Wednesday, August 30, 2017

‘Ghost Barrens’ Versus Human Energy Needs: Where’s the Choice?

Excerpts from Why sections of the Pine Barrens are turning into 'ghost forests' By Michael Sol Warren of NJ Advance Media for

The storied New Jersey Pine Barrens sprawl across seven counties and more than a million acres -- an undulant expanse of verdant forest that remains one of the state's great treasures.

But along numerous sections of the Pine Barrens' waterways, "ghost forests" are taking hold. Stands of Atlantic white-cedar are dying off, giving way to saltwater marshes and leaving thousands of acres of dead trees in their wake.

It's a natural phenomenon that has happened in the past, but traditionally the dead patches recover over time. Now, however, scientists believe that sea level rise, caused by climate change driven by human activity, has worsened the situation beyond repair.


George Zimmermann, a Stockton University professor who is an expert on Atlantic white-cedar, said that while the forests lost to saltwater are gone for the foreseeable future, other parts of the range can still be restored to compensate.

"The question is now, how much do people want to invest in this resource?" Zimmermann said.

"It all comes back to the bigger question of climate change," Walker added. "The best thing that everyone could be doing is cutting carbon emissions and switching to alternative energy."

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

“[S]cientists believe that sea level rise, caused by climate change driven by human activity, has worsened the situation beyond repair.”

There they are again. Those God-like, mysterious “scientists” who “believe”—never challenged by context or dissenting views. No mention of the fact that sea levels have been rising for 20,000 years; and that, after a 400 foot rise, the natural trend continues. Yet, we are supposed to be thrown into a panic because human activity may have contributed the last couple of inches!

“’The best thing that everyone could be doing is cutting carbon emissions and switching to alternative energy.’”

And how does it follow that what is going on in the Pine Barrens means we humans have to give up our vital, reliable carbon fuels, in favor of the expensive, crappy, so-called “alternative”—that is, unreliable—energy? (Is nuclear considered an “alternative” fuel?) Why are trees more important than human well-being? Reliable energy drives our industrial standard of living. And we’re supposed to give it up? Why? For the sake of trees that are destined to be swamped by rising sea levels anyway, albeit at a little slower rate if not for human energy production? Even if giving up reliable energy can, by some unforeseen miracle, stop the 20,000 year sea level trend, aren’t a few dead trees preferable to the devastation of energy poverty?

Not to environmentalists. I’ll tell you why. Environmentalists don’t have human flourishing in mind. They value any “natural” activity—that is, nature unaltered by human ingenuity—over humans. Seas rise 400 feet? Fine—it’s “natural.” Humans add a few extra inches per century? Catastrophic—it’s “unnatural.”

I'll  tell you what. “Scientists believe” is not enough. Context is crucial. Climate is changing, and humans are contributing. So what? Sea level rise is accelerating, and humans are contributing. So what? Human life is better and safer than ever, and getting more so even as fossil fuel use and co2 levels grow, because human need industrial-scale improvement of the Earth more than they need an imperceptably cooler Earth. There may be problems to deal with. But unimproved nature is economic paralysis and collapse, followed by wholesale death for humans. Give me fossil fuels, industrial progress, and human flourishing, problems and all. The alternative is unthinkably cruel.

Related Reading:

The Environmentalists’ War on People—Ari Armstrong for The Objective Standard

Monday, August 28, 2017

Rebuttal to Dianne Douthat: Pro-Medicaid is Not Pro-life

An advocate of ObamaCare and Medicaid attempted to attach the label “pro-life” to support for those programs. In a letter published on July 29, 2017 in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Dianne Douthat wrote “If you’re pro-life, here’s something you should know.” That opening statement is followed by a litany of Medicaid beneficiaries, as if any good end somehow justifies whatever means happened to be employed. The letter concludes:

Without Medicaid, millions of American lives — including infants, children, the elderly, veterans and addicts — will be in danger. How is it possible that the [Republican] party that says it’s prolife is also looking to dismantle a program that sustains life?

It’s time for our senators who proclaim they are pro-life to prove it. It’s time to put people before politics, and before tax cuts, and improve, not dismantle, the ACA and Medicaid coverage. If you’re pro-life, take action— contact your senators today. [sic] [NOTE: A version of this letter appeared in Wayne Patch under the title If you're Pro -Life.]

First of all, let’s get honest: The Republican Party is not looking to dismantle Medicaid (unfortunately). Far from it. It plans to increase Medicaid spending, but at a slower rate than current law, with its built-in automatic increases. According to CNN Money, the now defunct Republicans’ Senate scheme would have increased Medicaid spending by 18% over the next ten years. The GOP plan is only a cut “in budget parlance,” as the New York Times put it with a straight face. Medicaid apologists whine that the slower growth would result in fewer people being covered by the program. True. An ever-growing Medicaid budget will inevitably suck more people into dependence, which of course welfare statists welcome. But, coupled with free market reforms, Medicaid reduction would mean more people would find private insurance cheaper and more affordable, should they choose to buy it. This, not an ever-expanding parasite class, should be the goal.

As to the more important issue, Douthat’s got it backwards. The true test of a “pro-life” person is, “does she leave people free to self-govern according to their own judgement—including the freedom to say ‘no’ to another’s charitable crusades?” Pro-life answers yes. Douthat answers no, and thus fails this test. Medicaid fails this test. Douthat and Medicaid are not pro-life.

Medicaid starts with armed government aggression against productive people, via the taking of the earnings of the productive people through taxes to fund Medicaid. Is this what Douthat means by “put people before politics?” Are taxpayers not people?

Is stripping these individuals of their right to decide if, when, whom, and in what capacity to help others—and instead forcing them to fund whom politicians think should be “helped”—what Douthat means by “put people before politics?”

Is forcing doctors, the people we depend upon to provide the medical service, into the position of having to turn away patients or treat people at a loss because of prices dictated by politically-appointed government bureaucrats what Douthat means by “put people before politics?” Are doctors not people?

Decades of government interference into medicine and health insurance, including through programs like Medicaid, has driven the cost up so high that one in four people can’t afford it without Medicaid. Is this what Douthat means by “put people before politics?”

Douthat is right that the problem is people versus politics. But she’s got it exactly backwards. The problem isn’t people. It’s politics. Millions of people sweat out over their health coverage, as Republicans seek to place minor restrains on these out-of-control programs, and Democrats can do no better than to mercilessly demonize the other party. The fact that so many people’s health coverage is at the mercy of goings-on in Washington is precisely because the politicization of medicine has put politics over people—people’s money and rights.

Douthat provides a litany of beneficiaries but not a word about the victims of Medicaid, which includes many of Medicaid’s alleged “beneficiaries”—people priced out of the market by government interference or forced onto ObamaCare after ObamaCare outlawed their existing policies. Not a word about the dreadful consequences of continuing on the path of ever-expanding, unrestricted growth of American welfare statism, not just Medicaid but all of the other “helpful” programs. But Douthat’s “good” intentions don't justify the corrupt means. As Thomas Aquinas taught, a good intention can never redeem a bad action. Pro-life means the right to life. The right to life is more than treating humans like caged animals, meeting their basic needs but no more. It’s about being in control of one’s own life, and the freedom to act on one’s own judgement in pursuit of the values one judges to be necessary to achieve good, flourishing life—that is, happiness—without having to seek permission and without coercive interference. Douthat doesn’t respect these fundamental, individual human rights. and so she can no more claim the label “pro-life” than Republicans who deny a woman’s right to reproductive freedom under the same empty slogan. Only proponents of liberty can give real meaning to the term “pro-life.”

Douthat claims that these programs “sustain life.” But that’s not true. Productive individuals, free to earn and keep money, wealth, and property in a free market of voluntary trade, sustain life. Need alone cannot satisfy human need. Only productive, purposeful action can satisfy human needs. That’s why putting need above productiveness (and the freedom productiveness depends upon) is anti-, not pro-, life. Parasites on and exploiters of the productive are a drag on, not sustainers, of life. Every new program drains wealth from the pockets of the private sector, pushing more and more people into the “needy” camp, leading to calls for yet another and then another new welfare program to “help” these folks—folks forced into the needy camp by similar prior programs. And each of these existing programs trigger regular calls to expand them, as ObamaCare did with Medicaid. The assault on the productive intensifies in a never-ending cycle. That’s why socialism always leads to increasing economic paralysis, spreading poverty, and ultimately collapse into widespread destitution. When productiveness is sacrificed to need, the ultimate result is shrinking productiveness and widening need, with the final result being unfilled needs. Private charity programs rest on productiveness, and are sustainable and valuable when completely voluntary and private. Government-imposed programs like Medicaid and its ilk are the opposite. They are malignant social cancers because based on force rather than voluntarism. Force is ant-life.

If you really want to “put people before politics,” get politicians out of regulating medicine. Stop them from putting the healthcare security of increasing millions of Americans at the mercy of forcing higher taxes and regulations on their fellow citizens. Stop them from forcing some people to pay for other people’s healthcare, in effect making some the slaves to the needs of others. It’s morally corrupt at its core. Need before justice is inhumane. “a good intention can never redeem a bad action.” Eliminate Medicaid, Medicare, SCHIP, and all the rest of the “helpful” social programs politicians created; eliminate controls an health insurers, doctors, and the rest of the medical profession; and leave doctors, insurers, and healthcare consumers and patients free to contract with each other voluntarily to mutual advantage, neither forcing anyone to buy services they don’t want nor being forced to pay for others against their will nor empowering anyone to force others to pay for hers.

We need free market healthcare. People before politics: for real.

Related Reading:

America Before the Entitlement State—Yaron Brook and Don Watkin

Moral Health Care vs. Universal Health Care, by Lin Zinser and Paul Hsieh for The Objective Standard

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Final Word On Charlottesville: Trump Was Right About the Violence

The fundamental issue surrounding the pro- and anti-Confederate Statues is philosophical. Donald Trump’s response was wrong on several counts, including his moral equivocation of “both sides”—the pro- and anti-Confederates—and of Founding heroes George Washington and Thomas Jefferson with Confederate reactionaries Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

But he was right on the issue of violence. In a New Jersey Star-Ledger column (Charlottesville: Reporters should leave the opinion writing to us pundits), Paul Mulshine observed,

An account of the events that day [in Charlottesville] by reporters for the Hill began "Clashes between 'alt-right' white nationalists and counter-protesters turned this Virginia college town into a battlefield on Saturday..."

The article then detailed violent attacks by both sides, including one in which the counter-protesters attacked an SUV full of alt-righters who were trying to leave the area. (Read it here; note that this is a thoroughly objective article that was written before the pack-journalism effect kicked in; note also that from this account both sides did indeed initiate violence.) [My emphasis]

You can read Mulshine’s whole article here. Again, the fundamental issue was not the violence. It was the clash between Confederate white supremacy and the political equality of unalienable individual rights embodied in the Declaration of Independence. But violence is an important issue. Freedom of expression never justifies the initiation of physical force, no matter how strong the feelings or controversial the issue. In this regard, Leftists “antifa” fascists were (and are) at least as guilty as the so-called “alt-Right,” as Trump said.

Related Reading:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Donald Trump on Charlottesville; Robert E. Lee vs. George Washington

At a recent press conference that was supposed to be about his federal infrastructure plans, President Trump dove back into the Charlottesville controversy. Among other things, Trump said this about the movement to remove Confederate monuments.

"So this week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson's coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you all -- you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"

Indeed . . . where does it stop—that is, where does the display of blatantly anti-American symbolism end? Trump also referred to the removal of the statues of the two Confederate generals as “changing history.” It is no such thing.

The New Jersey Star-Ledger weighed in well in its editorial Trump's warped sense of history emboldens white nationalists.

Washington and Jefferson, while slave owners, are also among our country's founders and former presidents. They were complicated men, but in no way comparable to the leaders of an army whose primary purpose was to defend slavery.

This statement is absolutely true. Thank you for that observation. Trump’s equation of Lee and Jackson with Washington and Jefferson is a moral abomination.

Washington’s and Jefferson’s primary purpose was to fight to create a country based on the principles of political equality that rips the “justifications” for slavery to shreds. It is they who gave the philosophic firepower for freedom fighters throughout U.S. history, from the Abolitionist Movement led by Frederick Douglass, to the Women’s Suffrage Movement, to Abe Lincoln, to Martin Luther King, to Harvey Milk, all of whom explicitly drew on the U.S. Constitution and/or the Declaration of Independence in the fight to extend the equal rights promised by America's Founders to slaves, blacks, women, and gays. President Coolidge’s signing of the Act to grant citizenship to all native-born American Indians is also rooted in our principles. The Founding of America was a key turning point in the long battle for freedom, because it defined freedom as individual equality of rights.

Lee and Jackson, on the other hand, led a military campaign to protect a breakaway confederacy that explicitly rejected the proposition that all men are equal in unalienable rights. The Confederates had to reject those principles and turn its back on America: slavery cannot indefinitely coexist with the Declaration of Independence. One or the other had to go. The Confederates dumped the Declaration of Independence.

Context is crucial. You don’t have to excuse their ownership of slaves to recognize the great achievements of Washington and Jefferson. America inherited slavery, and thanks to visionary leaders like Washington and Jefferson, America became part of the solution. They were on the right side of the struggle for a fully free country for all people, and on balance we have a much better country and world for it. The Confederacy was part of the problem. It was willing to reject America’s Founding principles and tear the United States apart to protect a racist slave dictatorship.

We should always remember history in its full context. But that principle does not forbid moral evaluations or require moral agnosticism. To build monuments to Confederate leaders like Lee is as un-American as building monuments to Hitler’s or Stalin’s generals. The Confederacy was just as un-American as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia—and so was the group protesting the removal of Lee’s monument. While I don’t endorse everything said in its editorial, I think the Star-Ledger gets the gist of it right: In equating Lee to Washington, Trump exhibits a warped sense of history. So do many others.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has introduced a bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Hill. I think this is long overdue, although I cannot unequivocally endorse Bookers whole bill without knowing exactly what it says. But Booker told CNN:

"They are, unequivocally, not only statues of treasonous Americans, but are symbolic to some who seek to revise history and advance hate and division," the lawmaker added. "To millions of Americans, they are painful, injurious symbols of bigotry and hate, celebrating individuals who sought to break our nation asunder and preserve the vile institution of slavery and white supremacy.”

I don’t know exactly what he means when he say the statues “revise history and advance hate and division.” But he’s spot on that the statues of individual heroes of the Confederacy represent “treasonous Americans.” The whole history of America, including the Confederacy and its supporters, should always be taught to new generations.

But that doesn’t mean glorifying anti-Americans alongside the Washington Memorial. The Confederacy did not represent America. It represents the repudiation of America—a reactionary breakaway from America based on the rejection of the very principles that Americanism stands on. I stand with the anti-Confederate movement to remove pro-Confederate monuments.

Related Reading:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Christie Should Focus on School Choice Ahead of Funding Formulas

In a New Jersey Star-Ledger op-ed last summer, Star-Ledger writer Paul Mulshine took up an issue that has been permeating NJ politics for years—state aid the local school districts. In Steve Sweeney could pass his school-funding reforms; instead he's creating a commission, Mulshine wrote,

For years [state Sen. Mike Doherty has] been touting what he called his "Fair School Funding Plan." It calls for state school aid, which is raised through the income tax, to be distributed equally so every student in New Jersey is back by the same amount.

Chris Christie recently purloined that plan and renamed it "The Fairness Formula." Doherty didn't mind the theft. He's just glad to see the governor make that plan the centerpiece of the 2017 elections when all 120 legislative seats will be up for grabs.

The Republicans are pushing for the plan to be put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment so the voters can decide the issue.

"This is the flagship issue," said Doherty. "If you want any property-tax relief in your lifetime this is the chance to do it."

Doherty's reasoning is simple. School funding is provided through the income tax, which is progressive. But the current distribution formula is also progressive.

That means the taxpayers in a suburb like Bernards Township get back a mere 3 cents in school aid for every dollar they pay in income tax.

Under Christie's plan the tax would still be collected progressively but it would be distributed equally, with every student in the state backed up by $6,599 in annual state aid.

I left these comments, focussing on a larger issue:

In 2010, his first year in office—in his Keynote Address to the American Federation for Children—Christie called school choice a “unique moment” in American politics. He then went on record for universal school choice. He said the Opportunity Scholarship Act that he supported would only be a "first step" that would lead to the day when "choice is available to every parent and every child... across the state of NJ."

I favor fairer school funding. I think his plan is a good one—equal funding for each child. Who could disagree with that? But I wish Christie had chosen to spend his last year political capital trying to make good on his promise to bring universal school choice to NJ. I wish he’d started last year rather than run for president. I wish he would have made that a leading goal of his every year. If successful, what a great legacy that would have been.

Related Viewing:

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

To be Truly Peaceful, Religionists Must Embrace Religion-State Separation

New Jersey Star-Ledger guest columnist Gerald L. Zelizer argued that We must ignore the destructive teachings of Scriptures.

It is as erroneous to claim that Islam, Christianity or Judaism is uniformly peaceful as it is to claim that they are unvaryingly violent.

The sacred literature and history of each contain both peaceful and violent components. It depends where the voice who speaks for the religion chooses to look.

In the United States, the preponderance of believers of all three religions opt for the universal and merciful components, eschewing the underside of our Abrahamic religions.

Zelizer is probably right about American religionists, including American Muslims. But there’s more to the issue.

I left these comments, expanded and edited for clarity:

It’s not enough for religionists to proclaim adherence to the peaceful passages over the violent ones in their respective texts. They must walk the walk, too. Violence is a species of force. Force is the method of authoritarians. As this article makes clear, religion is inherently authoritarian, each believing their God is the one true authority who must be followed unquestioningly.

This is why the West banned the convergence of religion and political power. The Enlightenment recognized the inalienable rights of the individual. Individual rights led to limited rights-protecting government. Rights-protecting government led to secular government based largely on the separation of religion and state. This separation is the fundamental issue for religion and for society at large.

Here is the chasm that separates Christianity and Judaism from Islam. The preponderance of Christians and Jews renounced not just violence but force, including government force—i.e., Christianity and Judaism have been Enlightened. Each has accepted the separation of church and state and synagogue and state, respectively—meaning, they accepted secular government that protects freedom of conscience for all people, including atheists, and renounced the belief that they have the right to legally—i.e. forcibly—impose their religious beliefs on others.

Can the same be said of Muslims? Has Islam accepted the Enlightenment? It may be true that only a small percentage of Muslims would personally commit or support random violence. But how many renounce force? How many embrace the separation of Mosque and state? Without that, any claim to love, pluralism, universality, tolerance, or kindness rings hollow. After all, a government, even an elected government, can be just as oppressive and violent to religious minorities as terrorists. That’s why we have the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom—to constitutionally protect us from legal religious oppression.

I think it’s safe to say that a substantial minority if not a majority of the world’s Muslims have no problem legally imposing their religion on all of society, relegating non-believers to second class status at best and, at worst, to persecution, prison, and even death. Sharia Law is theocracy, and what is theocracy but slow-motion violence and terrorism? Any Muslim who believes in Sharia Law over secular government shares the same goal [with the terrorists] of forcible subjugation to Islam, merely differing on the tactics. To put it bluntly, Muslims who demand Islamic theocracy are on the side of the terrorists, even if they claim to embrace the “peaceful” side of their double-edged sacred text.  

Until and unless the vast majority of Muslims explicitly embrace the Enlightenment principle of separation of religion and state, it cannot be said that the preponderance of believers of Islam opt for the universal and merciful components of their sacred texts.


Granted, there are violent Christians and Jews acting sporadically on their sacred texts. But they are truly fringe elements. The violent Islamists are an organized ideological tip of a vast Muslim faction that demands Sharia theocracy. There’s a major difference.

Related Reading:

Friday, August 18, 2017

Under the Guise of ‘Gun Control,’ a Call to Trash the First Amendment

Gun violence spurs need to amend Constitution, writes economist/author Alan L. Moss, “a congressional fellow to the late Democratic U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg.”

After reciting a litany of statistics on gun-related deaths intended to horrify, Moss calls for the Second Amendment to be revised to allow reasonable gun restrictions. I don’t know that the Second Amendment needs to be revised. There are already plenty of restrictions on gun ownership, such as licensing and permitting.

No one would argue with Moss that guns should be kept out of the hands of “a desperate heroin addict, gang member, terrorist, or mentally deranged individual.” But the “devil is in the details”: How do we define “reasonable?” “Gun control” to the Left is what “Voter ID” was to the racist—a cover for abrogating rights. Just as the Southern racists once used onerous voter ID laws to effectively prevent black Americans from voting, so Leftists view gun control as a means of effectively banning guns through onerous regulations.

That’s not the worst of it. Moss blames the lack of gun control on First Amendment rights:

Second, a new amendment must be established to alter our systems of campaign financing and lobbying. For example, campaign funds could be limited to allocations provided by the federal government; lobbyists could be required to be housed in the government relations departments of individual firms; and influence peddlers could be banned from wandering the halls of government.

Under this Amendment, private citizens would be banned from voluntarily contributing to political campaigns of their choice, but would be forced to fund, through their taxes, political campaigns against their consciences and against their will. He would then overturn the First Amendment guarantee of “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” What is a lobbyist but a peaceable assembly of the people? What is “influence-peddling” but a petition of the government?

Moss wants to insulate the political class from the people they represent. Apparently, we’re just subjects to be reigned in so as not to bother the people who wield so much law-making power over us. The problem as Moss see it is that the people are too persuasive, so the government must silence them:

[T]he American systems of campaign financing and lobbying on behalf of the National Rifle Association, representing some gun owners and those who profit from gun sales, convince legislators to reject the public outcry for gun control in favor of campaign contributions and other support for election.

This is the same public that elects the legislators that are being convinced. The people have the power to vote these legislators out of office. That they don’t is proof that the “public outcry” to enact the Left’s anti-gun agenda is not so loud, so the Left seeks to silence the opposition. And it’s not just about gun control:

In fact, the U.S. systems of campaign funding and lobbying are embarrassments with which few advanced democracies contend. When I was writing my book, Selling-Out America’s Democracy, I interviewed foreign diplomats who uniformly voiced their amazement at how we allow special interests to distort the policies favored by the great majority of our citizens.

While the absence of gun control is perhaps the most extreme case of a perverted U.S. policy to be set right, reining in lobbyists and campaign financing could correct ill-considered decisions in other high priority areas, including our out-of-date minimum wage, worsening global warming, and exorbitant health care costs.

Maybe the “great majority of our citizens” don’t want the Left’s big government-expanding, including the rights-restricting expansion of political control over our jobs, energy, and healthcare.

Guns and free speech are not analogous. Guns are instruments of physical force so their possession by private citizens must be subject to oversight by the government. But free speech is the instrument of expression. Lobbying, campaign funding, and other efforts to influence legislators, legislation, and election outcomes are forms of expression.

Statists would love to restrict the people’s free speech rights so statist legislators could go on their merry taxing, spending, regulating, and controlling way without having to bother with those pesky constituents. They’d love to smother the dissemination of competing ideas, stifle public debate, frame the public dialogue, and control the process of selecting candidates who challenge the incumbents. Under the guise of ‘gun control,’ Moss calls to trash the First Amendment. We shouldn’t let the statists get away with their sinister efforts.

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