This case, well-defined in this video (and, hopefully, in the upcoming film), is a litmus test for your sense of justice and "the American Way". If you're infuriated, shocked and perturbed, you're on the proper side of history. If you think it's a fine use of eminent domain, you likely struggle with identifying justice and understanding what America really stands for.
In late December of 2012 I wrote here about the apocalyptic state on one of New Jersey's largest cities, Camden. It is a frightening glimpse into the future of decades of Democrat "progressive" control, found in many States! Camden has disbanded its police force, and it is now policed by the county. Its schools have been taken over by the State, which pours money into the bottomless pit with no discernible results. It has been well-established that more money will not fix our schools--in Camden or elsewhere.
Where you find one of these nightmare cities you will will rampant corruption, nepotism, lackadaisical adminstrators, entrenched unions that sell their votes to the party which collectively bargains excessive compensation packages and "cozy" employment relationships, party "machines' whose currency is favors, broken family structures (mostly caused by the horrific consequences of the 50 year old "War on Poverty"), etc.
This video from REASON provides a compelling and contemporary view of what has become of Trenton and its bleak outlook. As our schools go, so goes our future...and that scares the hell out of me!
For many years, either as Corporate Counsel, Assistant Treasurer, Benefits Director, a consultant or Vice President of Human Resources, I managed pension plans. And I did that from the funding, design and employee relations perspectives. I worked in the pension arena since 1970--before there was a major federal pension law. I've spoken to Congressional staffers, and been a speaker at many Conference Board and other industry meetings. So, you can decide for yourself if I'm an "expert" or not. But, I do believe I know a bit more than the average person about the intricacies of these very complex systems.
And what I can assure you is this:
- Pension funds are enormous, and the accounting requirements implicit in pensions can severely impact the "bottom line" of corporations, unions and governmental entities;
- Where there is this much money at play there is abuse and, occasionally, corruption; and
- the "problem" with pension systems is that they have given rise to enormous unfunded liabilities; and
- Eventually, these unfunded liabilities will need to be addressed, in its simplest forms, in one of 2 ways--cut benefits or increase contributions to reduce liabilities.
In my home State of New Jersey, this issue has reached fever pitch. It is seen as a betrayal of a commitment by Gov. Christie to increase funding in exchange for the public sector unions' agreement to increase employee cost-sharing and make modest benefit changes. Christie's rationale is hard to argue with: we don't have the money to honor that commitment right now. And the State Supreme Court has endorsed that position. What bothers me about this is that this is being treated as if it simply fell from the sky. We have been in this position for decades. Democrats and Republicans have been kicking this can down the road for decades, and union leadership knew very well it was unsustainable.
Of course, unions argue that a deal-is-a-deal and the State can just impose more taxes. The counter-argument to that is that New Jersey is already the highest taxed State in the nation and is bleeding revenue as population flight from the State accelerates.
So is there an answer? Maybe. And it may be found in Greece, because what is happening there is not very different from what is happening here (albeit to a much lesser degree).
As to entitlements, that's very difficult. Certainly, we can try to honor existing commitments, but the least we should do is significantly reduce benefits for new employees. The facts are that public sector workers' benefits far exceed those of private sector employees...even though public sector employees now earn MORE than their private sector counterparts. Let's at least cauterize the bleeding!
Next, let's assume new taxes are off the table. Are we comfortable that our State, county and municipal governments are truly efficient. And, by "efficient" I mean that staffs are at appropriate levels, that employees are held accountable for their productivity, that compensation is mainly driven by individual merit, that adminstrators are necessary and so on. Let's at least consider running our governments as if they were businesses, designed to efficiently service their "customers"...US!
Having suggested this, I'm sure we can all agree none of this will happen. It will require courage, common sense, a focus on the future and not just the next election cycle. So, we CAN do the right thing, but I have--with a great deal of frustration--concluded that it won't happen until we are on the verge of an economic Armageddon. At that point the meat cleavers will come out and fairness, honesty and balance will give way.
In any case, step one is to understand the issue in small bites. And the pension problem is a very large small bite. The very best article I've read on this matter is this by The Washington Examiner's Steven Malanga: Pension tidal wave to crash down on taxpayers.
On June 19th I posted a cartoon from The Daily Signal, which gave a colorful and simple explanation of our current "civil asset forfeiture" laws. The practice is offensive on so many levels that it's almost anyone who swears an oath with the agencies of justice can engage in this in good conscience.
Last year, at a conference on forfeitures, the city attorney for Las Cruces, New Mexico, Pete Connelly, called civil asset forfeitures “a gold mine,” and said “We could be czars. We could own the city.” This is now called "policing for profit", because police departments typically get to keep those forfeited assets--even if the person has been convicted of NO crime--to pad their budgets. When you give law enforcement a financial incentive to pursue money, instead of justice, problems follow.
Now, the trend is turning. New Mexico and Montana have stopped the practive in their States, and that's a very good sign for the Constitution and liberty. In the meantime, don't be too comfortable. The U. S. Supreme Court has ruled that an "innocence defense" is not required by the Constitution. That means it was "proper" for police to acquire the cars of patrons of an art institute event, because the institute did not get a liquor license for that event.
The intent of these civil asset forfeiture laws were to allow the government to see ill-gotten gains of organized crime and drug dealers. Like most things left to the "good judgement" of the government it quickly turned into unjust and legalized theft of property of persons never adjudged guilty of a crime.
Let us suppose you have a job that requires you to examine trends and, using established scientific principles and observations, make predictions, and you weren’t very good at it.
Now, what if your predictions were not just a little bit off but so far off any semblance of reality that, in a thinking world, your career and “profession” would be deemed as offering somewhere slightly north of the reliability of a street corner bookie. Finally, let us presume your financial security is heavily dependent on grants and other financial support from governments, corporations and other objective-driven organizations looking for predetermined conclusions.
If these were the elements of what you do—and the kind of results you achieve with shocking consistency—you might be inclined to torture the data upon which you rely to whatever extent necessary to make it confess to a result you need, regardless of the truth. And that sums up the current state of affairs of the environmentalists who relentlessly fan the flames of fear.
Sadly for these environmentalists, enough time and information is available in 2015 that we can take a real hard look at just how good these scientists are at projecting trends and predicting consequences.
Back in September 2013, I wrote about how some climate alarmists were contending that the Middle East debacle was basically caused by global warming which caused drought in Syria, leading to civil war. Assad’s tyranny and iron fist in Syria was not the cause because Syria can stand as an example of the geopolitical ramifications of driving fuel-inefficient cars.
In 2007, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Al Gore, predicted: “The North Polar ice cap is falling off a cliff. It could be completely gone in summer in as little seven years.” Contrary to Gore’s prediction, in August 2014 that ice cap had actually expanded to 5.62 million square kilometers. That’s an INCREASE of 43% in two years, just about the size of Alaska.
In 2014, The UN Global Warming Panel began “touching up” its 2007 report to fix the numerous errors in that report. For example, the global warming impact on GDP will not be, as predicted in 2007, somewhere between 5% and 20%, but rather less than 2%. The revisions will also note that global warming has not resulted in the extinction on any species…none!
Less than a year ago, I posted here a graph from REAL SCIENCE Blog indicating that the frequency of 90 degree days (one would expect those to increase based on modern man’s detrimental contribution to global warming!) has been DROPPING for the last 80 years (see below).
So, let’s look a quick look at some of the major blunders of this environmental movement.
Oh, The Bees, The Frogs!
Global warming is killing off the bees and the frogs! Perhaps it’s a harbinger of coming doom. I’ve noted above that predictions of widespread extinction of species from global warming has NOT happened. And that is notwithstanding the prediction of Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian, that between 75% and 80% of ALL species will be extinct; Ripley made this stunningly wrong prediction at the first Earth Day 1970.
By the way, you know that the bees and frogs are doing quite well, thank you very much. As it turns out the bees were actually attacked by parasitic flies in order to grow their larvae. Those flies have been spread by bee keepers moving their hives. And the frog scare was actually caused by the very normal weather pattern known as El Nino, not abnormal warming patterns.
Our Food is Killing Us!
Genetically-Modified Organisms are science’s way of screwing with our food to make it bigger, grow faster, make steak-flavored eggs. And all this unnatural dabbling in the natural order of things will be, in the end, horrific to humans.
Although there’s no scientific evidence of this, we assume combining the genes of very different species must be unnatural and, therefore, bad. In recent years we’ve discovered gene flows…that alien genes (from bacteria, fungus, etc.) have made their way to humans regularly. So, if we’ve adapted quite well to our genes being modified why the assumption that it must be harmful if done by humans.
Fortunately, we have embraced organic foods and they will keep us clean and healthy. Except, we’re not exactly sure what an organic food is or that there is ANY benefit to it. Of course, we’ll ingest less pesticides and heavy metals in organic foods so that must be beneficial. It might be, except even organic foods use pesticides and organic farmers have lots of loopholes enabling them, for example, to use methyl bromides. Don’t bother buying from that separate ”organics” table at the grocer’s. It’s little more than a label and a higher price tag, all brought to us by the friends of the environment.
We’re Starving Ourselves!
“By the year 2000, most of the world outside of western Europe, North America and Australia will be in famine”. Professor Peter Gunther, The Living Wilderness, 1970. Many of us remember quite clearly Paul Ehrlich’s panicky proclamations that fast-increasing overpopulation was outpacing the ability of the planet to sustain that population. Ehrlich’s inevitability was that between 100 and 200 million people PER YEAR would be starving to death by 1980.
Not only has that not happened but our population growth has slowed and our food supplies have increased substantially. But these make for good news and don’t generate business, grants and marketing opportunities.
Baby It’s Cold Outside!
It was not so long ago that the apocalyptic ending we were expecting in the ‘70s would be driven by global cooling and the “New Ice Age”. Humans were causing the earth to cool through deforestation, pollution, etc. (causing the Earth’s surface to reflect back the sun’s heat). Life magazine predicted that by 1985 the light reaching the earth would be cut by half due to pollution alone.
Again the dire predictions never happened!
Science deserves respect. It has made the planet a better place overall. When science becomes so crass, dogmatic and political that it can't be trusted to truly and objectively help us set upon future paths then we need to treat scientists' opinions as just that--opinions. It becomes critically important that we scour the data which underlies conclusions and that we are confident that no undisclosed motives may be pushing "answers" in a preferred direction.
Over the last 25 years, we have been served up enough conjecture, wrapped in scientific "certainty", that one shudders at the prospect of what might have been had we reacted and responded too quickly.