Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Open Primaries Discourage 'Extremism': What's Good About That?

An open primary is a primary election “in which voters can take part in either the Democratic or Republican nominating contests regardless of their party affiliation. Currently, at least 20 states feature open primaries.

Are open primaries a good thing? In an editorial, Calling Democrats: Switch parties now, and fight Trump, the New Jersey Star-Ledger thinks they are. Why?

Nearly half the states allow party members to vote in either primary. Hard-core party loyalists tend to dislike that; they feel each party has a right to pick it's [sic] favorite without meddling by the enemy.

But a closed primary encourages extremism. Candidates preach to their own choirs, so Democrats tend to move left and Republicans right.

As the editorial suggests, the Star-Ledger calls on New Jersey Democrats to re-register as Republicans before the deadline of 55 days before the June 7 primary election (NJ has a closed primary system) so as to help prevent Donald Trump from becoming the GOP presidential nominee.

I left these comments, which were singled out as a “featured comment” out of more than 500 posted:

“But a closed primary encourages extremism.”

Translation: “A closed primary encourages ideas.” That would be great.

“Extremism” is a useless smear term that lumps together all candidates who hold a consistent set of principles as a guide to his political platform. They could be good ideas or bad ideas. True, primaries are fought over the party base, and the winners then modify their positions for the general election. But so what? Thanks to party primaries, we get to know the candidates’
actual philosophical leanings. Philosophy is a better indication of how a president will govern than campaign rhetoric. But, according to the Star-Ledger, voters shouldn’t get to enjoy an election that actually gives them a choice between two opposing philosophies.

And this year, thanks to so many open primaries, we probably won’t have that choice. The Democrats have a solid extremist, Bernie Sanders. But where is the Republican extremist? It’s certainly not Trump. I have long suspected that much of Trump’s strength, given his generally statist/authoritarian impulses, is related to Democrat crossover votes. Ironically, if Democrats heed the Star-Ledger’s call to switch to stop Trump, it may backfire and actually strengthen Trump. Be careful what you wish for. With Trump the likely GOP nominee, we’ll have a choice between two Democrats. Where is the pro-individual liberty candidate? The last credibly, albeit not consistently (extreme), pro-liberty Republican presidential candidate was Ronald Reagan, and we had a reasonably solid choice between the Left and Right.

Not that today’s Republican Party is capable of selecting a good pro-liberty alternative to the Democrats. But at least a Cruz or a Rubio lean in that direction, and would give us a decent alternative to the Trump-like Hillary and the openly demagogic national socialist Bernie Sanders. Probably because of open primary voting, we won’t have that choice.

“Extremism” is a cowardly and childish excuse for not wanting to deal with fundamental ideas. We need more extremists. We need more real choices. Bring back closed primaries across the board.

Related Reading:

The Virtue of Extremism

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Memorial Day Tribute

Throughout history, armies have fought for territorial boundaries, kings, monarchs, dictators, imperialistic ambitions, the “honor” of some sundry rulers, the tribe, some theocrat's assertion of God’s will, the nation, our country, and so on.

America’s military is unique. It fights for a set of ideas…the most radical set of ideas in man’s history. America is the first and only country founded explicitly and philosophically on the principle that an individual’s life is his to live, by unalienable right. America is the first and only country founded on the explicit principle that the government exists as servant for and by permission of the people, with the solemn duty to protect those rights; or, as Ronald Reagan put it in his first inaugural address:

In other words,individual rights come before government—rights being understood as guarantees to freedom of action to pursue personal advancement, not automatic claims on economic rewards that others must be forced to provide against their will. Then, "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men." That is America. Even the British Empire from which America won independence, then the freest society the world had ever known, was based on the premise that rights are privileges granted by the Crown. Englishmen were subjects, not truly free.

Sadly, the knowledge of what this country stands for is steadily slipping away…and along with it, our rights. Fortunately, we’re still free to speak out. So the best way to honor our military personnel, for those of us who still retain that knowledge, is to remind our fellow Americans in any small way that we can about America’s unique, noble, and radical Founding ideals.

We can still prevent “the other way around”. But we must rediscover the knowledge of, and think about, what it means to be an American. So, let us reflect on what really made this country possible.

This Memorial Day weekend, we will hear a lot about the “sacrifices” made by those who served and died defending America.

It is said that this nation, our freedom, and our way of life are a gift bestowed upon us by the grace of the “sacrifices” of the Founding Fathers and the fighters of the Revolutionary War. But, was it? Is it even possible that so magnificent an achievement – the United States of America – could be the product of sacrifice? As the closing words of this country’s Founding philosophical document – the Declaration of Independence – attest, the Founding Fathers risked everything to make their ideals a reality:

And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

Some point to those words, and bestow on the signatories of that document the “honor” of having sacrificed for us, the "future generations." Nothing can be further from the truth. Sacrifice--properly understood--is the giving up, rather than the achievement, of values. America was achieved.

What is any human being’s highest attribute and value? It is his mind and his independent judgment. To use one’s mind – to think – is an exclusively personal, individualistic, self-motivated, self-chosen, selfish effort. All else in a person's life is a consequence of the use, or lack of use, of his mind – for better or for worse. One’s convictions about what one believes is right, one’s passionate concern for ideas, is the product of the independent use of one’s mind. The man who places nothing above the judgment of his own mind, even at the risk of his own physical well-being, is not engaging in self-sacrifice. To fight for one’s own fundamental beliefs is the noblest, most egoistic endeavor one can strive for.

The Founders were thinkers and fighters. They were egoists, in the noblest sense, which is the only valid sense. They believed in a world, not as it was, but as it could be and should be. They took action – pledging their “sacred honor” at great risk to their personal wealth and physical well-being – to that end. They would accept no substitute. They would take no middle road. They would not compromise. They would succeed or perish.

Such was the extraordinary character of the Founders of this nation.

To call the achievement of the Founders a sacrifice is to say that they did not deem the ideals set forth in the Declaration as worthy of their fighting for; that the idea that the individual’s life belongs to him and not to any collective and not to any ruler was less of a value to them than what they pledged in defense of it; that they did what they did anyway without personal conviction or passion; that the Declaration of Independence is a fraud. To say that America was born out of sacrifice is a grave injustice and, in fact, a logical impossibility.

World history produced a steady parade of human sacrifices, and the overwhelming result was a steady stream of bloody tyrannies. The Founders stood up not merely to the British Crown, but to the whole brutal sacrificial history of mankind to turn the most radical set of political ideas ever conceived into history’s greatest nation. It is no accident that the United States of America was born at the apex of the philosophical movement that introduced the concept of the Rights of Man to his own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, the Enlightenment.

Only the most extraordinary men of the most ferocious personal strength and courage could have so uncompromisingly upheld, against overwhelming odds and hostility and personal risk, so passionate a belief in their own independently held convictions so as to have established the American Founding. The American Revolution was history’s brightest demonstration of the rationally selfish pursuit of a noble goal by any group of people, ever. It was a monumental human testament to the dedication these men had to their cause – the refusal to live any longer under any social condition except full, genuinne freedom, and to "pledge eternal hostility against every form of tyranny."

The highest tribute I can pay to those Americans who died in the line of military duty, on this Memorial Day, is not that they selflessly sacrificed for their country. Self-sacrifice is not a virtue in my value system. It is an insult, because that would mean that their country and what it stands for was irrelevant to them; that they had no personal, selfish interest in it; that they were not passionate about their service; that they were indifferent toward America's enemies; that it made no difference to them whether they returned to live in freedom or to live in slavery.

This, of course, is not the case.

Freedom is thoroughly egoistic, because it leaves individuals alone to pursue their own goals, values, and happiness. It follows that to fight for freedom is thoroughly egoistic. If American soldiers fight for freedom, then the highest tribute I can pay to those who perished in that cause is to say that they were cut from the mold of the Founding Fathers; that they did not set out to die for their country but rather that they set out to fight for the only values under which they desired to live—that radical set of ideals that is the United States of America.

In honor of those who perished fighting for the American cause, and to all of America’s service men and women past and present:

Thank you for your service in defense of American ideals, for your desire to live in freedom, and for your fierce determination to accept no substitute.

Happy Memorial Day!

Related Reading:

On This Veterans Day, Remember the Productive Americans Who Support the Greatest Military in History

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Unreliable Energy, Not ‘Dirty’ Energy, Threatens New Jersey

A New Jersey Star-Ledger letter hailed President Obama’s reliable energy-restricting “Clean Power Plan,” which is all but bankrupting the U.S. coal industry. A better way to cleaner, cheaper energy is long on “green” dogma and low on truth.

I left these comments, citing select quotes and edited for clarity:

Coal-fired power plants have not been “allowed to dump unlimited amounts of pollution into our air with impunity.” They have long been subject to anti-pollution laws and mandates, and spend $billions annually installing state-of-the-art pollution control technologies to reduce emissions of pollutants like metals, acid gases, and particulates, while continuing to provide the vital energy our lives depend upon. And the efforts have been successful. Air(and other forms of) pollution has been reduced by half since 1970 even as coal use has surged:

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 11.52.07 AM

[Chart courtesy of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels]

“Carbon pollution”—aka carbon dioxide—is not a pollutant, like mercury, arsenic, and the like. co2 is not only harmless to humans but absolutely vital to human and all other life on Earth. So why attack co2? Perhaps because our fossil fuels are getting increasingly cleaner so the fossil fuel enemies need another reason to attack fossils. Carbon Dioxide is not “dirty.” An attack on “carbon pollution” is an attack on human life, because it requires drastic restrictions on production of our life-giving reliable energy.

“Initiatives on clean energy and recycling” is a euphemism for government subsidies, and subsidies don’t create jobs, on balance. They cost jobs. Economics 101 teaches that one must take into account not only what is seen, such as “clean energy jobs,” but what is not seen, such as the jobs not created by the diversion away from spending and investments that those who are made to fund the subsidies would have made with their money. Subsidies cost jobs because they fund things that are not economically feasible or justified, and take away from better investments.

“Clean energy,” which is not really clean, is not cheaper energy. If it were, it wouldn’t need subsidies and special political provisions that hamper competing forms of energy such as coal, like Obama’s fraudulently misnamed “Clean Power Plan”. Nor is “clean energy” reliable.

“Fighting climate disruption” is a euphemism for disrupting humans initiatives to improve the environment for human benefit through industrialization and the energy production required for that improvement. Human emissions of co2 may contribute to climate change, but the incalculable benefits to human well-being of energy production and industrialization make it worthwhile, climate change or not. Climate change has never been man’s main enemy. Climate dangers always have been, and today we are better protected and adaptable to climate dangers, such as extreme weather, than ever before. Overall, humans live safer, longer, healthier, more prosperous and enjoyable lives with climate change than they ever did before “carbon pollution” or climate change.

I am not proud of NJ’s “many initiatives on clean energy and recycling”—at least not policies that forcibly seize money from residents to fund the crony, “clean” or “renewable” energy and recycling corporate welfare industries.


The debate over energy is not between “clean” and “dirty” energy. It’s between unreliable and reliable energy. The political push for unreliable energy like solar and wind, not “dirty” energy, is the big threat to humans.

Related Reading:

Turning a Subsidy into ‘Payment for a Value Delivered’: Corporate Welfare for NJ Solar Companies

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mesmerized by Elections, the NJ Star-Ledger Forgot that Tyranny is Tyranny

Proponents of democracy are obligated to endorse any governmental action, as long as it is an elected government. This is the case regarding Egypt. As the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorialized in In Egypt, are we fighting terror, or fueling it?:

What we feared all along in Egypt is coming true: Islamists who used peaceful, democratic means to get their leader elected, only to see him forcibly deposed [by the Egyptian military], are increasingly picking up guns instead.

But what did the “peaceful, democratic” Islamists intend to do? Use their governmental powers to impose Sharia totalitarianism at the point of a legalized gun.

There is no question that the military leadership is not a rights-respecting regime. Neither would any Islamist regime be. Yet the Star-Ledger only condemns the Egyptian crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which backs Sharia government. The Star-Ledger relies on a hollow distinction between the two in criticizing the Obama Administration:

The U.S. government decided in recent months to to end a suspension of hundreds of millions of the annual $1.3 billion in American military aid to Egypt, which we had cut off in the wake of the 2013 military coup. That now makes us complicit in the regime's repression. . .

Apparently, it’s OK for the U.S. to be complicit in Islamic repression, as long as  the Islamist repressors are elected. Would the Star-Ledger support a Christian theocracy in America if this country’s Christian majority were not constitutionally forbidden to vote to establish one?

I left these comments:

Keep in mind that the elected Islamist government immediately began establishing a theocratic dictatorship, making every non-Muslim a second class citizen, at best. That’s why the military stepped in.

There is no difference between a “peaceful, democratic” Islamist regime and a military dictatorship. Tyranny is tyranny, whether elected or not. Democracy unconstrained by constitutional protections for individual rights and equality under the law is no better in principle than any other kind of dictatorship. Our Founding Fathers went out of their way to prevent precisely what the elected Islamists attempted to do in Egypt; the establishment of religious tyranny by governmental law.

This is not to say that we should be pouring American tax dollars into Egypt. We shouldn’t, no matter who is in charge.

But neither should we be excusing any government just because it was elected. Our obsession with the right to vote to the exclusion of the more fundamental rights of life, liberty, property, and equality under the law has backfired big time in the Middle East.

As Ralph Peters observed about America’s approach to the Middle East and elsewhere, “Mesmerized by elections, we forgot freedom.” Before any of us can credibly criticize the Egyptian government, we must come to the realization that democracy doesn’t equal freedom or justice. But many Americans have themselves forgotten or evaded that truth.

Related Reading:

Rights and Democracy

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Is Profit-Seeking At Odds With Consumer Value?

In the comments section of Linda Stamato’s for-profit hit piece The predatory for-profit college industry and its enablers in Congress, which I covered in my post of 5/19/16, a correspondent ironically calling himself thinkerbell wrote,

. . . once you've gone for-profit, it's pretty much axiomatic that your final concern will be the generating profit rather than the development of wise and committed citizens who can envision and enact a better future.

I left this reply:

This makes no sense. The idea that the path to profitability is to disregard the good of or do bad things to your own customers can be easily debunked by a little personal introspection: When was the last time you sought out the lowest quality, highest price, worst service, or most dishonest provider in deciding how you spend your own money? If you seek maximum value for your dollars, you’ve disproved your own statement. For a private business that must depend on voluntary exchange, providing value greater to the consumer than the cost of the goods offered is the only path to profits. And that demands a long-term commitment to value creation, which requires principled business policies and actions. The opposite leads to bankruptcy. The school that puts profit over educational value is not a profit-seeking business but a quick-buck artist seeking to appropriate money, not earn profits. And money appropriators can exist among nonprofits or public colleges as well as schools organized as for-profit.

The evidence is all around us. Without satisfied customers, there are no sales. No sales, no profits. The basic principle of voluntary trade—producers seeking to increase sales and thus profits by competing for consumers seeking maximum value for their money—is win-win; self-interests are aligned, not antagonistic. There is no conflict between profit-seeking and the good of consumers, so long as all exchanges are voluntary.

Unfortunately, higher education is an unfree market corrupted by a flood of money supplied by the government’s coercive taxing powers. This creates perverse incentives and feeds the rise of quick-buck artists.

Related Reading:

The Choice is Not Principles or Profits, Because There are No Profits Without Principles

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Striking Workers Shouldn't Get Unemployment Benefits

Striking Verizon workers could receive N.J. unemployment benefits under a bill now working its way through the New Jersey legislature. It already passed the New Jersey Senate Labor Committee. As NJ.com’s Samantha Marcus reports in the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

Striking workers could be eligible to collect unemployment benefits in New Jersey under a bill approved by the state Senate Labor Committee on Monday.

The bill is aimed at assisting Verizon workers who've been on strike for a month, but would change the rules for receiving unemployment insurance for all during labor disputes.

Verizon employees from the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers filled the Senate hearing room beyond capacity Monday as the panel heard this bill. . . .

This is a political ploy. Even if the bill manages to get through the entire legislature, Governor Chris Christie is likely to veto it. But the fact that it was even proposed, let alone voted out of committee, makes this worth commenting on. Judging by the comments section, there isn’t much general support for the bill either.

I left these comments:

Government officials, especially elected officials, have a constitutional and moral responsibility to represent all people equally and without bias. It’s called equal protection of the law. This means the officials should not take sides in private contractual disputes unless fraud or physical coercion (rights violations) are evident. It’s bad enough to consider allowing striking workers to collect even though they are off the job voluntarily (Vitale’s embarrassingly rationalistic “really almost (been) forced to be off the job” comment notwithstanding). It is vulgar for the legislature to use taxpayer money to dish out special favors to one politically connected union, which is explicitly the reason for this bill. It is blatant cronyism that could enable the union to extract concessions from Verizon by legal coercion rather than legitimate voluntary agreement. (And then will these workers be made to pay back the illegitimately collected unemployment funds with the ill-gotten “negotiated” Verizon benefits they will have “won” because of the taxpayer backing?)

As a lifelong union member, I oppose this bill. I once participated in a 6-week strike. It’s hard. But I never considered that the taxpayers should subsidize me during the time I was out of work while we voluntarily exercised our right to strike for personal gain.

Shame on this committee. If it passes the legislature, I hope Christie vetoes it. No wonder New Jersey is considered the corruption capitol of the nation.


I might add that I oppose government-mandated and/or government-run unemployment compensation schemes. The proper role of government is to protect every individual’s right to manage his own affairs, so long as his actions don’t violate or interfere with the same rights of others.

Related Reading:

"Greed" is a Two-Way Street

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

There is No Parallel Between the Private Right to Discriminate Against Gays and Jim Crow Laws

Many people misinterpret the causes of the arrival of marriage equality for gays and mischaracterize and confuse the issues underlying the progress.

A good example of this is illustrated by New Jersey Star-Ledger guest columnist Robert Checchio. Here are some excerpts from Checchio’s column To understand anti-gay bias, we can learn from Civil Rights Movement:

The recently-introduced First Amendment Defense Act, co-sponsored by over 100 members of Congress, shares its origins with the same mentality that created Jim Crow laws following the Civil War as well as the less formal but still violent anti-black discrimination that was so pervasive before and after the Civil War.

[The act is an] attempt . . . to legitimize anti-gay discrimination through legislation. If passed, the act would allow some people to proclaim themselves superior by denying other people rights and privileges taken for granted by "normal" people – the right to marry, the right to visit a loved one in a hospital, the right to buy a cake.

I left these comments, edited and expanded for clarity:

Maybe the “mentality” is the same—or maybe not. But the similarities end there. There is a horrible equivocation implied in this statement and this article.

Jim Crow laws imposed discrimination and segregation by law, and the associated violence was covertly supported by law. The issue today is people non-coercively choosing not to do business in a way that violates their conscience. There is no legal imposition of segregation or discrimination advocated. The difference is as stark as the opposite sides of the moon: It’s the difference between coercive aggression and simply being left alone.

While I do not support so-called religious freedom restoration laws like the First Amendment Defense Act, I do support the First Amendment and the rights that it enumerates, including the right to freedom of association. This is what the champions of FADA are essentially fighting for, even though they frame it—wrongly, in my view—in religious freedom terms.

Defending the right to freedom of association is not the same as defending or legislatively legitimizing discrimination, as Checchio’s simple-minded view supposes. Would we equate defending a communist’s or a Nazi’s free speech right to advocate their ideas a defense or legitimization of communism or Nazism? The basic issue there is Voltaire’s “I don’t agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” The same principle applies to Christian bakers refusing to serve a gay wedding. In the case of the baker, it’s a matter of freedom of contract, which derives from freedom of association. The issue is, “I disapprove of your discriminatory business practice, but I’ll defend to the death your right to practice it.”

Rights are not permissions to act only in ways the government approves of. Nor are rights an automatic claim on products or services that others must be forced to provide. Rights are inalienable guarantees to freedom of action, so long as one’s actions don’t violate the same rights of others. Rights don’t guarantee that everyone will act rationally or morally: That would require a police state set up to enforce government-approved personal morals. Rights simply sanction the freedom to act. There is a right to marry. There is no “right to buy a cake.”

Jim Crow laws and associated KKK violence violated the rights of blacks. A Christian baker refusing to make a cake for a gay wedding may be offensive: It offends me. But it violates no one’s rights. The baker refusing the gay couple’s business neither initiates force against the gay couple nor forbids a rival baker from serving the cake: A gay couple turned away from a Christian baker can simply take their business elsewhere. The freedom to associate includes the freedom of private individuals not to associate, for whatever reason—and that includes the freedom to engage in or not to engage in voluntary economic contracts. The baker is simply exercising his non-coercive rights of association, which is a far cry from coercive Jim Crow or the KKK. (The question of whether the baker is acting on irrational religious conviction or bigotry is beside the point.)

The truth is the opposite. A law mandating that baker to make that cake based on an alleged “right to buy a cake” violates the baker’s rights, effectively making the baker a slave of the buyer. Such laws are just as bad as laws banning gay marriage. Anti-black discrimination and anti-gay discrimination may or may not spring from “the exact same mentality.” But the role of government then and as advocated by gay rights activists now spring from opposite political philosophies. Under Jim Crow, the government legally imposed discrimination. Today the government is being called upon only to protect the private right to discriminate as conscientious objectors. The first violates rights. The second protects rights. The first is statism, the second is constitutional republicanism.

Marriage equality advocates should celebrate. I do. But there we part company. Gay marriage advocates who now celebrate their victory by supporting laws forcing that baker into coercive contracts are hypocritical and just as wrong as Christians who backed laws banning gay marriage.

Checchio has it terribly wrong. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Jim Crow are opposites, not analogous. Anti-private discrimination laws spring from the same political philosophy as Jim Crow; the belief that it is OK to impose one’s values on others by law. By trying to legally force coercive contracts on unwilling bakers or other private businesses, the gay “rights” advocates are simply demonstrating that they don’t understand individual rights at all, or the associated responsibility to respect the rights of others even if they disagree with them. Live and let live? Not for these gay “rights” advocates.


Cultural change comes before political change, which comes before legal change. In today’s America, anti-gay bigotry has been steadily receding because it is just as irrational as anti-black bigotry. That cultural shift paved the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage. There is no practical need for, and no philosophical or moral justification for, laws trampling on private individuals’ right to act on their conscientious beliefs, however irrational those beliefs may be. Let the religious zealots exercise their bigotry openly, where it can be fought openly on the battleground of reasoned debate, rather than drive it underground and allow it to fester.

The “bottom line” is that individual rights are individual rights. Eroding the inalienable fundamental rights enshrined in the First Amendment in the name of fighting discrimination is a grotesque perversion of the moral concept of rights. The equivocation of Jim Crow laws with First Amendment rights is as fundamental an attack on America’s Founding principles as one can imagine.


Furthermore, anti-gay bigotry activists who push for anti-private discrimination laws are acknowledging that they have no rational defense against such bigotry, and cannot defeat it on the battleground of ideas and First Amendment rights-based social activism. The anti-black bigots turned to Jim Crow laws because they were losing the cultural battle. After the Civil War, blacks were steadily being assimilated into American society, so the bigots turned to coercive means, both legal and quasi-legal. The official legal imposition of Jim Crow segregation and the unofficial legal sanction of the KKK violence were evidence of the anti-black bigots’ intellectual and social impotence. So they turned to legalized force. But as the Supreme Court observed in overturning one of the bigots’ legal weapons, “separate but equal” under Plessy v. Ferguson, “The impact [of discrimination] is greater when it has the sanction of the law.”

I would argue much greater. Eliminating the bigots’ legal weapon is a game changer. Handing that weapon over to the enemies of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of association is one wrong replacing another.

Irrationality cannot win in a fully free society, where rational people have all sorts of weapons to marginalize and defeat bigotry, such as free speech, boycotts and other types of social activism, economic competition, and simply ignoring the bigots. A bigot striopped of the ability to enforce his irrationality by law or by covertly sanctioned violence is not a threat to anyone. A gay couple turned away from a Christian baker can simply take their business elsewhere.

Related Reading:

Gay Marriage: The Right to Voluntary Contract, Not to Coercive “Contract