Special License plates – take your pick

The NC Dept of Transportation issues, for a fee, special license plates.  Some require qualifications, which The Division of Motor Vehicles will verify, some just require payment of an extra fee.  Each plate has a unique design representing various groups and interests.  Part of the fee goes to support that group or interest.  There are 250 special plates available – everything from AIDS Awareness to Zeta Phi Beta.  Just when you think every possibility for a plate has been covered, a new one is added.  For example a North Carolina Paddle Festival plate was authorized in 2013.  Most controversial?  Pro-Choice, and it’s still being debated.

In oder to qualify for a special license plate, the group has to get 300 supporters applying and willing to pay the extra $10 to $30 fee. Part of the proceeds go to the group. The remainder goes to the DMV.

The complete list of special plates  currently available – all 250 – is available here. Look under (b) types.

Anyone interested in making a JLF special plate number 251?  We’ll need a logo. I’m afraid First in Freedom is taken. And we’ll need 299 more signatures.  Who’s in?






A useful history lesson

WRAL takes issue with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Greg Brannon’s statement during last night’s debate about the “separation of church and state.” Since the television station’s response falls short of the mark, it might be worthwhile to explore the issue in more detail.

Here’s what Brannon said:

“This whole fallacy of a separation between church and state is nowhere found in our founding documents,” Brannon said. “It was a letter written by (Thomas) Jefferson back to the Danbury convention back in Connecticut saying that the federal government can never make a wall that they can go over. The individual is free to be how they want to be.”

Before assigning Brannon a “red light,” WRAL first quotes from Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, then spells out the text of the First Amendment to the Constitution. WRAL follows up with a quote from the Cornell Law School: “Two clauses in the First Amendment guarantee freedom of religion. The establishment clause prohibits the government from passing legislation to establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another. It enforces the ‘separation of church and state.’ ”

The television station’s conclusion: “While you might not find the words ‘separation of church and state’ in the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that government ought to stay out of religion, and vice versa, over the years. This claim gets a red light.”

The conclusion does not follow from the evidence.

Brannon does not get his facts right. He refers to a Danbury “convention,” rather than the “association.” His statement about the “wall” is inarticulate. Jefferson did discuss a wall separating church and state. He did not say anything about the federal government never making “a wall that they can go over.” (If they want to go over the wall, why build the wall?)

But before he muffed the Jefferson story, Brannon offered a sound statement about the history of the “separation of church and state.” Those words do not appear in the Constitution or in any other Founding era document voted upon by an official governmental body. A close reading of history shows that the establishment clause was designed to prevent the national government from creating an official religion and to block the national government from taking any action against any person’s exercise of his religion.

The First Amendment did nothing to block the states from maintaining their existing official religions or maintaining any of their existing restrictions on religion. Connecticut had an official religion until 1818, and Massachusetts — the hotbed of American revolutionary fervor — kept its official religion until 1833. North Carolina jettisoned its official church in 1776 but later added religious restrictions for officeholders that remained in place from the 1830s to the 1870s.

The notion of a “separation of church and state” emerges first in Jefferson’s letter, expressing his personal opinion. The Cornell Law School’s interpretation that the establishment clause enforces a “separation of church and state” is based not on the words of the Constitution itself, nor on the original understanding of the First Amendment, nor on the understanding of the First Amendment that held sway deep into the 19th century.

What the U.S. Supreme Court has done in subsequent years does not change the fact that “a separation of church and state is nowhere found in our founding documents,” which WRAL reports as the claim Brannon made. This WRAL fact-check gets a red light.

I’m not even going to bother to touch the climate change silliness.

Hey guys, can we talk about that war on women?

Dispatches from the campaign trail, April 24, 2014

• Heads up: Early voting starts today! For sites and hours, visit this portal at the State Board of Elections website.

• A new ad from the American Crossroads Super PAC supporting House Speaker Thom Tillis’ bid for the U.S. Senate, fights back at charges by incumbent Kay Hagan over Tillis’ “character.”

• A Survey USA poll commissioned by Time Warner Cable News after that outlet’s Monday debate found support rising for Dr. Greg Brannon and slipping for the Rev. Mark Harris. But the sample size of debate watchers was small and the margin of error significant. The bigger news may be that, for the first time, Tillis may be separating himself from the other candidates: 51 percent of voters who had chosen a candidate picked Tillis before the debate; 49 percent preferred him after it. Even accounting for the margin of error, that showing would give the Mecklenburg County Republican the 40 percent he needs in the May 6 primary to avoid a July 15 runoff.

• Welcome to the 2010s: A brouhaha has developed within the Catawba Valley Tea Party over who, if anyone, the group has endorsed in the GOP Senate primary.

• Weekly Standard Executive Editor (and longtime John Locke Foundation friend) Fred Barnes writes about the North Carolina Senate race.

• The six remaining Democrats seeking the 12th Congressional District nomination addressed a forum in Winston-Salem. Changes in election law passed by the General Assembly were among the topics discussed.

Shlaes looks to the New Deal’s history for signs of possible trouble for Obamacare

Amity Shlaes, who chronicled the history of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in The Forgotten Man, explains for National Review Online readers why the political fate of that famous economic program could have implications for the future of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

The National Industrial Recovery Act, like the Affordable Care Act, aimed to do nothing less than change an entire sector of the economy — in that case, the industrial and business sector. After passage in 1933, NIRA created a bureaucracy labeled, in its turn, the National Recovery Administration, or NRA. NRA was hard to contradict: Its leader was a general; its emblem, the bald eagle. “Almighty God have mercy on anyone who attempts to trifle with that bird,” General Hugh Johnson told the public. The courts seemed to agree: Nine in ten NRA cases at first were decided in favor of the government.

NRA administrators led companies in the writing of codes for their respective trades. Like the ACA’s rules, these codes were offered in agonizing and counterintuitive detail. In those days NRA codes mandated minimum wages, minimum prices, new health and safety regulations, and business practices that efficiency experts recommended whether or not firms themselves saw their logic.

Just as the ACA stumbled over its own website this past winter, the NRA stumbled over it own forms and names, which were long enough to provoke ridicule. The name of the code that governed a family of Brooklyn chicken butchers called Schechter, for example, was “The Code of Fair Competition for the Live Poultry Industry for the Metropolitan Area In and About New York.” Nonetheless, as with the Affordable Care Act today, a general wait-and-see attitude prevailed. In 1933 and 1934 conservatives, mostly jurists, might protest that the NRA was too intrusive. But the rebuttal would come: “Intrude upon what? The Depression?” At a time when two in ten were unemployed, the country thought it had nothing to lose.

One of the many firms the NRA investigated was ALA Schechter Poultry, a Brooklyn butcher shop where authorities found numerous violations of the poultry code. After the Schechters were convicted in lower courts, the authorities grew increasingly confident that Schechter would be the case in which the Supreme Court would confirm the constitutionality of their law and the New Deal. Then as now, a kind of assumption, or at least a pretense, was at work. People pretended that the fact that the Schechters were Jewish and that the butcher shop they ran was kosher were ancillary details, a kind of coincidence, or even an annoyance.

But the fact that these particular butchers observed kashruth, the Jewish body of laws involving food, was not a coincidence of this case. It was causal. …

… What was evident was that two large bodies of law were clashing. On the one hand was the elaborate and new NRA poultry code. On the other hand there was the code of the Jewish dietary law, based on the Bible itself. In a contest between NIRA (48 stat. 195) and Deuteronomy (14:21), perhaps Deuteronomy had more authority. The government had its health inspectors, but who were they to go up against Maimonides himself, who had proclaimed that Jews were forbidden to serve “unwholesome” food?

The U.S. Supreme Court ended up ruling 9-0 against the federal government.

The best explanation for the shift in opinion is that such conflicts give the public a chance to consider what it is the government is intruding into or impinging on — not just a vacuum, but the private sphere, the personal sphere, the business sphere, and, yes, the sphere of faith. The spectacle of that intrusion is not easily forgotten once perceived. The chicken of daily business life and ritual can, from time to time, vanquish the eagle.

Another sign that the college bubble is about to burst?

If you’ve yet to accept the argument that the American system of higher education suffers from a bubble that’s overdue to burst, you might want to check out a Fortune magazine interview with Sebastian Thrun, chief executive of Udacity.

Fortune: You’ve been a Google executive and Stanford professor. Where did you get the idea for Udacity, your online-courses startup?

Sebastian Thrun: In 2011 I attended a TED talk by Sal Kahn, whom I adore. He explained how his Khan Academy’s math advice reached tens of millions. I was about to teach an artificial-intelligence course at Stanford that would reach 200. I suggested to [fellow teacher and Google executive] Peter Norvig we should take it online. We sent a message to 1,000 individuals about an AI class. We expected 500 to respond: 160,000 signed up.

How did the students perform?

The remote students outdid our classroom students. The best Stanford student came in No. 413. The whole exercise cost less than 60¢ a student. That made me believe it’s time to try something radically new in education. …

Establishment academia wasn’t crazy about you.

In its first iteration we tried to work within the system, with the California State University system, to bring education to students not yet in it. While some loved the access, others were concerned it would erode the cost structure in existing education.

So you pivoted away from serving universities and toward corporate customers.

Some companies like Google, Cloudera, and Facebook approached us. They have a desire to get young new hires ready to start their jobs. They also want their existing employees to make sure they stay current. For example, Facebook has a class they’ve taught internally for data scientists. We’ve digitized it so everyone can be as good a data scientist on par with Facebook.

How do you make money?

We are a freemium business. Courseware is free, and we offer fee-based services to students, including study-buddy mentoring and experts who will look at your code and assess it. A full course costs roughly $100 to $150 per month. You get a lot of personal love: If you get stuck, a human being will help you within 30 seconds.

Murdoch responds to Fox News’ detractors

Within Fortune magazine’s lengthy interview of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the following exchange struck this reader as particularly interesting.

Does it bother you at all, Rupert, that there is a view that Fox News has contributed in a big way to the political discontent in the U.S., degraded the political process, and maybe, in spotlighting the Tea Party, even hurt the Republican Party?

I think it has absolutely saved it. It has certainly given voice and hope to people who didn’t like all that liberal championing thrown at them on CNN. By the way, we don’t promote the Tea Party. That’s bullshit. We recognize their existence.

Imagine that? Recognizing an important element of today’s political debate. One might even label such a stance “fair and balanced.” This reminds me of Jon Ham’s Shaftesbury Society presentation on media bias, which reminded us of an independent analysis that confirmed Fox news reporting showed the least amount of political bias.

Fortune article shows value of the entrepreneurial spirit

Tech and telecom companies that benefit from the logistical and service support provided by LinkAmerica can thank the American free-enterprise system. As a new Fortune magazine profile shows, LinkAmerica’s “immigrant entrepreneur” founder failed in business multiple times before hitting on a winner with his current company. The headline tells the story succinctly: “The 18th Time Was the Charm.”

Andrés Ruzo isn’t your average immigrant entrepreneur. The son of a culinary TV personage in Peru, he came to the U.S. as a college student in 1980 and says he attempted 17 startups before creating his big success: LinkAmerica, which provides logistical and service support to tech and telecom companies. LinkAmerica is actually in its second incarnation; the first, which sold refurbished telecom equipment, nearly went under after the dotcom bust and 9/11. Last year the company generated $180 million in revenues, and Ruzo, 53, has become a classic example of entrepreneurial invention and reinvention … and reinvention. He says he still views himself as an immigrant — always hungry and never taking anything for granted.

Imagine if, instead of trying something new after any of his previous 17 false starts, Ruzo had opted instead to seek government protection or a bailout. He might have been able to keep one of his previous businesses afloat, but he would not have moved his time, energy, and entrepreneurial resources to a venture that could succeed on its own. And he would have become just another crony.

That’s why it’s important to remember that a system of profit and loss depends just as much on the loss as the profit.