in that car then produced a bag of marijuana from another satchel and placed it in the bag with his possessions.  The young man objected, loudly, that he had never seen that bag in his life, but the police officer claimed that an attendant at the gas station had seen him stop and hide the bag at the control box at the traffic light on that corner.  He was told he was under arrest for possession of marijuana.  The officer then drove to that gas station, and once in the parking lot read the young man his Miranda rights while this witness, a near eastern immigrant, observed.

Maybe you have noticed the three problems with the “identification” here.  I did immediately, but then, I hit these problems in law school.  Still, I cannot believe that the police procedure here was so incredibly bad.  One of these problems might have been excusable, even unavoidable, but there was no reason for this kind of work unless they expected to strongarm the suspect into a confession.

The first problem can be called the problem of cross-cultural identification.  You’ve probably heard the rubric that all Blacks look alike, and while that’s not at all true it is true that Whites and Asians have trouble recognizing the distinguishing features of Blacks, and that the same is true for most cross-racial or cross-cultural observers.  If you did not grow up among people of a particular racial/ethnic group, the specific features that distinguish one from another are often difficult to spot.

I often recall the story of The Five Chinese Brothers.  In brief, one of five brothers was condemned to death, but he and each of his brothers had a particular invulnerability.  Each time the emperor declared how the boy was to be executed, he would ask to say goodbye to his parents, and be replaced by the brother who was invulnerable to that form of execution.  The conceit is that no one can tell the difference between one Chinaman and another, so if they were also brothers not even the Emperor could tell them apart–which tells me that it is not a Chinese story at all, but a European story about European perceptions of the Chinese.  Had it been a Chinese story, it would have been The Five Swedish Brothers–all tall, light hair, light skin, light eyes, they look exactly alike, because the characteristics by which Chinese distinguish each other are not those by which Europeans distinguish each other.  That’s the problem of cross-cultural identification:  our near-eastern immigrant gas station attendant would have trouble distinguishing one tall white American boy from another.  The identification is already suspect.

However, even if that were not so, there is a much more significant problem.  You’ve probably noticed that on television shows when the police want a witness to identify a suspect they have a lineup, or if not a lineup a photospread.  They don’t usually present the suspect to the witness and say, “Is this the guy?”  That’s because those kinds of identifications are inherently prejudicial–and this one is extremely so.  We have a suspect who fits the description “young white male” in a town where that describes a significant portion of the adult population.  Our young white male has been brought to the witness handcuffed in the back of a police car, and in the presence of the witness the arresting officer makes a point of Mirandizing the suspect, clearly placing him under arrest and signalling, “This guy is a criminal.”  The witness then has in essence been told, “Identify this guy,” and even if we assume that the witness wants to be honest and has been honest to this point, we just played a game with his memory.  The police told the witness who to remember; human memory is a fluid and flexible thing in most people, and by this act the police helped the witness solidify an image that matched the guy they caught.

It should also be noted that if the story the officers told is true, the witness must have called to report having seen someone hiding something at the traffic light control box perhaps fifty feet away, the police must have arrived and searched the area and found the bag, then the witness must have told them in which direction the person left who had placed it there.  By that time, anyone who might have been in the area would have walked out of sight, and indeed the suspect was not in sight–which means that the witness could not point to him, and the police could not see him when they arrived at the scene.  They have no idea who they are seeking.  Anyone they find who roughly fits the description is likely to be identified by the witness as the person he saw.  He made no claim of having seen him up close, or having recognized him from previous acquaintance.  He had not kept his eye on the suspect, and could not be certain the person he saw didn’t enter one of the houses along the street.  About the only information the witness gave the police was young white male, went that direction.  They should have known their identification was going to be problematic.

For a legitimate witness identification, they needed to take the suspect to the station and take the witness there separately, keeping them from seeing each other until the suspect was mixed with several other persons who also roughly fit the description, and then determining whether the witness could choose the suspect from among the group without any assistance or prompting.  That would not solve all the problems here, but it would be a much better case for the police than what they did.

They also should have known that they had insufficient basis for probable cause.  A young man walking quiet sub-suburban streets in a rural town on a late August afternoon is not suspicious.  Being a young white male is not suspicious.  Nothing was found on the suspect to connect him to this or any other crime.  The police don’t like it when you avoid answering their questions, but even if it could be argued that the refusal to answer questions implies guilt, it is illegal to draw that conclusion:  the exercise of the Constitutional right to remain silent cannot be taken as evidence of guilt of any crime, and therefore cannot support probable cause of such guilt.  The police had sufficient cause for the Terry Stop–it requires an articulable suspicion, and it is reasonable to argue that a young white male walking somewhere within several blocks of the site of an alleged crime allegedly committed by a young white male afoot is at least vaguely suspect.  Having questioned him and learning nothing that connected him more closely to the crime, they did not have probable cause for an arrest.

The police took him to the station and held him for a while, and then began questioning him.  They intimated that they had surveillance video of him planting something there, and he responded that he knew they did not because he never did so–he was not even really cognizant of the fact that there was an electrical control box there.  They attempted to get him to explain how he thought the marijuana got there, as if it were his problem and they hoped in solving it he would confess something they could use against him.  They then gave him a summons to appear in court to answer charges, and released him.

He went to court and applied for a public defender.  His parents had prepared him well–within twenty-four hours of the events he wrote down everything that happened, so there would be a clear written statement, and he gave a copy of this to his attorney.  He also had been made aware of the problems already mentioned regarding witness identifications, and also that in New Jersey the governor had recently required that all police cars be equipped with dash cameras, and a Superior Court Judge had ruled that all those recordings were public records, so his attorney subpoenaed these.  It took six months for the State of New Jersey to realize that on those facts they had no case, and dismiss the charges.  The public defender application fee is not refundable.

No one apologized for the wrongful arrest.  In fact, in an odd turn, as the judge dismissed the case he told the defendant to be sure not to be arrested on that charge again.  It was an entirely inappropriate thing to say under the circumstances, although the judge probably was not fully aware of the circumstances.  After all, the young man had been charged simply because he was the nearest person out walking somewhere near the scene of the crime, and he could not have anticipated that there might have been such a crime.  If we assume the integrity of everyone involved, and that these were the honest mistakes of a couple of police officers who found the contraband and believed they had the right person who would probably confess and plead guilty (and not that they were trying to create a case from nothing), there was no way he–or indeed anyone–could have avoided being so charged under these circumstances, except perhaps by staying at home at all times, or at least never taking a walk in public.

In all of this I want to mention one point that you probably did not notice, although it was mentioned.  The defendant was not a young black male; he was a young white male.  It may or may not be true that young black males are unfairly singled out by police, but it might not be because they are black so much as that they are young and male.  It is difficult to know how to react to that; young males disproportionately commit crimes, and so it becomes proportionate to suspect them disproportionately.  Yet if one is more likely to be arrested and charged because one is a young man, the claims that the disproportionate arrests of young black men demonstrate systemic racism are seriously weakened.  Such racism may still exist in some places, but racial oversensitivity also plays a role in causing us to perceive racism where the real problems are agism, sexism, and classism.  If there is a real disproportionate correlation between criminal activities and factors such as age, gender, race, and social class, it can hardly be said to be discriminatory to make disproportionate arrests.  If such correlations cause police to be careless in their procedures, that needs to be corrected–but it does not make it a matter of racism.

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