Elementary solution to government ethics lapses

North Carolina doesn’t need new laws, regulations, or a study commission to help restore ethical government. Nor does the state need an ethics commission that rarely meets and exempts major departments of the state government from oversight.

As a former teacher, Governor Beverly Perdue should know there is a very simple solution, you might say it’s elementary, to the apparent ignorance exhibited by many state employees and political appointees about the difference between right and wrong.

The solution is to send all state employees and anyone appointed to any state board, committee or advisory group back to kindergarten, preferably using a curriculum from the 1950s or 1960s. If none can be found, then the governor can use as a lesson plan Robert Fulghum’s book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

The governor could set the example by sending all state employees and citizen advisers to a kindergarten refresher cost, and set an example that the state legislator would be hard-pressed to ignore. The University of North Carolina’s Institute for Local Government might even conduct the program, except that they might have to pull some some former kindergarten teachers out of retirement.

Here’s a sample of a possible curriculum. Lesson one would be “Don’t Take Things that Aren’t Yours.” Other suggested lessons could cover such topics as “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” “Don’t Hit Other People,” and “Clean Up Your Own Mess.”

People who attended kindergarten in the 1950s and 1960s learned these basic lessons. They learned that it is not right for a person who is supposed to be a “public servant” to accept free meals from a company they are supposed to regulate. They don’t need a law or regulation to tell them that it is not right for two members of the same family to hold the top two positions in a government agency.

The lessons taught them to understand that when you fill out a form intended to determine if you might have any conflict of interest in the job you seeking, whether its paying job or an elected position, it is not right to lie or omit information. They also learned that if you don’t know the answer you are supposed to find out and reveal the information, even if it makes you uncomfortable, or costs you the job. That trait is called honesty.

Whether or not they had any religious upbringing, even the secular curriculum taught them the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s because this is a universal code of conduct, espoused by all the world’s major religions in some form or another.

Perhaps the most important thing the ’50s and ’60s kindergarten education taught them is to expect more from state employees, political appointees and elected officials who attended these same course and supposedly learned these same lessons.

Instead of more education programs for children, like “No Child Left Behind,” or “More At Four,” what North Carolina needs is an adult education program. If you need a fancy title for it to make it politically palatable, let’s call it “Kindergarten ReKindled.”

Third parties don't confuse British voters

One of the benefits of a parliamentary democracy like the United Kingdom is the general openness to multiple parties. British voters don’t seem to get confused by more than two parties on the ballot. On the contrary, a third party helps expose corruption and malfeasance, as Dr. Mike Munger notes in this op ed published in the Herald Sun.

Sunshine, British elections and an example for U.S.

In politics, sunlight is the best disinfectant. But our political system is specifically designed to protect the two state-sponsored parties from media scrutiny and voter examination. Incumbent politicians find debates inconvenient; they hate to answer questions about why their corrupt practices in government can’t be changed.

They realize that best defense is to ensure such questions never get asked in the first place.

And so our legislature ignores sunshine rules. Committee meetings and bill markup are conducted in secrecy suitable for international strategic arms negotiations.

The best our media can do is to investigate after the fact, so outgoing administrations send a parade of officials to state and federal prison. But no one can learn much about current official malfeasance because of the darkness and secrecy.

Recent events in Great Britain suggest a solution: Include third parties in debates. It’s simple and costs very little.

But the government was overturned, and the bright light of public attention was focused on the ruling Labour party, simply by including the Liberal Democrats in the electoral debates. The positions presented by LD standard-bearer Nick Clegg reminded Labour supporters of how badly their party had abandoned them and, after the April 15 debate in particular, the LD was clearly outpolling Labour.

Ultimately, voters made their choices, and the Liberal Democrats were consigned to third party status again. But the LDs played a key role in the formation of the new government and they have injected a new energy and lots of sunlight into a process that had been infected with the dark, arrogant corruption of power.

How did Labour and the Conservatives, the two major parties, make up ground between the first and second debates? By adopting a number of the ideas put forward by the LDs, so that by losing the LDs won.

That’s how third parties can act as a disinfectant: by raising questions that the major parties have to answer. Otherwise, there is no way to get the attention of the ruling elite.

One could object to my claim, of course. Won’t voters be confused, presented with dozens of choices?

Won’t allowing myriad small parties to participate make the whole electoral system incoherent?

Maybe. But we are far from having to worry about that. North Carolina is one of the three most restricted ballot states in America.

To qualify, a prospective party would have to collect well over 100,000 signatures, at a cost of nearly a quarter million dollars. There can’t be a flood of new parties, because our laws keep them out.

And that’s a red herring anyway.

Have you seen the cereal aisle at Kroger’s? Yet people still figure out which cereal to buy.

Claiming that voters would be confused by having real choices is an insult to voters. When you hear that the state-sponsored parties want to protect you from being confused, you know that all they really want is to protect the kind of corrupt government that depends on darkness and deception.

Furthermore, the very nature of the process ensures that any party clearing the ballot access hurdle has established significant, broad support among voters.

That doesn’t mean that the new party will win. But it does mean that, like the Liberal Democrats in England, voters want to hear what the new guy has to say, and they may demand action.

Right now, the Libertarian Party has qualified for the ballot in 2010 and 2012.

Another party, North Carolina First, is struggling up the Mount Everest size mountain of ballot access requirements, and might well qualify, if not for 2010 then for 2012.

But will the candidates for those parties be allowed to participate in debates? That is, in spite of doing everything the state requires to be able to be heard by the voters, will the state-sponsored parties once again be able to coerce the media into accepting a restricted menu of candidates?

Sadly, the answer may be “yes.”

When running for governor in 2008, I was prevented from participating in the early debates, the ones that mattered the most, the ones that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats used to change things.

Our CBS affiliates and ABC affiliates both scheduled televised debates between the Democrat and Republican candidates only.

I was given no chance to have an impact on the questions raised, or the ideas that would be raised for public consideration.

Neither of the two media giants, both of which supposedly serve the public, gave any explanation for why they were opposed to sunlight.

We should look to the example of the Liberal Democrats in England. Because the third party was allowed to participate in the debates, there was a peaceful revolution, the kind we call an “election.”

I doubt the new government will bring in a new golden age, but at least England used a little of the power of the sun to clean up a tired and corrupt system.

Dr. Michael Munger is chairman of  the Duke University political science department and was the 2008 Libertarian candidate for North Carolina governor.

Libertarians repudiate Mecklenburg candidate

North Carolina Libertarians have taken the unusual step of repudiating a candidate. The state executive committee passed a resolution repudiating the candidacy of Jack Stratton for Mecklenburg County Commission.

The resolution adopted May 8 alleges Stratton is using his campaign “to pursue personal goals rather than a bona-fide run for public office.” The resolution also charges that Stratton has a history of responding to criticism with “unfounded legal threats and intimidation.”

This is probably the first time in its history the party has taken such an action. The Libertarian Party gained ballot status in North Carolina in 1978 and has been on the ballot in for every presidential and gubernatorial election since then, except for 1988.

Barbara Howe, state chair, said that several members of the Mecklenburg County Libertarian chapter brought the matter to the executive committee’s attention. “I believe that he is running as a Libertarian now, not as an expression of political philosophy, but merely because it gives him a platform to remain in the race through November,” said Chris Cole, a former Mecklenburg LP chair. Cole said that when Stratton ran in the Republican primary for Charlotte mayor last year he said he was running only to get his children back from DSS.

“He has claimed that the winning primary candidates in the mayoral race, John Lassiter and Anthony Foxx, are part of a conspiracy together with Bank of America, to confiscate children for a sex slave ring,” Cole said. These accusations are posted on his website.

“While we have sympathy for Mr. Stratton’s issues with the DSS, we do not believe he should use political campaign to air these grievances.” In particularly, she said Stratton’s threats of physical violence was a direct violation of the non-aggression principal, the fundamental principle of libertarianism.

Libertarians believe no individual, group, or government may initiate force against any other individual, group, or government. They believe all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.

“Unfortunately, we have no control over who can register Libertarian and run as a Libertarian candidate, even if they don’t agree with our platform and philosophy,” Howe said. North Carolina law requires recognized political parties to conduct primaries if more than one candidate files for an office. If only one person files, he or she is automatically listed as that party’s nominee.

As private voluntary groups, the Libertarian Party advocates that political parties be allowed to establish their own rules for nomination procedures, and choose candidates any way they wish. The Libertarian platform calls for elections at all levels to be controlled by those who wish to participate in or support them voluntarily.

Howe said that the LPNC had been trying for several months to contact Stratton regarding this issue, but that he did not respond to several emails and telephone calls. Stratton did not respond to a request for comment on this article.

Stratton’s website does not contain any reference to his candidacy, but does include articles and comments regarding his disagreements with local government officials.

* * *

Here is the text of the resolution:

Whereas Mr. Jack Stratton is registered with the state of North Carolina as a Libertarian, and;

Whereas Mr. Stratton has filed to run for Mecklenburg County Commissioner in the 2010 elections, and;

Whereas Mr. Stratton is using his campaign to pursue personal goals rather than a bona-fide run for public office, and;

Whereas Mr. Stratton has displayed a historical pattern of responding to criticism and discussion with unfounded legal threats and intimidation, and;

Whereas the Executive Committee of the Libertarian Party believes that Mr. Stratton’s behavior goes well beyond self-defense, violates the Libertarian non-aggression principle, and runs counter to the spirit of freedom, liberty, and responsibility that the Libertarian Party strives to promote,

Therefore, be it resolved that the Libertarian Party of North Carolina repudiates Mr. Stratton as a candidate for public office and neither supports nor endorses his candidacy. This shall include, but is not limited to, striking his name from the list of candidates endorsed by the Libertarian Party of North Carolina and the refusal of any financial, logistical, or electoral support.

Groups rally to protect NC health care freedom

NC Freedom is organizing a statewide protest at the General Assembly building in Raleigh tomorrow, the first day of the so-called short session.

State Sen. Debbie Clary (R-Cleveland) will introduce a bill to exempt North Carolina citizens and businesses from participation in federally mandated health care. As of April 27, 22 states have filed lawsuits challenging the mandatory provisions of the health care law recently passed by Congress.

“This is the first major rally where the people of North Carolina are coming together to assert their 10th amendment rights,” said NC Freedom organizer David DeGerolamo. More than 20 organizations have joined as rally sponsors.

“Without your support, this legislation will end up buried in a Democrat controlled committee,” he said in a e-mail alert to members. “If you feel it is time for North Carolina to stand up and show our resolve to the rest of the country, join us.”

Organizers are urging people to visit their legislators from 10 a.m. until noon, when the session starts. At noon, the groups will rally in front of the legislative building. Dr. B.J. Lawson, Republican candidate for U.S. House District 4 will address the crowd.

The keynote speaker will be Michael Flynn, editor-in-chief of Big Government, a project of the online news aggregate website Briebart.com. Flynn is the a former government affairs specialist for the Reason Foundation and has nearly 20 years experience in policy development, legislative affairs, media relations, political campaigns and crisis communication.

Following the rally, participants will be asked to surround the general assembly and peacefully demand that the bill be brought to the floor for a vote.

Should we be grateful for taxes?

Chris Fitzsimon of N.C. Policy Watch, the liberal counterpoint to the John Locke Foundation, claims that “Civil Society is supported by … taxes” in an op ed published in the April 15 News & Observer. “Today is tax day, so get ready for the annual onslaught of government-bashing and wild exaggerations about the taxes we pay from folks holding protests on streets paid for by tax dollars while being protected by law enforcement officers funded by our tax payments,” he wrote.

His premise is based on the false belief that government equates to society. It does not. His confusion is natural, as Thomas Paine noted two centuries ago in Common Sense.

Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Fitzsimon takes particularly umbrage at those pesky senior citizens who dare to protest.  “Many seniors in the crowd will complain about the government that just paid for their latest visit to the doctor,” he said. “Many speakers with degrees from state universities will rail against the taxes that paid for much of their college education.

“Many of the people carrying signs blasting big bad government will have recently cashed their Social Security check or pension payment from the State of North Carolina.”

He seems to say how dare they actually claim the “benefits” that they paid for all their working lives.

Fitzsimon rambles on, reciting a litany of “services” the State provides us for our tax dollars, from senior medical care to trash collection.

Dr. Mike Munger, Duke University political science department chair,  thinks the list of government services Fitzsimon thinks we should be grateful for is “curious.”

“First, some of the items are not services at all but are mandated by silly law,” he wrote in a letter to the editor published April 18.

“Second, many of these services are financed by additional direct fees, not taxes.

“Finally, his recitation of how ungrateful we are reminded me of letters I have come across in my academic research on slavery. Slave-owners in the old South were genuinely surprised, and hurt, when their ungrateful slaves ran off after the Civil War. After all, the slave-owners had fed, clothed, housed and in some cases educated the slave in blacksmithing or other trades.

“The point is that the slave-owners came up with elaborate lists that said, ‘Look at all the things Master does for you. Why aren’t you grateful?’ And those lists looked, well, pretty much exactly like the Fitzsimon article.”

Game, set, match to Munger.

Good Friday homily in context

While I don’t usually comment on religion, I am a libertarian who believes in the natural connection between faith and liberty. I am also a “practicing” Catholic. So permit me to comment on the furor raised in the media over a sermon given at the Vatican’s Good Friday service.

There is no question the Catholic Church has an abysmal record in dealing with the accusations of pedophilia and sexual misconduct by its priests. The scandal is not so much the sexual abuse as it is the blatant and continuing cover-up.  It pains me whenever the media reports on the issue,  first because the institutional Church still has not come to grips with it and second because the media coverage is blatantly biased and uneducated.

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa  delivered a reflection on St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews in which he quoted a letter from a Jewish friend.  His friend, not Father Cantalmessa, said, “I am following with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the Pope and all the faithful by the whole world. The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”

The Vatican immediately disassociated itself from the homily, Jewish groups denounced the remarks as anti-Semitic and one Catholic bishop called the words “unfortunate and reprehensible.

Did any of them read the homily, I wonder?  You can read the entire homily here (translated from the original Italian).

Here’s my take on the homily.

Father Cantalamessa was doing what a Catholic preacher is supposed to do; he was trying to explain how the words of the Scripture have relevance today. The homily is 26 paragraphs long. The quote was in the next to the last paragraph.

In the homily, Father Cantalamessa talked about violence and sacrifice. He explored the ancient practice of offering animal sacrifice in order to placate or win favor from God. In this ritual, the sins of those making the sacrifice were placed on the animal (sometimes a goat, hence our word scapegoat).

In Jesus, that entire scheme was reversed. “It is no longer man that offers sacrifices to God, but God who ‘sacrifices’ himself for man, consigning for him to death his Only-begotten Son,” Father Cantalamessa said.

The sacrifice of Jesus “contains a formidable message” for today’s world, he said. “The modern value of the defense of victims, of the weak and of threatened life is born on the terrain of Christianity …”

Father Cantalmessa said that unfortunately, the same culture that condemns violence “favors and exalts it” in such things as films, video games, and the news media.

“A generation of youth that has had the very rare privilege of not knowing a real war and of never having been called to arms, amuses itself … to invent little wars, driven by the same instinct that moved the primordial horde,” he said.

He addresses other forms of violence, including school bullying, child abuse, including that perpetrated by clergy, and spousal abuse, saying that violence is often sparked by “herd psychology” which leads to the choice of a scapegoat to identify as a “a common enemy — in general, the weakest element, the different one.”

Near the end of the homily, he notes the rare coincidence of Passover and Holy Week occurring at the same time. It is here he introduces the letter from his unnamed Jewish friend, because it is the Jews who” know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms.”

That is the context of the quote maligned as anti-Semitic.

So, what I get from the homily is that violence is bad, it is good to protect people form violence, and you should not condemn an entire group of people (a church?) because of the bad actions of a few of its members.

But don’t take my word (or the media’s word) for it. Read the homily yourself, reflect and decide for yourself.

Court decision may impact constitutional law beyond NC

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The N.C. Appeals Court decision in the case of the LPNC vs. The State of North Carolina is a watershed decision for constitutional law with implications far beyond North Carolina, said Jason Kay, a senior staff attorney with the N.C. Institutional for Constitutional Law.

Kay was speaking about the Libertarian and Green parties challenge to the constitutionality of North Carolina’s election laws at a luncheon at the John Locke Foundation

“The very first issue the court had to determine was whether a fundamental right was involved,” Kay explained. If that is the case, he said the court should have applied the concept of “strict scrutiny.”

That means the court should have determined whether or not the state has a compelling interest in limiting ballot access and was using the most narrow and least restrictive measures in its ballot access laws.

“If it is a fundamental right, if the court says yes, then strict scrutiny applies,” he said, “which usually means the government loses.”

“If it is not (a fundamental right),” he said, “the rational basis applies, which usually means the government wins.”

The court ruled unanimously that there is a fundamental right at stake. But in a 2-1 split decision, they applied the presumption that any statue enacted by the legislature is constitutional.

“Let me quote the decision,” Kay said, “because the words are very powerful: This court presumes that any act of the General Assembly is constitutional and resolves all doubt in favor of its constitutionality.”

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Liberals comment on the health care 'reform' bill

“It’s a seriously flawed bill, we’ll spend years if not decades fixing it, but it’s nonetheless a huge step forward.” (Paul Krugman,  NYTimes columnist)

“How do you applaud while holding your nose? … There is so much that is wrong with it — and the way it was made — and, at the same time, so much that is right that you just have to shake your head in despair and in wonder.” (David Broder, Washington Post columnist)

Introducing the new Raleigh Libertarian Examiner

No, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be examining libertarians. I’ve joined the staff of Examiner.com as the Raleigh Libertarian Examiner, so I’ll be examining and writing about local news, current events and politics from a libertarian perspective.

Examiner.com is an online news service, not a blog. That means I’ve taken my “objective journalist” skills out of mothballs and will be putting them to use again. Meanwhile, I’ll keep my personal opinion stuff confined to this blog. Whatever I write for Examiner.com will also be posted here, but not necessarily vice versa.

What is Examiner.com (from their website)

Launched in April 2008, Examiner.com is the insider source of everything local, offering a rich mix of hyper-local and globally relevant content. Examiner.com covers more than 100 major U.S. cities, thousands of towns and neighborhoods, and is developing a strong presence in international markets including Canada, the U.K., the Philippines and Australia. Website visitors are geo-targeted to their closest market, with over 18 million monthly unique visitors expected by the end of 2009.

Examiner.com is a division of the Clarity Media Group, and is wholly owned by The Anschutz Company, one of the largest media investment companies in the world. Examiner.com is also fortunate to have insiders from sister company AEG, the world’s largest owner of sports teams and events, examining content from within their respective festival, venue, sports arena, team or special event.