Friday, March 30, 2018

Facebook/Cambridge Analytica Data Breach Should Not Be a Pretext for Government Controls

In regard to the Facebook data issue, Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post argues Does Cambridge Analytica have my data? I have no idea. That’s the problem. Piling on to the avalanche of dumping on social media since the 2016 presidential election, Applebaum argues that new mediums like Facebook give new power to anyone seeking to custom-target people for political advertising, which is done by gathering or “mining” data on individuals. This makes possible new forms of propagandizing or smear campaigns, she says.

Targeting has always existed, Applebaum acknowledges. Facebook's business model allows customers to pay nothing for the service because the company makes money selling advertising space. That’s nothing new. That’s how TV worked before the cable era. But while advertisers used surveys to target audiences, modern advertisers can tailor their targeting individually. Political smearing and propaganda have always existed as well, Applebaum acknowledges. So we don’t have a new problem. Thanks to social media, it’s just a more serious problem, according to her. (Notice how she sneaks in the premise that targeting is in fact a problem. It is why television was free before cable, and Facebook is free now.)

Applebaum starts her article with a direct quote from Cambridge Analytica’s managing director, Mark Turnbull.

“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then … give it a little push every now and again … like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda,’ because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda,’ the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’”

Applebaum believes that Cambridge Analytica used Facebook both legally (“Facebook . . . allows . . . all marketers . . . to ‘target’ their advertising”) and “possibly illegally” (“fake research project” and “breach of Facebook’s platform policies”).

If fraud, deception, or breach of contract took place, both would be legitimate legal problems. That is not her main concern, though. The problem, she argues, is that the customers have less chance of knowing they're being targeted [?].

But the scandal that has erupted over this reported breach of contract disguises the larger issue: Even when operating legally, the company’s advertising would have been opaque to the people who received it.

My emphasis. “The larger issue” leads to what Applebaum says is “the problem”; that people don’t know, but have a right to know, who is doing the targeting—with particular focus on political targeting.

Political persuasion that used to take place in the open, in Congress or on the hustings. Now it is covert. The average person opening his Facebook feed on a smartphone does not know he has been “targeted” . . . He may not know that his data inclines to the right, which is why he saw a lot of articles in 2016 about the terrible threat of immigrant crime – or that his date shows sympathies with the left, which is why he kept reading stories denouncing Hillary Clinton as a sellout not worth voting for.

Notice Applebaum’s subtle focus only on targeting that favored Trump. More on that later.

As to the actual targeting, I say, Well, so what? Does knowing who is sending these political ads to your Facebook page relieve you of the responsibility, as a voter, of investigating the veracity of the opinions, or to confirm that it is not “fake news”, or to consider opposing opinions? What difference does it make whether you know or not?

Now, again, if fraud or breach of contract or violation of the user agreement is involved, that’s wrong. But that’s a different matter, and doesn't particularly concern Applebaum. This “Covert political advertising makes a mockery of election laws in every country that has them,” she claims without explanation or support. How is the spread of political dialogue, whether overt or covert, propaganda or objective, smears or respectful, subversive? It may skirt election laws. But if it does, then it’s those election laws that should be scrutinized, on free speech grounds.

What is her solution to this non-problem?

As Turnbull put it so eloquently, the new practitioners of propaganda don’t want their old-fashioned smear campaigns to look like “propaganda,” because if it did, you might ask, “Who’s put that out?” But “Who’s put that out?” is exactly what voters have the right to know. If the Internet platforms won’t conform to that minimal standard on their own, it’s time to regulate them.

My emphasis. Applebaum wants us to focus on the issue of “right to know.” Is it the right to know who is expressing a particular opinion? Is it a narrower right to know who is targeting us for political advertisements? I argue that people have the fundamental free speech/press right to express opinions or disseminate information anonymously. We, as consumers, can ask “Who’s put that out?” But we have no inherent “right to know” as long as our rights aren’t violated—as, for example, in the case of fraud or breach of contract. A voter is free to consider the merits of the political message, or discard it.

The “right-to-know” issue is debatable, of course. But I think Applebaum is using the “right-to-know” issue as a smoke screen to smuggle in, to borrow her phrase, “a larger issue”—and one fraught with danger to freedom of speech. Note my emphasis on the last sentence, “If the Internet platforms won’t conform to that minimal standard on their own, it’s time to regulate them.

This is a major bait-and-switch. If she truly believes in the “right to know,” then why not advocate for specific, objective, narrowly tailored “full disclosure” laws? Why jump to regulation?

The fundamental difference between objective laws and regulation is that a simple law is strictly delimited. For example, a full disclosure law says simply that the originator must identify himself. Regulation is essentially an open-ended power. Clearly articulated laws won’t give the government that kind of arbitrary power. A regulatory agency would. Today’s manifestation of regulation involves a government committee with law-making, i.e. legislative, powers—that is, arbitrary powers. Regulators may start by saying “identify yourself”, and end up deciding what constitutes the propaganda, fake news, or targeted advertising, and using its prosecutorial power accordingly.

Government regulation by its nature involves political manipulation, as political pressure groups lobby regulators to orient the regulations according to their political agendas. Elections require the free, unfettered flow of political speech while leaving the responsibility for sorting it all out with the individual voter. Applebaum worries about election laws being made a “mockery” of by “Covert political advertising”—and then proposes to put government officials rather than voters in charge of sorting out the nature and meaning of the political advertising that voters are allowed to see.

If fraud or breach of contract is involved, the government may properly step in to remedy, through objective laws, the wrongdoing. There is no “wider issue” of “right to know,” as Applebaum asserts. There is, however, a wider issue of freedom of speech and the proper role of government to protect and not infringe on that right. Applebaum’s proposed solution--to regulate Facebook or other social media companies--is worse than any “problem” of knowing who or how personal data is being used. Social media companies, whatever problems they may cause, have opened the door wide for the free flow, sharing, and debating of knowledge, information, and ideas while opening the field to average folks the world over to contribute to and decipher it all. This has greatly reduced the power of politicians and powerful political factions to control the political narratives. That’s a good thing; good for intellectual freedom and good for the democratic process.

Not, apparently, according to many on the Left.

Interestingly, Cambridge Analytica, Applebaum observes, is “the election consulting firm that worked for Donald Trump; the Brexit campaign and dozens of other clients; political parties in Kenya, Mexico and beyond.” This is a clue. Why single out Trump and Brexit out of the dozens? Could it be because Trump and Brexit represent election results not to the liking of the Left?

Since Trump and Brexit, statists mostly of the Leftist variety have been drumbeating for internet regulation, mainly in form of “fighting fake news” or the “addictiveness” of social media. I believe and have said that this call for regulation of social media companies to fight “fake news” is really an attempt to get government into the game of deciding what is or is not legitimate news, a major power of censorship [See also links below]. The Facebook data fiasco, which in fact is merely a breach of contract issue, looks like another wedge issue for the Left to attack free speech.

The Left is so enraged by recent election results that go against their agenda that they are willing to destroy freedom of speech in order to get results more to its liking. Hence, they’re not so much concerned by fake news or right to know or targeted political advertising as they are of being the “gatekeepers” who decide, via the mechanism of government controls, what propaganda, what fake news, or whose targeted political advertising to allow and whose to ban.

Prominent statists like George Soros wants to “break” what he calls “Facebook and Google’s dominance”: “These companies,” Soros asserts, “influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This interferes with the functioning of democracy and the integrity of elections.”

In other words, Soros doesn’t approve of U.S. election results. After all, what do we mean by ‘the functioning of democracy” if not to all participants to do precisely that—influence, though persuasion, how people think and behave and thus vote? Not according to Soros, who makes this bizarre assertion:

This would have far-reaching political consequences. People without the freedom of mind can be easily manipulated. This danger does not loom only in the future; it played an important role in the 2016 US presidential election.

Voting for Trump or Brexit is no freedom of mind. Voting for Hillary or against Brexit? What Soros really hates is freedom of average people’s minds. So now that elections are not to his liking, he wants to bring the power of the government’s guns down upon the private companies whose successful open platforms empowers average people to share ideas and make up their own minds: “It is only a matter of time,” Soros frighteningly threatens, “before the global dominance of the US internet companies is broken. Regulation and taxation, spearheaded by [EU commissioner for competition Margrethe] Vestager, will be their undoing”—to the advantage of government dominance over our intellectual lives. Under the guise of “freedom of mind,” Soros proposes to control the companies whose platforms greatly expanded the flow of intellectual discourse for “the masses.” Who, in fact, is looking to “influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it?” And do it coercively? Who is really attacking our freedom of mind? Leave to to a European statist to attack American companies for promoting food for thought for free minds.

Freedom of mind without freedom of speech is a joke. Never mind “the global dominance of the US internet companies.” That dominance was earned by attracting consumers. Consumers granted them that dominance, and can withdraw it if they like, by refusing to use their platforms. Private companies, even alleged “monopolies,” can not legally harm you. Governments can. If Soros doesn’t like their dominance, he can start (or finance) his own competing company, and run it as he likes if he can draw the consumers. But Soros is a statist thug. His means of dealing with the internet companies’ economic power—the power to satisfy consumers—is to “undo” the Facebooks and Googles with political power—the power of the gun. [for an deep examination of economic vs. political power, see The Dollar and the Gun by Harry Binswanger.]

Wittingly or not, and in a more covert way, Applebaum is leaning in the same direction as Soros—and just as wong. As Andrew McKie, Acting Deputy Editor of CapX, observes, There is no grand conspiracy or dark manipulation or brainwashing or threat to democracy being engineered by “Big Technology”.

[N]o one has ever maintained . . . that an advert for beans, or toothpaste, or shampoo, exerts some mystical hypnotic power over individuals sufficient to destroy their free will, render them powerless to resist, and absolve them from any responsibility for their own actions.

If the same is not true, or even more true, of people’s ability to assess the qualities of candidates for election, then we’ve got more serious problems than digital firms to contend with. Whether or not Cambridge Analytics turns out to have done anything dodgy or illegal is irrelevant to that overwhelming truth. The central fact remains that it’s absurd to claim, just because you may not happen to like the outcome, that the responsibility for Trump’s election or the Brexit result lies with anyone other than the voters, or that data collection, advertising or election campaigning amount to some kind of Manchurian-candidate style brainwashing.

We should fight against regulation—or political extortion; the threat of regulation if a company doesn’t do what politicians demand—of Facebook or any other social media company as the grave threat to intellectual freedom that regulation is.

Related Reading:

Why Are Anti-Capitalists so Obsessed with Mandatory Campaign Finance "Disclosure"?

Making Private Donations Anonymously is a Right

Stossel: China's Freedom-Crushing 'Social Credit Score'—John Stossel & Maxim Lott

Macron Is Using the "Fake News" Excuse to Attack Press Freedom: Only on the free market of ideas can information be checked and double-checked.--Bill Wirtz

'Fake News' Is Not an Excuse to Regulate the Internet—Zach Weissmueller for

Both Democrats and Republicans are missing the mark when they call for the government to control the flow of information on the internet.
Roger McNamee’s Attack on Intellectual Freedom

Cambridge Analytica's Marketers Weren't Mind-Readers or Brain-Washers—Andrew McKie for CapX

It’s absurd to claim that the responsibility for Trump’s election or the Brexit result lies with anyone other than the voters.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Is Science Catching Up to the Objectivist Ethics?

An interesting article appeared in the Washington Post. In Being empathetic is good, but it can hurt your health, Jennifer Breheny Wallace reports:

Empathy — the ability to tune into and share another person’s emotion from their perspective — plays a crucial role in bringing people together. It’s the joy you feel at a friend’s wedding or the pain you experience when you see someone suffering.

It’s an essential ingredient for building intimacy in relationships, says Robin Stern, associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. “When someone feels seen and heard by you,” she says, “they begin to trust you.”

But this seemly positive emotion can also have a downside, particularly if someone gets so consumed by another’s feelings that they neglect their own feelings and needs. Stern says those who regularly prioritize others’ emotions over their own are more susceptible to experiencing anxiety or low-level depression. [emphasis added]

Another researcher quoted in the article, Jamil Zaki, offers, “Being supportive of those we care about is among our most cherished and important roles, but it’s also one that’s fraught: We want to be there for someone but not lose ourselves.” [emphasis added]

If this sounds like a [partial] plug for rational selfishness, you’d be right in my view. I think what these people have in mind is rational selfishness, although not necessarily consciously. Also not mentioned is the term altruism. But that’s what Wallace has in mind—again, probably not consciously—when she talks about when “someone gets so consumed by another’s feelings that they neglect their own feelings and needs.” Self-neglect is exactly what altruism demands. And rational selfishness is what Zaki has in mind when he urges us “not to lose ourselves.”

Of course, altruism saps one’s self-esteem, as well. In fact, lack of self-esteem is probably a deeper, “root” cause of the anxiety and depression.

But the point here is that empathy does not and should not require putting other’s well-being above one’s own. Yet that’s precisely what altruism demands—not mere concern for others, but self-neglect and ultimately, if unchecked, self-destruction. Checked altruism—you believe in it but can’t practice it consistently—leads to another bad psychological outcome, unearned guilt.

Another researcher, Anneke Buffone, states:

“People assume that any kind of empathy is associated with positive health benefits and behaviors, but for the first time we have physical evidence that not all empathy is alike, that its positive or negative effects depend on the perspective you take.” [emphasis added]
Two perspectives offered are,

  • Emotional empathy, you actually put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel their emotion. This is the type of response that, left unchecked, can lead to caretaker burnout, says Zaki. 
  • And then there’s compassionate empathy, where you feel concern about another’s suffering, but from more of a distance and with a desire to help the person in need. 

I would label the alternative perspectives self-sacrificial ‘empathy’ vs. selfish empathy, or altruism vs. rational selfishness. There’s more to this interesting article. It’s worth a read.

Objectivists know that altruism is self-destructive, and that rational selfishness is the only basis not only for achieving personal happiness but also for healthy, respectful, human relationships, including relationships that involve helping others (all of which is, actually, the same thing). Is science catching up to the Objectivist ethics? If so, it’s a positive moral sign for the future. Altering the conventional understanding of what moral action entails—replacing self-sacrificial service to others with prioritizing one’s own selfish flourishing—is key to reversing the political trend toward some manifestation of totalitarian socialism.

I’m not saying that these researchers are full-blown advocates of the Objectivist Ethics. Whatever the moral conclusions, if any, of the authors, this research is a good sign because it provides—“for the first time,” according to the authors—physical evidence of altruism’s self-destructiveness.

Related Reading:

Books to Aid in Understanding Rational Selfishness

In Defense of Selfishness: Why the Code of Self-Sacrifice is Unjust and Destructive—Peter Schwartz

Related Viewing:


Monday, March 26, 2018

QUORA: What did you learn from Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged"?

QUORA: What did you learn from Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged"?

I left this answer:

Leading off the list of things I learned is the spiritual origins of wealth creation. (By “spiritual” I don’t mean supernatural or divine “inspiration”. I mean humanist values like individual thinking; ideas; and selfish virtues like self-motivation, honesty, self-discipline, perseverance, intellectual independence, and integrity.)

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Danger of ‘Hate Speech’ Laws is Exposed

I have argued that freedom of speech is absolute.* This absolutism forbids hate speech laws, which fortunately America doesn’t [yet] have. Freedom of expression means simply the right to express oneself, regardless of what is being expressed—hateful or not, controversial or not, offensive or not. (I also oppose so-called “hate crime” laws, as explained in my Objective Standard article Hate Crime” Laws are Gateways for Censorship and Statism.)

Another reason is that “hate speech” is a vague term. It is objectively undefinable, which means laws banning hate speech are of necessity arbitrary and non-objective; meaning, the banned “hate” speech is whatever those framing the law say it is.

A good example of how this process works in practice is highlighted by an incident at Stanford University. As John Daniel Davidson reports for The Federalist in The Left Is Conditioning College Students To Hate Free Speech:

[I]n January, . . . a trio of students, Araceli Alicia Garcia, Mayahuel Victoria Ramírez, and Jessica Reynoso, print[ed] out 200 yellow fliers bearing the hotline number and post[ed] them throughout the dormitory. The fliers read, “Protect our community, report ICE activity.”

In response, another student, Isaac Kipust, decided to satirize the fliers and posted his own, which read: “Protect our community, report legitimate law enforcement activity! Call to receive immediate support if you see law enforcement authorities doing their job. Beloved community criminals deserve protection from Trump’s tyranny.”

The fliers were promptly taken down by order of the university. In an op-ed for the student newspaper, Kipust described his meeting with several school officials—including an associate dean of students who’s in charge of Stanford’s policies on “acts of intolerance”—along with Garcia, Ramírez, and Reynoso:

According to them, my flyers were ‘hate speech’ and hence inappropriate for the Kimball community. Because they apparently mocked a flyer protecting an identity group, they constituted an act of intolerance. Most egregiously, because of their effect on the three crying students at the table, I was not permitted to repost my flyers.

Stanford faced harsh rebuttal, and reversed its decision. But that is beside the point. What if the university administrators were government officials?

As a private institution, Stanford has every right to allow or disallow whatever speech it wants, including political speech (stupid as that would be, especially considering Stanford is an educational institution). The point here is not to challenge that right. The point is to highlight the problem of defining just what constitutes hate speech, and thus the danger of any attempt to legally ban hate speech.

Hate speech laws are bad enough if they are narrowly construed to refer only to overt bigotry (bigoted speech is still freedom of speech, and thus protected speech). But as we can see in the Stanford episode, the definition of hate speech can easily escape these narrow bounds of to encompass differences of political opinion.

To repeat, what if these were government officials? One may plausibly argue that government officials would not be able to get away with the ban, either. Well, perhaps not today. But what about tomorrow or next year or in 2030?

When we accept the proposition that certain forms of intellectual expression constitute hate speech and should be banned, even if the expression is objectively hateful, then we’ll eventually elect politicians who would pass laws legally formalizing the ban. When we do that, we will put government officials in charge of determining what constitutes acceptable vs. unacceptable forms of expression—that is, ideas. We will have handed some future authoritarian regime the main tool it needs to silence dissent, jail its political enemies, and consolidate its power. Once we go down that road of hate speech laws (no matter how “well intended”), we start down the road to censorship and an end to the only guardian of a free society—freedom of speech.


* Properly understood: See Tara Smith, THE FREE SPEECH VERNACULAR:

Related Reading:

How to Overcome Bigotry in a Free Society

Budding Grassroots Campaign Against ‘Hate Speech’ is shallow, childish . . . and Dangerous

Cohen: Hate-Crime Laws are "Totalitarian Nonsense"

Free Speech, not Self-Censorship, is the Answer to 'Offensive' Free Speech [UPDATED]

J.K. Rowling Laudably Defends Free Speech On Principle

Protecting Rights vs. Sanctioning Action

John Farmer's Understanding of Free Speech Rights as Non-Absolute is Dangerous and Wrong

Thursday, March 22, 2018

As NJ State Closes 3 ‘Failing’ Charters, What About the Parents and the Children?

Under Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey greatly expanded charter schools, especially in urban districts where traditional public schools are the worst. This has given thousands of parents an opportunity to get their children into better schools—and parents have seized the opportunity in droves. Charter schools have been an educational lifeline for tens of thousands of kids.

But as I have argued, charters are not the long-term answer for people seeking better education. For one thing, charters are still government schools—albeit schools that are better because they enjoy more freedom to innovate and cater to needs of actual children. Parents who are lucky enough to get their children into charters (the demand for charters still way outstrips the openings) are still at the mercy of politicians.

We can see why in the NJ Department of Education’s decision last March to close three Newark Charter schools for “low performance”. Both the charters’ administrations and the parents are devastated. As Karen Yi reported at the time for NJ.Com (As charters face closure, 750 students need schools),

"Our parents are just devastated, we have a lot of students here, this is all they know," said Merit Prep Principal Ron Harvey [Merit Prep is one of the three charters]. He said he heard about the closure after a reporter called the school for comment on Wednesday.

"It definitely caught us out of the blue, it was very disturbing for us to hear it that way," Harvey said.

Merit Prep enrolls 483 students in grades 5-10 and opened in 2012. The school has 93 employees and was renewed last year on probation. 
"We've created a school over the last couple of years for (the students) that they've seen grow and change and improve over time," Harvey said. "They're upset; it just feels unfair to the kids, what are they supposed to do?
Another of the charters, Paulo Freire Charter School, sent a letter to parents and staff saying “the state's decision was ‘not reflective’ of the school's accomplishments.”

Families of students were devastated.

Hundreds of parents and students were left scrambling last week after news spread that the state was ordering three Newark charter schools to close at the end of the academic year.

"I am terrified for these children. I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to do at this point," said Frances Huggins, whose grandson attends Merit Prep. "Merit Prep was my light at the end of the tunnel two years ago when I was lucky enough to learn of an availability for my grandson."

The school administrators and staff, as well as the parents, were taken by surprise. This means that government bean-counters never consulted with parents and educators. Remember that charters are chosen voluntarily by the parents. But their opinions apparently have no reality to the state’s education bureaucrats. The students were to be “placed” in “new schools” determined by the state. 750 of them.

This is a reminder of how little control parents have over their own children’s education under government-controlled schools. Even with charters, which parents freely choose, students are vulnerable to arbitrary dictates, at any time, of government officials. That is, at the mercy of politics. And this, from an administration philosophically friendly to charter schools and parental school choice. What will happen under the new Governor Phil Murphy administration? Murphy has been openly hostile to charters, being a hack for the teachers union.

Charters are a form of parental school choice, and an improvement for parents lucky enough to get their child into one. But they are only a small step. As this episode demonstrates, justice demands that government get out of running the schools. The state was to reassign the 750 students beginning last April (2017). As far as I can tell, the plight of these families dropped out of the news: They are the forgotten victims of government-run schools.

The only solution, long term, is to move toward a fully free market, with schools run and funded privately. Only a free market recognizes and legally protects individual rights in education. Short of that, universal school choice through tax credits or education savings accounts (which give to parents the per-pupil cost of public school to spend as they judge best) would leave parents much less vulnerable to bureaucratic tyranny of the kind experienced by these three charter schools and families.
Related Reading:

Charter Schools – Good, but Not the Long-Term Answer

Real School Choice Depends on Free Exercise of Individual Rights

Newark's Successful Charter Schools Under Attack—for Being Successful

Charter Schools and their Reactionary Enemies--Part 1

Charter Schools and their Reactionary Enemies--Part 2

Charter Schools and their Reactionary Enemies--Part 3

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

‘Offensive’ Speech: Understanding vs. Banning and Princeton’s Unfortunate Retreat

Last month, Princeton University allowed the shut down of a course because some students complained about the professor using “offensive” speech—specifically, the “N” word—within the context of exploring the origins of bigotry and racism.

To its credit, the Times of Trenton editorialized in favor of the professor and the course. Understanding hate speech is the only way to defeat it is worth a read.

Without condoning or disagreeing with the actual course, I left these comments:

It is a bad sign for the future of free speech in America that Rosen’s course was cancelled, thus letting cowardly intellectual thugs get the upper hand (or is it a fist?). Once it is accepted in the culture that “offensive” speech may properly be silenced, it is only a matter of time before political pressure is brought to bear for “hate speech” laws—censorship.

Anyone who is offended by what they consider “hate speech” should vigorously oppose laws restricting or banning hate speech. One should welcome the chance to expose the person espousing it. One should welcome the chance to challenge, rebut, and intellectually defeat it the only way it can be defeated—in the open light of intellectual freedom and public debate. History has shown, and common sense dictates, that driving bad ideas underground only fosters metastasizing of those ideas, paving the way for them to resurface again and again in unexpected places and in different—and often worse—ways.

More broadly, the importance of freedom of speech is not just utilitarian. Freedom of speech, including “hateful” or “offensive” speech, is an individual moral right derived from every individual’s right to use his own mind and think. If you can’t express your thoughts legally, then your thinking is effectively stifled. What’s the point, then, of schools and universities? Hate speech laws—which is where we are headed, if the “right” of offended kids to shut down a course of study is accepted—would put the government in charge of dictating what ideas can be expressed, and which cannot, effectively ending intellectual freedom.

It’s perfectly fine if a student wants to question the use of what he considers offensive language in the classroom, if he is willing to listen and debate the issue in the context of respecting the instructor, his classmates, and the university classroom. But apparently, the objectors were allowed to disrupt the class to such an extent that it “made it impossible for him to continue teaching the course.” How could the university administrators allow this? These “students” should have been kicked out of the class and out of the university.

I do not dispute the university’s right to cancel the course. What is horrifying is the reason. We should not let intellectual cowards who run like scared rabbits from ideas or speech or words they find “offensive” gain any traction whatsoever. After all, if the universities—those citadels of knowledge and reason and the “bodyguards” of a free society—won’t stand up to intellectual thugs, the rest of us are doomed.

Related Reading:

Budding Grassroots Campaign Against ‘Hate Speech’ is shallow, childish . . . and Dangerous

J.K. Rowling Laudably Defends Free Speech On Principle

“Hate Crime” Laws are Gateways for Censorship and Statism

The Tyranny of Silence—Flemming Rose

The Left Is Conditioning College Students To Hate Free Speech—John Daniel Davidson: From canceled classes at Princeton to sobbing undergrads at Stanford, colleges across the country are training students to be intolerant.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Free Press Depends on Intellectual Freedom

In a letter-to-the-editor published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger shortly after Trump took office, “A free press is vital to democracy,” JoAnn D. Claps of Randolph, NJ wrote, in part:

Our Founding Fathers knew how essential a free press was to democracy; that’s why they protected it in the First Amendment. Our president lies repeatedly and has a willing cohort of supporters who will lie along with him in order to retain power. His authoritarian ways should alarm everyone and we should be grateful to and support the free press that reveals facts to us so that we can fulfill our rights as citizens: to make our voices heard.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

Repeated lies? Authoritarian? A lust for power? At first reading, I thought Claps was confused, still thinking that the Obama Administration was still in office. The only evidence that Clap is referring to President Trump is a prior reference in her letter’s opening sentence to another letter published a few days earlier, Star-Ledger disrespects the White House, critical of the Star-Ledger’s coverage and commentary of the Trump Administration.

Yes, “Our Founding Fathers knew how essential a free press was to democracy.” But the Founders sought to build a free, constitutionally limited democratic republic, not an absolute democracy. In keeping with the principles of a free republic, the First Amendment they crafted protects intellectual freedom broadly, and a free press must be considered in this broader context. While a free press is essential to the democratic process in a free republic, intellectual freedom more broadly is essential to a free society. Intellectual freedom encompasses not just freedom of the press, but also freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom to criticize the government, and freedom to express dissenting opinions, and so on, all without fear of legal reprisals.

How is repeatedly promising that “If you like your health insurance, you can keep it” just before outlawing millions of policies under ObamaCare not lying? How is the IRS targeting of private associations for their conservative ideological views; opposition to Citizens United and McCutcheon, two of the most pro-free speech SCOTUS decisions; laws imposing birth control mandates on Christian businesses, or laws forcing Christian businesses to provide services that conflict with their conscientious beliefs; and the AGs United for Clean Power coalition’s fascist-like prosecutorial assault on climate change dissenters consistent with intellectual freedom? They’re not. All of these initiatives have been orchestrated by the Democrats.

It’s true that Trump’s direct attacks on media outlets—which would be ok as a private citizen but not as president, the leading representative of the federal executive branch—implies a disturbing threat toward the press. It’s also true that hostility toward freedom of speech is not a monopoly of the political Left. And it’s true that Trump has an authoritarian streak. But Trump’s hostility toward the press pales next to the Democrats broader assault on intellectual freedom. We need not excuse Trump’s attacks on the press to realize that intellectual freedom is under attack from many sides, including from the Democratic Left. Generally speaking, whataboutism is not a counter-argument, and I do not like to use it. My point in using it here is to point out the futility of non-objectivity. True First Amendment defenders should fight all threats to this vital part of the Constitution, wherever those threats originate, regardless of political loyalties.

Related Reading:

Real vs. Pseudo-Censorship

Linda Stamato Smears (and Fears?) the Koch Brothers

Stamato vs. the Koch Brothers: Campaign Finance and the First Amendment

If Removing Cop Killer’s Memorial Violates Free Speech, What About Dem’s Amendment?

Freedom of Speech and Press are Linked

Friday, March 16, 2018

Collectivist Left on 'Pay Equity for Women'

The New Jersey Star-Ledger took the occasion of a failed gender pay “equity” bill to ridicule a man serving in the state senate.

In an editorial board post, N.J. senator gives rare insight into what a white man thinks about pay equity for women, the Star-Ledger wrote:
With all the attention focused on the massive protests by millions of women all over the world, let's not ignore the plight of a white man right here in New Jersey.

Just a few days after those marches for gender equality, a woman in our state Senate attempted to override Gov. Christie's veto of a bill to help bring women's pay into parity with that of men. It failed. Four Republicans who voted for it last year changed their minds, and three Democrats didn't show up. 
So Sen. Loretta Weinberg didn't have the votes to ban employers from paying women less "for substantially the same work." Her bill would have strengthened the penalties for wage discrimination and made it easier for women to recover the back pay that they are owed. Radical stuff.
Yes, it is radical—a radical departure from freedom of voluntary association, contract, and trade.

Weinberg was in the midst of comparing the pay of several demographics to that of white men when [NJ Republican State Senator Michael J.] Doherty, a white man employed as a patent attorney, felt the urge to speak. Stop picking on white men, he said. 
"It sort of hurts, it does, to be constantly told that you're the source of the problem," Doherty said. "Just because I'm a member of a certain group doesn't mean that I can be denigrated over and over again. It's got to stop at some point."

The Star-Ledger itself acknowledges that the demographic statistics are bogus. “Certainly,” the Star-Ledger writes, “there are issues worthy of debate here,” like the “exact size of the pay gap. An oft-cited 77-cent number is a bogus exaggeration.” Nonetheless, the Star-Ledger went on to ridicule Doherty about this statement:

"It sort of hurts, it does, to be constantly told that you're the source of the problem," Doherty said. "Just because I'm a member of a certain group doesn't mean that I can be denigrated over and over again. It's got to stop at some point."

I left these comments, slightly edited for clarity:

The Star-Ledger has picked the wrong villain here.

The collectivist Left forgets that human life is about actual individual human beings. It divides people by group identity, then villainizes some groups and victimizes others without any actual evidence of wrongdoing or harm related to actual individuals, other than meaningless statistics, which rank below damned lies for honesty.

And then the Star-Ledger has the gaul to ridicule a member of one of the villainized groups for reacting, based on the very standard established by the collectivist Left?

State Senator Loretta Weinberg’s so-called “pay equity for women” bill designed to impose “equal pay for equal work” not only violates the rights of employees and employers to set their own compensation agreements, it’s a ridiculous attempt to pretend that a simple law can somehow define what “substantially the same work” actually is for millions of people the legislators don’t even know anything about. As anyone who has ever done an honest days work in his life knows, there is no such thing as “equal work.” People technically doing substantially the same work can produce at vastly different rates for a variety of different reasons and thus be worth different pay scales. There can also be rational reasons for pay differences that have nothing to do with productiveness: People can have different employment goals based on life circumstances: One person may value higher pay, while another may value more work-time flexibility, for example. My daughter once negotiated more time working from home when her children were young rather than demand higher pay.

The government can’t possibly be fair in mandating one-size-fits-all pay policies. This is not to say women are always treated fairly. But you cannot morally generalize discrimination without unfairly demonizing innocent people. I think that’s what Doherty was trying to say. Statistics say nothing about specific individuals or specific individual relationships and are thus useless in correcting wrongdoing.

The only proper standard for dealing with unfair workplace treatment is individual rights, which involves specific actions of specific individuals based on actual objective facts of the case. There is nothing wrong with private citizens publicizing statistics as a tool to draw attention to specific instances of unfair discrimination. Demographic statistics on pay undoubtedly harbor some instances of irrational and wrongful discrimination. But they also cover completely innocent individuals and rationally defensible pay practices. The two should never be wrapped in the same generality, which so-called pay-equity-for-women bills invariably do. In instances of fraud or breach of contract, such as if a company fails to deliver promised compensation, the government should properly step in. Otherwise, the government has no proper business interfering in private employer-employee contracts. But Weinberg’s bill actually sanctions breach of contract by empowering women to sue for back wages for a job she voluntarily agreed to perform based on mutually agreed-upon terms, simply because she discovers that someone else is making more. Demonstrably provable pay inequities in the private sector should be dealt with through social activism and persuasion or by allowing economic competition to equitize compensation, as it invariably will.

Laws that treat human beings as robotic drones, such as Weinberg’s wildly vague bill based on statistical demographics, is what should be ridiculed. This is the same lawmaker who once proposed a bill to monitor all homeschooling parents like paroled criminals because of an isolated incident of child abuse. Doherty’s pushback is a direct reaction to the collectivist Left. I think he should be applauded but also sympathized with for being put in a position of having to say what he said. People shouldn’t have to defend themselves because of some characteristic they share with some group. Hopefully we’ll see more of this kind of pushback against the Left’s demonization/victimization tribalism. It is contrary to the principles of America, a nation based on individualism and individual rights.

Related Reading:

A “Regulation-Free Zone for Home-Schooling Families” Comes Under Attack in NJ

This ‘Women’s History Month,’ Distinguish Between Just and Unjust Equality

Economic Equality vs. Political Equality: Which is Your America?

Freedom vs. Equality: It's Either/Or

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

QUORA: 'What is the main purpose of the electoral college?'

QUORA: What is the main purpose of the electoral college?

The main purpose of the Electoral College is as part of the checks and balances put into place by the Founders to prevent the rise of tyranny by preventing the concentration of political power—that is, the power of physical coercion—in any one branch or segment of government. The Electoral College serves both as a check on the power of the federal government over the states and on the dominance of large states over the entire nation. The Founders not only feared Kings but also majoritarian tyranny. The Founders studied history. One of the things they found was that democracies historically have given rise to factionalism, which inevitably leads to dominance by the most powerful electoral factions over weaker factions, manifested through elected legislatures or demagogic leaders.

Consequently, the Founders did not create an absolute, or what I call a fundamentalist, democracy. They created a free republic in which democracy is a constitutionally limited part. This is consistent with the fundamental principle of America. Contrary to the distortions of the so-called Progressives, the fundamental principle of America is the primacy of liberty based on individual rights, not the primacy of majoritarian democracy. (The term “democracy,” in fact, appears nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. That’s no accident.)

For more, see my comments here, here, here, and here.

Related Reading:

Voting Rights are Not the ‘Most Fundamental Right’—or Even a Fundamental Right

Monday, March 12, 2018

Still Peddling the “97%” Myth

Shortly after Trump took office, an op-ed appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger offering Advice for Trump from N.J.'s former EPA chief: Phone a scientist. The op-ed equated Trump’s intention to roll back Obama’s so-called “Clean Power Plan”—which is really a war on reliable energy more drastic than Germany's failed energy poverty scheme—with the rollback of “environmental policies that keep our air and water safe.”

Obamacare isn't the only major health reform on the chopping block under President Donald Trump. So are the environmental policies that keep our air and water safe.

The Clean Power Plan to limit the smog and soot flowing into New Jersey from other states, the Paris climate pact to help contain global warming, the hard-fought settlement with polluting companies to clean up the Passaic River -- all could become casualties of Trump.

The equation of policies to reduce harmless greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide in order to “contain global warming” with actual pollution that is harmful to human life is a common trick of environmentalists.

But the goal of Obama’s Clean Power Plan is to drastically roll back co2 emissions by restricting and ultimately outlawing fossil fuels, not contain pollution. The purpose of embedding global warming into a paragraph about pollution is to sneak in the real motive of the anti-reliable energy crowd by equating them. They do not equate.

Environmentalists claim to have science on their side. But if so, why the deceitfulness? Perhaps because the science doesn’t support them. So, they deceitfully distort the science, as well. In a section asking former Obama Northeast EPA administrator Judith Enck if she has “Any advice for the Trump administration?,” she answered

I think the best thing is for them to get briefed by scientists. If they objectively listen to the science, they will understand how serious a threat climate change is.

I often cite a peer-reviewed scientific paper in which the author surveyed about 13,000 scientists, and asked them, “Do you believe that climate change is real and is primarily caused by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and burning forests?”

Ninety-seven percent of the scientists said yes. What we need the Trump administration to do is listen to the science. The leadership, including the president himself, should randomly call up any credible scientist and have a conversation about climate change.

My emphasis. I left these comments:

Notice the bait and switch under the question “Any advice for the Trump administration?” [Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith] Enck first asserts that “science” will tell you “how serious a threat climate change is” if we will only “listen” to them.

But the actual question that 97% of scientists supposedly agree on says nothing about any threat, serious or not, posed by climate change. The question she cites asks, ““Do you believe that climate change is real and is primarily caused by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and burning forests?” The “97%” merely agrees that climate change is real and that human activity is a factor.

Climate change is real and humans are partly responsible? Even if "primarily" responsible—i.e., more than 50% responsible—so what? It doesn't say they agree there is a threat of catastrophe. It doesn’t say they agree that fossil fuels and other life-giving activities should be curtailed or eliminated. The question implies no moral evaluation at all. So why do environmentalists and their political allies keep regurgitating the 97% statistic? Because they want to establish the "big lie" that climate change in and of itself is bad if caused by human activity. They are anti-human race.

Environmentalists believe that human-caused environmental change—not negative change, but change as such—is bad and thus human impact must be curtailed at all costs. But non-impact is an anti-human flourishing standard, and we should reject it. Humans survive and thrive by changing the Earth from a danger-filled environment to a place hospitable to human life and flourishing. Life is better with climate change and fossil fuels than without either. Humans don’t need a stable climate. We need plentiful reliable energy and the freedom to produce it, in order to drive all of the industries that improve our lives. Climate change is not the threat. The Environmentalists’ war on energy and industrial development is the real threat.

I’m surprised that anyone still peddles the “97% of scientists agree” myth. That statistic has been debunked as meaningless ad nauseam. The truth is that, on proper analysis, only about 2-4% actually agree that catastrophic climate change is imminent and humans are the primary cause. Catastrophic climate change is pure speculation. What is scientifically demonstrated is that climate change is mild and is partly natural and partly human-caused, and has not led to more dangerous weather extremes despite decades of increasingly hysterical and failed predictions of disaster.

But even if global warming causes weather extremes to become a little more extreme, so what? The fundamental issue is not whether or not we should clean up actual pollution whose harm to humans is greater than the benefits. The fundamental issue is human non-impact on nature versus human well-being. The truth is life keeps getting better and safer for more and more people as fossil fuel energy usage increases. Someday, viable replacements for fossil fuels will become technologically and economically feasible, provided the energy free market that enables energy entrepreneurs to flourish is not totally crushed. That would not make environmentalists happy, but it would be great for humanity. In any event, rolling back reliable, industrial-scale energy production would cause a real catastrophe—for human life.

Trump should pay attention to the big picture, rather than be swayed by scientists who simply claim that “climate change is real and is primarily caused by human activities” and blindly accept that that is a bad thing.

Related Reading:

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

World’s CEOs are Right to Demote Climate Concerns, Worry About “Over-Regulation”

Obama's War on Energy Producers and Consumers by Ari Armstrong

King Obama's Carbon Emission Mandate

Saturday, March 10, 2018

“Not-so-Sane” Environmentalists are Perfectly Sane--and Anti-Humanist

A bill just proposed in New Jersey would mandate that the entire state be 100% “renewable” energy for electricity generation by 2035, less than 17 years from now. NJ Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine shreds the idea in his column New Jersey fossil-fuel free by 2035? Climate-change alarmists are environmentally ill.

Mulshine’s practical argument is irrefutable. But I think his reading of the two sides is off base.

“There are sane environmentalists,” he writes. “And then there are environmentalists who have lost all touch with reality,” which describes as “the not-so-sane crowd.” “Senate President Steve Sweeney [D] is among the sane ones,” Mulshine observes, because he favors nuclear power and natural gas (which is replacing coal for electricity generation) and opposes the bill.

As for the crazy ones, the Statehouse was packed with them last week.

At a rally on the Statehouse steps the sponsors of a bill to end all fossil-fuel use by 2035 stood behind a banner that read: "New Jersey - 100 percent renewables now."

Now? That's impossible. At the moment the state gets a mere 3 percent of its electricity from renewables. The banner was an overstatement.

The actual bill isn't much more realistic, however. It calls for the state to get all its electricity from renewables by a mere 17 years from now.

That's a fantasy for a few reasons. One is that 39 percent of our electricity comes from nuclear power. Even though nukes are carbon-free, they're not considered "renewable" under the bill's definition.

Another reason is that New Jersey is part of the PJM grid, a transmission network that began with Pennsylvania, Jersey and Maryland - hence the initials - but now links 13 states and the District of Columbia. We can't stop electrons at the state line and ask them how they were generated.

Mulshine also observes that the cost of electricity would skyrocket under this initiative.

I left these comments:

I agree wholeheartedly but I view the divide differently.
I would divide the two environmental camps not as “sane” vs. “not-so-sane,” but between environmentalism (lower case “e”) vs. Environmentalism (upper case “E”). The “environmentalists” value prosperity and human flourishing with cleaner industrialization, with the emphasis on the human over the natural environment. The “Environmentalists”--that is, professional ideological Environmentalism--value nature with minimal (ideally no) human impact and thus no industrialization (or as close to no industrialization as possible), caring little for human well-being.
Since human beings survive and thrive through technology and industrial development specifically designed to transform the natural environment for human benefit, the Environmentalists are, on principle, anti-human. They’d be just fine reducing human life to the level of wild animals living “in harmony” with nature.
Sweeney is correct about the intermittency (read unreliable) problem. Barring unforeseen, major technological breakthroughs which can make solar and wind cheaper and as reliable as fossil and nuclear (in which case you wouldn’t need a law because people would voluntarily switch), “renewables” make no sense--unless viewed from the Environmentalist standard. Why else would the Environmentalists favor only the fantasy of “100% renewable energy?” Why else would they oppose fracked natural gas, which releases less greenhouse gases; or nuclear, which produces no greenhouse gases? Why support only unreliables? Can they be that stupid? Can they be that lacking in common sense? No. It’s because they know “renewables” as they define it can’t possibly support an industrially flourishing economy, no matter how many subsidies they throw at it.

Ideological Environmentalists won’t fully get their way. But they can make life a lot harder in NJ through vastly higher electricity bills, regularly imposed life-disrupting blackouts and brownouts, and economic decline. Judged from the standard of human flourishing as a value, the “not-so-sane” environmentalists do look crazy. But viewed from the Environmentalists’ naturalist standard, they are perfectly sane-- and the “renewable now” law makes perfect sense. Environmentalists love it because it would slow down and/or block life-serving industrial progress and economic growth--and thus human impact on the environment. And of course statists love it because it will give the state, and thus politicians, more power over our lives. The big losers of the “renewables now” fantasy will be individual liberty and prosperity.


Related Reading:

New Jersey Conservation Foundation vs. Our Life-Enhancing Energy Needs

NJ Climate Witch Doctors Prepare to Assault NJ Residents’ Energy

The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century—Ronald Bailey

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels Hardcover—Alex Epstein

Related Viewing:

(Mulshine concluded his column with this short clip.)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The NJCF’s Rant Against Human Energy Needs

In an editorial that served as the negative side of a New Jersey Star-Ledger “pro-con” debate on the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline that will cut across Western areas of the state, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Tom Gilbert presented the argument against allowing the pipeline to be built.

But the editorial is more a rant than an argument. Gilbert issues the usual warning of environmental catastrophe, despite the fact that millions of miles of existing pipelines already deliver life-enhancing energy to Americans, including in New Jersey. This includes the Transco/Williams Pipeline that crosses the same Delaware River as the PennEast will, and that passes through my township of Readington, and which I cross right over on my daily walks. Transco includes a brand new pipeline recently constructed. No catastrophe.

Facts don’t stop Gilbert from offering vague warnings. “PennEast proposes a serious risk to drinking water supplies from heightened arsenic levels, and threatens critical wildlife habitats and thousands of acres of preserved open space and farmland,” he writes—ignoring the fact that plentiful reliable energy from the likes of fossil fuel pipelines are required to deliver the drinking water; ignoring the fact that wildlife thrives around existing pipelines; ignoring the fact that pipelines are underground, leaving the land just as preservable and that without fossil fuels to power modern farm equipment, there would be no farms to preserve.

Gilbert's sloppy rationalization comes to a head with the favorite environmentalists’ claim that the pipeline “isn’t needed”, which contradicts Gilbert’s later claims that the motive behind the proposed pipeline “is driven by utility company profits.” Gilbert doesn't explain how companies are to earn profits by not selling natural gas to consumers who don’t need it. By its own rhetoric, the argument from need makes no sense whatsoever.

Gilbert does have one valid argument: The pipeline builders’ approval of the pipeline is accompanied by the power of eminent domain, which can be used against landowners should voluntary agreements not be possible.* But where is the Conservation Foundation when it comes to seizing taxpayers’ monetary property to buy the development rights for the purpose of creating the preserved open space and farmland? Defending taxpayers? No, defending open space. Where was the NJCF when Solberg Airport in Readington was spending $millions fighting the township’s years-long attempt to seize it through eminent domain? The Conservation Foundation’s new-found concern for private property rights rings hollow, indeed. **

Gilbert’s arguments fall flat. But the main thrust of the article revolves around pushing the state government bureaucrats to stop the project.

It would be a big mistake for PennEast to think the conditional approval it received from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) means their pipeline will be built, said New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJ Conservation) and other opponents of the dangerous and costly project today.

"It's just the beginning. New Jersey doesn't need or want this damaging pipeline, and has the power to stop it when it faces a more stringent state review," said Tom Gilbert, campaign director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJ Conservation).

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a decision by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to deny a key water permit for the proposed Constitution gas pipeline that had been approved by FERC, effectively halting its construction. Very recently, FERC itself confirmed the State's right to make such a determination by refusing to allow Constitution pipeline to proceed given the state's denial.

Those are the first three paragraphs. It’s all about “the power to stop it”. And that really gets to the heart of the motive of people lake Gilbert and organizations like the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “Conservation”—of what? Of nature. From what? Of man’s building of industrial projects. Don’t be fooled by quack statements like “commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move New Jersey to 100 percent clean energy,” which appears near the end of Gilbert’s Star-Ledger print version of the article. As it stands now, so-called “clean energy”, usually solar and wind, provides only a tiny fraction of our energy, and for good reason: It is unreliable and cannot satisfy the massive energy needs of our industrial progress.

And that’s the point. Environmentalists’ like the NJCF seek to conserve nature from human industrial development—meaning, they don’t care about human well-being. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) reduces greenhouse gas emissions because it is replacing coal through price competition. Nuclear and hydroelectric release no greenhouse gases. Yet, environmentalists oppose them all. If they were primarily concerned about the climate from a human life perspective, they would embrace all three. But of course, Environmentalists don’t oppose climate change. They oppose only human activity that contributes to, or may contribute to, climate change.

Thank God for profit-seeking energy companies like the PennEast company. Environmentalists love to oppose new pipelines on the ground that they are “not needed?” But if not for the existing network of pipelines, our lives would be miserable, or non-existent. And if not for the farsighted willingness of today’s energy builders to invest in new infrastructure to meet future energy needs, we won’t have the plentiful, affordable, reliable energy that we so much take for granted today. There are “serious risks” and “threats” in every human life-advancing project. But those can be ameliorated. The benefits far outweigh the risks—that is, if human well-being is the standard. The anti-pipeline activists who use so much energy (both literally and figuratively) trying to stop this pipeline, and their passive supporters, should keep that in mind.


* That governmental pipeline approvals are accompanied by grants of eminent domain power to the builders complicates matters for those of us who defend fossil fuel pipelines against the anti-pipeline jihadists. But this is not an argument against pipelines. It is an argument against eminent domain. See my link below.

** Having gotten approval from FERC, PennEast has begun filing eminent domain notices, according to Jon Hurdle for NJ Spotlight. NJCF purports to defend the property rights of people like Jacqueline Evans, whose 6.5 acre Organic-certified farm is threatened. But would the Environmentalist organization be defending her if an “endangered species” was discovered on her property?

Related Reading:

PennEast Pipeline Objections Don’t Add Up

Eminent Domain: The Dark Side of Pipelines

The ‘Jihad on Pipelines,’ New Jersey Front

PennEast Pipeline Objections Don’t Add Up

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Gorsuch, Legal Abortion, and ‘Access’

The Left’s great fear is that if conservatives get their way in the courts, women will lose their right to reproductive freedom.

But, as usual, the Left has no clue what rights are. Here is an excerpt from a U.S. News article titled Gorsuch Is Not an Abortion Crusader, AP Review Finds:

The review of Gorsuch's record reveals he has taken positions against assisted suicide and in favor of "religious exemption" laws that allow employers who object to escape paying for contraception — issues that both sides of the abortion debate have seized on to parse his judicial history. 
Abortion rights groups immediately criticized the nomination, saying Gorsuch represents a threat to women's reproductive rights and to the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide in 1973. 
"With a clear track record of supporting an agenda that undermines abortion access and endangers women, there is no doubt that Gorsuch is a direct threat to Roe v. Wade and the promise it holds for women's equality," NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement.
There is a huge difference between a right to have an abortion or buy birth control, and a “right” to access those services by forcing others to unwillingly pay for the services. Reproductive freedom advocates would have a much stronger argument if they recognized the right of employers not to provide abortion or contraceptive coverage as part of their health insurance plan because of moral objections. Refusing to pay for a woman’s abortion does not violate the woman’s right to an abortion. The same goes for contraception. In both cases, the woman employee is still free to access the services at her own expense.

You can’t guarantee an individual right by violating other rights. ObamaCare’s contraception mandate (along with all other health insurance mandates) attempt to do just that. That is why the issue is so politically contentious. We must learn that a right guarantees the freedom to pursue, not a guarantee of access at others’ expense.

Related Reading:

On ‘Access’ to Pre-K Education

Rights vs. Privileges

Constitutional Distortions: Free Speech vs. Freedom of Speech

Defending Reproductive Rights Depends Upon Upholding All Rights

Right to Abortion vs. the "Right" to Abortion Service

Sunday, March 4, 2018

QUORA: Why is it so hard to understand the concept of the electoral college?

Quora: Why is it so hard to understand the concept of the electoral college, yet can understand the rules of winning the world series?

I think the questioner is referring to the fact that the winner of the World Series is determined by how many individual games are won, not on how many total runs are scored—which, translated to the winner of the presidential election, means how many states are won, not how many total popular votes the candidates received.

Here is my answer:

I don’t think it’s a matter of understanding. I think it’s a matter of political philosophy.

America was Founded as a constitutional republic based on the primacy of liberty. The Founders worked on [from] the principle that individual rights are derived from man’s nature and precede government. They believed democracy has a role as a tool by which free people manage the government they create, but that the government itself is limited to protecting individual rights, which they considered inalienable. They considered the right to vote as subordinate to our inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Hence, the Electoral College was instituted as part of the checks and balances needed to prevent the concentration of political power, including the influence of powerful electoral factions.

By and large, the opponents of the Electoral College consider America to be a democracy based on the primacy of majoritarian rule. The democracy fundamentalists believe rights are essentially privileges bestowed by government, to be granted or withdrawn by officials beholden to electoral majorities or factions. They see the right to vote as the one primary right, to which we are all subordinated according to the will of the most powerful electoral factions. Consequently, they see simple majority rule as absolute regardless of whether it disenfranchises smaller states or thinner population centers in favor of electorally powerful regions.

These two concepts are antithetical. But I believe that this philosophical divide—liberty vs. statism—lies as the heart of the debate over the Electoral College.

Related Reading:

The Electoral College System Required Trump to Win the Popular Vote—30 Times

Wouldn't going by Popular Vote be an even worse system than the Electoral College?

Voting Rights are Not the ‘Most Fundamental Right’—or Even a Fundamental Right

Is the Electoral College Un-Democratic? You Bet. Unfair? Nope.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Mandatory Paid Sick Leave for NJ? NO!

Now that New Jersey again has a “progressive” Democrat in the governor’s office, Phil Murphy, the push for a law mandating paid sick time off statewide for all private sector employees is back on the front legislative burner—and almost certain to be passed. Of course, the NJ Star-Ledger is all in on the scheme. Here are a few relevant passages from the S-L editorial:

Take another look at the lunch lady serving you that sandwich tomorrow. She may not be one of the 18,000 people who have contracted the flu this season in New Jersey, but given that two-thirds of adults in low-paying jobs usually go to work when they have the flu - mostly because they cannot afford to lose a payday - you probably just beat the odds.

In New Jersey, there are 1.2 million workers who do not have access to paid sick leave - that's 38 percent of our private sector workforce - despite the existence of sick leave ordinances in 13 cities and towns, with Jersey City igniting this prudent trend back in 2013.

The bill currently calls for one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, with a max of 5 to 9 sick days earned, depending on the size of the company.

Consider what we've learned locally: Between January 2014 and July 2015, 9 communities - Jersey City, Newark, Passaic, Irvington, East Orange, Paterson, Montclair, Trenton and Bloomfield - enacted paid sick leave. In the first year of implementation, unemployment actually decreased in 8 of those 9 communities - and in Paterson's case, it dropped by 3 percent. The outlier was Bloomfield, and that increase was meager (from 5.5 to 5.8).

"We talked to these mayors," [Senate Majority Leader Loretta] Weinberg said, "and none of these towns went out of business."

This is just an academic exercise, as this bill is almost certain to pass. Nonetheless, I can’t help myself. So, I left these comments:

This is an immoral bill. The state has no legitimate power to enforce any one-size-fits-all labor law, including mandatory sick pay. This is a voluntary private contract matter between employer and employee. Each employer has the right to set his own terms of employment, including how to handle sick employees.

It may be the case that 38% of employees work for businesses that don’t have a formal sick pay policy. But that doesn’t mean this many employees don’t get paid to take the day off if they are truly sick. I have a friend who started a computer business in the 1980s, which eventually grew into a thriving business of dozens of employees (which he eventually sold for retirement). Years ago, near the beginning of his business, he told me about his policy on sick pay. He did not believe in a set number of sick days per employee. His policy was: If you are sick, stay home. Don’t come in and infect everyone else. I’ll pay you. The anecdote about the lunch lady is a straw man. The bigger problem is people taking sick days for purposes other than being sick. My friend avoided the problem of people taking days off just to “use up” the sick days. Knowing that they’d be paid, yet being “on their honor,” my friend found that nobody takes advantage (if anyone did, they’d be gone). Under Weinberg’s proposed bill, his policy would be outlawed. It’s not right.

On the other side of the issue, many workers may rather have a higher take-home pay than the paid sick days. I belong to a plumbers union. We fund our own benefits, like pension and health insurance, through union trust funds. In my 46 year working career, we never voted to create a sick day fund. We could have. It was discussed. The majority didn’t want it. We preferred the higher paycheck. In essence, each member was self-insured to cover unpaid sick time off out of their own savings. Why should the union membership be forced to fund a sick pay account they don’t want? Because some “progressive” politicians say so, and claims the right to force it on them? Because the Star-Ledger says so? By what right?

As to those city employment statistics, that’s plain disingenuousness. Many factors affect business and jobs. As to those mandatory sick pay ordinances—municipal tyranny if there ever is—it can just as easily be argued, and with much better justification, that business activity and employment would be higher in those towns if not for the extra cost of mandatory sick pay. Nothing is without cost.

Business owners and employees have the right to deal with sickness in their own way, by their own judgment and choice and by voluntary mutual agreement. If a businessperson wants to pay sick employees. Fine. If not, fine also. If a business owner doesn’t want a sick waitress serving customers, the owner can have her not work that day, with or without pay. If an employee doesn’t want to trade a lower wage for sick pay (that “one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked” has to be funded somehow), it’s her right to seek a job that doesn’t have these expensive fringe benefits. If an employee doesn’t like the terms of employment, he can negotiate a change or leave for another job. Just as an employee doesn’t have the “right” to paid sick days, so an employer doesn’t have the “right” to force an employee to stay on under terms he doesn’t agree with. This is not just a practical matter. It’s a moral issue; an issue of individual rights and a government’s job to protect those rights—including the rights to free trade and contract—equally across the board. The state has no moral right to dictate sick pay policy.

Related Reading:

Nothing Earned About Mandated "Earned Sick Time"

Paid Sick Leave, No Matter How ‘Beneficial,’ Should Never Be Legally Mandated in Any Way

‘Mandatory Paid Sick Leave” is Immoral and Economically Destructive

Mandatory Paid Sick Time: Economically Destructive because Morally Wrong