Tag Archives: Taxation and Spending

#308: Assembly Candidate Edward Durr Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time.

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

Thank You.

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE AMERICAN LEGION, et al., PETITIONERS

v.

AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION, et al.; and

MARYLAND-NATIONAL CAPITAL PARK AND PLANNING COMMISSION, PETITIONER

v.

AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION, et al.

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

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

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

Let’s get some backstory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Peace Cross stands.

#298: Taxing Corporations

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #298, on the subject of Taxing Corporations.

Periodically we will read that some particular major corporation paid no federal income tax, and many of us react in horror.  Here we are surrendering large chunks of our hard-earned wages while these companies who pull in millions of dollars get to keep it all.  Those corporations ought to be paying their share; they ought to be paying our share, with how much money they have.

But beneath this there is another problem, a question of whether corporations should be paying income tax at all, and when we look deeply at that problem we hit problems of double taxation and equitable treatment.

There are a lot of ways in which the law treats corporations as if they were people.  They can sue and be sued; they have to obey laws, and they can own property.  But they aren’t people, and the law has to recognize this as well.  A corporation is fundamentally a piece of property that is owned by a lot of people–the shareholders.  When the corporation makes money, that money quite literally belongs to those people, even though they don’t have it.  They can get it.  If they want, they can vote to dissolve the corporation, sell its assets, and divide the money among the shareholders.  If they can’t agree to that, any one of them can sell his share in the company and take his money that way.  Periodically most corporations decide to take some of their income and pay it to their shareholders as “dividends”, giving everyone who owns the company a portion of the income they made.

So when we say that the corporation made a billion dollars, we don’t really mean that there is this person called a corporation who earned that income.  We mean that the people, maybe hundreds of thousands of people, who own that corporation jointly made a billion dollars.  So if we tax the corporation, as a corporation, we’re really taxing all those individuals who own the corporation.  So maybe I own one share of this corporation, and my share is worth twenty dollars, and the government takes ten percent of the value of the corporation.  That means that the government took two dollars from me.  That’s fine–the government is allowed to tax my income.  But then, if I get money from the corporation–money that has already been taxed as corporate income–the government is going to tax that money again as my income.  But I already paid tax on that income, because whatever the corporation does with its money is something I and many other people did with that money.

It would be something like the government taking money out of your paycheck before your employer gives it to you, and then taxing you again when you cash the check to take money from your bank.  You would be livid if they taxed the same money twice.  Yet that is exactly what happens to shareholders when the government taxes a corporation and then taxes stockholder income from the corporation.  It is exactly as if you were taxed on your wages before they went into your bank account and again on the same money when you withdrew it from the bank.

Oh, but that’s all right, because only rich people own stock, right?

Wrong.

A great deal of stock is owned by banks, retirement accounts, pension plans, and other financial programs that are part of the finances of ordinary people.  If you have an interest-bearing bank account, or a company or government pension plan, or an investment account, or an insurance policy, it is almost certain that you, indirectly, own stock and are dependent on the income of probably quite a few corporations to make your money “grow”.  So that “corporate income” you want to tax is your own income, your pensions, your interest, your insurance.

Of course, corporations do pay income tax.  So why do some of them pay none?  We covered this quite a few years ago in our discussion of Taxation:  that they received billions in income doesn’t mean they turned a profit.  They probably payed billions in payroll, not to mention rent and mortgages, property taxes, utilities, and other expenses of production.  On top of this, they can probably deduct monies invested in advertising, in repairs to equipment and purchases of new equipment, in insurance premiums.  In some cases the costs involved in ensuring future income are deductible–research and development, new product testing, exploration for new resources.  At the end of the day it’s quite possible for a corporation to spend more than it made, just trying to make the money–and if your job cost you more than your paycheck delivered, you would expect your tax bill to be considerably lower.  We do let employees deduct from their taxable income expenses for specialized clothing, work-related transportation, job equipment, and other costs of earning the income.  We let corporations do the same thing.

So next time you hear that some corporation paid no income tax, don’t think they got away with something.  It might be because at the end of the year they spent more trying to make that money than they actually made.

#295: Does China Pay Tariffs?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #295, on the subject of Does China Pay Tariffs?

In trade disputes with China, President Trump has been raising tariffs.  Critics claim that such tariffs are not paid by China, but by the American Consumer, and they are right–sort of.

A tariff, of course, is a tax on imported goods.  According to sources, Trump has recently raised them from 10% to 25%.  A ten percent tariff means that if a computer comes into San Francisco harbor from China with a factory price of one thousand dollars, the shipper has to pay one hundred dollars to offload it onto the dock.  When the wholesaler comes to pick up the computer, the shipper will charge him the one thousand dollars for the computer, plus the one hundred dollars for the tax, plus whatever the price of shipping is said to be.  That means the wholesaler paid one thousand one hundred dollars plus shipping, and the retailer will have to pay that much plus the wholesaler markup, and the customer has to pay all of that plus the retailer’s markup.  So a computer that might cost a thousand dollars in China costs considerably more in the United States.

When we increase that tariff to twenty-five percent, the tax to offload the computer goes from one hundred dollars to two hundred fifty dollars.  This then gets passed through the same hands so that the retail shelf price of that same computer is now one hundred fifty dollars more than it was–and the person who wants to buy the computer pays that money.

So in that sense the critics are correct:  China does not pay the tariffs, Americans who buy Chinese-made computers pay the price.

That’s not how tariffs punish foreign nations.

Because American workers demand and receive (and in fairness need) higher wages than Chinese workers, and American businesses have to pay higher costs for environmental concerns and raw materials and even real estate, American products cost more to produce than Chinese products–and generally by enough that it is cheaper to buy products in China and ship them here than to make them here.  What tariffs do is raise the end user cost of foreign-made products so that they are more expensive to buy.  Yes, that means that a consumer can’t buy a computer as cheaply as before, because to get the same cheap Chinese-made computer he has to pay an extra one hundred fifty dollars–but that increase does not apply to computers made in America.  Therefore as the price of Chinese computers rises, American computer prices become more competitive, and more people decide that the American computer is a good choice, putting money in the pockets of American computer manufacturers and American workers.  The number of computers delivered from China declines, and China suffers from reduced sales of its manufactured goods.  This impacts the Chinese economy reducing manufacturing output, employment, and tax revenue.

Additionally, the tax money that is still collected on imported Chinese goods helps reduce the national debt at least a bit, which is good for our economy.  Further, a tariff against Chinese goods does not have any effect on computers made in Taiwan or Japan or Singapore or elsewhere in the world, so cheaper computers are still available–only the Chinese computer market is affected directly.  Demand on these other computers might increase retail prices some, but not nearly as much as the increased price from the tariff.

So it is true that tariffs increase consumer costs in America, but that doesn’t mean that China doesn’t pay.  They pay in their lost retail market, the fact that it now costs more for consumers to obtain their goods and so demand for them decreases.  And the benefits to America are found in increased sales of American-made goods (labor likes tariffs, in the main) and more tax money in the government coffers.

Does that mean that all tariffs are good?  Certainly not.  Import tariffs ultimately do increase consumer prices (just as export tariffs depress overseas sales).  Foreign countries usually retaliate with their own tariffs against American goods, which makes it harder to sell our products overseas.  There is a valid argument against tariffs.  But simply saying that China doesn’t pay them misunderstands exactly how they penalize China.

#287: They Can’t Take Your Car

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #287, on the subject of They Can’t Take Your Car.

I think most of us became aware of the criminal civil forfeiture rules from the original Miami Vice television series.  The narcotics division seemed to have an unbelievable budget, covering expensive sports cars, helicopters, mansions, and so much more.  What we learned was that the State of Florida had a law that permitted the seizure from criminals of any property used to facilitate the commission of a crime, and so our star detectives were outfitted and equipped with everything that had belonged to the major drug dealers they had arrested.  The program worked so well, about half the states in the Union adopted a similar program, enabling them to fund ongoing law enforcement operations from seized cash and property taken from those successfully convicted.

The programs work so well, they are often used against minor offenders, that is, persons committing minor offenses, when there is valuable or useful property coveted by local law enforcement officers.  The United States Supreme Court has now dealt that practice a significant setback, although it has not entirely eliminated it.

The case is Tyson Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U.S. ____ (2019).

Having pled guilty to dealing in a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit theft, Timbs was sentenced to one year home detention and five years probation including a court-supervised addiction treatment program.  He was also ordered to pay fines and court costs totaling one thousand two hundred three dollars ($1203.00).  However, at the time of his arrest he was driving a Land Rover sport utility vehicle which he had purchased for forty-two thousand dollars ($42,000.00); it was established as a fact that the money for the SUV came from a life insurance policy payout upon the death of his father, and not from any criminal enterprise.  Asserting that the vehicle had been used to transport heroin, the state filed a claim for forfeiture in civil court.

The trial court denied the claim.  It observed that the maximum fine assessible against Timbs for the crimes for which he was convicted was ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00), and the value of the vehicle was over four times that amount not long before it was seized.  Citing the VIII Amendment prohibition against excessive fines (appropriately dubbed the Excessive Fines Clause), it maintained that such a forfeiture was a penalty disproportionate to the crime, and thus unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana agreed, but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed, stating that the Excessive Fines Clause did not apply to the states.

Justice Ginsberg wrote that the Indiana court was wrong.  The entire court agreed with that decision, although Justice Thomas wrote a concurring opinion reaching the same conclusion on a different basis and Justice Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion noting that Thomas might be correct.

As originally passed, the Bill of Rights applied only to the Federal Government.  The passage of the XIV Amendment following the Civil War has been understood to cause nearly all the rights protected in it to apply equally against the States, with very few exceptions.  (The one exception noted by Ginsburg is the requirement that jury decisions must be unanimous, which apparently does not apply to the state courts.)  Ginsberg argues that the protection against unreasonable fines, like other VIII amendment protections such as excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment, is “fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty”, and thus applies as they do.

Justice Gorsuch agrees, with the quibble that it perhaps is not the Due Process clause of the XIV amendment but that amendment’s Privileges or Immunities clause that brings the VIII amendment to bear against the states, but agrees that this is not a significant matter in the present case.  That quibble is the basis of Justice Thomas’ concurrence.  He maintains that the concept of “due process” has been stretched beyond any reference to any process due to the citizen to cover exactly those privileges and immunities that were intended to have been covered by the other clause.

The bulk of both the majority opinion and Thomas’ concurrence consists of the history of the right against excessive fines, ranging from Magna Carta through the post Civil War passage of the XIV amendment, and is informative and interesting but not otherwise of consequence here.

The question, then, is what does the decision mean?

It does not mean that asset forfeiture has been swept away in all cases.  Rather, it means that the Indiana trial court was right:  the value of objects seized by law enforcement must be reasonable to the nature of the crime and the assets of the criminal.  Had Timbs transported the heroin in a three thousand dollar used car on which he was paying installments, we would not be having this discussion.  It remains to be seen whether Miami’s narcotics division will be able to argue that the nature of the crimes and the assets of the criminals in their war against drugs are high enough to justify seizing those assets for use in the fight, but they will have to be prepared to make that argument the next time they seize such assets.  The temptation for governments to fund their operations through fines rather than taxes has been dealt a setback, a limitation to which abused citizens can appeal in the future.  The protection of citizens against arbitrary seizure of property has been reinforced.

#271: New Jersey’s 2018 Election Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #271, on the subject of New Jersey’s 2018 Election Results.

We’ll keep this short.  More information can be found in the previous post #270:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot.  At the polling place yesterday I was told informally that voter turnout was well above norms for off-year elections (years in which there is not a Presidential race at stake).  The traditional political wisdom is that high voter turnout favors Democrats, and that appears to be the case this year, as the Democratic party has virtually taken over New Jersey on the Federal level.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez

Public Question #1, School Projects Bond (2018) passed marginally, allowing the state to borrow another half (B)billion dollars for schools as career and technical grants and school security projects, college career and technical education grants, and something labeled “school water infrastructure grants”.  The vote was fairly close, with about 52% of votes supporting it.

Our Democratic senior Senator Bob Menendez held his seat, with a fraction over 50% of the vote.  The Republican Bob Hugin trailed at about 46%, the rest of the vote split between four other candidates, the Libertarian and the Green getting about seven tenths of one percent of the vote each, the two independents getting half a percent each.

Looking at the House of Representatives, district by district:

  1. Democrat Donald Norcross easily kept his seat with about 60% of the vote.
  2. Democrat Jeff Van Drew took the seat vacated by retiring Republican Frank Lobiondo, with about 52% of the vote.
  3. The Third Congressional District was still undecided as of this writing, Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur holding 49.8% of the votes counted against Democrat Andrew Kim, with 48.9%, and 1.1% of precincts not yet reported.
  4. Long-time Republican Representative Chris Smith easily retained his seat with nearly 64% of the vote.
  5. Democrat Josh Gottheimer retained his seat with a close 51%.
  6. Democrat Frank Pallone easily held his seat with about 63% of the vote.
  7. With barely over 50% of the vote Democrat Tom Malinowski took the seat from incumbent Republican Leonard Lance, with about 48%.
  8. Democratic incumbent Albio Sires kept his seat easily with about 78% of the vote.
  9. Democrat Bill Pascrell also easily retained his seat with 70% of the vote.
  10. Democratic incumbent Donald Payne, Jr. also kept his seat with a very strong 87%.
  11. The seat vacated by Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen went to Democrat Mikie Sherrill, with about 57% of the vote.
  12. Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman took 66% of the vote to retain her seat.

It appears that New Jersey has moved from being about as neutral a state as you can have to being solidly Democratic–our governor is a Democrat and both of our state legislative houses are controlled by Democrats, both of our Senators are Democrats, and as it stands at this moment ten out of our twelve seats in the House of Representatives are held by Democrats.  Republican Representative Chris Smith continues as the longest-seated of our officials, adding two more years to his thirty-eight year streak in the fourth district, and although officially it has not been settled Republican Tom MacArthur has a slim lead to retain his seat in the third district with one percent of the precincts still unreported.

I’ll try to add a comment here when that race is settled.

Nationally, as you probably know, the Republicans gained a few seats in the Senate, but the Democrats took the House.  This is probably a good outcome, generally, for the nation.  The Senate has advice and consent for all Presidential appointments, including judicial appointments, and Republican control there means that more conservative judges will be approved to balance the spate of liberal judges appointed during the Obama years, improving the balance in the judiciary.  Meanwhile, since all spending bills must originate in the House, Republican policy can’t run wild, as compromise will be necessary for the government to continue functioning in the future.

So no one got everything he wanted this year, but no one should.

#270: New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #270, on the subject of New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot.

The election is less than a month away, so it’s time to look at what we will see on the ballot.

Republican Senatorial Candidate Bob Hugin

Although it will appear at the bottom of the ballot, one of the two things that will be on the ballot in every district in New Jersey is a ballot question:  Public Question #1, School Projects Bond (2018).  The legislature wants to borrow half a billion (with a “B”) dollars to spend on education-related projects.  They actually wanted to borrow a full billion, and they passed that, but Governor Murphy wisely said we should consider how badly that would put the state in debt (after all, when you borrow money by selling bonds, you commit yourself to paying it back with interest from future tax revenues).  Since 2007 the state has authorized $1.475 billion in bond sales, the largest chunk of that $750 million in 2012 for state colleges.  No one appears to be opposing this, which is probably sensible since New Jersey voters consistently pass such bills.  Of the half billion, $350 million is slated for schools as career and technical grants and school security projects, another $50 million for college career and technical education grants, and $100 million for something labeled “school water infrastructure grants”.  The governor is right that we should consider just how much debt we can afford to commit to the future, but the Democratically-controlled government is probably not going to think about that any time soon.

The other vote that will be state-wide is the re-election bid of our Democratic senior Senator Bob Menendez.  He was last elected in 2012; we commented on his indictment previously.  Pundits consider his seat one which the Republicans might take, in the person of Bob Hugin, a former biopharmaceutical executive.  Also in the race are four “third party” candidates, all unfamiliar independents, Tricia Flanagan of New Day NJ, Kevin Kimple of Make it Simple, Natalie Lynn Rivera of For the People, and Hank Schroeder of Economic Growth.

Two years ago incumbents won in eleven out of twelve New Jersey Congressional districts.  You can find them listed and linked in web log post #123:  The 2016 Election in New Jersey.  The one exception, also named and linked there, is the Democratic Congressman in our Fifth District, Josh Gottheimer.  To save space here, we will will skip the details about the districts and just give the candidates, by district:

  1. Democrat Donald Norcross faces Republican Paul Dilks, Libertarian Robert Shapiro, We Deserve Better Paul Hamlin, and Your Voice Hard Mohammad Kabir.  The district is in question because part of it which voted for Obama in previous elections voted for Trump in 2016.
  2. Republican Frank Lobiondo is retiring.  Republican Seth Grossman is running in his place, against Democrat Jeff Van Drew, Libertarian John Ordille, Cannot Be Bought Anthony Parisi Sanchez, Together We Can William Benfer, and Time for Truth Steven Fenichel.  This district is also being watched due to a shift to supporting Trump in 2016.
  3. Republican Tom MacArthur is defending against Democrat Andrew Kim and Constitution Party candidate Lawrence Berlinski, Jr..
  4. Long-time Republican Representative Chris Smith faces Democrat Josh Welle, Libertarian Michael Rufo, Check this Column Brian Reynolds, Ed the Barber Edward Stackhouse, Jr., The Inclusion Candidate Felicia Stoler, and Time for Change Allen Yusufov.
  5. Newcomer Democrat Josh Gottheimer faces Republican John McCann, Libertarian James Tosone, and Trade, Health, Environment Wendy Goetz.
  6. Democrat Frank Pallone is facing Republican Rich Pezzullo.
  7. Republican Leonard Lance is challenged by Democrat Tom Malinowski, Green party Diane Moxley, and Freedom, Responsibility, Action candidate Gregg Mele.
  8. Democratic incumbent Albio Sires faces Republican John Muniz, Libertarian Dan Delaney, and New Way Forward Mahmoud Mahmoud.
  9. Democrat Bill Pascrell is defending against Republican Eric Fisher and Libertarian Claudio Belusic.
  10. Democrat Donald Payne, Jr., faces Republican Agha Khan, Libertarian Scott DiRoma, C4C 2018 candidate Cynthia Johnson, and Never Give Up Joan Miller.
  11. Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen chose not to run for another term, and is replaced on the ballot by Republican Jay Webber, running against Democrat Mikie Sherrill, Libertarian Ryan Martinez, and Honesty, Integrity, Compassion candidate Robert Crook.
  12. Finally, Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman is running against Republican Daryl Kipnis.

Once again, my advice is first to become informed, and then once you are informed to vote.

#259: Saying No to Public Employee Union Agency Fees

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #259, on the subject of Saying No to Public Employee Union Agency Fees.

Four decades ago the Supreme Court handed down a decision in a case entitled Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed., 431 U. S. 209 (1977).  In it the Court ruled that it was not a violation of constitutional rights for unions representing public employees to charge what was called an “agency fee” to all public employees who were not members of the authorized public employees’ union.  Since the law required that the union represent such non-members equally with members (that is, same pay, benefits, and protections), the rule was intended to prevent “free riders” who got the benefits of union representation, union pay and benefits, without paying for it.

This year, in Mark Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, et al., 585 U. S. ____ (2018) they announced that they were wrong, and overturned the precedent.

This is not entirely unknown, but it is rare.  The Court has a rule it calls a doctrine and names stare decisis, which in essence means the decision stands.  It happens sometimes, but usually the Court puts a lot of work into making it possible for any previous decision to still be enforceable in narrower circumstances and new rules to apply to most cases.  That did not happen this time.  Janus overturned Aboud.  According to the Court, requiring persons who do not agree with union policies to pay to support the union is a First Amendment violation, because it compels such persons to support speech with which they disagree.

To begin to understand this, we need to recall that money is fungible–something we discussed in our second web log entry nearly five years ago, and which the majority opinion mentions.  To recall the example, if I have a dollar and I’m going to go to the corner store to buy candy and comic books, it’s likely that I’ll wind up with fifty cents’ worth of each.  If, though, my mother gives me another dollar, and tells me that I am not to spend any of the money she gives me on candy, I will spend her dollar on comic books and my dollar on candy, and now I have twice as much candy because she paid for the comic books enabling me to rebudget my own funds to cover more candy.  In much the same way, the money given by non-members to cover the “costs of negotiating”, even if our bookkeeper tells us that all of it went to that purpose, probably frees funds to go for other purposes we might not approve.

Abood was not so naive as that.  It required unions to do an accounting, separating “chargeable” from “non-chargeable” costs, and bill non-members only for their share of the “chargeable” costs.  Political spending was to be “non-chargeable” and anything that was part of enabling the union to negotiate was “chargeable”.  In practice, however, “non-chargeable” had come to mean contributions to political candidates, and anything else was lumped into “chargeable”.  In the present case, the union billed non-members for costs ranging from lobbying for legislation to paying for the member convention (which presumably non-members did not attend).  Non-members were entitled to sue if they believed something non-chargeable had been included, but the summaries provided by the unions were so lacking in detail that it would require thousands of dollars in attorney and accountant fees just to determine what was and was not charged.

More fundamentally, though, Janus argued that the very act of negotiating with the government for pay and benefits is itself a fundamentally political action and thus a form of political speech.  Janus says that he is not of the opinion that the State of Illinois where he works should raise salaries for unionized public employees; the state has the lowest credit rating of any state in history because of its overspending and indebtedness.  Janus opposes the union’s argument that the state needs to raise taxes to increase salaries and benefits for state workers.  He thus highlights the fact that asking for money from the state is fundamentally political speech, and being required to subsidize the bargaining process makes him party to that speech against his will.

The Court agreed.

For what it’s worth, almost immediately upon the release of the opinion, many liberal lobbying groups sent emergency funding requests to supporters, claiming that they will have to make up for the shortfall they expect to incur since public sector unions will have less money to give them–this according to the New York Times (as cited by Investors.com).  It is of course possible that these groups are lying to their supporters, that in fact the unions have not been misusing non-member money to support political causes and there will be no reduction in such support, but the fear of it makes a good campaign motivator to bring in more.  Preferring to think better of them, we are forced to face the possibility that indeed the union has been using non-member agency fee money to support political causes and lying about it in their accounting (or perhaps believing that they have very little chance of being taken to court over it and at least a fair chance of winning the case if they are).  So one way or another, the liberals appear in a bad light:  either they have been lying about the inappropriate use of non-member money to support political objectives, or they are lying now about anticipating a reduction in the money available for such objectives.

Or perhaps they’re expecting to lose revenue due to a mass exodus of union members.  Why, though, would that be?  If people believe in the union, would they not want to support the union and be part of the union process?  Or is it the case that vast numbers of public employee union members feel coerced into membership because it has cost nearly as much not to belong as it did to belong?

Or maybe they’re just confused.

It has also been reported that a Democratic New York State Senator is proposing legislation to end-run this by permitting the public employee unions to include in negotiations payment from the state to cover the costs of representing non-members.  Seriously, if it is an impingement on free speech to require non-member public employees to pay costs of the union which benefits them in negotiations, it must be far more so to require it of taxpayers whose only connection to this is that they have to pay the amount given to the union.  They seem confused to me.

Justice Kagan’s dissent culminates in an insistence that Abood should stand primarily because of stare decisis, and because of the extensive reliance on the decision.  She notes that at least twenty-two states are going to have to legislate new laws regarding their public service unions, and thousands of contracts relying on agency fees will have to be renegotiated.

Before she reaches that point, she in essence reargues Abood, asserting that it is good law well founded and that the majority overturned it merely because the majority didn’t like it.

The fundamental point of Abood was always that it is to the benefit of the government’s ability to manage its employees to have them represented by exclusive negotiators, unions, which are well-funded and independent of government.  Agency fees were considered a reasonable way to achieve that.  She further argues that (application aside) the Abood distinction between political spending and costs of bargaining and contract management is a clear one.  She objects outright to the notion that the question of whether governments should give their public employees more in salary and benefits is a political one within the context of the employer-employee relationship, because it is essential to that relationship.  She further forecasts a gloomy future in which the number of “free riders” increases as union members recognize how much they can save by leaving the union coupled with the fact that the union must continue to represent them equally whether they are members or not.

Wait a minute.  Did I already say that?

It is not at all clear that unions will be unable to function without the agency fee support.  It is certainly the case that unions have abused the “chargeable/non-chargeable” distinction of Abood (is it really credible that three quarters of the cost of union membership goes exclusively to union contract negotiation and administration costs?).  It is also the case that public sector unions appear to operate successfully in states which do not permit agency fees.

I am not persuaded that this will cause all the chaos predicted.  It does not change the exclusive negotiator rule, that is, if you are not a union member but are in a public employee union shop the union is still your exclusive representative for negotiations.  Nor will it completely eliminate union membership, since one must be a union member to have any impact on policy.  It will weaken unions some; they will have less money to spend on their political pursuits.  However, there is a serious issue concerning whether public employee unions ought to be involved in political pursuits at all, and if we believe that the unions as a whole have a right to speak on issues of public concern, we must also believe that public employees individually have the right not to support those entities with which they disagree.

#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.

#213: Political Fragmentation

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #213, on the subject of Political Fragmentation.

I have long been writing about political division, fragmentation, and polarization.  Quite a few years back I explained how our United States of America coalition government is created by people coming together into coalition-based parties, groups who do not agree entirely with each other but who agree to support each others’ important policies, and why the Republican dilemma (or the Democratic dilemma) is not solved by focusing on a single issue.  I’ve also written about the polarization developing as both parties are being more and more dominated by their extremists, and moderates no longer have a home anywhere.

Now I find a survey from the Pew Research Center which shows just how fragmented we are.  Well, I think that might be an exaggeration; I think we are probably more fragmented than the survey shows, but I’ll get to that.

You might want to begin by taking the quiz, a set of A/B choices (if memory serves, seventeen) on everything from immigration to taxation to social services by which they will place you in one of nine groups they have identified.  It will also, separately, place you on a rough scale from liberal to conservative.  I took it, and not surprisingly landed right of center (that is, the conservative direction) in the middle third.  However, the results apparently do not give us a bell curve.  As the attached image shows, the extreme groups, both conservative and liberal, are not only the largest within the general public, they are even more so the most active in politics.

I admit to not yet having read the full fourteen-page Pew Research Center article on its survey; I got through the first page and left the remainder for a time when I had more time.  You might find it easier, although less informative, to read the briefer article in the Detroit Free Press, although that is less about the groups and more about the fragmentation, the fact that were we to have the much-suggested second civil war most of us would be very uncertain on which side we should be fighting.  We just don’t have enough agreement on any specific issues.

That is perhaps why I think we are more fragmented than the survey analysis really shows.  My quiz results placed me in the category denoted “Country First Conservatives”, the smallest group on the chart but one which includes people ranging from barely left of center to fairly far to the right who have agreement on some issues.  What strikes me about this is I disagreed with the majority of people in this group on all questions of foreign policy (there were three) and government performance (there were two), and I would think those would be the defining issues of the group.  That is, were we to create a conservative party called “Country First”, we would expect that foreign policy would be at the top of its platform–but I would not support that platform, because I disagree with that policy.  That doesn’t mean that the analysis placing me in the moderately conservative group is wrong; it means that even these groups are more fragmented than the simplified results the survey demonstrates.

What it clearly does demonstrate is that “liberal” and “conservative” is not a simple scale but a generalization of scales on multiple issues, that both sides of the divide are built of people who really don’t agree on any one issue but work together toward similar goals, and that the people who are most active in politics, the large minorities on the extremes, seem very much unaware of the majority of more moderate people in the middle.

It also suggests that a moderate candidate on either side could probably defeat an extremist candidate on the other, simply because the people in the middle from both parties are more likely to identify with someone near the middle.

On the other hand there’s something to what Doc Brown said (paraphrasing):  when you can hold an entire television studio in the palm of your hand, it’s no wonder your President has to be an actor.  At least sometimes, style beats substance.