Farewell to the Guardian

1009606_10201551307167918_2091248374_o“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” The authorship of this inspirational quote is hotly contested, but it is most frequently attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It doesn’t really matter. It’s the sentiment that counts, and I hope the author was right: For several years, I have thought about writing a book, and the ink is finally hitting the page.

But there are only so many hours in a day. Some things we must do, others we would like to do. In the former category is my full-time job, running a warehouse. The latter category—the things I like to do—includes writing of several varieties, and a bit of tutoring in English and civics.

Scribbling for and editing The Greensboro Guardian has been not only thoroughly enjoyable, but also, in a sense, important: I am proud of the fact that we have provided a forum for a perspective often omitted from public affairs. But the GG is also quite time-consuming, and something has to give. Consequently, for several months, at least, the Guardian will be dormant.

I extend my gratitude to those of you who helped establish and sustain the Guardian: Addison Riddleberger, Bob and Jean Blasingame, Tim Dunkin, Ada Fisher, Bill Heasley, and, last but certainly not least, Joe Guarino. I also thank you, the readers from all points along the philosophical spectrum, who comprised our core audience.

Dr. Guarino, by the way, has launched his own blog, which you will find here: http://triadconservative.typepad.com/about.html. Joe is a superb writer, an authority on local and state issues, and of course, a pro-life, small-government, constitutional conservative. I trust you will visit him often.

For a quarter-century, I have written and edited book reviews and political commentary. I’ll continue to address public affairs when the urge is irresistible, but it’s time to take a step back from the political realm. Practical politics is an infuriating business to read and write about; still more revolting is the ignorance and apathy of so many of our fellow citizens. There is only so much one can do, and frankly, I am weary.

Of the book, for the moment I will only say that it is not what you might expect. In fact, it is not political at all. A select few of those nearest and dearest to me have read the first chapter, but they are sworn to secrecy! I hope to have it published next year.

Cordially,

Charles Davenport Jr.

Photo courtesy of New Compass Productions: http://newcompasspro.com/

Thank C4GC for your tax cut

Dr. Joe GuarinoThe passage of the county budget last night with a small tax cut was great news for Guilford County citizens and taxpayers. 

Even though the commissioners’ meeting ended relatively early in the evening, the Friday morning News and Record did not contain many details of the final budget agreement.  Presumably, more information will be forthcoming.

But let’s take account of where we were previously; and where we are now.

A short time ago, the county was facing a budget deficit in the range of tens of millions of dollars.  There was a recalcitrant desire to spend more bond monies, and even to float additional bond issues before the voters.  There also had been a tendency on the Democrat-led county commissioners’ board to raise taxes nearly every year even though our local economy had been in decline for more than a decade.  We were intentionally driving away jobs, in a self-perpetuating cycle, because of special interest Democratic politics.

That is where we were.

Last year, we had some elections after redistricting had taken place.

The critical race to win pitted incumbent Paul Gibson against Jeff Phillips.  Gibson was an entrenched, tax-and-spend liberal.  Phillips, by contrast, was affiliated with Conservatives for Guilford County (C4GC).  It was a very difficult race for Phillips to win.

Phillips worked his campaign smart and hard.  He had an energetic team of volunteers– many affiliated with C4GC– and they got the message out.  Phillips won, and the county commissioners’ board would now have a Republican majority.

Let’s make no mistake about it.  If there was no C4GC, there almost certainly would be no Republican majority.

But incredibly, some regular Republicans in the local party were actively working to hurt and defeat C4GC candidates last year.  Go figure.

Observers might question whether more cuts might have been possible in the new budget, or if a bigger tax cut could have been achieved.  And those are fair questions.  Perhaps during upcoming weeks, we will learn more about the dynamics among the various commissioners that led to the budget agreement that ultimately passed.

But let’s make no mistake about it.  Where we are now is much better than where we were.

Plaudits to Linda Shaw for having the wisdom to allow Jeff Phillips to lead the budget process.  Three cheers for all the Republican commissioners who hung together enough to achieve what they did.

Kudos to Rep. John Blust and Sen. Phil Berger for pushing through the redistricting of the county commissioners’ seats.

And a standing “O” for Jeff Phillips whose listening ability, interpersonal skills, persistent research and work ethic were critical elements that allowed the process to succeed.

But we would be entirely remiss if we did not thank the founders, leaders and workers within C4GC, all of whom deserve a load of credit.  This moment is theirs.

Dr. Joe Guarino is the Guardian’s senior columnist.

Reusable grocery bags: Filthy and counterproductive

“The Los Angeles City Council gave initial approval Tuesday to an ordinance banning stores from providing customers single-use plastic bags. It would also require stores to charge 10 cents each for paper bags. The ordinance, which requires a final vote next week, would take effect next year, starting with large stores and then expanding to small stores. Los Angeles County and cities including San Francisco and Santa Monica already have bans.” – New York Times Digest 06/19/2013

Much has been written about the plastic and paper bag vs. the reusable bag. Which is truly of lower price and cost?
Ponder this slightly different argument for a moment regarding paper/plastic bags vs. the reusable bag:

(1) plenty of legislation spawning mountains of regulation dictate food preparation and its processes along with packaging, distribution, storage, etc.,

(2) the regulations assure, in a nut shell, is that spic-and-span cleanliness will occur in the process, and

(3) the spic-and-span will be inspected to boot.

Hence we have thousands of food stuffs that go through tens of thousands of processes and we end with the items delivered to their final destination, the grocery store, all done so in a very spic-and-span fashion.

The grocery store itself is inspected and other spic-and-span procedures exist: deli workers, for instance, wear hair nets and plastic gloves. Anti- bacterial wipes are available for patrons to wipe off germs and such from grocery cart handles.

Hence from beginning to end point, a creation of spic-and-span exists at enormous price and cost.

Now consider the reusable bag. It is full of germs, dust, dirt, etc. It has been in the trunk of vehicles, on the floor, stored away in a closet, as well as suffering from leaky food items such as meats and poultry, etc., etc. The bag itself would need laundered after each use and stored in a sterile location so that, once the bag enters the world of spic-and-span, it, too, would be spic-and-span.

Therefore, the entire process is all for naught if enormous amounts of resources are allocated to the spic-and-span treatment of food, yet a constant group of consumers enter the spic-and-span environment with germ-laden bags to remove spic-and-span food stuffs from shelves, deli-bakery departments and produce departments. Could one become more counter- productive?

Moreover, does one then regulate the reusable bag, at additional price and cost? Does one then require that the reusable bag be spic-and-span? (Count on it being regulated.)
 
Why the complete counterproductive behavior? Why expend resources to merely negate the expending of resources? One might find grand insight in a phenomenon known as “pathological altruism.” Huh? What in the devil is that?
 
“A working definition of a pathological altruist then might be
a person who sincerely engages in what he or she intends to be
altruistic acts but who (in a fashion that can be reasonably anticipated)
harms the very person or group he or she is trying to
help; or a person who, in the course of helping one person or
group, inflicts reasonably foreseeable harm to others beyond the
person or group being helped; or a person who in a reasonably
anticipatory way becomes a victim of his or her own altruistic
Actions.” (1)
 
Who in the devil might comprise pathological altruists?
 
“Let us step back briefly to explore how pathologies of altruism
arise at an individual level. Naturally, the small percentage of
toddlers and young children who show little concern for others
seem predisposed for antisocial behavior as they mature. On
the other hand, children who manifest altruistic behavior are
generally well-adjusted. However, there is a small group of pathologically
altruistic children who rate high on altruistic behavior
but low on self-actualizing behavior such as showing pleasure
at success or doing something on their own. For such children,
a psychological cost can arise even at an early age, as shown by
high scores in emotional symptoms, including unhappiness, worries,
fear, nervousness, and somatization.” (2)
 
Notes
 
(1) Concepts and implications of altruism bias and pathological altruism, Barbara Oakley, PNAS Early Edition, 02/14/2013, pg. 1
 
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/06/04/1302547110.full.pdf
 
(2) Concepts and implications of altruism bias and pathological altruism, Barbara Oakley, PNAS Early Edition, 02/14/2013, pg. 3

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/06/04/1302547110.full.pdf

 

Bill Heasley, a local economist, writes an occasional column for the Guardian.

Peeples Wants Unfair Taxes: The Week, June 17, 2013

Dr. Joe GuarinoGreensboro’s religious left has a very deep bench.  The latest certifiable member to step up to the plate is the Rev. Julie Peeples, who states that “ordinary North Carolinians are questioning the fairness– the morality– of giving tax breaks to the very wealthiest among us while increasing the tax burden on the middle class and the poor.”

Rev. Peeples might be unaware of some unfortunate statistics.  The North Carolina Comprehensive Annual Financial Report states that the top 6% of all income earners pay 46% of the personal income taxes in NC; and that the top 19% pay 71%  (HT: Civitas).  The left likes to mouth platitudes about equality and fairness.  But in fact, they don’t want people treated equally, and they don’t want the tax system to be fair.  The want to keep it tilted severely so that relatively few bear most of the costs.  I would suggest that Peeples check with the many unemployed and underemployed in Greensboro, especially among the poor and minority groups, and ask them how the current tax system is helping them to secure stable, gainful employment.

Moral Mondays: The MSM is Sold

The News and Record and the rest of the state’s MSM continue to be enthralled with the Moral Mondays illegal protests, and to be convinced of the representativeness of the individual protesters.  Once again, Civitas comes to the rescue with the relevant facts.  The typical protesters, we learn, are predominantly over 55 years old; live in the Triangle region; and are white collar workers who are clergy, educators or non-profit workers.  They are overwhelmingly white, and overwhelmingly Democratic/Libertarian.

This largely dispels the illusion that the state’s media/left complex has been attempting to create– that the protests represent a broad cross-section of North Carolina residents.

Meanwhile, various Republicans in Raleigh have issued statements critical of the protests.  The predictable response from the corrupt media is to attempt to impose a speech code; and to sanction them for saying things the media elites regard as impermissible.  It is very difficult to remember such a coordinated response directed at democratic socialists when they make colorful statements.

I participate every year in a very large protest that occurs in Greensboro — the Life Chain event.  It’s quite interesting that Life Chain never receives the loving, saturation-level coverage that the Moral Mondays have attracted in Raleigh.

The Strain of Special Interest Money

Meanwhile, the News and Record reports that Skip Alston has been missing the Moral Mondays protests in Raleigh ostensibly because of a herniated disc in his spine– as it simultaneously reports the besainted Carolyn Coleman attending the protests, and getting arrested in a wheelchair.  Of course, Mr. Alston was knocked out of the chairmanship of the state NAACP years ago by Rev. Barber, who is now leading the protests. 

Perhaps it is was the strain of seeking so much special interest money– for the museum and the shopping center– that put so much pressure on the discs in Mr. Alston’s spine.

In any event, the News and Record now reports prominently about some private fundraising for the museum.  Good– that is the right way to do it.  Let those who support the current structure and management at the civil rights museum fund its operation.  It is wrong for the Melderec crowd to require that the rest of us pay for it.

“Enrichment Regions”: More Unfairness and Inequality

We now hear Guilford County Schools Superintendent Mo Green bemoan the possibility that he will have to discontinue “enrichment regions” if budget cuts proceed.  This brings attention to the fact that rampant inequalities and disparities exist in the school system with regard to funding.  Some educational programs in the system receive huge amounts of per-pupil funding; others receive much less.  Of course, the progressives in charge of the system claim to advocate for fairness and equality.  But they don’t even think twice about it when they assure that some students are more equal than others with respect to funding.

I hope that the five Republican county commissioners stick together as the county budget process comes to completion.  They absolutely must put aside their personal prerogatives and spending priorities in order to achieve a good result for all of the county’s taxpayers.

Aiming at Target Practice: the GPD

Once again, the usual suspects point fingers at the Greensboro Police Department, and make accusations of racism and wrongful behavior.  At issue are a couple of incidents that occurred in east Greensboro.  Interestingly, the commanding officer of the department’s Eastern Division is Captain James Hinson– one of the leading characters in the GPD Fiasco.  It would seem that, if the department erred, then Hinson would be held accountable.  But we, of course, hear none of that in the media accounts.

One of the incidents occurred when police responding to a noise complaint related to a wild party involving A&T college students.  Somehow, it is hard to believe that a bad scene would have arisen had the students been cooperative and respectful when the police arrived. 

The fact is that police officers enter into the lion’s den nearly every day, and are subjected to false accusations perpetrated by those who resent them.  But of course, the grievance-mongers attract considerable media/left attention regardless of the merits.

Progress in Raleigh

It looks like the most recent tax proposal advanced by Phil Berger and the North Carolina Senate is a real winner.  While it does not eliminate the income tax completely, it results in some dramatic cuts in tax rates.  And it will hopefully drive spending cuts as the years unfold.

The usual media voices are critical of the plan to make judicial races partisan, and to eliminate public funding.  Unfortunately, the ugly reality of liberal judicial activism makes such steps necessary.  If the academy and the legal profession and the media had guarded better against such abuses, of the judicial system, a traditional partisan election framework would be utterly unnecessary.  But unfortunately, the judicial system has been debased; and needs to be cleansed.

Christian Schools: Turn Down the Opportunity Scholarships

The General Assembly, however, appears poised to create Opportunity Scholarships for poor public school students to attend private schools.  It is my hope that Christian schools and Catholic schools will turn down this money.  Once they become increasingly hooked on government money, they open the door for the political left to dictate how they are permitted to instruct students.  Big mistake.

Dr. Joe Guarino is the Guardian’s senior columnist.

A path to citizenship? No problem

DavenportOn Thursday came news that 16 local schools will offer free breakfast and lunch to needy children. Feeding hungry kids is a commendable enterprise, but it is “free” only in the sense that the happy recipients’ parents don’t have to pay for it. A quote from the News & Record article: “The service is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program.” And where does the USDA get the money?

#     #     #

Among those arrested in Raleigh last week was County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman. But don’t be alarmed (or ashamed): You see, among radical left-wing agitators, a lengthy arrest record is a notable achievement. Accordingly, Miss Coleman attempted to get arrested at a school board meeting in Raleigh a few years ago: “At the time,” we learn from the N&R, “Coleman said she intended to be arrested while protesting the [Wake County] board’s effective resegregation of the school district. But police decided not to arrest her.” Perhaps Miss Coleman should have assaulted a non-cooperative (obviously racist) police officer.

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House speaker John Boehner reportedly will vote for a farm bill that looms before the House. The bill requires the expenditure of nearly $100 billion a year, 80 percent of which goes to food stamps, “which have more than doubled in cost since 2008” (N&R, 6/13). Why, then, is Mr. Boehner supporting the bill? Expanding the NannyState is the task of progressives. And why, under the watch of the nation’s “first African-American President,” have so many millions more citizens enrolled in the food stamp program? Is it possible that liberal policies are a failure? Nah.

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In Friday’s N&R came a startling revelation from one Derrick Smith, who teaches political science at N.C. A&T. According to Mr. Smith, “there is a culture of oppression” in the Greensboro Police Department. He didn’t bother to provide any evidence of the claim, but evidence abounds that a culture of racial paranoia exists at A&T (and most other college campuses).

#     #     #

Friday’s N&R also featured a “Counterpoint” by Sue Jezorek, whose missives are reliably left-of-center. Surprisingly, though, I found myself in agreement with most of her points on immigration reform. For instance, Jezorek writes that reform’s top priority should be “an emphasis on keeping families together.” I agree wholeheartedly. It is tragic when family members selfishly abandon not only parents, children, and siblings, but also their own nations, only to break the immigration laws of neighboring countries. Those families should indeed remain intact–in Mexico.

Miss Jezorek and I also agree on her second point, which is “a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented persons already in the country.” Fortunately, the path is clear: illegal immigrants simply return to their nations of origin, where they are citizens. That was easy.

Incredibly, Miss Jezorek and I concur yet again, in our belief that immigration reforms should not be, as she writes, “dependent in increased border security and militarization.” Indeed. Why stop the inflow of “undocumented persons” when, instead, we could leave the flood gates wide open and perpetually deal with an increasingly complex problem? Stopping the invasion from our south would be, like, a really dumb idea. I’m delighted that Miss Jezorek and I have engaged in this constructive dialogue, cooperated in a bipartisan fashion, compromised, and found common ground.

#     #     #

From today’s N&R we learn that there has been a bit of unpleasantness brought about by the speaking of alien tongues at Whole Foods grocery stores. A couple of the chain’s Spanish-speaking employees have reportedly been suspended (with pay) for a day. (Being suspended with pay is the same thing as a vacation, isn’t it?) Whole Foods has issued the obligatory apology and revised its employee handbook, which now advises associates to “make sure you are sensitive to others who may want to join your conversation or ask you a question. If needed, switch to a common language to be inclusive and respectful.”

Historically, our common language has been English; there was no need to “switch to” any other. As a rule, the native-born speak English, and so do immigrants who want to become fully-engaged citizens. Newcomers who become fluent in English also make more money. I would suggest, then, that the most effective means of being “inclusive and respectful” (toward the native-born and immigrants alike) is to speak English.

Charles Davenport Jr.

Raleigh Republicans adopting statist model for Medicaid reform

Dr. Joe GuarinoThe McCrory Administration has advanced the broad outlines of its approach to reform Medicaid in the state of North Carolina.  It relies on the creation of three or four private “entities” that will accept financial risk, and administer health care for the state’s Medicaid beneficiaries. 

The approach is called “capitation,” which means that the state of North Carolina will pay these entities a flat dollar amount annually for each Medicaid enrollee.  It is then expected that the entities will manage their relationships with physicians and other health care providers to assure quality and cost-effectiveness.

At least, that is the theory.  It sounds like a classic managed care approach.

But there is much more.  We are hearing about establishing a “medical home” for patients where they will get precisely what the entity thinks they need to get.  There are discussions about reimbursing providers based on outcomes (or based on performance according to some predetermined criteria).  There are discussions about using “metrics” so that providers can be rewarded or penalized.

These are all current buzzwords.  These are bandwagons being created in political and regulatory and administrative communities that are largely untested– but which many are proclaiming to be the magic bullet to solve the problem of rising health care costs.

What is the problem with this approach?

The concepts being floated by Republicans in Raleigh are almost precisely like those associated with the Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) created under Obamacare.  It is almost precisely like the approach that Medicare will be taking at the federal level under Obamacare.

This particular matrix advocated by the McCrory administration almost assuredly will require that physicians and other health care providers use electronic health records so that confidential patient information can be shared automatically with third parties.  It necessarily is a statist model– but it uses the Obamacare-like private “entities” as proxy organizations to achieve governmental control over health care decisions.  The provider is thus expected to perform in order to get paid– jumping through various hoops established by the private organization that had been anointed by state government.

There are alternatives to this model.

The state of Indiana established medical savings accounts in its Medicaid program.  We are hearing nothing about that kind of approach here.

We could explore reducing eligibility for Medicaid.  Recall, for instance, that eligibility of minors for Medicaid in North Carolina is quite liberal.  It merely displaces group health insurance in many cases. 

We could also look at increasing co-payments and/or deductibles.  We have heard nothing about these possibilities– at least as of yet.

We could also incentivize family formation– and/or penalize family breakdown– in the context of the program.  Single-parent families are a huge driver of Medicaid costs.  But we have heard nothing about the possibility of addressing this structural problem that feeds the behemoth.

The Civitas Institute had a great article posted last year that discussed all the services covered under Medicaid that are optional according to the federal government.  These optional services cost $4.4 billion during 2010-2011; and include the following:

Prescription drugs

Community alternative programs

Mental health

Intermediate care facilities

Personal Care

Dental

Physical, occupational and speech therapies

Private duty nursing

Hospice care

Case management

Transportation

Orthotics and prosthetics

Adult eye exams

Podiatry

Adult visual aids

Chiropractic

Hearing Aids

We have heard virtually nothing from Raleigh regarding attempts to cut or eliminate the services that are considered to be optional under Medicaid.

The Civitas article is found here: http://www.nccivitas.org/2012/medicaid-frills-cost-nc-billions-but-ga-may-shy-away-from-cuts/

So let’s sum it up. 

Instead of relying upon obvious routes to achieve cost economies, reduce dependency and institute free market principles, the Republicans in Raleigh appear poised to establish a framework that imposes proxy statist control over physicians and other providers throughout the state.  As noted above, it is a framework that largely mimics the Accountable Care Organizations created under Obamacare.

Ordinarily, we would expect the health care community to provide principled opposition to such an overall approach.  But that is not necessarily forthcoming in the manner that it should.  Hospital systems and large physician groups are itching to get into the business of creating ACO’s or “entities” or whatever you want to call them.  And the North Carolina Medical Society has been co-opted by leaders who are quite eager to jump aboard some of the aforementioned bandwagons that involve state control over private markets.

I think we can do better than an Obamacare-equivalent for our Medicaid program in the state of North Carolina.  I hope Republican legislators will reconsider this approach.

Dr. Joe Guarino is the Guardian’s senior columnist.

The NSA data mining matters

It’s starting to seem that with every news cycle, a new Obama scandal is unearthed and brought to the light of day.  Any one of the many scandals that have been revealed would be disturbing to anybody with any sense of fair play or desire for good government.  All of them together are making it apparent to the American people that our government is no longer merely corrupt, unethical, and of questionable constitutionality, but has crossed the line into blatant lawlessness, a frank disregard for the rule of law and open contempt for our organic and foundational law.

But it’s not just the Obama administration that we’re talking about here.  Much of this current scandal is also applicable to, and indeed finds its root within, the Bush administration as well.  What’s ironic is that this lawlessness has been made possible, in part, by all these “law and order conservatives” out there.  You know the type I’m talking about: the people who think that talking about constitutional rights is a codeword for “supporting terrorism;” the folks who automatically trust that everything the government does is right, and who think that there could never, ever possibly be a conspiracy against the liberties of the American people.  In short, the Right’s own version of the “low information voter,” the type of “conservative” that the Founding Fathers warned us about as a threat to our liberties.  Thanks to them, our government has been enabled to go beyond its legitimate, constitutionally granted powers and into the realm of the panopticon state, all for the supposed purpose of “keeping us safe.” 

I am all for using the technology that we have to do the job of keeping America safe – by which I mean, applying it to hostile foreigners and their contacts and/or compatriots in America for whom we have reasonable cause to be suspicious.  But again, foreigners residing in other countries don’t have American constitutional rights to begin with, and Americans who are potentially collaborating with them can be dealt with via entirely constitutional means – the 4th amendment does not prohibit all wiretapping, searching, and seizure, it merely requires that these activities be conducted under specific, relevant circumstances.  Police agencies have to have a reasonable cause for suspecting that someone is engaged in illegal activity and need to be able to convince a disinterested judge to allow them to search and seize what they say they need to so as to find the specific evidence they believe will exist.  If the police and other security agencies are competent at their jobs, they should be able to do this without recourse to unconstitutional “fishing expeditions” into everyone else’s private information.  The problem comes when they do this, and then try to justify it with nebulous “safety” arguments.            

Frankly, if I have to choose between the Constitution or the “safety” that comes from an omniscient, omnipotent state – I choose the Constitution.  This should be a false dichotomy between which we should not have to choose, since we should be able to find a middle ground where security agencies can operate within the Constitution and still protect us from foreign and domestic threats.    But if we’re going to be placed in such a situation, I’m willing to take my chances with the Constitution. 

Of course, the NSA surveillance scandal has provided ample opportunities for partisan hacks in both parties to distract from the real issue – that of the federal government violating the 4th amendment and treating every single person in America as if they were potential terrorist threats who need to be recorded, tracked, and watched “for our own good” – and to use this revelation as an excuse to score some points on the other guys.  “Obama did it!”  “Bush did it too!” “Nyah nyah!”  “Waaah!”  In fact, we’re finding out that those on the Left, who hithertofore never found a wiretap that they agreed with, are suddenly on-board with the destruction of our privacy rights.  The fact of the matter is that BOTH the Republicans and the Democrats are responsible for helping to make total surveillance of all Americans a reality.  Yes, the implementation and reach of these programs have apparently accelerated on Obama’s watch, but Bush put much of this into place during his tenure.  Indeed, I was hearing about Total Information Awareness (TIA), an integral part of the US government’s spying on its own citizens, as early as 2004.  Members of both parties are to blame, just as members of both parties today are shamelessly trying to justify illegally spying on the American people. 

The bad arguments abound, too.  If you start squawking about “the Constitution,” that makes you a “Ron Paulian” – as if that would automatically discredit the importance of the spying revelation – who obviously doesn’t understand the existential threat we face from terrorists lurking around every corner.  I think I’ve made it abundantly clear in the past, however, that I’m not a Ron Paul supporter.  However, if we’re to the point where Ron Paul supporters are the only people who care about our constitutional rights, then we might as well pack it in, because we no longer have what we’re supposedly defending from the terrorists. 

Then, of course, are the efforts underway by elements from both sides of the aisle to undercut the impact of the NSA revelations by shooting the messenger.  Apparently Edward Snowden (the whistleblower who broke his story to the Guardian) exaggerated his income during his tenure at Booz Allen Hamilton, and some seem to think that because Glenn Greenwald (the journalist at the Guardian to whom Snowden went) is a homosexual, this means that the Snowden case is “really” about Chinese espionage and that Snowden is a Chinese agent.  All of this seems intended to cast doubt on the veracity of the information given to Greenwald by Snowden.  Of course, we should keep in mind that Snowden was not actually the first person to blow the whistle on the NSA domestic spying.  A retired NSA analyst actually tried to do so earlier, only to see the story fail to interest most of the media spear-catchers.  Further, at least two US Senators have also basically come out and said that the NSA is spying on Americans, as far as they are legally able to say without violating their own oaths of secrecy.  So yes, the information has legs, even if the people who finally got it out into the public eye are themselves a bit questionable. 

We should also note, however, that at least at the time of this writing, we don’t have any evidence that Snowden has committed treason in the “actual definition” sense of the word.  All we know is that he broke open the news of a spying program that is supposed to be used against our enemies overseas, but is also being used against the innocent population of this country as well (something which the rules governing the implementation of the NSA’s spying are said to specifically forbid).  We do not, however, know that he has given any foreign government or organization information about any of our security or intelligence resources.  Granted, this may change as time progresses, but for now, we do not know that he has.  He broke the law, and he did something the government doesn’t like, but doing things the government doesn’t like isn’t necessary treason.  Yet. 

Then you have people who argue that such broad-based NSA snooping into the emails and phone calls of every American is legal because, well, it just is.  There are rules put in place that make it legal, and the agency’s lawyers have said that such snooping doesn’t violate the Constitution, so there.  Because, as we all know, extra-constitutional administrative rules and government lawyers are a higher arbiter of what is and is not constitutional than the text of the Constitution itself is.  As with the argument that infringements on the Constitution cease to be infringements just because a judge says so, I am dubious, to say the least.  I do not hold to a gnostic view of the Constitution, after all, one which says that the meaning of the Constitution can only ever really be known by a select few “experts” who have a higher plane of knowledge than all the rest of us.  Instead, I hold to a demotic view of the Constitution which says that the average person of even marginal intelligence and sound mind can look at the plain wording of the document and understand what it means and what its intentions are. 

Naturally, the “law and order conservatives” have been trotting out several variants of the “if you’re not doing anything wrong, then you don’t have anything to worry about” argument.  Unfortunately, that way of thinking is completely backwards from the mindset of both our Constitution and traditional American common law.  The onus of proof is on the government to demonstrate that there is a sound reason to search (or in this case tap) a private citizen’s papers, property, and communications.  It is not on the citizen to have to “prove” their innocence.  The 315 million Americans who are not terrorists or terrorist supporters do not have submit to universal tracking and surveillance in order to “prove” that they’re not terrorists. 

If someone wants to make the “if you’re not doing anything wrong” argument, then let’s take it all the way, and apply it to the people making the argument.  Why not allow the government to install video cameras and microphones in every room of your house?  After all, who cares about your personal privacy, if it means there’s a googleplex-to-one chance that we might catch a terrorist some day?  Why not allow the government to send in random, armed search parties to go through your house and property whenever they feel like it?  Why not let the police root through your 13 year old daughter’s underwear drawer?  After all, citizen, you don’t want the terrorists to win…do you?

And that’s really what the crux of the issue here is – our right to privacy.  The courts were correct, back in the 1960s and 1970s, to affirm the right to privacy as drawn from the Bill of Rights, even if they were incorrect in later applying this to the abortion issue, specifically (abortion is no more a “private” act than is murdering a houseguest sitting in the privacy of my own home would be).  One of the fundamental liberties of every individual is to have their own affairs remain just and only that – their own affairs.  What you and I and anyone else do when we are not in the public sphere is nobody else’s business, so long as we are not hurting someone else or imposing it onto other people.  This remains true even when we don’t like or agree with what they are doing. 

That’s why we have the 4th amendment.  It is specifically there to prevent the government from imposing itself into your private arena, your res privata, and exposing them or using them against you at some later date, without having a very good reason for doing so.  The mere suspicion that “somebody, somewhere” might be up to something, so we have to keep fishing until we find it is not enough.  It’s what this amendment is designed to protect against.  In short, it’s meant to keep the government from treating you and me like criminal suspects when it has no actual evidence that would justify this. 

And it’s shameful the way we have let the government get away with reducing what qualifies as “privacy” until it encompasses nothing more than the four walls of your home and the inside of your car.  Even if you have a conversation in a public place with another person that both of you intend to be private (whispering, sitting at a private table, etc.), it doesn’t count as private.  If you buy something at a store, your transaction is not considered private.  If you drive anywhere, you can have a GPS stuck to your car without knowing it, because that’s not “private.”  Privacy cannot simply be negated by “being in a public place.”  This is ludicrous.  Privacy is a function of the inherent right of a person not to have their affairs aired to everyone else, and especially to the government – not of what physical location they happen to be at the moment.  Just because someone is at a public place like a restaurant or a city park should not mean that they are considered to be in “the public sphere” and therefore waive their 4th amendment rights simply by being there.

It’s a shame that more Americans are not bothered by the rampant intrusions against our 4th amendment liberties – and these go far beyond the NSA spying we’ve only just learned about.  Have we reached a point where the Constitution is optional, not just in the eyes of the government (which has held that view for decades), but also the average American?  I sincerely hope not.

Tim Dunkin is a Guardian columnist.

Extremists, compromise, and sameness

“It is no less arbitrary and dogmatic to declare a priori that “the truth lies somewhere in between.” It may. It may not. On some highly specific issue, it may lie entirely on one side – and on another issue, with the other side. On still other issues, it may in fact lie in between.” – Thomas Sowell (1)

From the end of the Eisenhower Administration through the Goldwater campaign Milton Friedman, among others, argued that one could not tell the difference between the two major parties (which is still an argument today). The argument maintained that the parties seemed the same, with the same basic themes/policy, and merely personalities were elected to continue basically the same policy. (2)

With the Goldwater campaign Friedman’s argument came to partial fruition as the Republicans re-examined their first principles and rearticulated their position as clearly different than that of the Democrats. The “new difference” was labeled in many quarters, including Republican quarters, as “extremist.” Keep this in mind for a moment.

With the election of Reagan, Friedman’s argument of articulating a clear difference and direction came to fruition. Reagan clearly led a party that delineated a position much different than that of the opposition (Democrats). Reagan was labeled as crazy, senile, a war-monger, and an extremist. Keep this point in mind as well.

With the 2010 elections came the advent of the Tea Party. Friedman’s argument surfaced again, and likely was closer to Friedman’s vision than even the Reagan years. How so? Many basic principles of Friedman’s argument appear in the Tea Party platform/agenda. Once again comes the label “extremists.” Yet another episode to keep in mind.

Consider this oft pointed-to observation: Democrats denote “compromise” as actually meaning agreeing with them. Democrats banter about “compromise” when in fact, it is really an argument about agreeing with them, and has absolutely nothing to do with “compromise.”

Hence, in a historical perspective “extremist” in conjunction with “compromise” is nothing more than an implicit and explicit yearning to return to the status quo: parties with the same basic themes/policy with merely personalities being elected to continue basically the same policy. It is a want by one party for the other party to be the same—the same as before. It is the arbitrary and dogmatic yearning for all to agree that the answer always lies on one side of an issue, and all should always agree.
 
Notes:
(1)   Thomas Sowell, page 215, A Conflict of Visions.
(2) Angus Bergin, The Great Persuasion, Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression, pg. 198, pgs. 200 – 202, pg. 207.

Bill Heasley, a local economist, writes an occasional column for the Guardian.

The speech Romney never gave, but should have

I know that many of you have concerns about voting for me, so I’d like to address those concerns. First and foremost, yes, I am a wealthy man. That being said, when did being successful through honest, hard work become a negative? I did not steal to become rich, I did not lie or cheat; I worked for what I have. I did not inherit my wealth. Yes, my father left me an inheritance, but what you may not know is that I donated every penny of that inheritance to charity. Finally, you must realize that there are no poor candidates in this race. The system unfortunately necessitates that a person have wealth to get elected. Is this the way it ideally should be? Certainly not, but that is what we have to work with for now. Knowing that you have to choose from a field of millionaires, how much sense does it really make to single me out as ‘rich’? We who are running are all wealthy, but I am the most charitable and the most forthcoming. I have released my tax records as requested; where are Mr. Obama’s? 

Now back to your concerns: No my track record is not the most conservative. It is true, I have in the past supported gay marriage, abortion, and government health care. Why did I support those things? Simply put, because it was what the people who put me into office wanted from me. I was elected to serve them and it was my first duty to listen to what they wanted and to give them those things. Now in retrospect I must admit that, as I have matured, I have come to believe that abortion is wrong and I regret having supported it. But who among us has never been wrong? I have made my peace with God; I have repented and been forgiven. 

Now, speaking of God, let me talk about my Mormon faith. Do I plan to bring my faith with me into office? Certainly I do and no man can have true faith and not have it color the way he interacts with the world. That is what being a Christian is all about. Yes, I am a Christian. Perhaps I am not what some of you think of as a ‘mainstream Christian,’ but a Christian nonetheless. To be Christian means to be Christ-like, and I do my best to be that. I am a faithful husband, a devoted father, a humble and fair leader, an honest businessman, a hard worker and a charitable giver. I will be bringing that kind of character to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and if that is the kind of man you are looking for, vote for me. 

WHY DIDN’T HE SAY THESE THINGS???? WHAT WOULD YOUR REACTION HAVE BEEN IF HE HAD???

Susan V. Brown resides in Florida, and writes an occasional column for the Guardian.

Prostitution at Grimsley High: The Week, 06/10/13

Dr. Joe GuarinoA news article reported this last week an incident involving prostitution occurring at Grimsley High School in Greensboro.  Three young teen students were involved.  One local editorialist openly questioned how this could possibly happen. 

Now, it would be difficult for us to attribute the incident to the fact that the Guilford County Schools now assign pornographic reading materials to students.  However, it is entirely plausible to blame such an incident on the corrosive cultural, legal and political changes that have occurred over the last half-century.  After all, we reap what has been previously sown.

Redistricting Testimony

Legislative redistricting in the state of North Carolina is the subject of a court trial that received testimony over the past week from Congressman Mel Watt and former Greensboro Councilwoman Goldie Wells.  The thrust of their testimony?  That the Republicans had packed too many Democratic voters and African-Americans into too few districts.  But the big message they were trying to impart was that African-American candidates no longer need this kind of assistance to get elected.  It is fascinating to note that the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized by Congress as recently as 2006. Funny, but I do not recall either Watt or Wells taking a stand against the reauthorization at that time.  The bottom line for them appears to be to elect liberal Democrats– and not necessarily to elect African-Americans.

Robocalls on the County Budget

The Guilford Board of County Commissioners had its budget hearing Thursday night.  It was reported that, during the run-up to the meeting, School Superintendent Mo Green had recorded and disseminated a robocall urging recipients to contact commissioners in support of a big budget increase for the school system.  Of course, we cannot recall his ever having done this when Democrats controlled the board– even when they had held his budget constant.  Green probably should be terminated for this robocall stunt; but he likely will be protected by the “non-partisan” local school board.

Report on 401(k) for County Employees

The News and Record had a report this week highlighting the fact that county employees’ 401(k) retirement program is at risk of being eliminated with the new budget.  This article is a great example of how media bias shapes the perception of issues.  Nowhere was it reported that county employees have access to other retirement plans including the state pension system; a 457 plan; and, of course, Social Security.  If readers knew of the lavish retirement benefits to which these employees have access, their opinion on the 401(k) issue might be a bit different.

The city seems to do nothing right

Observing the actions of the city of Greensboro and its elected council members is an act of masochism:

1. The city engages in a brazen abuse of its eminent domain powers by taking over the old Cascade Saloon for purposes of economic development. 

2. Mayor Perkins and Councilman Kee trumpet the Greensboro Aquatic Center as a huge success, implicitly denouncing those who opposed it– even though the center operates at a massive annual operating deficit; and even though the local swim community has been shut out of adequate practice time. 

3. Council members Perkins, Johnson, Kee, Matheny and Wilkins vote to extend a sweetheart deal to Skip Alston to redevelop an East Greensboro shopping center.  They did this even though Alston is a key boss in the powerful Simkins PAC, from whom many of them will be seeking an endorsement in the upcoming fall elections.

4. The coordinated city/media campaign on behalf of the Greensboro Performing Arts Center prominently celebrates the contributions pledged by several local Melderec-aligned foundations– even though they were already known to be supporters.  

5. And the council is laying the groundwork to extend quasi-permanent annual subsidies to the Civil Rights Museum despite the issues we have discussed here previously.

In the Sunday paper, local journalists ask whether our city’s poor national economic rankings even matter.  The fact is that most employers who know the truth about Greensboro’s local politics would never choose to come here.  And another unfortunate reality is that the future here for citizens– and for our kids– is not exactly bright.  Our leadership is the problem.

Trudy Wade’s Landfill Bill

The local paper has had a field day attempting to link Senator Trudy Wade’s landfill bill to a surreptitious effort to reopen the White Street Landfill.  A more defensible explanation exists.  Perhaps Ms. Wade, during the White Street episode, became aware that major problems exist in the state law that regulates landfill permitting.   These provisions unfortunately create enormous barriers to establishing and using landfills in the state of North Carolina. And perhaps she is trying to fix these provisions.  She should be thanked instead of being made the object of a smear campaign.

Culture war on the church

The local paper carried a wire service story regarding a single woman who taught at a Catholic school in the Midwest.  She became pregnant through artificial insemination, and the school terminated her because she had rebelled against church teaching.  A federal court awarded her damages.  The article did not explain the legal basis of the court decision.  But one possible culprit– the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which was passed when the Democrats had a filibuster-proof supermajority in the U.S. Senate.  (There was likely Republican support also at that time.) 

Another adverse effect should be mentioned.  Laws such as these necessitate the mainstreaming of pregnant females in public schools.  Good intentions doubtless spurred the passing of such laws; but the net effect tends to be the breakdown of the family.  This type of legislation was highly misguided. 

The media celebrates when the moral teachings of the church– and ultimately, religious liberty– are snuffed out by the government.  But they tend to ignore other stories that do not comport with their agenda. For instance, few of us heard about the recent difficulties passing gay marriage in the state of Illinois.

Obamacare lawsuit

A number of Obamacare-related lawsuits are moving through the courts– ever so slowly.  One of these was filed by the state of Oklahoma.  Why?  The Affordable Care Act does not authorize the federal government to enforce the employer mandate if there is no state-based insurance exchange.  Yet, the Obama administration is laying the groundwork to enforce the employer mandate in those states without their own exchanges.  Over the last week, the Cato Institute, National Review and the Daily Haymaker have called for the individual states to join the state of Oklahoma with its lawsuit.

I agree that the North Carolina General Assembly and the McCrory administration should take action to join this suit as soon as possible.

Dr. Joe Guarino is the Guardian’s senior columnist.

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