A Call for Tolerance under Christ

A Call for Tolerance under Christcross

wine candles“How the current Doctrine of Tolerance encourages animosity towards Righteousness”

By Peter Craig Coker

             One of the many perplexing notions of post-modern thought lies within Christianity itself. Within Christianity remain enclaves of humanist thought, with individuals and churches, which appear as comfortable or maybe even more comfortable, embracing a secular philosophy rather than contending to apply a Biblical philosophy. Since the Bible teaches that government is on Christ’s shoulders, what does that imply for mankind? And, why do some Christian’s endorse conforming to man’s ways over God’s ways when it comes to governing God’s kingdom-people?  Such questions call to mind, considering the implications of God’s ways, Christian liberty, and especially tolerance; its value, validity, and applications to Christian life; and in the larger sense, the life of communities as well as nations. Should tolerance have limitations, and if so, how do we determine those limitations?

The word tolerance is derived from the Latin word tolerare, meaning to bear or forbearance. It is described as the capacity to endure pain or hardship; or, the allowable deviation from a standard. Toleration is the act or practice of allowing something with endurance, fortitude, and stamina.

In Christianity, tolerance is one of the virtues that springs out of love and humility. It is in essence derived from the commandments to love God and to love thy neighbor as well as possessing a respect for freedom. These virtues also include forgiveness and are therefore integral components of liberty, truth, and community. Tolerance as a Christian value requires a connection to a philosophical set of values or standards that are derived from God’s law-word. If tolerance is disconnected from those values, becoming absolute, it eventually leads to increased nihilistic and chaotic behaviors in a community. On the other hand — a forced coercion to a set of values will lead to tyranny and totalitarianism. Tolerance, therefore, must remain open to innumerable undiscovered truths between life’s certainties and uncertainties, while at the same time remain conscious of certain transcendent values of righteousness. The “value of tolerance,” in Christian life, reflects an eager desire for deeper truths, more valued relationships, and potentially, a more healthy and harmonious community. Continue reading

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Update on Massachusetts Addiction Crisis

The Addiction Crisis Worsens:simon says

Massachusetts Pulls Plug on Dr. Kishore’s Sobriety-Based Solution

By Martin G. Selbrede

woman of death This is the fourth in a series of articles about Dr. Punyamurtula S. Kishore (see “Revolutionary Addiction Treatment,” April 2014) , the Christian physician who innovated the Massachusetts Model of addiction treatment. Conventional addiction therapies, based on the administration of substitute narcotics (Methadone and Suboxone®), have a miserable track record: after a year of treatment, only 2% to 5% of the patients haven’t relapsed back into full-scale addiction—and most are still being prescribed the substitute narcotic, creating other issues for the patients.the mentalist

In contrast, Dr. Kishore’s sobriety-based approach is non-narcotic in orientation. His method doesn’t lead to a miserable 2% to 5% success rate after a year, but a 37% success rate based on hard test data.

While other states sought to emulate the Massachusetts Model, Massachusetts itself took a different tack: it incarcerated Dr. Kishore in September 2011 and withheld Medicaid payments to his fifty-two medical practices. The resulting collapse of this network put his patients at considerable risk (250,000 people had passed through his program by that point). Please read the three earlier articles in this series to gain an understanding of this gripping standoff between the state and the doctor, as those articles contain too much material for us to repeat here. We must move on to newer developments as the battle intensifies.

Dignity-Hungry Emperors with Invisible Clothes

In earlier articles in this series, we made reference to the opioid addiction crisis ravaging the state of Massachusetts as acknowledged by various state officials. Since those articles appeared, things have advanced. On March 27, 2014, the governor himself declared a public health emergency in his state.

The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on February 2, 2014, may have played a part in increasing cultural awareness of the addiction problem. However, the fact that Hoffman had Suboxone® (a trade name for buprenorphine, one of the two major anti-addiction “remedies”) in his apartment at the time of his death has been largely overlooked. He had been prescribed Suboxone® and became, in effect, a part of today’s “acceptable damage” statistics. He was one of the 95% of patients who dive back into their drug of choice within the first year of treatment under conventional strategies of addiction management.

With large pharmaceutical interests at risk, nobody dares mention that other treatment regimen that achieves far more than an “inevitably low” 5% success rate. This high-profile failure of a conventional anti-addiction program was easily hidden—by never mentioning the alternative program that achieves a 37% success rate without expensive narcotics. An uninformed populace will then tolerate an “inevitable tragedy,” oblivious of the fact that there was a vastly superior way to prevent such tragedies in the first place. Once this factor is grasped, the real tragedy is seen for what it is: why wasn’t the best treatment strategy exported out of Massachusetts for people like Hoffman to use? Why was Dr. Kishore’s real-world success dismantled, brick by brick, by a state that later declared that its citizens were being overtaken by a deadly crisis of epidemic proportions?

Too Little, Too Late

By June 10, 2014, Massachusetts suddenly “got religion” and jumped on the we-can-do-better bandwagon, as if the sobriety maintenance model promoted by Dr. Kishore was a new innovation that the appointed task force experts had just now concocted in response to the state’s addiction epidemic.

 In reality, the state task force had belatedly reinvented the wheel—the wheel Dr. Kishore had already put into practice in Massachusetts years earlier.

This is evidenced by the task force report’s support for Vivitrol (naltrexone), a key element in Dr. Kishore’s Massachusetts Model. This would have been a strong vindication of Dr. Kishore’s pioneering work with Vivitrol, except that his name is conspicuously absent from the report. Such credit would have been embarrassing for the task force to include, as it would have had to appear in words like this: “We recommend $2.3 million be allocated to do what that doctor was doing with Vivitrol before you destroyed his fifty-two practices in 2011, and we recommend $500,000 to create a sober home accreditation program like the program created by the doctor who must not be named, etc., etc.”) Besides, if the mission is to discredit somebody, the last thing you want to do is publicly give that individual credit for his achievements.

The state and its media, however, did know the first thing they needed to do to discredit Dr. Kishore: get the man’s medical license suspended before the main Medicaid fraud trial. As mentioned in the second article of this series, the state would see considerable media value in vilifying Dr. Kishore in advance of the trial. Exactly as predicted in that article concerning the two actions pending against Dr. Kishore, the media instantly broadcast the result of the railroaded suspension of April 9, 2014. But now that the cause for that suspension has been obliterated by facts that have since come to light, we wait upon the media to publish the necessary corrections. We likely wait in vain: we don’t expect to see any follow-up stories in print, as it appears to us that local journalists only publish what furthers the Attorney General’s agenda (perhaps the reason they get inside access other journalists seem not to get). You won’t get the facts from these allegedly impartial local journalists, but you will know the facts as you read further here.

For the record, Dr. Kishore regards the two attempts to put his medical license in jeopardy as “smoke screens” designed to take attention off the primary issues. While quite true, an understanding of the state’s overreaching in these hearings, smoke screen or not, will prove instructive. If state officials are not faithful in little things, they won’t be faithful in big things (Luke 19:17).

As we step through the facts, we’ll see that “faithful” and “Massachusetts officials” are terms that do not belong in the same sentence. We will also better understand why the state has continued to postpone Dr. Kishore’s main trial (apparently until after the 2014 elections) and why Massachusetts continues to have such a tragic addiction epidemic on its hands. We will conclude with the first major crack in the state’s “Medicaid fraud” claims: a major court decision handing the prosecution a massive setback in a case remarkably parallel to Dr. Kishore’s.

Medical License: The First Jeopardy

The first attempt to jeopardize Dr. Kishore’s license was discussed at length in the second article of this series. The reader will quickly realize the utterly specious nature of the charges, particularly in regard to the state’s efforts to block the 1,700 members of the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society from standing in solidarity with Dr. Kishore. Read the earlier article to get the details of the state’s objections to Dr. Kishore having four women taken to the hospital who arrived at a sober home under the influence.

Dr. Kishore appealed that first attempted suspension, and we expected progress on this front to finally clear Dr. Kishore’s name and license. On May 12, 2014, Dr. Kishore’s attorney filed a response in the ongoing appeal of that suspension. On June 24, 2014, the state’s response back was due, but the state’s documentation exceeded the 21-page limit set by the Superior Court, so a delay has been interposed in resolving this case.

You read that correctly: the appeal is being delayed because the state’s legal team was unable to count the amount of pages comprising its submission to the court.

Medical License: The Second Jeopardy

The next attempt to jeopardize Dr. Kishore’s license to practice medicine was also mentioned in the second article of this series. This case involved the alleged loss of medical records as a result of the Attorney General’s actions against Dr. Kishore and his practices. When last reported here, two records out of a quarter million were not accessible by Dr. Kishore, and so the Board of Medicine decided to proceed with hearings to suspend his license based on these missing records. (The other part of this second case, involving Dr. Kishore’s alleged failure to alert his patients that his practices were being closed by state action, has been shown by Dr. Kishore’s attorney to be devoid of truth.)

The furtive nature of the state when it operates in an underhanded way came to light when the hearing on these missing records began on April 2, 2014. John Costello railed against Dr. Kishore (who hasn’t practiced medicine since his September, 2011, arrest), demanding his license be suspended because he is a serious, urgent threat to the health of the people of Massachusetts. Mr. Costello was to be given ten minutes for his presentation, and then Dr. Kishore’s attorney would have ten minutes to respond—even time for both sides (in theory). What happened was something different.

Five minutes into Mr. Costello’s arguments for suspending Dr. Kishore, something unusual happened: the Board accepted a phone call. After taking the phone call, the Board declared that the proceedings would have to be postponed a week, to April 9, 2014. Then they could take up the issue of the two missing patient records.

On April 9, Mr. Costello apparently decided he had received a full “do-over,” and took ten minutes to make his presentation. At this point, he’d already spoken for fifteen minutes against Dr. Kishore (five minutes on April 2 and ten minutes on April 9). Dr. Kishore’s attorney could only speak for ten minutes. The “equal time” principle was apparently something that could be dispensed with when the outcome has been predetermined. For his part, Dr. Kishore’s attorney was able to produce one of the two missing records, a document which had been withheld from Dr. Kishore on the grounds that it was now “the property of the Attorney General.” Think about that last point: you can’t produce a document because someone has declared it to be the Attorney General’s property, and you are now going to lose your medical license because you don’t have it in your possession.

Thanks to a well-crafted subpoena by his attorney, Dr. Kishore was able to produce one of the two missing records. That left the suspension to rest entirely upon one “missing” record out of 250,000 records, records rendered inaccessible to Dr. Kishore by the actions of the state against him. Since he didn’t have that final record, the Board moved to suspend his license (temporarily). He promptly appealed.

But he did more than appeal. After prayer and counsel with other Christians, he mounted a last-ditch attempt to find the missing record. Providentially, it came to light on June 6, 2014. What also came to light with that medical record was even more remarkable, as his attorney pointed out in his June 10, 2014, response to the authorities that suspended Dr. Kishore’s medical license.

The patient whose record had been “lost” by Dr. Kishore had been treated between September 2003 and March 2005—as the missing record itself attests. The law that Dr. Kishore supposedly violated states that the physician must produce the record if the patient requests it up to seven years after “the last patient encounter.” However, this patient requested his record after March 2012, meaning that even if Dr. Kishore had lost the record, he had done nothing wrong as the statute of limitations for producing the record had already run out.

But there’s more: the record itself includes the patient’s signed request, dated August 31, 2005, to provide his medical records to UMASS Correctional Health. These were duly sent within thirty days of the patient’s signed request. At that point, the patient’s new doctor had the clock ticking on him for production of records. One can’t help but wonder how it is that the patient had recently come to request his records from Dr. Kishore (after the seven year statute had run out) and not from his later physicians, despite his having signed the request for record forwarding in 2005. As a result of this misdirected patient request, Dr. Kishore had his medical license suspended and that suspension gleefully spread all over the state media outlets. The campaign to discredit Dr. Kishore marches on.

In any case, the final missing record, sealed per legal protocol, was sent to the Board, despite the fact that (1) Dr. Kishore had no legal obligation to produce the record after seven years had expired, and (2) Dr. Kishore had already forwarded the patient’s record to UMASS Correctional Health in the fall of 2005.

There are no missing records. Therefore, there is no basis for a suspension of Dr. Kishore’s medical license. It appears that his license was suspended for political reasons. Of course, if the Board would care to share the contents of the phone call that bizarrely interrupted the April 2, 2014, hearing, we would be happy to print that information here. (Whether the Massachusetts media will publish the fact that these attempted suspensions of Dr. Kishore’s license will have all been thwarted by the truth is unknown. Their pattern of conduct suggests they will never correct the record, because these suspensions were intended to be in place when the main trial starts. We’ll be ecstatic to report otherwise, but come the fall we expect we’ll have nothing but disappointment in the media watchdogs.)

Insights From Within the State

One of my authoritative sources for this series of articles is a Massachusetts addiction expert (not Dr. Kishore) who will remain nameless. His insights into the ongoing crisis in his state, which serves as the backdrop for the trial of Dr. Kishore, shed considerable light into the otherwise inexplicable actions of the state. The following is a paraphrase of comments made during my phone discussions with this source.

One factor driving the wrong-headed prosecution of Dr. Kishore is the fact that the state’s lawyers and judges have a very narrow definition of how substance abuse should be treated. They rely entirely on a medical model for treatment rather than a public health model for treatment. The disdain for alternate (drug-free) models arises from the perceived “high maintenance” nature of these alternatives. People addicted to heroin, cocaine, etc., need a lot of support in dealing with chronic relapsing disease. A drug-free approach requires other methods not considered part of the playing field by the state.

One of the things quite alien to the state’s thinking is the notion of the recovering community. One needs to provide a social context for healing, and this is something the state simply can’t do: it is something that churches and communities can do, however, in their work with addicts. Such recovering communities (as are found in sober houses) provide support in the same way that immigrant communities support their members: that support comes from people like themselves, and persists until they can move on.

The notion of residential treatment, of sober houses, is an important one. Sober houses must be clean or they undermine sobriety. People relapsing at a sober house will trigger contagious craving among the others. Sober houses need to have the built-in protections to hold the line. Unfortunately, the state has no conception of any of this, and continues to promote its medical model, centered predominantly upon the prescription of methadone and Suboxone® (buprenorphine) for treating substance abuse.

Doctors prescribing such drugs are unwittingly flooding the streets with them, making the drug problem worse. This is one reason Dr. Kishore was so popular with the communities of Massachusetts: because he broke the back of the drug-centered model, setting forth the concept of a drug-free community. His non-narcotic approach is a far better solution, but the state is not used to seeing such drug-free solutions in action. If it’s not methadone or Suboxone, then it’s neither fish nor fowl. For this reason, we continue to see public officials advocating in the wrong direction: “We need more methadone, we need more buprenorphine.” Yet even back in 2011 Massachusetts already ranked third in the nation as measured by grams of Suboxone® dispensed per opioid user. Massachusetts was pouring gasoline on the fire even back then, while those “gasoline” companies made big money as the fire they fed consumed yet more human lives.

Historically, methadone came on the scene in America during the Nixon Administration. Based on controlled clinical comparisons with heroin, it was hailed as “the answer” to opioid addiction when those treated seemed to wake up (rather than nodding off into limbo). Thus methadone maintenance was born, but the safeguards back then (regular urine testing, oral administration, counseling, etc.) are now gone. Our era now confronts the two worst downsides of methadone use: (1) those who use it stay on it forever; (2) the widespread diversion of drugs permits addicts to sell the methadone (and now Suboxone®) on the street to fund the purchase of their actual drug of choice (e.g., heroin).

Massachusetts pushes these drugs: it’s their hair of the dog solution to the problem. The epidemic grows further in scope because doctors are writing more than just prescriptions for methadone or buprenorphine. If addicts claim they’re “in pain,” they get more narcotics. When they say they have trouble sleeping, they get sedatives and tranquilizers. If they say they have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and can’t focus, they’re prescribed amphetamines. These addicts either use these additional drugs, or sell them on the street.

This is why the communities of Massachusetts supported Dr. Kishore: none of these problems arise when the Massachusetts Model dominates a region because narcotics and other addictive drugs simply aren’t part of the treatment program. As my contact stated explicitly, “Dr. Kishore doesn’t give additive drugs to drug addicts. That’s why his treatment centers don’t become magnets for people who want to use drugs.”

Resistance to drug-free approaches such as Dr. Kishore’s method boils down to pure politics. The view of state officials can be reduced to one basic mission statement: “Our job is not to stop people from using drugs. Our job is to make sure they don’t hurt themselves.” (See the first article in this series regarding the fourth week of treatment, the looming suicide risk that crops up in that week, and how Dr. Kishore still managed a perfect zero-death record for all who were under his care.)

Clearly, someone who skirts the state’s implicit mission statement so radically (like Dr. Kishore, whose mission IS to see people stop using drugs) represents a challenge to the state’s claim of operating in good faith for its people.

Regarding the Medicaid Fraud Case

My Massachusetts contact also had strong opinions about the Medicaid fraud allegations against Dr. Kishore. In my contact’s view, the state wants to drag the proceedings out, because state officials are trying to make it impossible for him to continue. The intent is to force him to cop a plea, and the state is not averse to using the fact that “he’s a foreigner” against him.

Various testing labs had been paying off sober houses for years. When caught, the accused accepted the state’s plea-bargain deal and paid the designated fine. Nobody went to jail. Nobody fought the charges. Taking the state’s deal was a business decision, pure and simple.

My contact concludes that, despite Dr. Kishore’s innocence, the cards remain stacked against him. He’s now considered a Medicaid fraud doctor, so the system responds by saying: We need to get rid of him; he gives us a bad name. (Perhaps this motivates, at least in part, the Board’s actions against his medical license. – MGS.)

Beyond the Smoke Screen

As pointed out above, Dr. Kishore is correct in characterizing the Board actions against his medical license as a smoke screen. Nonetheless, the Board actions against his medical license may well prove a good indicator of what might await Dr. Kishore after the elections when the charge of Medicaid fraud is adjudicated. (Read the first and second articles in this series to understand how the state so badly interpreted the data directly in front of it.)

Those close to the Massachusetts situation believe that the postponement of Dr. Kishore’s trial until after the November elections is politically motivated. (In fact, it is hard to find any decisions made in Massachusetts that aren’t politically motivated.) On that hypothesis, the trial is positioned after the elections because the state officials are aware of the consequences of losing the trial. Once it becomes known how state officials dealt with the pioneer of addiction medicine working sacrificially in their midst, the political futures of those who spearheaded this case would implode. The state will be seen as the monster that stole $4 million from the treatment centers that were changing lives more successfully (37% versus 5%) than the state programs could, killing those practices off and taking the innovator out of circulation for nearly three years.

Perhaps the state is aware of the rotten foundations of its case against Dr. Kishore and his fifty-two medical practices. One certainly wonders why the main prosecutor against Dr. Kishore, Assistant Attorney General Nancy Maroney, resigned her position on April 2, 2014 (the same day as the first hearing on Dr. Kishore’s medical license concerning missing records), and subsequently dropped off the map without warning or explanation. Did she decide to distance herself from these benighted proceedings and buy herself plausible deniability? We can only speculate: she may have had personal reasons unrelated to the case. Could her resignation have been the point of that unexpected phone call in the middle of the license hearing? Again, nobody knows. We are left with the bald fact that the lead individual battling against Dr. Kishore has suddenly disappeared from the scene before the main trial.

One thing, however, is not a matter of speculation. It is beyond doubt that the Attorney General’s case against another laboratory charged with Medicaid fraud has just fallen apart in a most spectacular way. On June 27, 2014, Franey Medical Lab Inc.’s principals were found not guilty of all charges leveled at them by the state of Massachusetts.

As in Dr. Kishore’s case, the state had withheld more money from the Franey defendants (over $1 million) than what the state had accused that laboratory of illegitimately charging. With Dr. Kishore’s case, the situation is even more egregious: after interest is added in, the magnitude of the appalling actions taken against one of the state’s medical heroes will become blatantly obvious to all. Unless…

Unless journalists friendly to the Attorney General decide not to report the story. For example, The Boston Globe has said nothing about the Franey acquittal, which constitutes an embarrassing defeat for its favorite law enforcement official. That acquittal was duly reported by Cape Cod Online’s Amy Anthony, but not (yet) by the Globe’s Patricia Wen. Emulating Joseph Heller’s fictional corporal in Catch-22, the state Attorney General monitors two categories of career achievements: “Feathers in the Cap!” and “Black Eyes!” The Boston Globe journalists often seem to drag their feet in reporting Black Eyes suffered by their Attorney General.

The last line of Cape Cod Online’s story on the Franey acquittal might cast some light on this issue: “The attorney general’s office declined to comment on the trial.” It seems that a well-worn religious maxim has been modified and pressed into service by the journalists of record in Boston: “Where the AG speaks, we speak. Where the AG is silent, we are silent.”

The mountain of obstacles the state has erected against Dr. Kishore’s work will one day be leveled (Zech. 4:7). Then the serious work of rebuilding the lives of those ravaged by substance addiction can be resumed without further interference from an oblivious, overreaching state protecting interests other than those of its ill-served citizens.


[1]Read the second article in this series for the pertinent documentation.


[3]One example of apparent privileged access will suffice: The Boston Globe’s Patricia Wen covered the surprise arrest and appearance in Suffolk Superior Court of Dr. Kishore on October 6, 2011. The arrest was a surprise to Dr. Kishore, but not to Wen. Other examples can be found in earlier articles in this series.

[4]If these opiate substitute approaches were the road to success, why do they look to be such tragic failures? Perhaps the principle of Ecclesiastes 5:10 applies: a hunger for silver cannot be satisfied with silver. Therefore, it’s no surprise that legislators elsewhere are learning that blocking physicians from prescribing addicting drugs actually saves lives. Seehttp://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-rx-cdc-study-20140702-story.html

[5]Lisa M. Lines MPH and Robin E. Clark PhD. “State-level Influences on Buprenorphine Utilization: Variations in Opioid Addiction Treatment,” AcademyHealth. Seattle, WA. June 2011.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/lisa_lines/2

[6]The task force report in the second endnote makes some attempt at addressing this issue, but it’s only an issue when you don’t pursue a drug-free approach to solving addiction.

[7]Dr. Kishore might consider applying to the Guinness Book of World Records for consideration for the longest interval a Massachusetts defendant has been forced to wear a GPS ankle bracelet. He may or may not win such recognition, but he warrants nothing less than an honorable mention in that ignominious category.

[8]A putative witness for the prosecution insists that Ms. Maroney’s departure wasn’t voluntary. The smoke has yet to clear from this mysterious situation.


[10]While Dr. Kishore was always in full compliance, in all particulars, with both federal and state laws governing kickback arrangements and safe harbor provisions, it is interesting to note that the American Bar Association itself is now questioning the value of so-called “anti-kickback” legislation as currently being applied across the land. Seehttp://apps.americanbar.org/buslaw/blt/blt00may-kickback.html

[11]See the first article in this series for a detailed discussion of this process and the Biblical context undergirding it.


 Martin G. Selbrede is Chalcedon’s resident scholar and Editor of Faith for All of Life and the Chalcedon Report.

Article from Chalcedon.edu


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State and Local Pension Fund Woes to Increase

Why the State and Local Pension Problem Will Get firecookingWorse

By Steven MalangaPhysics1

“Why Detroit’s cost-saving plan is not possible elsewhere”

July 2014

When unions agreed to a deal last month with Detroit city government to freeze the city’s underfunded pension system and create a new, less expensive one, some experts hailed it as a model that other troubled cities might adopt. News reports prominently mentioned governments with deep retirement debt, including Chicago and Philadelphia, as candidates for similar reforms. But the agreement came about under a Michigan emergency law that applies to struggling cities like Detroit, which is in bankruptcy. In many states, by contrast, local laws and state court rulings have made it virtually impossible to cut back retirement benefits for current government employees, even for work that they have yet to perform. These state protections, which go far beyond any safeguards that federal law provides to private-sector workers, are one reason why so many states and localities are struggling to dig themselves out of pension-system debt, amid sharp increases in costs. It will take significant reforms to state laws—or bigger and more painful bankruptcy cases—to make a real dent in the pension crisis.

The Detroit plan, negotiated by unions with the city’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, freezes the city’s current underfunded retirement plan so that workers will receive benefits for new work at a reduced rate. Under the old plan, an employee who worked for the city for 35 years and retired at 62 with a final salary of $60,000 could qualify for a pension of nearly $40,000. By contrast, if that same employee works the final ten years of his career under the new plan, his annual pension would be about $35,000. In addition, if the new plan becomes underfunded, the employee will have to contribute more of his own money to help cover the costs.

Detroit’s reforms aren’t unusual by the standards of the private sector, where a federal law, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), governs pensions. That legislation protects the benefits that a worker has already earned but allows employers to amend a pension plan for work that’s not yet been done, a move that can immediately reduce costs. Workers have the option of seeking employment elsewhere, of course, if they don’t like the new terms.

But federal law doesn’t apply to municipal retirement systems created by state legislation. In about two dozen states, courts have declared that laws creating pensions represent a contract between an employee and government whose benefits can never be reduced once a worker enters the retirement system. Many state courts—including those in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Colorado—have been influenced by a series of California legal decisions (often referred to, collectively, as the “California Rule” on pensions) which hold that the pension contract begins immediately upon employment, and that the terms of a government worker’s pension can only change if the alterations are “accompanied by comparable new advantages,” or benefits. The California Rule, University of Chicago legal scholar Richard Epstein has written, “Neuters the power of local governments to alter and amend, by wiping out all government flexibility to correct prior errors in pension program design or funding.” One result, he observes, “is a financial death spiral” in many municipalities.

We see that spiral in California, where a number of municipalities entered bankruptcy in recent years, thanks in part to their inability to alter their unaffordable pensions. Courts, meanwhile, have short-circuited reform attempts. Voters in the city of San Jose, where pension costs have risen to $245 million, from $73 million in 2002, passed a ballot initiative in 2012 installing a new, less expensive pension system. But in December, a California judge invalidated the key changes, based on her interpretation of state court precedents.

The decision leaves California municipalities facing a bleak future. From 2006 through 2013, local governments that participate in the giant California Public Employees’ Retirement System saw their annual pension costs double, on average. Last year, the CalPERS board voted to require an additional contribution increase of 50 percent, phased-in over five years. “While there is time to plan for the increase, the most fiscally stressed municipalities could find the increases unmanageable,” Moody’s wrote. Meanwhile, California governor Jerry Brown has signed off on another plan to rescue the state’s struggling teachers’ pension fund by requiring school districts to increase their annual contributions from $2 billion this year to $6 billion over the next seven years.

Pennsylvania school districts face a similar future. A recent report by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators estimates that retirement costs, which rose by 25 percent last year for most school districts, will equal 30 percent of salaries by 2020. (In 2009, by contrast, pensions added up to just 4 percent of pay.) In some municipalities, the burden is even greater. Philadelphia’s pension costs have tripled to $150 million since 2011, contributing to a budget squeeze that has led to hundreds of layoffs. But there’s no relief in sight. According to pension documents, the average age of a public school teacher in Pennsylvania is 44, while the typical teacher retirement age in the state is 60. That means that most of the state’s teacher work-force have years to continue working and earning benefits at the current expensive levels before they retire.

In some cities, reformers are challenging these inflexible state rules. San Jose mayor Chuck Reed is promoting a ballot initiative to amend the California Constitution and allow municipalities to alter their pension plans. He’s sure to face stiff opposition from government unions, which are likely to spend at least $50 million to defeat the measure.

Legislators in Illinois have taken a different approach. Their state constitution bans changes to pensions, and costs have soared for both the state and its municipalities. Last year, legislators passed changes in defiance of constitutional protections, arguing in court that the state faces a “severe financial crisis” that makes reform “a valid exercise of the state’s reserved sovereign powers.” Unions are now challenging the reform law, and if they succeed, Illinois faces a $187 billion pension tab—equal to more than four times its revenues—with no plan to reduce the debt.

Illinois has lots of company. Without some way to amend the terms of retirement plans, states and municipalities groaning under the so-called California Rule face years of increasing costs and pressure on budgets that inevitably mean higher taxes and fewer services—in other words, the worst of both worlds.


Steven Malanga is the senior editor of City Journal and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His latest book is Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer.

Article from city-journal.org

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San Bernardino Surrenders

San Bernardino SurrendersMad Mag

By Steven Greenhut

The bankrupt city gives in to California’s public pension giant. Now what?
June 2014

expressionismCalifornia’s taxpayers should have been rooting for the bankrupt city of San Bernardino as it wrestled with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) over the repayment of $13.5 million in debt, plus interest. Unfortunately, San Bernardino last week surrendered as the two sides announced the outline of a deal. Though the details have yet to be released—they’re subject to a court-imposed gag order—it appears that the city will leave its pension plan untouched. That doesn’t bode well for municipal financial solvency in the Golden State.

In 2012, San Bernardino, an inland Southern California city located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. It was merely the latest in a string of California municipalities to succumb to insolvency in recent years. The San Francisco Bay Area city of Vallejo filed for bankruptcy in 2008, emerging in 2011. Stockton, in the northern edge of the San Joaquin Valley, remains the largest California city to enter bankruptcy so far, preceding San Bernardino into Chapter 9 by a few months. That city’s plan awaits final approval from the court after a contentious legal battle with bondholders.

San Bernardino tried something different. City officials decided to stop payments to CalPERS, arguing in effect that the nation’s largest pension fund should be treated like any other creditor. Neither Vallejo nor Stockton officials wanted to fight CalPERS, which commands vast legal resources. Both cities devised bankruptcy plans that slashed public services, raised taxes, and left pensions untouched. CalPERS responded with a lawsuit challenging San Bernardino’s bankruptcy filing, claiming the city didn’t need to go bankrupt even as CalPERS supported bankruptcy in Vallejo and Stockton. Last year, tired of fighting, San Bernardino agreed to resume payments to CalPERS, but claimed it could not afford to make the back payments from its year-long hiatus.

Now the city has reached a deal to begin making the back payments. As Ed Mendel of the website Calpensions explained, “San Bernardino has not publicly proposed a pension cut. A sketchy plan for operating in bankruptcy only proposed a ‘fresh start’ that would ‘reamortize CalPERS liability over 30 years,’ perhaps cutting costs $1.3 million in the first year.” After a federal judge ruled that Detroit may abrogate its pensions in bankruptcy (because federal bankruptcy law trumps state law), CalPERS argued in an amicus brief that “Congress did not envision that Chapter 9 would become a haven for municipalities that seek to ignore and break state laws and constitutional provisions in order to adjust their debts.” In other words, nothing—not even bankruptcy—absolves cities or their taxpaying residents of these promises.

Leaving pensions untouched will have consequences both foreseeable and unintended. Recent news reports, for example, suggest that Stockton and Vallejo are already facing new financial problems because their pension debt remains out of control. For nominally solvent cities, state courts have consistently upheld the “California Rule,” which holds that once a city council grants a pension increase—even one based on absurdly optimistic or dishonest promises—the full pension must be paid. It cannot be altered, even on a go-forward basis. That leaves very few options for San Bernardino and other cities that are sprinting toward “service insolvency”—when a city can pay its employees but doesn’t have much left over to provide services.

Some California cities, such as San Jose, argued that their charters allow for reducing pensions going forward. San Jose’s voters in 2012 overwhelmingly approved reforms that would have let the city offer employees a lower-benefit plan. But a court voided that part of the initiative. Meantime, CalPERS has been significantly raising its contribution rates on municipalities that participate in its plan—thus leading to further cutbacks and problems. As Mendel notes, “CalPERS lowered the earnings forecast for terminated plans from 4.82 percent a year to 2.98 percent, sharply increasing the debt that must be paid if employers leave the system.” When taxpayers are on the hook for the pension payments, CalPERS optimistically predicts a 7.5 percent rate of return. When its own money is at stake, the pension fund assumes a much lower rate.

In the wake of last week’s tentative deal with CalPERS, San Bernardino now is trying to tackle outlandish pay contracts with its police and firefighters’ unions. The firefighters have been particularly stubborn. The city “said that to exit bankruptcy it must terminate a union contract that pays an average annual salary of $190,000 to each of its top 40 firefighters,” Bloomberg reports. The next tiers of firefighters earn in pay alone an average of $166,000 and $130,000. And people wonder why these union-controlled California cities are going bankrupt? Yet it’s not clear that San Bernardino can end these contracts. The firefighters’ union claims that these salary scales are untouchable because the city’s charter mandates that public-safety workers’ compensation align with such compensation in similarly sized cities, even though most of those cities have broader tax bases and higher average incomes than working-class San Bernardino.

So everyone is protected with special legal limitations—except for taxpayers. And no Democrat in the state capitol is talking about ways to keep these cities from acting as a gravy train for public “servants” who are paid far above market wages. Spunky San Bernardino at least tried to take on its biggest problem. Apparently, it failed. That leaves few options for other California cities facing similar crises in the years ahead.


Steven Greenhut is the California columnist for U-T San Diego.

Article from city-journal.org


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Just War Theory and International Terrorism

Just War Theory and International Terrorismskulls-khmer rouge

By Monique Canto-Sperber and Andre Glucksmann

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André Glucksmann: It may surprise you to hear me say that I do not find the notion of “just war” very pertinent. If a just war is a war that I consider just, this does not mean very much; it’s nothing but a personal opinion. On the other hand, the notion as it is elaborated by Cicero or by Saint Augustine is deeply ontological. It derives from the idea that there is order in the world that can be disturbed by an act of aggression. In this Roman and Christian model, a just war is one that either restores peace to the world (Cicero) or that reestablishes the order of Providence (Augustine). But here lies the mystery: How do you account for the popularity of this notion in a world in which we do not believe in order as understood by the Romans or as understood in Christianity? This popularity shows that we continue to understand war within a horizon of peace that we take to be more fundamental: order is primary, and war is secondary. This model implies the right to make war (jus ad bellum) in order to restore peace.

philosophesIn the Greek paradigm, on the other hand, it is the state of war that has priority. We are always in bello—in a state of conflict—and war is justified insofar as it aims to moderate violence or to avoid the end of the world. Thus, the central problem is that of jus in bello (justice in wartime). To sum up: either we understand war within a horizon of peace, or we understand peace within a horizon of war. These two paradigms imply very different codes of conduct. In our day, I would say that our ways of justifying war must derive essentially from jus in bello and not from jus ad bellum; this is because we are immersed in situations in which war is always possible and in which the effort to master this possibility is open to question. In brief, just as the idea of a just war strikes me as anachronistic, so the idea of justice within war (the rules of which were codified in the Geneva Convention or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is urgently relevant.

Monique Canto-Sperber: For me, the notion of just war remains relevant because it testifies to our double heritage of reflection on the ethics of violence. In the ancient world, war was regarded as a quasi-natural consequence of interactions among cities and among human beings.

It is only in early Christianity, which tended to recommend abstinence from all violence, that we first see even the possibility of a “just war.” This teaching, in which war and the good are closely linked, would be significantly modified by Grotius, a contemporary of Descartes. Grotius detaches the recourse to war from the pursuit of the good and gives “just war” a more procedural definition. The following question then comes to the fore: To what degree, within a given juridical order, are there legitimate reasons to make war, and by what means? Henceforth, states are held responsible, and criteria must be fixed. These criteria relate both to legitimate reasons to enter into war (jus ad bellum: the right to self-defense, the duty to put an end to a massacre) and to acceptable means of making war (jus in bello). We today are heirs of both these visions (Augustine’s and Grotius’s), whether we acknowledge it or not. According to the first, war is legitimate if its goal is to eradicate an evil and to establish a good. Humanitarian interventions, or wars that are supposed to promote freedom and democracy, take their inspiration from this principle. Their tendency is to identify the justice of war with a general moral claim. According to the second vision, the justice of a war cannot be conceived without reference to a complex network of reasons, justifications, rules, and limits. This view holds justice within warfare (jus in bello) to be the central question. Both these conceptions are opposed to pacifism, according to which, strictly speaking, any use of violence is intrinsically evil.

A.G.: In the 1980s, in the middle of a discussion with German pacifists, I put this question to them: If you (environmentalists and leftists) had possessed weapons of mass destruction in 1943, would you have been willing to give them to the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto to enable them to dissuade the Nazis from exterminating them? I never had a response. Pacifists kill by letting people be killed. To resist the injustice of a killer is to base one’s authority and legitimacy on the negation of this injustice. And this justice in no way depends on the existence of God, as Grotius wrote. Grotius had a tragic sense of history, on the Greek model. He did not appeal either to a divine or to a Roman peace but rather to the necessity to control and to oppose war’s fury, even by taking up arms. He thus made war on war in a framework that came to be called jus in bello.

M.C.-S.: I would like to emphasize how artificial the opposition between idealism and realism often appears in the area of international relations. Values and norms are no less real than passions and interests. The world’s violence is a fact, not a thesis. The fundamental moral question is thus how to channel this irreducible violence; hence the intellectual utility of elaborating rules that avoid moralism while preserving a minimal justice. Thus, a just war will be, first, one that accords with an irresistible moral judgment that says, “That is intolerable, we cannot let that happen” (because of harm inflicted on individuals or because of a direct threat to global security). Second, a just war will be one that requires moderation and a justification of the means used in combat. To be sure, other kinds of wars might claim a moral justification and might be undertaken in the name of some good, but such wars risk escaping all limitation; they risk an escalation of violence that cannot be contained because it is based on moral arguments.

A.G.: Morality and realism are polar opposites only in philosophy classes. Take the example of the Kremlin’s war in Chechnya. One can oppose this war on moral grounds because it killed as many as one out of five Chechnyans, including several thousand children. Or one can oppose it pragmatically: thanks to this carnage, the Kremlin is becoming harder and harder to control, while civil society suffers repression and censure. Morality and realism go together: an autocratic power that disposes of the world’s second-greatest nuclear arsenal is a danger not only for the Chechnyans but for the Russians themselves and for the entire world. Similarly, since we allowed the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda, a true pestilence has spread over Africa, as we have seen in the Congo and in Darfur.

M.C.-S.: It is important to note that, until the mid-twentieth century, wars were conducted by states, the only recognized international actors, and this in a context marked by fairly clear distinctions between war and peace. Today, these distinctions are no longer so clear. Wars no longer involve two clearly identified opposing states, which renders obsolete the traditional means of regulation, such as reprisals, deterrence, and so on. This is obvious in the case of terrorism—this invisible, elusive, unpredictable enemy for whom the notion of a truce has little meaning. It follows that the main danger no longer seems to lie in some “clash of civilizations” but rather in the profusion of cases of competitive mimicry: passions are fed by rivalries that spring inevitably from the interaction of cultures. On this point, Raymond Aron’s views have proved prophetic: he predicted that the internationalization of the world threatened to engender violence. This leaves us with a very difficult question: how to define justice in the fight against terrorism—or rather, against terrorists. How can rules be respected in the face of an enemy that respects none at all? This recalls the classic dilemma: How do we treat an arrested terrorist who might possess information that could save hundreds of people? Here perhaps a moment of humility is in order. But one condition still obtains: anyone who might depart from accepted rules concerning the treatment of prisoners is under an absolute obligation to take responsibility for his actions.

A.G.: In uniform or not, whether in the service of a state or of a group working in its own name, the terrorist is defined as an armed person who deliberately attacks those who are not armed. What is the solution? Despite what seems to be the view of French officials, it certainly is not to double Interpol connections between states to facilitate the policing of terrorists. There is a simple reason that this will not work: several states use terrorists as their agents. The age of Great Wars is over, but “there are still warriors,” Ernst von Salomon prophesied in 1920. The great dragon—the Soviet system—has collapsed, but its totalitarian offspring have swarmed across the planet, as the dissident Vladimir Bukovsky has observed. Contemporary movements motivated by hatred of the West are Westernized movements; we have exported not only our weapons but also our techniques, our typewriters and then our computers, and our intellectual methods. Over and above the globalization of commerce, there is the world market in armed violence. “Polemos is the father of all things,” Heraclitus wrote. Polemos—war, and not divine Providence or the love of peace. Polemos “designates some as mortals and others as immortals”; he disenchants, demythologizes, and sows revolution. He “makes some men free, and others slave.”

Polemos raises the ultimate stake: liberty or death. Troy was a well-ordered city, but Troy had to fall. “Polemos is the father of all things”—such was the watchword of the Greek conquerors. The end of the Cold War confirms the views of Shakespeare and Heraclitus, thinkers of war, against those of most contemporary experts who were dreaming of a pacified history. On the other hand, I would tend to defend Kant. The philosopher of Königsberg does not seem to embody the pacifist spirit.

Kant was more ironic; when he titled his treatise “Perpetual Peace,” it referred to a sign above a cemetery. Perpetual peace is death! But he was also more positive. He thought that nations by themselves could not control the furor of war and thus that there had to be alliances among republics and states ruled by law—not against terrorism but against terrorists: mafias, religious groups, nationalists, or God knows what. You are right to introduce this nuance. This perspective strikes me as absolutely fundamental, as long as we clearly understand that we have enemies. Unfortunately, we are instead in the process of breaking up the European Union and the Atlantic alliance, which might have been tools for the mastery of global violence.

M.C.-S.: Over the last 15 years, we have seen an increasing enthusiasm for cosmopolitanism, for the idea that the management of the world’s affairs can be turned over to a global civil society. But this is a deformation of Kant’s thought. My interpretation of Kant’s cosmopolitanism has much in common with yours: Kant was opposed to the notion of world government. For him, the moral quality of agreements between states depended upon the rule of law as a moral principle that the state would export into its alliances with other states. This is something that we could attain as Europeans and, more broadly, throughout the Western world.

A.G.: In his famous speech on Iraq at the United Nations, Dominique de Villepin sang the praises of “international law.” But this law has had nothing to say and no means of action during most of the great crises of our time: Cambodia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and the Caucasus.

M.C.-S.: What I find most striking is that we find ourselves engulfed in violence to an unprecedented degree, and at the same time we talk ceaselessly about international harmony, except for occasional interruptions by American initiatives—and all that with an utterly naïve optimism and good conscience. This conjunction is also unprecedented in human history. Lucidity would require us instead to reconcile pessimism in diagnosis with optimism in action, to cite one more formula from Raymond Aron.

A.G.: I note the same paradox. The reigning international doctrine assumes that we are made to get along, but the problem is that the evidence does not support this view; it is a lovely vision that the evening news contradicts every day. Thus we are compelled to seek a guilty party that must be the sole cause of all evil. And here again I observe that we have still not left behind the Roman-Christian model, for which peace is primary. Since peace does not happen, it must be the fault of some single bad actor, and this happens to be America! The Greek model seems to me more judicious: by accepting war, devastation, and fury as our horizon, we will elaborate strategies of prevention and deterrence—and thus increase the chances for peace.


Interview conducted by Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine — translated by Alexis Cornel.

Monique Canto-Sperber is president of Paris Sciences et Lettres–Quartier latin, a higher education and research institution. Her conversation with André Glucksmann originally appeared, in slightly different form, in Philosophie magazine.

André Glucksmann is a French philosopher and author of many books, including The Discourse of War.

Article from city-journal.org


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Not Revolution but Regeneration…

occupy-5The Heart of Christian ReconstructionLiberal gods

By Rev. R.J. Rushdoony

 God’s repeated test of the integrity of a people’s faith is their care for widows, orphans, and strangers, for those who are outside their normal realm of association. This is the second aspect of this commandment. To anti liberty 2love our neighbor as ourselves is to show as great a concern for their welfare, rights, and reputation as for our own. To love our neighbor as ourselves means to respect our neighbor’s marriage and its sanctity (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”); constitution-burning-150x150his life (“Thou shalt not kill”); his property (“Thou shalt not steal”); his reputation (“Thou shalt not bear false witness”); and to do this in word, thought, and deed (“Thou shalt not covet…”).

Mao in 1938What this means is very clear. Beyond a very limited sphere, judgment is the province of God. A godless state will assume more and more of the prerogatives of God and assume powers of judgment over all of life. Because we are not God, for us the decisive power in society must be the regenerating power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us.

Not revolution but regeneration, not coercion but conversion, is our way of changing the world and furthering the Kingdom of God.

This is the heart of Christian reconstruction. The heart of Biblicaldemocrat communist law is that it makes us the basic government of society in and through our personal and family life, through our vocations, churches, and schools.

In Biblical law, civil government is a very limited and minor sphere of rule and power.

picasso anti fascismNo society can be healthy if the people are not strong in their faith. A strong state means a weak people. The various civil governments of the world are all strong and over-bearing in their power because the peoples are weak in the faith. Statist power grows to fill a vacuum in government created by the irresponsibility of the people. When men say of their Lord, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14), they are inviting anarchy. The Book of Judges 10 commandments...describes such a time. Men had rejected God as their king, and, because “In those days there was no king in Israel” God having been denied, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

When men do that which is right in their own eyes; when they deny Christ our King and His law-word, then their word and their group becomes the source of determination for them. Men then act humanistically and are determined by their group, not the Lord. Our governing allegiance must be to Jesus Christ and His reign, not to our Catholic or Protestant churches.

Our faith can rarely surpass our allegiance. If our allegiance is Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, or what have you, we are small men indeed, and our “faith” a warped one at best. Churches like persons must be instruments in the hand of God, not the centers of our lives. We can and must respect the instruments, but we warp the faith if we are not God-centered.


Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, pgs. 281-282

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001) was the founder of Chalcedon and a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical Law to society.

Article from Chalcedon.edu

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Liberty or Equality?

how to thinkLiberty or Equality?Mad Mag

By Myron Magnet

The Founding Fathers knew that you can’t have both.

With the fulminating on the left about inequality—“Fighting inequality is the mission of our times,” as New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, summed up the theme of his post-election powwow with President Barack Obama—it’s worth pausing to admire anew the very different, and very realistic, modesty underlying Thomas Jefferson’s deathless declaration that all men are created equal. We are equal, he went on to explain, in having the same God-given rights that no one can legitimately take away from us. But Jefferson well knew that one of those rights—to pursue our own happiness in our own way—would yield wildly different outcomes for individuals. Even this most radical of the Founding Fathers knew that the equality of rights on which American independence rests would necessarily lead to inequality of condition. Indeed, he believed that something like an aristocracy would arise—springing from talent and virtue, he ardently hoped, not from inherited wealth or status.

In the greatest of the Federalist Papers, Number 10, James Madison explicitly pointed out the connection between liberty and inequality, and he explained why you can’t have the first without the second. Men formed governments, Madison believed (as did all the Founding Fathers), to safeguard rights that come from nature, not from government—rights to life, to liberty, and to the acquisition and ownership of property. Before we joined forces in society and chose an official cloaked with the authority to wield our collective power to restrain or punish violators of our natural rights, those rights were at constant risk of being trampled by someone stronger than we. Over time, though, those officials’ successors grew autocratic, and their governments overturned the very rights they were supposed to protect, creating a world as arbitrary as the inequality of the state of nature, in which the strongest took whatever he wanted, until someone still stronger came along.

In response, Americans—understanding that “kings are the servants, not the proprietors of the people,” as Jefferson snarled—fired their king and created a democratic republic. Under its safeguard of our equal right to liberty, each of us, Madison saw, will employ his different talents, drive, and energy, to follow his own individual dream of happiness, with a wide variety of successes and failures. Most notably, Federalist 10 pointed out, “From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results.” That inequality would be a sign of the new nation’s success, not failure. It would mean that people were really free.

The democratic republic that the American Revolution brought into being, however, contained the seeds of a new threat to natural rights, Madison fretted. Yes, the new nation will operate by majority rule, but even democratic majorities can’t legitimately overturn the fundamental rights that it is government’s purpose to safeguard, no matter how overwhelming the vote. To do so would be just as grievous a tyranny as the despotism of any sultan in his divan. It would be, in Madison’s famous phrase, a “tyranny of the majority.” As Continental Congressman Richard Henry Lee put it, an “elective despotism” is no less a despotism, for all its democratic trappings.

How would such a tyranny occur? Almost certainly, Madison thought, it would center on “the apportionment of taxes.” Levying taxes “is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality, yet there is perhaps no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party, to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number is a shilling saved to their own pockets.” How easy for the unpropertied many to expropriate the wealth of the propertied few by slow erosion, decreeing that they should pay more than a proportionate share of the public expenses. How seductive for the multitudinous farmers to levy taxes on the much smaller number of merchants or bankers or manufacturers, while exempting themselves. How tempting for the majority who have debts to transfer money secretly and silently away from the minority who are their creditors by debasing the currency, so that the real value of what they owe steadily shrinks, as Madison well remembered from the ruinous inflation of the Revolutionary War years. And a year before the Constitutional Convention, Madison recalled, the debt-swamped farmers of western Massachusetts had cooked up, in Shays’s Rebellion, still more “wicked and improper” schemes for expropriating the property of others: trying to close the courts at gunpoint to prevent foreclosures on their defaulted mortgages and even demanding the equal division of property.

So as chief architect of the Constitution, designed to give the federal government sufficient power to protect citizens’ basic rights—above all, the power to tax, whose lack under the Articles of Confederation had made the Revolutionary War longer and grimmer than it would have been if Congress had had sufficient means to buy arms and pay soldiers—Madison proceeded with his heart in his mouth, fearful that such augmented power made a tyranny of the majority all the more possible. His main challenge at the Convention, as he saw it, was to guard against precisely that outcome. So while four of the 18 specific powers that Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress concern the levying of taxes and the borrowing and coining of money to “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States”—taxes that “shall be uniform throughout the United States”—eight of the rest deal with spending only for military and naval purposes, while the “general welfare” powers extend only to building post offices and post roads; establishing federal courts; protecting intellectual property by copyrights and patents; and regulating bankruptcies, naturalization, and interstate and foreign commerce. Not content merely to limit and define explicitly the federal government’s power, Madison made sure that the Constitution divided it up among several branches, limiting the power that any single individual or official body could wield and putting each jealously on guard against any other’s attempt to seize a disproportionate share. Moreover, all these officials (except the judges) were elected representatives of the people: they were the agents through whom Americans, who had no rulers, governed themselves.

But why was the liberty that Madison so mightily struggled to protect so precious? Americans knew how grievous its opposite was, both from the enslaved blacks they saw all around them as well as from their knowledge that their own forebears had fled British persecution of non-Anglican Protestants or European persecution of all Protestants, denied even freedom to express their own beliefs. They knew what man could inflict on man. But of all the Founders, Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton gave the most positive, eloquent, and inspiring answer to that question—though, in fact, he thought that he was answering a question about economics. Illegitimate, orphaned, and poor, Hamilton dreamed big dreams as a teenage clerk, sitting on his countinghouse stool on a small West Indian island whose only business was sugar and slaves. Ambition burned within him, along with a keen but unformed sense of his own talent. He knew he could be something other than he was. But what or how, he didn’t foresee. Maybe a war would come, he daydreamed, and give him his chance.

It did come. By then, through some fairy-tale-like strokes of good fortune, he found himself in New York, studying at King’s College (later Columbia). With eighteenth-century student activism, he dropped out of school, joined the army, rose—by dint of the talent he knew he had—to be General Washington’s right-hand man and then, with national independence won and Washington elected president, his Treasury secretary.

If the liberty that America had secured through the war was going to be about pursuing your own happiness in your own way, then Hamilton aimed to create an economy that would give his fellow citizens the fullest opportunity to do so, through a limitless variety of career possibilities. America shouldn’t just be an agricultural country, he knew. It should teem with industry, trade, finance, everything imaginable. And opportunity would breed opportunity, as human ingenuity and curiosity—the most valuable natural resources of all—came up with new inventions, new discoveries, new ways of doing things, new ways of using already-existing things. “The bowels as well as the surface of the earth,” Hamilton wrote, will be “ransacked for articles which were before neglected. Animals, Plants, and Minerals acquire an utility and value, which were before unexplored.” The wealth of the nation and of individuals will mushroom, he saw, and America’s opportunity economy would be a mighty engine of upward mobility. To this end, he established a financial system that made credit for setting up new enterprises plentiful, and, when he came to establish the new U.S. mint, he made sure that it would strike coins of very small denomination, to ensure that even the humblest could rise through the enrichment machine he had set in motion.

But the opportunity Hamilton had in mind wasn’t just the chance to get rich. Musing on his clerk’s stool in Saint Croix, he had feared that the fire burning within him would just gutter out if he found no outlet for his genius. The best minds, he concluded from his own experience, “labour without effect, if confined to uncongenial pursuits.” In a free, opportunity society, by contrast, “each individual can find his proper element, and can call into activity the whole vigour of his nature.” The purpose of such a society is moral as well as practical. “To cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind, by multiplying the object of enterprise,” is a kind of soulcraft. Much of what we can make of our single life—or even imagine making of it—depends on the kind of society around us. The liberty and opportunity that the United States would afford, Hamilton believed with all his fiery intensity, would allow individuals to realize every God-given potential and to become all that they had it within themselves to be. It’s hard to imagine a higher aspiration for your fellow man than that.

When we see the same faults followed by the same misfortunes,” Madison wrote, “we may reasonably think that if we could have known the first we might have avoided the others.” So, against the liberty and opportunity central to the Founding American vision, which produced two centuries of freedom and prosperity unmatched in history, what have the dreams of equality yielded? At the outermost extreme, the French upheaval for égalité in 1789 and the Russian drive toward a classless society in 1917 drenched every inch of their respective countries in blood and immeasurably decreased the stock of human happiness and freedom for years to come. To be sure, even a Bill de Blasio cherishes no such radical fantasies, and if Barack Obama ever flirts with them, he keeps it to himself.

But there is an American version of that impulse that dates back at least to Shays’s Rebellion, with its dream of an equal division of property. In the twentieth century, it most dramatically reshaped the nation whenever a “progressive” president like Obama joined forces with a “progressive” New York mayor like de Blasio to redistribute wealth through unequal taxation—in a way that Madison would have seen as a betrayal of his most fundamental beliefs, sure to end badly. It began in the Great Depression, which convinced Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia that individuals were too puny, powerless, and insignificant to shape their fates in a world seemingly governed by vast, impersonal forces that only a vast and mighty government could match. Indeed, because FDR thought that the Depression was a crisis of overproduction, he also concluded that the Hamiltonian vision of invention, discovery, and creation had grown obsolete. The age of production was over, and the age of redistribution had begun, with government the only fair and wise arbiter of who should get what.

Roosevelt, while still New York’s governor, had already begun to provide cash welfare to the indigent in 1931, and when he introduced the program nationally as president, La Guardia upped the ante, quadrupling the federal dole in New York City with state and city funding, though FDR soon ended the means-tested national program as demeaning to recipients and replaced it with relief tied to work. By the Depression’s end, La Guardia had built the nation’s first archipelago of subsidized housing projects—nine in all—along with publicly funded hospitals, and he spent taxpayer dollars to take over and subsidize the city’s subway and bus lines and to establish a municipal health-insurance system. So for some, housing, health, and transportation were now the government’s responsibility, paid for by others. With the Depression over, a 1943 race riot convinced the mayor that taxpayer dollars still needed to flow into the welfare system, in ever-increasing amounts, to create racial justice.

Karl Marx was partly right in saying that, when history repeats itself, it happens the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. For the next collaboration of a “progressive” president and New York mayor to reduce inequality—that of Lyndon Johnson and John Lindsay—certainly began as farce but ended in a tragedy that continues to unfold to this day. Picking up the New Dealers’ torch, Lindsay fell over himself with eagerness to make New York a demonstration project for Johnson’s War on Poverty—a grotesque failure that, on its 50th anniversary this year, mainstream reporters too young and uninformed to know better have striven to repaint as a success.

Johnson’s originally Hamiltonian impulse “to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities” took as its operating model a cockeyed, far-left New York City community-organizing program, the chief self-development activity of which was to protest noisily against “the System”—Hamilton’s American capitalism, that is to say—which the community organizers deemed too racist and inequitable ever to provide opportunity. Lindsay himself, as cockeyed as the community organizers, decided that he could make impoverished black New Yorkers into middle-class citizens by building them public housing projects in middle-class neighborhoods, giving them middle-class-style control of their public schools, and generating middle-class incomes through a greatly expanded and enriched Depression-era cash welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children—administered with such lax oversight that the city’s welfare commissioner earned the nickname “Come-and-Get-It Ginsberg.” Despite War on Poverty funding, these projects required Lindsay’s imposition of a city income tax in 1966, in addition to the state and federal taxes that New Yorkers already paid.

Though the 1913 ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment—levying the first permanent income tax, with unequal, graduated rates—cracked open the door to Madison’s dreaded tyranny of the majority, it was only in the Depression that radical income redistribution became national policy. It stayed so for half a century, until the Reagan administration gradually lowered income-tax rates and made them less unequal. But thereafter, radical redistribution resumed, so that by 2010, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the top-earning 40 percent of households paid 106.2 percent of U.S. income taxes, while the bottom 40 percent, because of refundable tax credits such as the earned income-tax credit and the child tax credit, paid minus 9.1 percent. That bottom 40 percent received an average $18,950 in transfer payments—including not just the refundable tax credits but also such means-tested benefits as food stamps and Medicaid, as well as payments from Medicare and Social Security, programs to which they indeed contributed; but Social Security is nevertheless an income-transfer scheme, in that low-income recipients get paid back at higher rates than better-off recipients. As for the nonworking poor on welfare, a New York family of four living in subsidized housing, with food stamps, Medicaid, and other means-tested benefits, receives the equivalent of $40,000 a year—more than double what a 40-hour-a-week minimum-wage job pays in the city, though not counted in the government’s official income statistics.

The fact that the Internal Revenue Service that collects all this money for the government to redistribute does so without observing “the most exact impartiality” that Madison urged but rather engages in schemes “to trample on the rules of justice”—as Kimberley Strassel’s exemplary Wall Street Journal reporting on the agency’s suppression of Tea Party groups has shown—would be one more proof to Madison that “[i]n framing a government of men over men the great difficulty is this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

Now that President Obama has turned into a Brobdingnagian government power grab the governmental takeover of health care that began modestly with Mayor La Guardia and that ballooned with the War on Poverty’s creation of Medicaid and Medicare, America will more resemble the fiscally unsustainable European welfare states than the U.S. under the Madisonian Constitution. As government spending rises—in part because the president “has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance,” as Jefferson complained in the Declaration of Independence—less of the private capital and ready credit that Hamilton foresaw as an engine of opportunity for ordinary citizens to build businesses and create upward mobility for themselves and their employees remains available. Moreover, the array of new taxes concealed within the so-called Affordable Care Act, as well as its income-redistribution subsidies, will further clog the gears of the opportunity machine. In California’s Monterey County, for instance, a 54-year-old part-time worker making $18,000 annually will pay $1 a month for the same mid-range policy that will cost a 54-year-old with a $60,000 annual salary $848 a month—almost 18 percent of his pretax income, with almost triple the maximum yearly out-of-pocket co-pays, according to a California Health Benefit Exchange website. He’d pay $1,412 a month if he should have the bad judgment to marry the $18,000-a-year part-timer (though the Kaiser Family Foundation gives slightly lower estimates). Thanks to sluggish economic and stagnant employment growth, for the younger generation of Americans, it’s already no longer true that “each individual can find his proper element, and can call into activity the whole vigour of his nature.” The liberty to be whatever your talents might allow you to become has shriveled and could continue to shrivel toward a European dearth of opportunity.

The liberty to choose something as important as your own health care has also shrunk, unless you’re very rich, so inequality has also widened. One can’t help hear the echo of Richard Henry Lee’s phrase, an “elective despotism,” when recalling that Congress—which passed the Affordable Care Act by the slimmest of majorities, without bothering to read it—set up an appointive board, largely unanswerable to the people’s elected representatives, to make Obamacare’s most important decisions, greatly expanding the undemocratic administrative apparatus that increasingly governs the country by edict; or when one recalls that President Obama unconstitutionally changed the law, also by edict, with a casual stroke of that pen, imposing by diktat what the legislature won’t legislate. Nothing Madisonian there.

George Washington and many of his fellow Founders believed that a special kind of culture, one that nurtures self-reliance and a love of liberty, was essential to keeping alive the free Constitution over whose creation he had presided. Just as that spirit has guttered out in welfare-state Britain, once home to the “free-born Englishman,” it can dim here, too. Blather from government officials about the unjust inequality of American society—on top of a generation’s worth of hot air from the universities, the mainstream media, and the multibillion-dollar anti-business entertainment industry about how Hamiltonian, Madisonian America oppresses a wide range of aggrieved victims, while poisoning the air, the water, and the very earth itself (though, of course, human ingenuity can solve every problem human ingenuity creates)—all this inexorably erodes the spirit of self-reliance, enterprise, and opportunity that animated the Founders, in their justified faith that they were creating a unique innovation in government that would immeasurably advance the happiness of mankind.

It is possible to demoralize an entire people and stifle their faith in the future and in themselves. The welfare underclass, filled with aggrieved resentment and void of hope, is the most extreme case in point. Their demoralization is pure gold to the ever-aggrandizing government, though—since here is the ultimate victim class that justifies the whole scheme of redistribution under the control of wise and mighty “rulers,” as Jefferson would have called them. Nevertheless, despite their material comfort—which includes the latest sneakers, flat-screen TVs, angry [music] downloads, junk food galore, and bigger apartments than many middle-class Europeans can afford—the spiritual poverty that besets many of the underclass, the tawdry content of their character, is chilling, and ought to give pause to any supporter of the huge, redistributionist welfare-state project. Because man makes the meaning of his life himself, through work, through family, through community, it is not easy for a person kept by government, from womb to tomb, like a gerbil in a cage, to retain a sense of dignity and purpose. Is this really what we want for him? Nor is it easy for someone branded his victimizer, and taxed unequally to support him and the army of bureaucrats who live by claiming to make sure he gets his due, to retain with confidence his own sense of dignity and purpose.

Hamilton and Madison had a much larger and nobler sense of human possibility.


Myron Magnet, City Journal’s editor-at-large and its editor from 1994 through 2006, is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal. His latest book is The Founders at Home.


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