Monday, February 25, 2008

Commentary 20-Schroth on Daily News Editorial

From the New Jersey Star-Ledger

"Die, you bastards"
Posted by Raymond A. Schroth February 22, 2008 2:21PM

On Tuesday, February 12, by coincidence Abraham Lincoln's birthday, the New York Daily News, the sensational tabloid, hit a new journalistic low.

It was not in its standard pandering mix of below-the-belt or blood-spilling news items -- the raped stripper, the tearful athlete, the staggering starlet -- all traditional tabloid fodder. This was on the editorial page.

I feel strongly about editorial pages. I tell my students they are the newspaper's conscience, My father wrote over 40,000 in his lifetime for the Trenton Times, plus more for the Brooklyn Eagle. And I wrote editorials for ten years as an editor of Commonweal magazine. Always anonymous, editorials speak not for the writer alone, but for the paper as an institution in its role as a teacher, a moral civic voice. In tone they should be bold, but fair. Above all, rational. And they should appeal to the readers' best instincts.

On February 12 the News expressed its approval of the Bush Administration's decision to require the death penalty for the six men held over six years, first in secret prisons, then in Guantanamo prison, for participation in the attack on the World Trade Center.

It is one thing to approve of the death penalty. New Jersey has dropped it. News York has dropped it in effect. All Western Europe has dropped it. Some African and Asian countries, and Muslim countries cling to it, along with the "Axis of Evil" -- Iraq, Iran and North Korea -- and the United States. So much for our moral superiority.

But it is another thing to condone torture. It is well know that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was tortured, waterboarded, and, as a result, confessed to a number of crimes, including some he did not commit. The News says: "No matter." Do the Daily News' ethical advisers know the basic moral law that to torture others is to accept the proposition that have a right to torture us?

The Administration's decision to torture and execute these men is simply to keep the American people frightened, distracted from its disastrous war in an election year. The Daily news has bought into that strategy. Worst of all it has appealed not to their readers' intelligence, but to their lowest, least human, drives -- fear, revenge, pleasure in another's pain.

The News publisher is Mortimer Zuckerman. The editorial page editor is Arthur Browne. I know nothing of their religious or humanistic principles -- except that they believe in hell, because they want the prisoners to go there: "Burn in hell!" Their sense of the intrinsic value of human life is narrow, and they do not hesitate to appeal to their readers' lowest instinct: the desire to see another person die. The last words of their editorial: "Die, you bastards."

Original Referenced Text

My Commentary:

Posted by Zemack on 02/23/08 at 9:56PM

Some African and Asian countries, and Muslim countries cling to [the death penalty], along with the "Axis of Evil" -- Iraq, Iran and North Korea -- and the United States. So much for our moral superiority.

Regardless of one's opinion of the death penalty, equating America to the most vicious dictatorships of the world is extremely unjust, to say the least. In America, the death penalty is administered under the most rigorous standards of due process including a long set of appeals and only for the most heinous of crimes. To compare America with that list of countries, where people in many of them are executed for exercising their most basic human rights and where mass murder, political repression, and genocide are practiced is to make a mockery of objectivity.

And to impugn America's moral standing based on the continuing legality of capital punishment here is wrong, also. In fact the reverse is true, in my view. A strong moral case can be made for the death penalty. Rather than paraphrase myself, I will quote part of an essay I blogged after NJ abolished its death penalty statute:

The death penalty issue is primarily a moral one, and it boils down to one question... does human life have value, or doesn't it? If it does, then that which destroys it is evil and thus has no value. The act of committing cold-blooded murder (the taking of another's life in the absence of extenuating circumstances) is the ultimate violation of one's most fundamental right...the right to life. By taking the life of another human being, the cold-blooded killer thus forfeits the right to his own life.

Remember that we are speaking here of the most heinous type of crime...the rape-murder of a child, the gunning down of a store clerk during a robbery, the assassination of a police officer [or terrorist mass murderer]. To speak of "the sanctity of life", or of "love" or "compassion" for life's destroyers is to make a mockery of those terms and to devalue the lives of all of us.

One can not value man's life and the destroyer of man's life at the same time. To the extent that one assigns value to the destroyer of man's life, then to the same extent he is devaluing it. There is no way out of this lethal contradiction. Not if one's standard of value is man's life.

The death penalty is justified, morally justified, not because of hatred or revenge. Nor is it justified on the grounds of deterrence. The ruling principle in favor of the death penalty is justice. The ultimate crime must be met by the ultimate punishment. Death to cold-blooded murderers, the destroyers of life, is the ultimate affirmation of "the sanctity (and value) of life."

Other Commentary:

Posted by JRacioppi on 02/24/08 at 7:24AM

Zemack; what about cold-blooded murder, destroyers of life in the form of armies; i.e. Vietnam; how many innocent Vietnamese civilians did we kill? Millions; what moral basis did we have? none;

I agree with Blarneyboy; the abortion issue is really bad kharma and we will pay a price, are paying a price;

Posted by hglindquist on 02/24/08 at 9:09AM

"In America, the death penalty is administered under the most rigorous standards of due process including a long set of appeals and only for the most heinous of crimes."

Zemack, Zemack ... I've known since reaching the "age of accountability" that one of the benefits of being a white male in the USA is that I would not be executed for a crime I didn't commit ... and probably not even if I did.

Hell, I don't even get stopped by the police. Ten years ago I was pulled over in Alaska for expired tags on my friend's car ... and was written a polite warning without even having to get out of the car. And I'm just a little ol' member of the working class. (Don't get me wrong, I support the professional police force in my community.)

My Commentary:

Posted by Zemack on 02/25/08 at 9:06PM
In America, the death penalty is administered under the most rigorous standards of due process including a long set of appeals and only for the most heinous of crimes.

What I am referring to here is the principles governing American jurisprudence....innocent until proven guilty, trial by jury of one's peers, right of appeal, etc. Hglindquist's point is true, as far as it goes. America's legal ideals, tragically, have all too often been sidestepped. But that misses my broad philosophical point. A country's moral standing must be measured in context. What is the dominant nature of the legal system? On this score, America stands head and shoulders above that litany of countries and, in fact, should not even be mentioned in the same breath with them. That is because the dominant force governing its legal system is "the most rigorous standards of due process". The fact that those standards are not always lived up to does not negate them. It simply means that the battle for the principle that "all men are equal before the law" is not over. Unlike people living under the dictatorships of the world, Americans are free to speak out and agitate against injustice within the system. And that battle rests on that principle of equal justice.

Mr. Schroth's moral equation of America with the world's dictatorships may be a guilt manipulation technique, given his opposition to the death penalty. Nevertheless, I hold that that is extremely unjust and uncalled for.

Jracioppi's Vietnam analogy doesn't hold, in my view. There is a vast moral difference between the application of the death penalty in civilian crimes and the ethics of warfare in regards to civilian deaths. One cannot ignore the broader historical context in which the Vietnam War took place. The American-led West was locked in a worldwide battle against totalitarian Communist imperialism bent on its destruction. As such, America had a right to defend itself. The Vietnam War was part of that defensive effort.

One can certainly argue about the hideous conduct of that war. One can argue that it was a strategic mistake to go into the Southeast Asian war to begin with. One can condemn the no-win military strategy that needlessly prolonged the war. But what one cannot deny is that, however ill conceived, it was part of the American effort of self-defense against a virulent aggressor. I am not here defending the isolated instances, such as there were, of American soldiers' crimes committed outside of the context of legitimate military activity. But just as the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths resulting from the WWII bombing of German and Japanese cities was morally justified as a means to save American and Allied lives, so the destruction of villages suspected of being Vietcong strongholds was also justified on the same grounds. It must be remembered that it was the conquest-minded Communist enemy that used civilian populations as strategic shields, even to the extent of strapping bombs to women and children.

As such, the moral responsibility for the millions of civilian deaths rests with the Communist aggressors, not American soldiers.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Commentary 19- Shure on Family Leave Act

From the New Jersey Star Ledger

Don't be afraid of family leave insurance
Posted by Jon Shure January 29, 2008 4:44PM

One thing that came through at yesterday's Senate committee hearing on family leave insurance is that New Jersey has a lot of very decent owners of small businesses - and both those for and against the proposal to allow up to six weeks a year at up to two-thirds pay to take care of a sick family member. If we take those who testified at their word (and there's no reason not to), they treat their workers like family and when someone has a problem everyone pitches in to help.

So, what separates small business owners on FLI is that the opponents express tremendous fear that it will disrupt their businesses, even to the point of threatening their continued existence. And those who are for FLI feel that it won't cause more disruption than small business owners already have to put up with; that it will, in fact, be helpful because it will allow small businesses to offer benefits that compete with what the big ones often give; and that over the course of a year very few working people have the sort of family emergencies that would require taking leave.

Those testifying against FLI made it clear that they already do give time off to employees who need it because of a family emergency. So here's a question to those decent employees: if you already give them time off, how would family leave insurance make things any different? Running a small business isn't easy and you already have to put up with key people quitting, getting sick, dying or taking time for a family emergency. So I hope your answer isn't that you only object to FLI because employees would get some pay, and that you only want them to take time off if they can't get paid. I hope the answer isn't that you think your employees are so eager to cheat you that they will abuse family leave.

If the pay thing bothers you, keep in mind they will get only up to two-thirds pay and the money will come from a fund paid into ONLY by employees. You hear that the maximum benefit is $524 a week, but keep in mind that's only what they get if their regular salary is $700 a week. Someone making $500 a week would only be eligible for $333. Do you think they're going to risk criminal prosecution to rip you off for so little?

Many people who oppose FLI get their information about it from the New Jersey Business and Industry Assn., the Chamber of Commerce and other opponents who have not done a complete job in informing their members about how FLI works. For example, the person who commented on Thurman Hart's blog below cites someone taking off work for a sick grandmother. That wouldn't even be allowed under FLI. It only covers illnesses to children, spouses and parents. And before using FLI someone has to exhaust up to two weeks of vacation or sick time. This has been more carefully thought out than the opponents would have you understand.

One more point. Not all employers in New Jersey are as decent as those who took the time to come to Trenton and testify. In fact, 40% of low-wage workers in New Jersey work for someone who allows them NO paid vacation or sick time. So no matter how great your benefits are, there are people making a living (or trying to) and supporting a family who get zip. I'm willing to pay up to a buck a week into a fund that will provide those folks with some safety net. Aren't you?

You can respond all you want about "big government" interfering with workplace relationships. The truth is we need that involvement in order to protect workers from the worst employers. If you own a business and oppose FLI you ought to be angry at those bad employers who undercut you in the labor market and make government action necessary. They're your problem, not those of us for FLI. Many of us who want family leave insurance have been advocating for 10 years on this. Government didn't come to us, we came to government. And if it looks like we might just be winning it's because the difficulties of balancing work and family and the unconscionable behavior of some employers have reached a point where this all makes sense.

Is this a tax? Yes, a very small one. Will it be paid by some people who won't need the benefit? Yes, just like any tax. Bottom line: if you hate every tax and every government requirement that benefits working people, then you'll never support family leave insurance. But if you think this through and allow compassion rather than fear to guide you welcome aboard.

Original Referenced Link

My Commentary:

Posted by Zemack on 02/17/08 at 1:54PM

The debate on the Paid Family Leave Act is being framed solely on the basis of the pros and cons of the specific, concrete issue involved. Is it a good idea that a person be able to take some time off for personal, family-oriented reasons such as the birth of a child, the sickness of a relative, etc.? Is it desirable that a person is paid for some of the time off (up to six weeks, in this case) so he doesn't have to worry about paying the bills during this period? Of course paid family leave is a good idea. Who would have any reason to think otherwise?

But, alas, family leave is not the issue here. The issue is its implementation. The issue is one that must be ignored for the PFL act to pass into law. The issue is brushed aside by Mr. Shure without even a cursory mention in his article. The issue is individual rights. He writes:

"Those testifying against FLI made it clear that they already do give time off to employees who need it because of a family emergency.So here's a question to those decent employees: if you already give them time off, how would family leave insurance make things any different?"

Ignored here is the crucial distinction between private, voluntary actions, and coercive government actions...i.e., between an employer extending this benefit by choice or by compulsion. Ignored here is the principle of individual rights. An employer is not the servant of its employees. It has the right to offer the terms and conditions it deems in its own rational self-interest to attract and keep the kinds of employees it needs to fill the job positions it offers. Every individual, in turn, has the right to accept or reject any job according to his own rational self-interest, or to create his own job by starting a business and perhaps becoming an employer himself. What no one has the right to do, in a free society, is to impose his ideas on either the employer or the employee by force...i.e., by governmental coercion.

Mr. Shure obviously sees it differently:

"Many of us who want family leave insurance have been advocating for 10 years on this. Government didn't come to us, we came to government."

In other words, Mr. Shure and his FLI allies didn't get their way, so they're going to force it on those who disagree. Because of "bad employers" (i.e., those who won't do as Mr. Shure demands), "government action [is] necessary" (i.e., we will disregard your rights, and compel obedience).

Private advocacy, arousing public pressure for change, organizing boycotts and other forms of private, rational persuasion are the only legitimate means for free people to deal with one another. FLI advocates are free to create their own private insurance plan, either through their own company or in partnership with private insurers. Employers and employees are free to purchase it voluntarily. Individuals are free to set up their own FLI fund by setting aside money into an emergency fund (Which is standard financial advice, really. As a matter of fact, having no paid vacation or sick time in my job, my wife and I long ago became "self-insured" by setting aside several month's worth supply of ready cash). But to use governmental force to impose it on people who may disagree is immoral and directly contrary to the fundamental founding principles of our nation, which are the inalienable, natural rights articulated in the Declaration of Independence, and which are possessed equally by all people.

Mr. Shure concludes with:

"But if you think this through and allow compassion rather than fear to guide you welcome aboard."

The advocates of state control over the lives of its citizens always resort to appeals to emotion. That is because principled opposition based on the defense of individual rights stops the socialist advance dead in its tracts. Nevertheless, fear is warranted here for anyone who values his freedom. The methods of Mr. Shure and his PFL allies is a symptom of a disease that has consumed America and that has set us on a course toward democratic tyranny. That disease is the acceptance of the idea that force is a legitimate means for people to deal with one another, so long as it is governmental force. It is the "there oughta be a law" mentality, practiced by both the Left and the Right, that is trampling the rights of the individual to his liberty and property.

Family Leave Insurance is not, as I've said, the issue. The issue is the right to be free from the coercive rule of men over men. The issue is the right to disagree. The issue is the proper role of government, which is designed, under our system, to protect the individual's right to be free from his neighbor's (or the democratic majority's) coercive interference. Those who would trample the rights of his fellow citizens in order to advance his pet "cause" cannot claim compassion, "family" values, and certainly not American values as a motive.

The Family Leave Insurance act is just the latest in a long line of "compassionate" government programs designed to shift control of people's lives to the state. State-imposed FLI must be defeated because it is a violation of individual rights.

Mr. Shure Responds:

Posted by jshure on 02/18/08 at 3:44PM
I'm not sure I'm allowed to reply because you are just Ordinary People and aren't supposed to be accountable but let me try. Pardon the "attitude;" I forget that you're supposed to have it but but I'm not.

wmo8803: you are simply flat out WRONG. People who are better at this than you or me have done the math and the fund will be big enough to meet the demand. We know what the participation is in California. And the fund won't pay out until it has built up reserves for 6 months. Opponents are raising this issue to scare off supporters, but they are wrong.

zemack: No, actually the pros and cons of the specific issue ARE the criteria by which to judge it.

Your attempt to frame the issue is grossly unjust. Your logic could have been used (and in fact was) to oppose things like th 8 hour day, child labor laws, unemployment insurance, pollution controls and on and on. Unable to stoke up opposition based on the merits of such reforms, those trying to kill them talked up the imposition on employers along the lines of what you cite.

It is part of the democratic process for people who want reforms to try to get the government to enact them. That IS the democratic process ,for crying out loud. For you to say we're going to the government because we haven't been able to win FLI any other way displays you have a very firm grasp of the obvious.

But going to the government is what people do in a democracy. You can throw out words like "socialism" all you want but you are behind the curve of history.

As for your observation that "An employer is not the servant of its employees," yes and neither is an EMPLOYEE the servant of his or her EMPLOYER. What's needed is a balance and that's what family leave is all about.

My Commentary:

Posted by Zemack on 02/21/08 at 7:35PM

Re: points raised on your post of 02/18/08

"Your attempt to frame the issue is grossly unjust."

Framing the issue according to the principle of individual rights is "grossly unjust"? What is the core founding principle of America if not the inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of one's own welfare and happiness? If "the pros and cons of the specific issue ARE the criteria by which to judge it", and we are to ignore broader abstract political-philosophical principles, then how are we to judge the longer term consequences of such legislation? Without addressing such fundamental questions as the proper role of government, the rights of the individual, the crucial difference between government and private action, etc., how are we ever to discover that this "insurance" scheme represents yet another piece of control (i.e., of our freedom) shifted from the individual to the state?

To not frame the issue in this manner would be grossly unjust, in my view, given the crucial importance of our freedom. And yes, this "logic" could (and should) be applied to all issues involving government action, including "things like th 8 hour day, child labor laws, unemployment insurance, pollution controls and on and on", (though not necessarily in opposition). The principle of individual rights (the right to be free from the initiation of physical force) is THE underlying principle, and "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men." This includes not only protection from government, but from other men as well. So the government does have a crucial role in a society where one person's actions can physically harm another or another's property. Being the domain of legalized force, though, the validity of any governmental action must begin with reference to the broad principles noted above, in my view.

You may be wondering why I have chosen FLI to make such a strong stand. It is because of the powerful role that precedent plays in human affairs. Just in this thread, the federal Family Medical Leave Act and unemployment insurance have been mentioned in support of FLI, and FLI will serve as a precedent for some further state intrusion into private lives and decision-making. Taken in isolation, as you would like to do, FLI (or any single "social welfare" program) doesn't seem like such a big deal. But with each step, a little bit of our freedom is lost. Stepping back, and seeing the broad picture...the "forest"... you can see that the growth of welfare-statism and the consequent erosion of individual rights has been built bit by bit, program by program, precedent by precedent. With few exceptions, most never saw this monstrosity coming. That's because to ignore political declare that "the pros and cons of the specific issue ARE the criteria by which to judge it" to shrink one's field of intellectual vision down to the size of a keyhole. Without principles, we are blind.

"It is part of the democratic process for people who want reforms to try to get the government to enact them. That IS the democratic process ,for crying out loud. For you to say we're going to the government because we haven't been able to win FLI any other way displays you have a very firm grasp of the obvious.
But going to the government is what people do in a democracy."

This is true, Mr. Shure...dangerously true. You are here "framing the issue"...according to the principle of "democracy". This, I submit, is "grossly unjust". That is because democracy is fundamentally incompatible with individual rights. As proof, I need only point out that under the FLI act, my right to act according to my own judgement as to whether family leave insurance is in my rational best interest is abrogated. The erosion of our freedom is an inevitable consequence of the rise of democracy in America.

Ayn Rand observed that "Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law." This gets to the heart of the matter. By losing sight of the principle of individual rights (which means the right to disagree, to think and act on one's own judgement, to set and pursue one's own goals, to earn and dispose of one's own property without coercive interference by one's fellow citizens or by government), the door has been thrown wide open to people "going to the government" (i.e., to the rule of majoritarian force). The rise of special interest, pressure group warfare; the flood of money going into politics; the all-encompassing importance of elections and the never-ending campaign; the "polarization" of America; the power of political pull (i.e., lobbyists); these are all consequences of the enormous power the state has accrued to itself under "democracy" that you embrace. The Founders were very fearful of democracy. John Adams said; "It is ... as necessary to defend an individual against the majority in a democracy as against the king in a monarchy."

Democracy is only just and valid when the rights of the minority are protected from the power of the majority. And the smallest minority, the only one that really counts, is the individual. What is "grossly unjust" is to violate another's rights under the banner of "democracy." Democracy, unconstrained by the principle of individual rights enshrined in constitutional law, is just another form of tyranny. Clearly, "going to the government" to impose (to force) FLI on one's fellow citizens is "grossly unjust". It is either/or...democracy or individual rights. I choose the latter. Therefore, I reject the "democratic process" as a justification for enactment of the FLI act.

" are behind the curve of history."

Throughout history, the belief that the individual is the property of the state (or the king, the feudal lord, the military ruler, the church, the dictator, etc.) was taken for granted. The Enlightenment philosophers and the Founding Fathers bucked that historical tsunami, which resulted in the creation of the first nation founded on the principle of the subordination of the state to the individual. The political implementation of this principle was not perfect. This, however, does not diminish its historical significance. I do not believe in miracles, but the American achievement was as close to one as you will ever see on earth. But that miraculous achievement is now threatened by, to use your words, "the curve of history". But there is nothing inevitable about the course of history. That is because the driving force of human affairs is philosophical ideas, and as long as we have free speech rights, there is the opportunity to advance better ideas. Perhaps the historically brief experiment in individual liberty will indeed give way to a return of the supremacy of the state...the rule of force by men over men. Perhaps I am indeed "behind the curve of history". Then again, perhaps I'm in the vanguard of the next curve.


"I'm not sure I'm allowed to reply because you are just Ordinary People and aren't supposed to be accountable but let me try. Pardon the 'attitude;' I forget that you're supposed to have it but but I'm not."

I have long had great respect for people who are willing to put their ideas out there and open themselves up to scrutiny, criticism, and even ridicule. That includes you, Mr. Shure. The easiest thing in the world to do is stay silent for fear of what someone may say about you. So I have to take exception to the above statement about not being accountable. That sure doesn't apply to me. Also, I don't have "attitude", I have ideas which I am passionate about and willing to put out for debate.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Commentary 18- Shure on Internet Civility

From the New Jersey Star-Ledger

To blog or not to blog
Posted by Jon Shure February 15, 2008 10:09AM

When invited me to share my thoughts here from time to time, it seemed like a good way to help promote debate about issues I think are important.

I never assumed everyone would agree with me. What fun would that be? I run an organization whose aim is to inform and provoke. And, yes, its ideological point of view can accurately be described as liberal. We like to participate in the rough and tumble give and take of ideas. Sometimes that's controversial; it often arouses strong emotions. Nothing wrong with that, if you believe in democracy (which we do).

I'm having mixed feelings, though, about whether blogs like this are a good outlet for public discussion. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I still believe people can debate and argue with each other without being mean, without demonizing and trivializing those with whom they disagree. That doesn't seem like too much to ask. But a lot of you just don't seem to want to be civil. You seem to think that someone who takes a position other than yours is fair game for schoolyard taunts and character assaults.

Not that she needs me to defend her, but NJPP Research Director Mary Forsberg is a professional policy analyst. She worked 14 years at the nonpartisan state Office of Legislative Services. She knows more about the state budget than me or any of you. Which doesn't mean you have to agree with her when she writes about raising the gasoline tax. But do you have nothing better to do than call her names and impugn her motives?

Like the others who blog on, she puts her name right there on top of what she writes. She's willing to take her chances. But you hide behind anonymous handles and take pot shots. You even bite the hand that feeds you: blasting the Star-Ledger for what you see as bias even though if not for the newspaper creating this site you wouldn't even have a place to express your views.

It's not just blogs I'm talking about. Many people who read of our gas tax report have sent emails to me filled with foul and profane language I'm betting they wouldn't use if they had to say who they are. Some express graphically just which part of my body I should stick my liberal ideas up, but then cowardly leave out their name.

And it's not just average citizens. Elected officials--people whose salaries we pay--are taking part. When NJPP put out our gas tax recommendations one legislator, Sen. Anthony Bucco, issued a needlessly personal and partisan attack against a report that never criticized any politician by name nor singled out any political party for blame. On another newspaper's blog Assemblyman Rick Merkt went out of his way to call me "a little twit in Trenton who thinks tax hikes are the answer to every problem in the world." Sticks and stones, Assemblyman. But, really, is that a responsible way for a public official to respond to policy recommendations?

I think we all can do better. I believe we can put together our opinions and arguments in a way that attracts support and respect. I think we could all get it into your heads that those whose views we want to rebut are people too and that we could treat them the way we'd want to be treated.

I imagine that more people read the postings on than respond to them. So, let's try something: if you're one who reads but doesn't answer, and if you think we ought to strike a blow for a little bit of civility toward each other, take the time to register and write a comment below. Let's make this the forum it has the potential to be.

Original Referenced Post

My Commentary:

Posted by Zemack on 02/17/08 at 1:06PM

"I do not care to put my personal information all over the state when I have no protection as to who will have access to it and how they could use it."

Jessea's point cuts to the heart of the anonymity issue. Many of us, especially those of us with modest means, just don't feel comfortable exposing our identities in an amateur capacity on these forums. Would the Star-Ledger be willing to jump to the legal defense of a blogger hit with a frivolous libel suit?

According to my trusty (and a bit dusty) 1979 Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, second addition, the definition of "libel" is:

"any written or printed statement...not made in the public interest, tending to expose a person to public ridicule or contempt or to injure his reputation in any way...
"anything that gives an unflattering or damaging picture of the subject with which it is dealing...
"to say or print unfavorable or false things about."

Pretty vague stuff. Considering our litigious society, and how easily people become "offended" these days, I think it rather prudent for most forum participants to post anonymously. Call it cowardice if you want, but as long as anonymous participation is allowed I will continue to post on these forums under my internet "nickname".

Having said that, I do sympathize with Mr. Shure's point. One should not utter a single word that he would not utter under his real identity. But by making the insulters the main subject of an essay, perhaps Mr. Shure is elevating them to a stature they don't deserve. My advice would be to simply ignore them.

I wonder also if Mr. Shure may be blurring the distinction between "strong" and "uncivil" commentary. It is important sometimes to look past specific words or passages that in isolation may seem (or actually be) offensive, and instead focus on the ideas presented. We amateurs are not always as polished as professional writers. I am new to these forums, but most of what I have read here is reasonably civil and respectful, if not a bit strong.

Mr. Shure's suggestion that "blogs like this [may not be] ... a good outlet for public discussion" may be understandable, given the nature of some peoples' rhetoric. These forums are certainly not perfect. And, as he says, I think "we all can do better....[and] put together our opinions and arguments in a way that attracts support and respect." But I think these forums are a great outlet. I know it's not easy reading some of the nastiness. But it's all about ideas. Make your case. Respond to reasonable, principled, and intelligent commentary. And ignore the rest.

Other Commentary:

Posted by studmoose on 02/17/08 at 1:27PM

Zmack has a valid point; however, if one were to pursue legal action against a poster an anonymous nickname will not harbor them. Subpoenas will be executed on the hosting site, the user's ISP and their e-mail site where their nickname's e-mail address is located. That, along with the MAC address of their computers will identify the writer.

There is only one way to get around this matter. That would be to open up your wireless router or not to use WAP encryption. (Standard 128 bit encryption can now be hacked in less than 10 minutes on a laptop so those networks are no longer secure.) By opening up your network, as a residential layperson you are not expected to know how to stop people from accessing your home network. Heck, most businesses can't stop them. You could claim someone else hijacked your network. Then use a dedicated laptop that is not used for any other purposes. Create your e-mail account from that laptop and only use that laptop to access it. Then all your posts would have to be from that machine. Then keep the laptop off-site in case the search warrant follows. I don't know of anyone doing this.

So, my point is that anyone wanting to know who you are can, especially if they have state resources at hand. The anonymous userid just prevents casual people from identifying you.

My Commentary:

Posted by Zemack on 02/18/08 at 11:26AM
"Zmack has a valid point; however, if one were to pursue legal action against a poster an anonymous nickname will not harbor them. Subpoenas will be executed on the hosting site, the user's ISP and their e-mail site where their nickname's e-mail address is located. That, along with the MAC address of their computers will identify the writer."

Studmoose: point taken. I'm not well versed on the legalities of libel law, but wouldn't a judge need to review the validity of the lawsuit before issuing any subpoenas? It is against frivolous lawsuits, which can be financially painful, that anonymity may protect against. I certainly don't believe that anonymity should be used as a shield to protect a person from a valid libel claim, or any kind of criminal activity for that matter.

In any event, I'm not interested in going to great lengths, such as the example you provided, to hide my identity. And, as I implied in my previous post, I would certainly continue participating here under my real name if the rules changed. I have had several letters and an op-ed published under my real name in the Star-Ledger over the years, because identity is required. Nonetheless, anonymous posting gives me a certain comfort level, so for the time being I will remain Zemack (which is created out of the first letters of the names of my 6 grandkids).

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Commentary 17- Is McCain a Reaganite?

From New Jersey Star-Ledger 02/05/08

McCain must revive the Reagan revolution
Posted by John Farmer February 05, 2008 10:00AM
Categories: Politics

The presidential race, conventional wisdom has it, is a lock for Democrats. Betting on Republicans to pull a rabbit out of the hat this fall would be as foolish as, say, putting the rent money on the New York Giants to beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. But then stuff happens, as we all know.

There is another side to the conventional wisdom coin. It holds that Republicans can still win this fall, despite the burden George W. Bush has imposed on his party with the ill-conceived Iraq war and now a slumping economy, if they can piece together something like the old Reagan coalition.

It won't be easy. The GOP is more seriously divided than at any time since the post-Watergate era more than 30 years ago. Its conservative business base hankers for Mitt Romney, its increasingly important evangelical auxiliaries are avid for Mike Huckabee and its far-right irreconcilables, personified by radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, think the sky is falling and Armageddon is at hand. Meanwhile, John McCain, a maverick who gives much of his party nervous indigestion, is about to run off with the nomination. It's a recipe for chaos rather than coalition building.

But coalition can be done, according to one old Reagan hand, Ken Duberstein, now a Washington business consultant but a former chief of staff to Ronald Reagan. And McCain "is the best bet to reassemble the Reagan coalition," said Duberstein, adding that he has not yet endorsed any GOP presidential candidate.

In an interview over the weekend, Duberstein cited exactly those McCain attributes that drive hard-core Republicans up the wall as reasons the Arizona senator can rekindle the old Reagan magic -- his independence and cross-party appeal. Like Reagan, he said, McCain has the potential to win over "independent-minded suburbanites, blue-collar (Reagan) Democrats and to add a respectable share of the Hispanic vote as well."

McCain's performance in states where independent voters and even Democrats could participate in GOP primaries -- and did to McCain's benefit -- demonstrates that Reaganesque appeal, as Duberstein sees it.

The principal challenge for McCain, Duberstein said, will be how to shape his campaign's treatment of Bush, who remains popular with a large share of the Republican electorate despite the broad disapproval of the public. It will require "delicacy," Duberstein said, making clear McCain's independence as a different kind of Republican while still demonstrating respect for Bush.

The independence part should be easy, McCain having broken with Republican regularity by supporting climate change legislation, embryonic stem cell research, campaign finance and immigration reform among other things. "McCain has clearly established his independence," Duberstein said. "There's even enough difference that he can make the case that he's an agent for change."

How Bush reacts to this independent streak will be important. Although much of McCain's record can be read as a repudiation of Bush -- he has from the beginning criticized Bush's handling of the Iraq war as "mismanaged" -- it is in Bush's interest that McCain, or whoever is the Republican nominee, be elected, Duberstein said.

"Ronald Reagan always understood that for his eight years to be seen as successful, he had to be succeeded by a Republican president," said Duberstein. And he was in 1989, by his vice president, George H.W. Bush. Reagan felt that a loss to a Democrat would be seen as "a repudiation," he said.

Does George W. Bush feel that way? Duberstein, who retains good relations with the Bush White House and the Republican establishment in Washington, can't say for sure, but believes the president understands the extent to which his legacy is in the hands of McCain or whoever wins the GOP nomination. But it will require more, he said.

"I would hope that George W. Bush would give McCain enough latitude" to make his own independent case, he said.

The toughest hurdle for McCain may be trying to satisfy -- or at least neutralize -- the ultra-conservative wing represented by Limbaugh, who has said McCain's nomination would be "the end of the Republican Party." It may not be possible, Duberstein said, recalling that they even grumbled about Reagan. "I'm not even sure they want to be satisfied," he said.

Original Referenced Link

My Commentary:

Posted by Zemack on 02/07/08 at 8:13PM

I doubt this will be possible. There appears to be a fundamental difference between Reagan and McCain on their respective views on the nature of government.

Reagan was a champion of the individual. In his 1981 presidential Inaugural Address he made this plain:

"...[O]ur concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected...It is made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we're sick -- professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truckdrivers."

At the same time, he was openly skeptical of government. There was his famous "[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Deriding "government by an elite group", he asked "if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?"

McCain's sponsorship of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill was designed to protect the "elite group", incumbents, by restricting first amendment rights. In addition, he has in the past advocated mandatory national service (

But these words by McCain from his essay "Putting the 'National' in National Service" ( most disturbing:

"In America, our rights come before our duties, as well they should. We are a free people, and among our freedoms is the liberty to care or not care for our birthright. But those who claim their liberty but not their duty to the civilization that ensures it live a half-life, indulging their self-interest at the cost of their self-respect. The richest men and women possess nothing of real value if their lives have no greater object than themselves.

"Success, wealth, celebrity gained and kept for private interest---these are small things. They make us comfortable, ease the way for our children, and purchase a fleeting regard for our lives, but not the self-respect that, in the end, matters most. Sacrifice for a cause greater than self-interest, however, and you invest your life with the eminence of that cause."

To belittle the individual's pursuit of his own self-interest as a mere "indulgence" call his individual achievements "small things" if he benefits from them (kept for private interest)... is to make a mockery of the "right to the pursuit of happiness". To attach the concept "duty" to a person's rights is to obliterate the very foundation of our nation's birth...the concept of individual rights as inalienable. His belief that our rights must, in effect, be purchased for the price of some "duty to the civilization" is standard collectivist jargon that really means "duty to the state". The very concept of "national service" that he enthusiastically endorses is distinctly un-American.

In today's speech, following Romney's pullout from the race, McCain said a lot of the right things, especially his explicit reference to the words of the Declaration of Independence. But those words in our founding document, that we are "endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights" don't square with the spirit of the above quote.

Reagan said "We are a nation that has a government -- not the other way around." McCain seems to lean toward "the other way around." We shall see.