Saturday, February 21, 2004

Does Secularism Threaten America?
Michael Marriott

Well here we go again. Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly continues his attacks on “secularism” as a mortal threat to American values. The good news is he has finally come nearer a definition of the term so that it is possible to debate him on logical grounds. His February 20, 2004 Talking Points segment is enlightening:

Why traditionalists are losing the culture war, that is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points" memo. The answer's simple. Americans who believe traditional values are important have no leadership. Secularists who believe society has to change to include income redistribution, drug legalization, gay marriage, social promotion in public schools, no display of Christmas symbols or overtly religious images and on and on, those people have aggressive leadership (italics added).

The mayor of San Francisco is a great example. This Gavin Newsom guy, like him or not, is pretty gutsy. He's simply doing what he wants, violating state law, violating the will of the people. But Newsom has made a calculation that few will stand up to him. And he's absolutely right. At this point, it's me against him...

Here's a prediction. If President Bush and other traditionalist politicians don't start to confront the forces of secularism in this country, we'll be completely different five years from now. Hillary Clinton might well be president, our courts will be populated with very liberal judges, and the USA you used to know will be a memory. And that's the memo.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines secularism as “The doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state.” As shown above, O’Reilly concurs, in a roundabout way, with this definition. On one side we have the “traditionalists”, or those who believe in basic Christian values, versus everyone else, i.e, the secularists. The latter group includes skeptics, pot smokers, gays, collectivists, socialists, atheists, libertarians, and every other possible category. O’Reilly’s cultural dividing line stands marked by the Bible.

Now, when O’Reilly speaks of “traditional values” he is focusing on ethics. Ayn Rand defines ethics as, “a code of values to guide man’s choice and actions– the choices and actions that determine the purpose and course of life.” O’Reilly unequivocally casts his lot with the mystics in regard to ethics. Mystics determine right and wrong by supernatural means. God’s commandments, as transmitted by a work created by human beings, the Bible, are the gold standard of behavior. Thus mystics refuse to think for themselves, instead relying on external sources to guide their actions. (Mysteriously O’Reilly never considers that mystics are not all Christians; Muhammadans, for instance, act according to the dictates of the Koran, which means that flying airplanes into buildings is acceptable if they believe God commands it.)

There is nothing wrong with creating categories to denote people of a similar mind set. However, such categories must mirror reality. The neat O’Reilly division between believers and non-believers does not meet this concern. A better conceptual construct, one that is consistent with reality, is provided by the great Objectivist philosopher, Dr. Leonard Peikoff. He has demonstrated that all philosophical issues boil down to three categories, or as he terms it, trichotomies. Trichotomies in essence exhaust all possibilities related to the issue under examination and are mutually exclusive. Only one of the three categories within a trichotomy is correct.

Two basic trichotomies exist conceptually. One relates to metaphysics, the other to epistemology. In metaphysics, or the study of reality, the three categories within the trichotomy are: those who believe in a dual universe (Platonists/mystics); those who believe there is one universe (Aristoteleans/objectivists); and those who say no reality exists (skeptics/subjectivists). In epistemology, or the study of knowledge acquisition, the categories are: those who believe knowledge is innate or transmitted through supernatural means (mystics/religion); those who believe that knowledge is the result of interpreting objective reality (Aristoteleans/objectivists); and those who believe that knowledge is gained simply through subjective preferences (skeptics/subjectivists).

Ethics is formed by a combination of one’s metaphysical/epistemological tenets. Thus O’Reilly is correct when he describes the mystic position, i.e., a dual universe leads to God’s commandments which means one must act according to the Bible. Where he errors entirely is in his characterization of the non-mystics or secularists. As the trichotomies above reveal, the secular world is divided between skeptics and objectivists. O'Reilly absolutely makes no such distinction. This flaw seriously undermines his argument that secularists as a group threaten American values.

Consider the major differences in ethics between skeptics and objectivists. Following their metaphysical/epistemological tenets, skeptics believe that man’s consciousness determines reality. If one feels something to be true, then by definition the something is true. San Francisco Mayor Newsom is a skeptic. If gays wish to marry then an objective code of law contradicting that act is irrelevant. Each individual determines right and wrong and each choice, even if diametrically in opposition, is equally valid to a skeptic. Man’s subjective feelings are the standard of morality.

Objectivists, by combination of their metaphysics and epistemology, reject both subjectivism and mysticism, believing instead that reality rather than man’s personal feelings or a supernatural deity set the standards by which we live. The axiom that “existence exists” is the starting point of their philosophy. Life itself is the standard of morality. Insofar as a choice furthers life it is deemed good morally. Rational self-interest, rather than feelings, is the means of determining which choice to make when man is faced with alternatives. Reason and logic, in accordance with a real universe, lead to only one correct choice regardless what a man or combination of men may “feel” is right. To Objectivists, both the skeptics and mystics are absolutely wrong when it comes to a philosophically integrated, rationally anchored ethics.

Thus one may congratulate O’Reilly when he rightly opposes the skeptics. But if he opposes the Objectivists then he is treading on dangerous, and ultimately irrational, ground. It is quite possible to have a consistent and complete code of ethics having never read the Bible. For instance, an Objectivist can oppose the concept of murder using rational self interest as the foundation of his argument . He hardly requires a commandment from God to know that killing humans is inconsistent with the furtherance of life on earth, even if the murder does not involve him directly.

What becomes clear is that O’Reilly and other mystics distrust the human mind. When he groups all secularists together without distinction he not only engages in sloppy thinking, he implicitly condemns man as a helpless creature that cannot think for himself. Both O’Reilly mysticism and secular scepticism result in monstrous ethics. If O’Reilly truly cares about the “folks”, he must recognize his error and promote human reason as the only method of thinking and acting correctly. Far from posing a threat, the Objectivist point of view is the only one that explicitly promotes, protects and intellectually nurtures American values as individual freedom, limited government and capitalism.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Michael Marriott

One year ago, on February 22, 2003 to be exact, I presented a case against raising any new taxes by the Nevada legislature. The forum was a public speech attended by a dozen or so concerned citizens (a copy of the speech is available, http://themarriottchronicles.blogspot.com/). The main thrust of the speech was that any tax increase was immoral, based entirely on the ethics of altruism. Further, no rational argument was offered by tax increase proponents, specifically Nevada Governor Ken Guinn or Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce President Kara Kelly, proving that such increases were necessary . The sub-text of my presentation was to formulate ways to combat the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce, which had endorsed the notion of tax increases. In all particulars my predictions regarding the fallout of the tax increases have come true. These taxes were ill-conceived, unnecessary, economically disastrous and totally immoral.

The argument for tax increases was at its root irrational. I will not here repeat the fallacies employed by the tax advocates, other than to note I wish those business persons now being hit hard in the wallet had joined with me to fight when we had the opportunity. Further, I hold those business persons who conceded the necessity of tax increases without first requiring proof as responsible as Mr. Guinn and Ms. Kelly for the mess we now find ourselves. Those desiring unearned wealth through the tax system were united in their desire for the new taxes; those creating the wealth, the business community, were divided in their opposition. This “sanction of the victim(s)” mentality was the fatal flaw in the debate, virtually guaranteeing passage of some form of new tax. The predictable result was that a plethora of new levies did indeed pass the Nevada legislature. Let me repeat: those in the business community who conceded the point that some form of tax increase was necessary immediately lost the argument on that point alone.

Once individual legislators believed that they had a mandate to increase taxes the only remaining issues were how to raise revenue and from what sources. No one should be surprised if they fell within the cross hairs of the tax man. I recently attended a panel discussion comprised of disgruntled bankers. Decrying the new taxes on banks as unfair, some on the panel still clung to the notion that new taxes were necessary. Their only complaint is that the burden fell on them. I assume that had the taxes hit another business sector, they would not now be complaining. This is a thoroughly corrupt and cynical outlook. Again, business persons must unite in opposition to new taxes rather than become mired in a mad scramble to find a sacrificial victim.

For those readers unaware of Nevada tax machinations, what ultimately passed is a .7% payroll tax on all businesses and a 2% payroll tax specifically aimed at banks (other taxes also passed including levies on tobacco, liquor, entertainment, business licenses, etc.) In effect, the tax burden on business has trebled, more so on banks. As the first payment was due January 31, 2004 a sudden flurry of outrage erupted. The Las Vegas Review-Journal posted a story dated February 15 titled, NEW NEVADA LEGISLATION: Banks hit hard by payroll tax followed by the sub-caption, Levy may be disaster for many small businesses. The article explains the impact of the taxes in specific terms.

Tod Little, chief executive officer of Henderson-based Silver State Bank, has 110 employees and a quarterly payroll tax bill of $50,000 -- 5 percent of his bank's net income.

"We don't have a privilege license (like casinos)," Little said. "We don't have an edge over any other kind of business. So why should I have to pay more taxes than anybody else? It's not right, and it's not fair. To me, it's immoral.
"(Silver State) will have to evaluate the profit of our branches, and this tax thing makes some branches unprofitable."

Mr. Little needs to consult with the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. According to the economic giants there, a business can simply pass along tax increases to its customers.

Other effects of the tax bill would be comical if not affecting real people. A casino is presently weighing whether to keep its lounge piano players if such employees are subject to a new entertainment tax. In an election year, the same people who stridently advocated the new taxes now shamelessly blame others, including the victims, for their “Yea” vote. Within the same Review-Journal article:

Assemblyman David Goldwater, D-Las Vegas, who was vice chairman of the Assembly Taxation Committee, says bankers have no one to blame but their lobbyists and those of other business groups for the payroll tax. The payroll tax is something that Democrats in the Assembly and a lot of Democrats in the Senate fought against," Goldwater said ...

Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, agreed with Goldwater and mentioned that the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce backed the payroll tax, rather than a gross receipts tax that would have exempted some small businesses. Not a single other state has a payroll tax like what we just passed," Titus said ...

Even the bumbling Chamber, which had tried so hard to stay “relevant” during the tax debate, resorts to blaming its members for its anti-business stance:

Chamber spokeswoman Catherine Levy acknowledged the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce favored a payroll tax over the gross receipts tax. Levy said some critics have accused the chamber of backing a tax that was more detrimental to small business. But she said some small businesses agreed with the chamber's position.

At one point, the Legislature discussed exempting the first $450,000 of business receipts, which would have exempted most small businesses. The chamber feared the Legislature would lower that number later to raise more revenue, Levy said.
The chamber objected to gross receipts, in part, because it taxed businesses without regard to profit, she said.

Meanwhile, those on the receiving end of tax largesse are busy dividing the spoils. Las Vegas School Superintendent Carlos Garcia got a “bump in his $200,000-plus salary” recently while two of his deputies received 10% increases retroactive to July 1, 2003 (when the tax increases were passed by the legislature). During the tax debate deadlock the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that education took precedence over the two-third vote requirement for any new taxes passed by the legislature. Now we see why. School administrators were impatient for a raise.

All this was predictable. Forced exactions of property are irrational. Whenever the rights of one group are sacrificed for the benefit of another group the worst impulses in men are agitated. Nothing good is achieved while much harm results. Freedom is diminished, factions are formed, business declines, wealth is destroyed and the populace becomes angry. A perverse law of the jungle prevails as citizen fights citizen through the legislature. To add a final insult, Governor Guinn is already hinting that more tax increases may be necessary in the future. Will those in the business community learn anything from this recent debacle? Can they, like the proverbial rat in the maze, learn from past mistakes? In a town grown prosperous from gambling my advice is: don’t bet on it.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Taxman and Robbin’ Join Forces with the KenGuinn
Michael Marriott

Nestled in the undulating mountains of the metropolis of Carson City, Nevada, Taxman and Robbin’ make a disturbing discovery...

What is it Taxman?

Well Boy Plunder, our state revenues are barely keeping pace with expenses. New programs are out of the question!

Holy empty treasury!

Precisely my feelings. Worse still, the greedy business community here will not commit to new taxes. Unless...

... Unless?

Unless we team with the most devious Robber Baron to run this state in years.

You don’t mean...

Yes, that strutting nincompoop of state government, Governor KenGuinn!

But Taxman, he is a Republican.

The perfect cover!

Of course! Why didn’t I think of that Taxman?

Meanwhile in another part of the City, the evil KenGuinn huddles with his advisors...

Quack Quack! I have my reelection in the bag gentlemen!

Do you think the voters know your plan to raise taxes KenGuinn?

Ha! Not a clue! By the time they know what hit them the tax notices will be in the mail! Quack!

What about Taxman and Robbin’?

If they get in my way, I will call them names and tell them they are irrelevant. Quack! Nobody stops the KenGuinn from ruining the state economy!

(Maniacal Laughter)
Quack Quack!! He-he-he-he-he-he-he-he boss!

(With telephone)
Governor KenGuinn! A call from Taxman!

After reelection by an overwhelming margin as Governor of Nevada, the KenGuinn gives the annual state-of-the-state address, with more than a few surprises...

We must help everyone in this state except those that help themselves. QUACK! This list includes needy children, needy parents, needy grandparents, non-smokers, non-drinkers, non-humans, non-thinkers and most of all... Quack!... non-producers!

Robust applause from the gallery containing invited welfare recipients. Then...

Now I personally would never associate with any of the above. That is why I propose a truly selfless act. Taxes must be raised on all businesses by $700 million dollars. Quack! Obviously most of you agree with me since I was reelected by a wide margin.

More vigorous applause.

To help me convince the legislature to pass my caring legislation, Taxman will join me in this crusade! Quack, Quack!

Thus the KenGuinn and Taxman join forces to shake down Nevada businesses. The KenGuinn especially presents every fallacious argument he can muster, including the famous “we need more money” argument to the equally effective “budget cut to the bone” gambit. However, they hit a roadblock: two-thirds of the legislature must approve tax increases per the state constitution.

Quack! Don’t these businesspeople understand that they can pass these tax increases on to their customers? That’s what I did when I ran two different public monopolies! Quack!

(To Robbin’)
Any ideas old chum?

Well I know I am not as experienced in matters of plunder like you two but it seems to me that we must go to the Nevada Supreme Court to break the legislative logjam.

Our young (Quack) associate seems to forget the Supreme Court cannot change the constitution.

Wait a minute KenGuinn. According to the Tax Computer, we may have a chance. The analysis read out says the rule of law is a mere contrivance after the Clinton impeachment.

Holy lying under oath!

Quack! Good work Taxman. Let’s do it!

The tax issue is directed to the Nevada Supreme Court. Ruling that one part of the constitution (education funding) trumps another part (two-third vote for tax increases), KenGuinn’s taxes are given new life. Still the legislators are hesitant. The final battle begins...

(Whispers in the Legislature gallery)
Okay Robbin’. We need one more vote to assure passage. Are you ready?

Ready Taxman!

The dynamic duo swing from the gallery onto the floor of the legislature. Using the last fallacy available to them, argument from force, they pummel recalcitrant senators and representatives.


As the tax bill finally passes, Taxman meets the KenGuinn one more time.

Well we did it KenGuinn.

Yes I did...errr..I mean we did. We work well together Quack!

Shredding the constitution, imposing punitive taxes and crippling the state economy is all a day’s work. I am off!

Our tale ends in the office of an unsuspecting businessperson.

(Reviewing a tax notice received from the Department of Revenue)
A fourfold increase in payroll taxes! Time to cut employee benefits, freeze hiring and consider moving to that business loving state to the west, California. At least Mr. TaxFreeze runs the show there.

Don’t miss our next action packed issue to see the KenGuinn propose more taxes. Can the business community rally to defeat him? Don’t bet on it!

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