Sunday, June 30, 2019

Tom Gilbert Looks Backward, but ‘Need’ for Pipelines is Forward-Looking

Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, crowed that We’ve proved we don’t need the PennEast pipeline. PennEast has proposed and is seeking regulatory approval to build a new natural gas pipeline through Western New Jersey. Gilbert’s proof? During the extreme cold spells of Winter 2019, there was enough natgas capacity to avert shortages. Here are some excerpts:

With spring here, and the coldest weather behind us, it’s a good time to reflect on the hollow claims PennEast made once again that its proposed pipeline is needed to make sure people can stay warm when it’s freezing outside.

If one of winter’s certainties is that there will be some numbingly cold days, another is that the companies that would profit from building the unnecessary pipeline through parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania will seize on this in an effort to justify building their new pipeline.

This winter’s polar vortex proved them wrong again.

Despite extreme cold spells, during the polar vortex, and also the bomb-cyclone of 2018, New Jersey had abundant gas for heating homes and other buildings.*

All PennEast’s billion-dollar pipeline would do is take away from the resources available for developing affordable, reliable, clean energy sources.

To say “[C]ompanies would profit from building the unnecessary pipeline” is contradictory. If it’s unnecessary, there would be no customers, and hence no profits.

More importantly, profit-seeking pipeline businesses and their investors are geared to future needs. The reason that “New Jersey had abundant gas for heating homes and other buildings” now is because pipeline builders foresaw today’s energy needs years ago, and built the infrastructure capacity we now rely upon.

That billion-dollar private expenditure does not “take away from the resources available for developing affordable, reliable, clean energy sources.” Morally, it’s their money, their choice. Anyone else is free to commit their own money to “developing affordable, reliable, clean energy sources”; e.g., build new nuclear capacity, if government would allow it and Environmentalists would get behind it.. Anyone is free to invest in unreliables, like solar and wind.

I for one am thankful for the forward-looking natgas pipeline builders. I hope to someday get access to natgas, which I do not now have, so I can convert from oil heat. That is one industry to whose profits I’d be happy to contribute to.

I won’t defend every public claim made by PennEast in support of regulatory approval for its proposed pipeline. But money speaks louder than words. If private investors are willing to put up $1 billion, I’d trust their judgement above anti-fossil fuel Environmentalists. Where would we be if ReThink Energy NJ, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, and their ilk had gotten their way 10 or 20 or so years ago, and stopped the building out of the pipeline capacity that kept NJ buildings warm in Winter 2019? It is the PennEasts, not the Environmentalists, who have our future reliable, affordable, clean energy needs in mind.

* [“Polar vortex” is the modern buzzword for extreme cold wave. “Bomb cyclone” is a relatively recent term invented by meteorologists to describe a rapidly intensifying low pressure system. Both phenomena have been around as long as Earth’s weather.]

Related Reading;

Why Do We Need Pipelines?--Pipeline 101, American Petroleum Institute

Related Viewing:

Thursday, June 27, 2019

FIRE’s 1st Amendment Challenge to Rutgers Offers a Classic Lesson in Democracy vs. Republicanism

In Rutgers trampled the constitution by letting students vote to defund the newspaper, group says [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 6/4/19],’s Adam Clark reported for the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

Rutgers University should restore funding to its student newspaper after it violated the constitution by allowing students who don’t like what the paper publishes to vote to defund it, a First Amendment group claims.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) on Monday called for Rutgers to restore more than $500,000 to The Daily Targum, which lost its student fee funding through a referendum last month.

That referendum violated the constitution because it let students decide how public money is spent based entirely on whether they agree with what a student group does, said Adam Goldstein, a program officer at FIRE, a non-profit free speech advocacy group.

Students, including a conservative group that dismissed The Daily Targum as “fake news,” aren’t legally allowed to defund a public university newspaper just because they don’t agree with the content, he said.

The fact that The Daily Targum, and probably other campus newspapers, is publicly funded in a public university complicates the issue. If a majority doesn’t want to fund it, they shouldn’t have to. On the other hand, the minority that contributes to the public funding shouldn’t be forbidden from doing so. Rescinding the funding thus violates the minority’s rights. In a privatized setting, where campus newspapers are privately funded, any individual can refuse to fund the paper by not subscribing, leaving others free to subscribe.

That said, I think there’s a broader political philosophy lesson here. It is that broader context that I chose to focus on when I posted these comments:

Though public funding muddles the issue, this episode highlights the anti-liberty nature of democracy.  

Every individual possesses certain inalienable fundamental rights. These rights include but are not limited to freedom of speech, which underpins press freedom. Inalienable means no person’s rights can ever be subject to a vote. That is the basis for the American constitutional republic, of which the democratic process is an important but limited part.

The Rutgers case is an easily observable example of democracy, with free speech rights directly rescinded by vote. Much more insidious is the attacks on free speech through indirect democracy, with voters electing politicians to covertly attack free speech rights. Catchphrases used to justify or sneak in free speech limitations include "dark money"; "new neutrality"; "fake news"; "hate speech"; "campaign finance reform"; “corruption of our democracy”; "offensive content"; "election manipulation"; "harmful online content"; "social media addiction" [aka "internet addiction", et al]; "dehumanizing speech"; “extremism”; “political bias”.

In a republic, politicians are forbidden to violate individual rights, even though elected. Democracy is limited by constitutional limits on government power, such as we have with the First Amendment. Let’s hope FIRE is successful in rolling back this bit of democratic tyranny at Rutgers. And let’s hope the First Amendment continues to protect us from the broader political attacks on free speech that permeate our media and culture.

Politicians of all stripes are always itching to democratically stifle our rights. Don’t let them. We must remember that freedom is not the right to vote. Freedom is the right to live your life regardless of anyone else's vote.

Related Reading:

Monday, June 24, 2019

Contra the "Progressives," NJ’s Tax Structure Looks Quite Fair (At a Glance)

New Jersey politics at the state level is dominated by the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, the Legislature has been at odds with the Governor. One of the key issues is Governor Murphy’s demand for a “millionaires tax,” which is adamantly opposed by Legislative leaders Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

The NJ Star-Ledger Editorial Board’s Tom Moran, who has been critical of Murphy, posted the case for raising taxes on millionaires in a recent editorial, despite NJ having one of the highest income tax rates in the country. I’m not going to critique every one of Moran’s reasons. Suffice it to say that Murphy claims that millionaires “like myself” should pay their fair share. The rest of this post is roughly what I posted as a comment to the editorial.

But a picture is worth a thousand words. What I will do is show an interesting chart included in Moran’s article, Why Murphy is right about millionaires. And how he’s blowing the politics, published in the print edition (but not the online version) of the Star-Ledger on 6/16/19.

The chart was compiled by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, New Jersey Policy Perspective, a "liberal" think tank. Here is the chart, including the caption:

"Our income tax is steeply progressive, but the property and sales tax are regressive. Count all state and local taxes, and under Gov. Phil Murphy's budget proposal, each income group pays about the same share of its income in taxes, hovering around 10%.

  • Under $25K (bottom 20%)          9.6%
  • $25K-$47K (low-mid 20%)          9.1%
  • $47K-$76K (middle 20%)            9.9%
  • $76K-$133K (mid-high 20%)      10.4%
  • $133K-$319K (next 15%)            10.1%
  • $319K-$921K (next 4%)              10.0%
  • $921K and up (top 1%)                10.5%

The methodology appears to focus only on taxes paid, leaving out collection of government benefits funded by taxes. When you factor in those programs, lower income people undoubtedly collect a lot more in relation to taxes paid than upper income folks. Factoring in the receiving side of the tax issue, the tax burden on low income people is undoubtedly much lower, probably even negative for some.

But leaving that aside, only a so-called Progressive can look at this chart and see unfairness. Remember that these are percentages, not actual taxes paid. In percentage terms, they are roughly equal. But in dollar terms, they are anything but equal. For example, a person making $1 million @ 10.5% pays $110,000 in NJ taxes, 45.8 times as much as the $2400 paid at the rate of 9.6% on income of $25,000.

Only a so-called Progressive would call that regressive. On its face, this raw data indicates that, based both on fairness and mathematically, there is no case for raising the upper income tax rates. Keep this in mind the next time you hear some Progressive like Murphy call for "the rich" to "pay their fair share."

Related Reading:

Friday, June 21, 2019

More ‘Dark Money’ Nonsense in New Jersey

The drumbeat goes on to pass New Jersey’s “dark money” bill into law. Under the interesting title To combat mistrust, the public needs to know who’s giving politicians their cash, State Senator Troy Singleton is the latest to beat the compulsory disclosure drum. Here are some excerpts:

In recent years, independent expenditure campaign committees have become a growing influence over our electoral process – not just here in New Jersey, but nationally as well. They funnel millions and millions of dollars in order to sway elections without ever disclosing the identities of their donors. This has led to a system that is dominated by wealthy special interests who remain anonymous.

These clandestine entities live in the shadows of our political system, with benign sounding names designed to conceal donors’ identities and their true intentions. Their funding is known as “dark money” for a reason – to keep the public in the dark and unenlightened.

The public has a right to know who funds the political ads they see on television, encounter on social media, and hear on the radio. Without knowing what interests are behind the information, they are unable to make informed decisions.[!]

To combat that feeling of mistrust, we need real campaign finance reform. That is why I’ve been working closely with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission since 2016 to craft legislation that would provide greater transparency through heightened disclosure, which I believe is necessary to empower voters to hold all of us elected representatives accountable. In the wake of the United State Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, we saw how drastically the voices of average citizens were drowned out in today’s political structure, which impedes the democratic process.

The "politics of personal destruction," a phrase once made popular by former President Bill Clinton, has never been, nor will it ever be, my objective or motivation in crafting public policy.

Ever since Citizens United, the strongest victory for freedom of speech in a long time, the statists of both parties have been trying to work around the decision. Compulsory disclosure is one tactic.

All emphasized phrases in the above excerpts are mine. I posted these comments:

The “voices of average citizens” are not “drowned out” by anonymous expenditures; not my voice or anyone else’s. That ridiculous catchphrase is hollow. Each of us is free to consider the issues and candidates before we vote. Such spending amplifies the issues, fosters debate, and helps us decide.

The “public”—including the government—has no “right to know” how private individuals spend their money on political activism. Political expression is an inalienable individual right. The essence of the democratic process is expression and debate geared precisely toward the goal of “swaying” and “influencing our elections and governmental processes”; that is, persuading others to vote a certain way.

The "politics of personal destruction" is precisely what mandatory disclosure would expose activists to. That may not be Singleton’s motive. What about others? That political weapon shouldn’t be unleashed at all. Spending is integral to free speech. Anonymous spending equals anonymous speech. Anonymous speech has been sanctioned by Supreme Court justices John Harlin II, Hugo Black, John Paul Stevens, and Clarence Thomas. As SCOTUS ruled in NAACP vs. Alabama [1958], “compelled disclosure” impairs individuals’ “collective effort to foster beliefs” by exposing them to “manifestations of public hostility,” violating fundamental rights to free association and privacy thereof, free speech, and due process. So-called “dark money” is an expression of these rights and should be protected.

The political class and its media cohorts are trying to gin up paranoia about some underworld of “dark money.” It seeks “transparency” so it can demonize and intimidate private activists, especially dissenters, into silence. Why? Precisely because it doesn’t like being held accountable.

Related Reading:

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

It’s Time to Listen to the ‘Climate Denialists’

Climate catastrophists have degenerated into hysteria. When we’re told to tow their political line or the world will end in (fill in the blank), it is obvious to me that they’re essentially admitting that their arguments  are hollow. Case in point, a recent New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial, Trump, climate change, and our Orwellian future. The editorial was published as a response to a bout of severe weather in New Jersey and elsewhere:

The usual warnings have been fast and furious since last week. Tornadoes strafed the national beltline — through Kansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, even reaching Northwest Jersey — and raised the yearly death toll to 38. Floods are inundating Oklahoma, Arkansas and Iowa. The Gulf Coast region shudders with the start of another hurricane season.

Tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes--Oh My! Tornadoes in NJ, oh my--except that tornadoes are not uncommon in NJ. We’ve gotten to the point that routine weather events are peddled as “proof” of climate change, which is automatically assumed to mean impending disaster.

So President Trump decided this would be a good time to stifle research on the long-term impact of climate change, notably the catastrophic events that will result from it.

Get that? “Will”--not may. In fact, Trump’s policies on climate and energy are among his best. He’s trying to adjust our government’s policies to the actual facts, not the mythologies of the Leftist political climate establishment. Roger Pielke Jr. is a scientist who has studied the issue of weather disasters and climate change. All of the available data from both private and government studies “don’t support [politicized] claims that the rising costs of climate disaster are due in any part to human influence on climate.” Nor, “based on the current expectations of the climate science community, . . . there is presently very little basis for expecting that changes in climate will lead to a discernible increase in the costs, severity, or frequency of disasters any time soon.” [page 6-7]

As is common among the climate Left, the Star-Ledger smears distinguished scientists like Princeton's William Happer as a "denialist crank" rather than consider what he actually has to contribute to the issue. I posted these comments, expanded and slightly edited for clarity:

But what are the ‘denialists’ actually saying? What do they say that the smear-mongers don’t want you to know? If you look behind that smear, you find a mountain of research by thousands of scientists and institutions giving us the truth: There is no “climate crisis.” Industrial progress ended it. There is no evidence of a destructive  increase in extreme weather or climate damage. Human activity is likely contributing to the changing climate, but current climate change is well within the range of natural variability.

And the facts back the “deniers”—the skeptics of climate catastrophism. The summaries of the IPCC and the NCA are written by political hacks doing the bidding of a statist political agenda. They distort facts from their own reports.

When every routine weather event, such as the tornado, is peddled as “evidence”—when you hear garbage like “Trump’s strategy [is] to make the country uninhabitable”—you know the catastrophist statists are getting desperate. And the Star-Ledger labels William Happer, a distinguished physicists with a long career, a “crank”?

If you care about your grandkids, you should embrace continued economic progress, not energy deprivation. You should embrace individual freedom, not the socialist agendas of the climate catastrophists. You should realize that reliable energy like fossil and nuclear are vital to human well-being, climate livability, and safety—and reject the catastrophists who want to take it way. The catastrophists do not have human well-being, or “future generations,” at heart. Get objective assessments of the facts from people like Alex Epstein, Ronald Bailey, and Roger Pielke Jr., and institutions like the NIPCC and Cato.

Government “assessments” are politicized science. It’s time to get the politics out of the science. If you are drawing conclusions on human activity and climate change without consulting the “deniers,” your opinions are worthless. Given the serious attacks on our lives, freedom, and prosperity that the climate catastrophists are proposing as policy “solutions” to their mythical “climate crisis,” it is imperative that people get the whole story by listening to what the “denialists” have to say. Science is on the denialists’--or progressive lukewarmers’--side.

Related Reading:

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Was Ayn Rand a 'Hypocrite'? Does it Matter to Objectivism?

Because Ayn Rand was horribly self interested [sic], despised poor people, reified business, wrote horribly and became the ultimate hypocrite in her twilight years when she accepted state financial aid. Her theory was very weak, philosophically poor but extremely pretentious and simply did not hold up to scrutiny whatsoever.

Zehndorfer doesn’t provide any example of “scrutiny” that Rand’s “poor” philosophy doesn’t “hold up” under. But I felt like answering, anyway.

“Ayn Rand was . . . the ultimate hypocrite in her twilight years when she accepted state financial aid.”

As a Social Security recipient who is a conscientious objector to the program, I find this highly offensive.

As far as I can tell, the “state financial aid” Rand accepted was Medicare, a coercive government program that she, like everyone else, was and is forced to pay into, under threat of being dragged off in handcuffs and thrown into a prison cell for tax evasion. So accepting promised benefits of a coercive government program one is forced to pay for, even if morally opposed to the program, is not hypocrisy. It is justice. There is no moral conflict there. If you paid for it, you’re entitled to it, no ideological test required.

The opposite view focuses only on the benefits, while dishonestly ignoring the taxes. Since we are forced into Medicare and Social Security, we are entitled to the promised benefits for the same reason we are entitled to get out wallets back from a street thug who robbed us at gunpoint. When it comes to forced redistribution of wealth, there is no essential difference between turning over your wallet to the thug to avoid being shot or turning over your money to the tax collector to avoid being jailed.

The hypocrite accusation is a sleazy smear of anyone who advocates for a free society and rolling back the welfare state. I oppose tax-funded libraries and tax-funded state unemployment “insurance”. Am I a hypocrite for using the local public library, which my taxes pay for it? Am I a hypocrite for collecting state unemployment benefits if laid off, which my taxes pay for? The list can go on and on. It’s cruel to say it’s moral to force me to pay for the welfare state, but not moral to collect the promised benefits because I have dissenting views. The hypocrite accusation is a sneaky little gimmick to discredit and silence opponents of welfare statism.

Elesa replied, again without backup and again from ad hominem:

Hi Michael, Have you read Ayn Rands [sic] books? I have - all of them. I find her writing offensive and poorly thrown together. In the context of knowing her writing very well, my comments are ones I stand by completely. And yes, she was a hypocrite, if you know her life and philosophising well.

Elisa: Rand may have been hypocritical in some areas—I don’t know. I did not personally know her. But taking Medicare was not one of them, in my view. Yes, I have read all of Rand’s work—often more than once. But I do not conflate her personal life and opinions with her philosophy, which she called Objectivism. A philosopher's life is certainly open to examination. But I also believe a philosophy should be judged on its own merits, not the philosopher's personal behavior. (Personally, whatever her faults, I think she epitomizes the American Dream—a poor immigrant making something of her life.)

I have also read many Objectivist critiques. I believe I have a good grasp of Objectivism and many of the arguments against, and I find Objectivism to be a great guide to live by. So, we disagree. People should not draw final conclusions based on what you or I say, though, but should read her for themselves. Her writing is plenty clear. Sincerely, Mike. [PS; I’m puzzled by your charge that Rand “despised poor people.” I know of nothing about Objectivism or of her fiction and nonfiction writings that supports that view.]

Related Reading:

My answer to QUORA: ‘Why is it so difficult for many people to understand that selfishness is the middle between altruism and selfism when reading Ayn Rand?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

QUORA: Is Ayn Rand's 'Selfishness' 'the middle between altruism and selfism?'

I posted this answer:

I think the lack of understanding stems from the deep-seated moral preconceptions most of us are inculcated with. To understand Rand’s concept of morality, “the Objectivist Ethics”, one must completely set aside the pre-conceptions about altruism and selfishness and the purpose of morality, and essentially start from scratch with a mental moral blank slate. That’s very hard to do. It was for me. It took time to grow into the understanding. My preconceived notions of altruism as the good and selfishness as evil kept getting in the way.

Once you cast aside this conventional understanding of altruism as the good and selfishness as the bad and morality as solely about how you treat others, you are on your way to understanding the Objectivist Ethics, which Rand termed rational selfishness to distinguish her reasoning from the biases of our preconceived notions.

Understanding rational selfishness is hard. But once you grasp it, a funny thing happens: It clicks for you that in many ways, you and most people live more like rationally selfish individualists than altruists—and that doing so does not require sacrificing yourself to others or sacrificing others to yourself. You realize that being rationally selfish is not only conducive to a good and flourishing life, but also conducive to mutually rewarding relationships with others; it is vital to both. Quite simply, you can’t live right without being selfish—rationally selfish. Achieving a life the best it can be is only possible to the extent that you act rationally selfish. Then it hits you: Rand didn’t so much as invent a new ethics as articulate explicitly something most of us try to be most of the time—only don’t know it and don’t see it as virtuous. She just taught us how to be properly selfish and that it is good, thus removing the guilt of living for ourselves.

However, it’s not only a matter of not understanding. I’m convinced there are people for whom understanding Rand is not the problem. There are people who simply like the conventional view that altruism is good and selfishness is bad, because it gives them a rationalization to use other people as means to their own ends. After all, if living for others is the ideal, then why not be “others,” and demand that they live for me? Why be immoral and selfishly keep what I earn for myself? Why not take the altruists at their word? If modern moralists are right, then my needs grant me a moral entitlement to other people’s lives and property, which is their duty to provide. The conventional view of morality is tailor-made for the unscrupulous—the greedsters and predators and socialists—and they take full advantage of it.

As to the question, I looked up “selfism” in my 1979 Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. The definition at that time, when Rand was still alive, is simply “absolute selfishness. [rare.]”—whatever that means. I don’t remember Rand ever using the term selfism in her writings, perhaps because it’s so vague. Anyway, I can see why someone could think of Rand’s selfishness as a middle between altruism and selfism. But I don’t think that’s accurate. If “absolute selfism” means exploiting or sacrificing others to self, then it is merely the flip side of the altruist coin, which calls for sacrifice of self to others. Rational selfishness stands against both, instead calling for non-sacrificial, win-win relationships based on trade.

Related Reading:

Why be moral? Your life depends on it!—Jaana Woiceshyn: “To say that many people are confused about morality is an understatement. Yet, our lives depend on getting morality right.”

Ilene Skeen’s answer, which I “upvoted.”

Related Viewing:

Yaron Brook Responds to Ben Shapiro's view of Objectivism
: Regarding altruism, trade, happiness, rational selfishness, and hedonism.