Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

November 1, 2014

Yes, Space Tourism Is Worth Dying For

by Kevin Boyd

SpaceShipTwo-In-Glide

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. — Theodore Roosevelt, April 23, 1910.

In the wake of the tragic crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo  and the death of one of the pilots, there are questions being asked about commercial space flight. There are some who want to end the space tourism industry before it even gets off the ground. It’s “too risky” and “it’s a boondoggle for millionaires” they’re saying.

One of the articles that has already come out in the wake of this tragedy (remember, never let a crisis go to waste) is from Wired Magazine’s Adam Rogers. He says we should end this program because “it’s just the world’s most expensive roller coaster.”

SpaceShipTwo—at least, the version that has the Virgin Galactic livery painted on its tail—is not a Federation starship. It’s not a vehicle for the exploration of frontiers. This would be true even if Virgin Galactic did more than barely brush up against the bottom of space. Virgin Galactic is building the world’s most expensive roller coaster, the aerospace version of Beluga caviar. It’s a thing for rich people to do: pay $250,000 to not feel the weight of the world.

People get rich; they spend money. Sometimes it’s vulgar, but it’s the system we all seem to accept. When it costs the lives of the workers building that system, we should stop accepting it.

If we accepted that silly notion, the Panama Canal, which opened up the U.S. West Coast and indeed the entire Pacific to what eventually became a more globalized economy would’ve never been built. After all, countless tens of thousands died to build it. How about flight? While developing and advancing the concept of manned flight, countless pioneers and inventors gave their lives and hurt themselves severely. Remember, flying commercially was once a privilege of the wealthy until after World War II. Even NASA’s Apollo program suffered loss of life. If we had stopped when “workers building that system” die, we would never progress technologically or in exploration.

But Rogers really makes his true objection known and it’s only somewhat towards Virgin Galactic, it’s towards the history of exploration, space travel, and economics.

Governments and businesses have always positioned space travel as a glorious journey. But that is a misdirect. It is branding. The Apollo program was the most technologically sophisticated propaganda front of the Cold War, a battle among superpowers for scientific bragging rights. Don’t get mad—that truth doesn’t diminish the brilliance of the achievement. It doesn’t mean that the engineers weren’t geniuses or the astronauts weren’t brave or skilled. But it does make problematic, at least a little, the idea that those astronauts were explorers opening up a new frontier.

Historically, frontiers have always been dicey. What the average Western European thought of as a frontier in the 1600s was someone else’s land. And the reasons for going toward frontiers have always been complicated by economics. Was Columbus brave? Sure, probably. But he was also looking for a trade route. Were the conquistadores intrepid? Yeah. But they were looking for gold and land. Do human beings have a drive to push past horizons, over mountains, into the unknown? Manifestly. But we always balance that drive and desire with its potential outcomes. We go when there’s something there.

Yes, that’s generally how things work. People seek to pursue better economic opportunities and go get “something”, whatever that is. This is a good thing.

The best case example is the California Gold Rush. Gold was discovered in the California territory in 1849 and people came there from all over the world to come look for gold. Now most people who went there did not find gold and many went home with only as much or even less than what they started with. However, an entire state and even an entire half of the United States was built as a result of it. Steamships expanded service to the West Coast, merchants built businesses to support the prospectors, farmers all over the Pacific region found new markets for their food. An entire state was carved out of the desert, to support and grow that state and that region, the Transcontinental Railroad was built, which opened up the entire West for settlement and development. This was all because people sought gold in 1849.

What Rogers thinks is that governments and central planning are the best ways to explore space, and don’t kid yourself crony capitalist projects like Elon Musk’s Space X (which survives solely due to subsidies and cronyism) in that same category. However, central planning will not take humanity into the stars. Government-run manned space programs such as the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station have the following things in common: over budget, unfufilled expectations, and behind schedule. If NASA was in charge of discovering the New World, they probably would’ve never left port.

What space tourism has the potential to do is to build the infrastructure to go back to the Moon and to Mars and more importantly go there to stay and colonize it. Space tourism is a funding source for companies to develop launch vehicles and orbital vehicles, which can lower the costs of launching a cargo payload into space. Eventually, the plan is to build orbital hotels and space stations to enable space cruises and longer stays in space. All of this infrastructure can become dual-purpose to sustain a Lunar and eventually a Martian colony. Not to mention, the dream of measuring transcontinental air travel in minutes instead of hours.

We as a species need to keep looking outward and more importantly, we need to get the hell of this rock as Chris Byrne says in his excellent piece he wrote after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. We don’t need to go to Mars and back to the Moon just to plant a flag and bring home some rocks, we need to go back to stay. We need to go further into the Solar System after that and eventually leave our Solar System and colonize the stars. We need to become an extraplanetary society.

For this reason alone, space tourism and indeed the dream of exploring space is worth dying for. All throughout human history, humans have been willing to risk everything for new ideas and to build a new world. Sometimes and in fact all too often, this risk has cost lives for what many saw as frivilous pursuits. Risk is what makes new discoveries rewarding and we as a society have become too risk adverse.

To explore a new frontier and to build a better future for all of humanity is certainly worth dying for and space tourism, which can lead to the opening of space to the masses, is certainly worth the risks.

 

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October 31, 2014

Denver Post Editorial Board Responds to Pot Halloween Candy Paranoia With Common Sense

by Stephen Littau

Supposedly, Colorado parents have a ‘unique challenge’ this Halloween. You see, because enough Colorado voters were bamboozled into legalizing pot for recreational purposes in 2012 (in addition to the already legal for medicinal purposes), now parents have to worry about cannabis laced candy in their trick-or-treat bags. There have even been products made available to test questionable candy of the presence of THC.

The editorial board of The Denver Post’s response? Perhaps parents should be checking their little goblin’s candy anyway.

[T]his year should be no different for parents, who should always employ common sense on Halloween. Throw out any unwrapped candy and inspect all packaging before letting your kids gorge on treats.

If the package looks suspicious, tampered with, torn, unwrapped or in unfamiliar packaging, throw out the candy. That should be the same message every year.

Wow, how hard was that? The board also points out that these ‘edibles’ aren’t cheap. The example they use: a package of 10 pot laced gummy bears retails for about $27 before taxes. Who is really going to be that motivated to spend that much money to get strange children high? I suppose it only takes one to start a new wave of ‘Reefer Madness’ circa 2014*.

My bold prediction: there won’t be even one reported case of a child receiving pot laced candy in Colorado.

*Maybe a bit conspiratorial on my part but who would be more motivated to give children pot laced candy, those who are in favor of its legalization or those opposed?

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Your Halloween Costume Fails Compared To This Cute Mini-Rand Paul

by Kevin Boyd

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Here we have a little kid dressing up as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, complete with mini-suit, the hair, and a Rand Paul for President button.

All I have to say is “awwwwwwwwwwww”

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How Critics of #GamerGate Are Silencing the Voices of Women

by Sarah Baker

gamergate

Either #GamerGate is about ethics in journalism or it is about harassing women. Thus proclaims Taylor Wofford in a recent article for Newsweek. Operating under this presumed dichotomy, Newsweek surveys the tweets and finds that:

[U]sers tweeting the hashtag #GamerGate direct negative tweets at critics of the gaming world more than they do at the journalists whose coverage they supposedly want scrutinized.

Therefore, concludes Wofford: “GamerGaters care[] less about ethics and more about harassing women.”

In Wofford’s mind, “direct[ing] negative tweets at critics of the gaming world” necessarily equates with “harassing women.” This erroneous equation arbitrarily homogenizes women, assumes that agreement with social justice critiques of the gaming world are an essential element of being female, and silences the voices of all women who disagree with those criticisms.

What Wofford and so many others fail to recognize is the existence of Secret Third Option C: #GamerGate is not about journalistic integrity or about harassing women, but is a backlash against social justice fascism. In a wonderful article, I encourage everyone to read, Cathy Young, writing for Reason summed it up as follows:

This is an anti-authoritarian rebellion, not an antiwoman backlash.

Yet Wofford and his ilk do not even recognize this as a possible motivation. Or perhaps they do, but treat it as the equivalent of “harassing women,” an assumption that only works if one presumes all women march lockstep with the likes of Anita Sarkeesian.

I don’t.

I don’t have a problem with violence against fictitious women as props in video games. I don’t have a problem with fictional women being sexualized as background scenery in video games. If I did have a problem, I just wouldn’t buy the games (or, since I am not a gamer, the books and movies). I think other people should be free to buy what appeals to them, including games with background violence and sexualization of female characters that don’t even actually exist in the real world. I do not think that because women are capable of other roles, they must never be portrayed as damsels-in-distress. I do not think that portraying women (or men) as objects of sexual desire implies they lack other value.

What does rub me the wrong way are people who want to sanitize the world, who want to dictate how we are allowed to interact with each other, and what sort of fantasy lives we are permitted to augment with fictional books, movies and video games; who want to remove all the darker fringes and seedy nooks from our mental landscapes and herd us all into a more civilized and domesticated imaginative realm; where every fictional woman must be treated as representative of all real women and heresies against the enlightened orthodoxy are not permitted.

Since this is how I feel, it seems logical to me that a not insignificant number of #GamerGaters might also feel this way. Since I am not misogynist or interested in “keeping women in line,” it seems logical to me that a not insignificant number of #GamerGaters could be motivated by a desire to push back against social justice crusading without disliking women in general or wanting to “harass” them.

When critics deny these alternative motivations exist, or insist that they necessarily equate with misogyny, they are in effect silencing my voice and the voices of all women who feel as I do. When the critics insist that hatred of one woman or one group of women equates with hatred of all women generally, they treat us as a homogenous class without distinction or individuality.

They should know better.

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October 30, 2014

Ebola: Saving Life As We Know It, But Not You Specifically

by Sarah Baker

ebola-quarantine-area

As the first U.S. citizen remains forcibly quarantined over Ebola fears, now seems a good time to revisit the role of government in our lives. Some so-called “conservatives” seem to have undergone a sudden evolution to the position that it is the government’s job to keep us perfectly safe from all risk.

One cannot help but wonder, is this their new position on guns as well?

One person has died in the U.S. from Ebola.

We lose 32,000 times that many every year to guns. Is there no cost too high, no civil liberty that cannot yield, in the quest to defeat that risk?

What about cars?

In 2012, 92 people died every day in automobile accidents. How many civil liberties can be ceded to protect us from death-by-car?

Anyone who thinks there is no cost too high to pay to keep Ebola from tarnishing the pristine lands of America is a statist in sheep’s clothing.

The government’s job is to preserve Life As We Know It. To do that, it does not need to save you, specifically. And it certainly does not so direly need to save you, specifically, that it should declare marshal law and shut down global travel.

In the years since 1976, the U.S. has lost between 3,000 to 49,000 people per year to influenza. By my math, that means we could lose another 48,999 people to Ebola this year and still not suffer much impact to Life As We Know It.

But you know what would impact Life As We Know It?

Massive losses in wealth due to travel bans, “aversion behavior,” quarantines and fear.

For example, Michael J. Casey, writing for the Wall Street Journal reports an interesting study about the effects on the global economy of a flu pandemic:

One study led by U.K economists that modeled the global economic fallout from a hypothetical influenza pandemic predicted only a 0.5% GDP loss from the base effect of the disease itself but up to 8% due to policies intended to mitigate its spread, such as school closures.

Think about it. Tourism to and from Africa ceases. Tourism between the U.S. and the rest of the world slows. Hotel rooms sit empty. Restaurants close early. No one rides the bus or takes taxicabs. A lot of people who would otherwise be working—and spending—are quarantined for weeks at a time. Equity indexes fall. Shares in travel firms dive alongside companies heavily invested in Africa. International financial institutions with interests in the region take a hit. The prices of iron ore and oil rise.

Your job might cease to exist. Your retirement account might be wiped out. The value of your house might plummet.

Is there still no price too high to pay when it is clearer that it will be you who must pay it?

However distasteful it might seem, the government must weigh the lives saved against the cost (in both dollars and civil liberties sacrificed) of saving them. Just like the Federal Reserve has a conflicting dual mandate to maximize employment and keep prices stable, the government has a conflicting dual mandate when it comes to Ebola—to protect us from Ebola and to protect the worldwide economy and our civil liberties from collateral damage in the fight to stop Ebola.

Take heart, gentle lambs.

Just because it is not the government’s job to spare no cost keeping you safe, does not mean you cannot make it your own priority. Disabuse yourself of the notion that only the government exercises any control over the big stuff, the important stuff, the dangerous stuff. You are free, all on your own, to spare no expense keeping yourself safe. Wash your hands more and touch your face less. Drive your car instead of using public transportation. Start prepping.

Stay home from work, like you think all those returning aid workers should.

Well go ahead.

You first.

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TLP Roundtable — Should We Require The Labeling Of GMOs?

by Kevin Boyd

label gmo large

Welcome to the first of a new weekly feature here at The Liberty Papers, the TLP Roundtable where the contributors give their opinions on a topic that’s generating a lot of discussion.

This week’s topic is mandatory GMO labeling. Colorado and Oregon have ballot measures on Tuesday asking the voters of their states whether or not they believe food companies should label their GMO ingredients. Supporters of the measures believe that GMOs are harmful to the environment and humans while opponents believe that GMOs have been proven safe.

The contributors found themselves overwhelmingly against mandatory GMO labeling. One of our newest contributors, Joseph Santaniello, wrote a piece opposing Oregon’s ballot measure on this issue, Measure 92.

Chris Byrne:

“I have no problem with it voluntarily but am against it as a regulatory mandate…. and I’m against it in general as a lover of science and truth; because anti-GMO hysteria is pandering to the stupid, the ignorant, the anti-science, and to those who would manipulate them for their own personal agenda and benefit”

Chris wrote a piece on this topic on his personal blog a year ago, that he wants you to read.

Tom Knighton:

“While I generally approve of laws that empower consumers, and I don’t see this as creating an undue burden on businesses, I also believe that laws should actually accomplish something of benefit to society. Despite countless memes floating around social media, there’s no compelling argument that GMO foods are any less safe than non-GMO foods. With that in mind, I can’t support a law that does nothing but fuels a ridiculous hysteria.”

Christopher Bowen:

“Being a liberal libertarian on a site that uses the Gadsden Flag as its avatar, I’m used to pissing people off, and now it’s time for the tree huggers to get in line. There is virtually no compelling evidence that genetically modified food is even an inconvenience – let alone a threat – to people. Yes, it can be peoples’ preference to not consume any food with GMOs; that’s their right. But forcing it on other people, codifying untested science into law, and not giving me the ability to make my own educated decision is beyond the pale.

With that in mind, “let the market decide” is not necessarily the right move, either. By the time the “market” has education, there could potentially be a public health scare. Only a strict constitutionalist would argue that the government does not have the right to regulate food, if only to make sure that what we buy is indeed what we’re getting.

I have an alternative solution, and it serves as a test: instead of mandatory GMO labeling, if we really want the government that involved, let’s instead have it so that “organic” is a distinctly enforceable label, with layers of testing, peer-review and regulation before a company can put “organic” on its food. Most of the liberals I talk to want nothing to do with that for various reasons, but that just goes to show that people are generally OK with government overreach as long as it’s something they agree with.”

Matthew Souders:

“Although I think the fear of GMOs is both overwrought and scientifically baseless at present – I am not wholly persuaded that GMOs are and always will be 100% safe. I don’t think the GMO label is necessary, but I think people have a right to know how their food was prepared and asking companies to provide a label is not an undue burden with any real cost (they already have to have labels…this just adds to what needs to be on the label). As such…if people want to be stupid and fearful, that’s their business…and if it turns out that GMOs become dangerous someday, we’ll be in a better position to respond.”

Sarah Baker:

“If the market demand exists for information, the manufacturer will voluntarily provide it. As an example, baking soda is nowadays often marked “aluminum free.” But all baking soda has always been aluminum free. Baking powder sometimes has aluminum. Manufacturers got tired of explaining that their baking soda—along with everyone else’s—was sans aluminum, and started putting that information right there on the package. A market demand for the information arose, and manufacturers responded by voluntarily altering the packaging to provide the desired information.

If the market demand does not exist, then such a law merely amounts to forcing an expense on the manufacturer, which will be passed on to consumers who do not want or need the information. I would let the market take care of this issue entirely. Those manufacturers who wish to attract the niche market of non-GMO consumers are free to do so. The rest can field phone calls, emails or web traffic, like poor old Arm & Hammer who keeps having to explain that a product made of 100% sodium bicarbonate has no percentage points left over for aluminum.”

Brad Warbany:

“I’m tempted to be against it. Considering how much my wife spends at Whole Paycheck on organics, I can only imagine our grocery bill would increase substantially if she started buying non-GMO!

But more seriously, I’m in favor of labeling, and against mandatory labeling. Mandatory labeling is only appropriate when something contains a known health risk. At this time, there is no significant evidence that GMO foods are more risky than non-GMO foods, and until/unless this changes, it should be handled by voluntary market action.”

Kevin Boyd:

“I have to concur with all of my fellow contributors that there is no sound scientific basis to believe that GMOs are unsafe. I also agree with most of my fellow contributors that there is no justification to require the labeling of GMOs on foods. I also agree with Joseph in his piece that these labeling schemes are crony capitalism to benefit Big Organic. I also agree with Chris Byrne’s blog post on this topic.

There are already voluntary non-GMO labeling schemes out there to cater to the consumers who demand non-GMO foods. If these products are not widely available, it’s not because of a conspiracy by Monsanto, but because there is a lack of demand for them. As to Chris Bowen’s point about government regulation of organics, I would argue that we already have it with the current USDA Organics program, which expressly forbid GMOs. Whether or not the program is any good or effective is certainly up for debate.”

What do you think about GMO labeling? Is it something that should be required by the government, something left to the private sector, or there’s no need for it? Let us know in the comments!

 

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October 29, 2014

Tesla Whines About Protectionist Legislation for Auto Dealers While Using Government Largesse to Compete

by Sarah Baker

Last week, I wrote about rent seeking auto dealers lobbying for protection from competition with manufacturers utilizing direct-to-consumer sales models. I mentioned direct-to-consumer manufacturer Tesla by name, and suggested such legislation would prevent consumers from enjoying the savings that might otherwise be realized from Tesla’s efforts to “eliminate the middle-man.”

I should have taken the opportunity to address Tesla’s own abundant receipt of government largesse.

And to be clear, “government” largesse is always paid for by the taxpayers.

In a piece entitled “If Tesla Would Stop Selling Cars, We’d All Save Some Money,” Forbes contributor Patrick Michaels details all the ways Tesla benefits from government handouts. Michaels concludes that taxpayers shell out $10,000 for every car Tesla sells.

Michaels starts with a claim that purchasers of Tesla vehicles receive a $7500 “taxback bonus that every buyer gets and every taxpayer pays.” Since the tax credit appears to be non-refundable, I would not count it as a cost to other taxpayers, as Michaels does.

But the federal tax credit is only the tip of the crony capitalist iceberg for Tesla.

There are also generous state subsidies paid by taxpayers to the wealthy people who buy Tesla’s expensive vehicles. Purchasers in Illinois, for example, can receive a $4,000 rebate from that state’s “Alternate Fuels Fund,” a $3,000 rebate to offset the cost of electric charging stations, and reduced registration fees. California likewise offers a long list of rebates and subsidies to buyers of electric vehicles.

One of the hidden costs to consumers comes in the form of the increased price tag on cars sold by manufacturers who do not qualify for California’s mandated emissions credits, which they instead have to buy from Tesla, allowing it to earn a profit despite selling cars at a massive loss. As Michaels explains:

Tesla didn’t generate a profit by selling sexy cars, but rather by selling sleazy emissions “credits,” mandated by the state of California’s electric vehicle requirements. The competition, like Honda, doesn’t have a mass market plug-in to meet the mandate and therefore must buy the credits from Tesla, the only company that does. The bill for last quarter was $68 million. Absent this shakedown of potential car buyers, Tesla would have lost $57 million, or $11,400 per car. As the company sold 5,000 cars in the quarter, though, $13,600 per car was paid by other manufacturers, who are going to pass at least some of that cost on to buyers of their products. Folks in the new car market are likely paying a bit more than simply the direct tax subsidy.

Slate’s Scott Woolley details another way in which Tesla has cost taxpayers money. In 2009, Tesla received a $465 million Department of Energy loan that allowed it to weather a financial maelstrom. Unlike Solyndra (and Abound Solar and Fisker Automotive and The Vehicle Production Group LLC), Tesla managed to repay the loan in 2013. According to Michaels, it did so by reporting its first ever quarterly profit (earned from the sale of the emissions credits), which sent its stock soaring and enabled it to borrow $150 million from Goldman Sachs, and then issuing a billion in new stock and long-term debt.

But Tesla paid the U.S. taxpayers back at a rate far below what venture capitalists would have earned on the same loan. As an example, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk also made a loan to Tesla. Musk got a 10% interest rate and options to convert the debt to stock, which he did, resulting in a 3,500% rate of return on his investment.

In contrast, the U.S. taxpayer received a 2.6% rate of return.

In other words, in our crony capitalist system, taxpayers take the loss on bad loans like the one to Solyndra, but do not enjoy commensurate reward on good loans like the one to Tesla.

But there is still more. Tesla cannot keep earning emissions credits, which allow it to earn a profit despite selling its cars at a loss, unless it can keep selling those cars. Josh Harkinson, writing for Mother Jones, writes that:

Its first-quarter profit, a modest $11 million, hinged on the $68 million it earned selling clean-air credits under a California program that requires automakers to either produce a given number of zero-emission vehicles or satisfy the mandate in some other way. For the second quarter, Tesla announced a $26 million profit (based on one method of accounting), but again the profit hinged on $51 million in ZEV credits; by year’s end, these credit sales could net Tesla a whopping $250 million.

Tesla’s ability to continue selling the cars that earn the credits is in question. The market for $80,000 cars has a limited number of buyers. Tesla must expand its customer base with a more affordable product.

One way to achieve that would be to cut the vehicle’s range. But subsidies, credits and fuel savings notwithstanding, consumers have little taste for lower ranges—even at a much lower price. Another way for Tesla to lower the cost of its vehicles is to cut the cost of its batteries without sacrificing the range. As Harkinson observes:

That, however, may again depend on massive subsidies—in this case funding to battery researchers and manufacturers by the governments of Japan and China. Over the past five years, Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, a public-private partnership founded in 1980, has pumped roughly $400 million into developing advanced battery technologies. Tesla’s Panasonic cells also might be pricier if not for subsidies the company received to expand its battery plants in Kasai and Osaka.

When Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill reaffirming Michigan’s protectionist legislation for traditional automobile franchise dealers, auto blog Jalopnik reported GM’s position as follows:

“Competition is always healthy,” GM spokeswoman Heather Rosenker tells Jalopnik. “But it needs to be on a level playing field.”

In the context of the substantial aid Tesla receives from federal, state and foreign governments, it is easier to have some sympathy for the plight of traditional manufacturers—and their dealers.

Ultimately, that sympathy shines a spotlight on the problems created when government starts “tinkering” in the market. Inevitably, that initial, well-intentioned tinkering necessitates ever more intrusive secondary tinkering aimed at remediating the unintended side effects of its initial foray into the market.

Consider health care. Inflation in the cost of U.S. health care began to outpace the general rate of inflation when the government began subsidizing health care costs. Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman has estimated that real per capita health spending is twice what it would be in the absence of third party payments, and that Medicare and Medicaid are responsible for 43% of that increase. The remaining portion can be blamed in large part on the third party payments from mandated employer health care coverage, further separating patients from the cost of their care and eliminating the market forces that would otherwise keep costs down. Add to the foregoing the government-enforced monopolies on health care education, leading to 22% fewer medical schools in the United States now than one hundred years ago, despite a 300% increase in population, and attendant provider shortage. All that well-intentioned tinkering created a whole host of ugly, unintended side effects, necessitating more tinkering. The federal government responded with the Affordable Care Act and its accompanying thousands of pages of new regulations.

Everywhere the pattern repeats. The cost of higher education outpaces general inflation precisely because the government wants to help people pay for it. The unintended side effect is increasing numbers of graduates with useless degrees and few job prospects, necessitating further tinkering in the form of loan relief, jobs programs and minimum wage hikes. The Federal Reserve suppresses interest rates to artificial lows in the well-intended effort to speed recovery from the bust of the dot-com bubble. The unintended (in this case, it may actually have been intended, at least by Paul Krugman) side effect is a new bubble in housing. When that bubble bursts, the government must step in to bail people and banks out of their bad investments, create new bureaucracies and new regulations making it harder for people to qualify for loans (in contrast to previous tinkering designed to make it easier).

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I am not a radical free-marketer because I dislike poor people or have a special love for corporations. I am a radical free marketer because I know no amount of tinkering ever produces results as beneficial as what the market produces, naturally and efficiently, all on its own.

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Oregon’s GMO Labeling Measure Is Cronyism For Big Organic

by Joseph Santaniello

 

 

freeandequal

Recently, I was sent a post that Free and Equal, a pro-Liberty organization that many Student libertarians take part working with,  stating that Labeling is important, and the “Evil corporations” are pouring money into preventing GMO-Labeling. They felt the need to explain themselves by saying that, it’s okay to donate money, but where it comes from is the problem. That Big Organic is just trying to help people, and GMO’s areevil. So the GMO Shill King decided to take time to tear this apart and explain the issue with libertarians supporting woo-filled amendments, which are tied to special interests.
While, it is public knowledge that No on measure 92 has raised almost double the money the Yes side has, and yes Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta have been some of the key donors to the No side, and Big Organic has funneled majority of the Funds into the the Yes side. Saying one side is evil and doesn’t want you to know, is not the correct argument, so let’s examine the text of Measure 92.
The first three really can be covered together, since they are exceptionally misleading. Polls have not consistently showed anything they very between 40-70%, not very accurate and consistent if you ask me, and are these people actually informed on the measure themselves, or the Science behind Genetic Modification?  Two, well what evidence do they have of health reasons, economic does not exist since GE’d foods are exceptionally cheaper than there “Certified Organic” counter-part, and what culture in the world says they need Food labeling — If you ask me that is exceptionally hyperbolic? Number Three is even more so misleading, when you bring Codex Alimentarius into this, an organization that holds no bearing in court but hopes to set international trade standards to help efficient trading in the globalized world, it is important to realize that even the “Book of Food” has said GMO’s have no evidence to claim they pose any health concerns, and that is why it should be left up to the countries. Every major NGO or Institute of science in a given country has spoken fiercely against these countries that require arbitrary labeling or an outright ban on Genetic Engineering, these bans have been political to support popular opinion rather than based on fact.

 

So, numbers 4-7 are screaming blatant lies. The FDA actually requires some of the strictest testing in the world on genetically altered foods, they also require several outside sources that are independent or in academia to peer review not only the studies the government does, but as well as the ones the corporations use say their product is safe. Saying there have not been studies done is an outright lie, unless these 1700+ Studies simply do not count. These studies have been in an international catalog for a long while now. So why do we keep hearing that they have not been tested, and we are the “guinea pigs”? When people include “mixing plant and animal” genes in a measure on a ballot, the only reference point that have was the Flavr Savr Tomato in 1996, this tomato had an anti-freezing gene added to it from a fish, it was labeled as such openly by the company, and it failed taste tests by consumers, after approved for sale, but left an allergen warning for those allergic to fish on it, and was pulled from shelves in early 1997. Other than that one instance no one has added anything that cannot naturally occur in nature to our food supply.
Number 6 on this measure actually has no evidence to support it whatsoever, not a single government scientist that has undergone any peer review of his studies to support this claim, has ever been able to show even a theory to support this claim. This is because it simply is not the case and people touting this as reasoning; do not understand how genetic engineering works. Number 7 is another that is simply not true, hundreds of tests are done independently anytime a new product wants to come to market, it is not illegal to independently test a given product, actually it has been encouraged.
Number 9, This is not about Kosher and Halal meats and food products; this is really just another random claim that actually does not exist. These are part of a completely separate issue and tying them to a genetic engineering bill is quite silly. It is not like someone is going to eat a piece of corn that was slathered in pork fat without them knowing. Genetic engineering does not work like that.

 

10 and 11 are like half-truth “findings”. They take things largely out of context, and use them to support a biased end. As a pro-market libertarian, using government to create barriers of entry is a wholly dishonest thing in itself. When using untrue statements to make that end possible and scare tactics to make the public panic to gain support is a bothersome thing indeed. Codex Alimentarius standards, which were adopted to the WTO, are the labeling requirements for international trade.  How it works is actually quite simple. If a country requires more than COO labeling, such as GM and Pesticide labeling, they send a sample off for independent study to determine if the Label the company is using is accurate. Then not only is the label the company used sent, but the independent verification as well. So when you hear it is a “voluntary” thing, it really is, you can voluntarily label and trade with nations that require labeling or not, it is not forced. The reason Big Organic and Big Biotech did not oppose these new additions is simple, Big Organic knows that very few countries require labeling on natural pesticides, mutagenically altered foods, or hybridization techniques, so in other words are safe from labeling other than COO. While the rest of the companies who use RNA interfered or Transgenicially altered foods can: A. avoid trade, B. Label them and independently prove they meet the countries said Threshold, or C. trade with countries without arbitrary labeling requirements.  The economic value of these products are unchanged on an international scale, so these findings are inherently false.

 

Numbers 16 and 17, The environmental harm findings of this measure are another exceptionally misleading piece as well.  It talks about soy being genetically engineered and then immediately following throws this crazy number at you “527 million pounds of additional herbicide” applied to the nations farmland, but it does not distinguish between organic farming and conventional, furthering the misinformation that only genetically engineered or conventionally grown foods use Herbicide. Herbicide resistance crops also result in low-tillage or no tillage, which has been noted to be actually more sustainable, and helps farmers from turning to the more environmentally dangerous herbicides. What Herbicide resistance actually does is it causes the plant to degrade the herbicide used and render it harmless. These two types are RoundupReady(Glyphosphate) and LibertyLink(Glufosinate), The transgenic alterations to these crops allows for farmers to choose when they need to spray, and gives the ability to control weeds through the whole season, and they have virtually no herbicide present in the take, which is an amazing feat of science.  Another misrepresentation of the problem is in regards to drinking water,  several studies have shown that what Glyphosphate and Glufosinate have replaced have actually helped resolve the issues of drinking water, since the lethal concentration of both is so incredibly high, compared to pyrethrins/rotenone(Used in Organic Farming) and Atrazine(what was used before Herbicide resistance crops), what little that doesn’t get absorbed into the soil and degraded into something harmless, what is present in the drinking water is virtually non-existent after undergoing water treatment. The argument could have been made that use near waterways, and damage possible to aquatic life from the run off could have been made, but restrictions are in place on levels that can be used near waterways on conventional farming, but not on organic.

It is hard to disagree with environmental issues, but by saying it is only half of the equation is the problem, and the other half is okay, is being intellectually dishonest.  When I see organizations that support freedom, transparency, and equality under the law, and only address half the spectrum to gain supporters, and disenfranchise the rest of a movement that has fought long and hard for real science and real transparency in government, only to be co-opted and used to support their brand of cronyism it is disheartening to say the least.

 

Section 3 is where the Cronyism begins, instead of the hyperbole and scare tactics used in the findings; this is why so much money has been poured into Measure 92. If you read this part of the measure you see that Big Organic exempts themselves from the regulations they want to place. We see this happen all the time, in politics yet here it is okay, but not in other areas? So how are they exempting themselves, well they do it subtly,  “Raw Food” was an issue in 2011, when Big Organic fought to science to sell almonds with cyanide in them, lethal doses of cyanide mind you.  The argument was when you were selling “Raw Almonds” pre-2011 you were actually selling almonds that have undergone RNA interference, this process actually suppressed the almonds production of cyanide, which made it safe for you to eat after a process of blanching or steaming the almond, to remove any extra bacteria(generally salmonella). When Big Organic won, they agreed to use PPO(propylene oxide) to coat and fumigate, which neutralize the cyanide. Since PPO is something that can be considered “Organic” since essentially ALL things are organic — remember back too high school chemistry. This allowed them to sell raw almonds, coated with poison, to consumers, and since this is organic it is not subject to any of the safety regulations for labeling or health concerns, or really anything.

I proposed this too my friends and followers on Facebook “Which would you prefer a Raw Organic Almond, which underwent Fumigation and is coated with an Herbicide known as PPO, to neutralize the Cyanide in Raw Almonds or a Genetically Modified Almond, which underwent RNA Interference to suppress the Cyanide, and does not need to undergo fumigation, but is steamed or blanched.” The answer was pretty straightforward “Organic obviously, because they care about people, and not profit, GMO’s are bad” with the few responses of my fellow science lovers “is this a serious question, The GMO obviously.” This showed me that a lot of misinformation is out there, people who do not understand how science works, they learn from sources like Food Babe, who have absolutely no credibility in the science community and are paid to spread scare tactics. Measure 92 is literally a proponent of the same thing.

Where the real concern is though, is 4.b.
(b) Methods of fusing cells beyond the taxonomic family that overcame natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers, and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection such as conjugation, transduction, and hybridization.

For purposes of this definition: “In vitro nucleic acid techniques” include, but are not limited to, recombinant DNA or RNA techniques that use vector systems; techniques involving the direct introduction into the organisms of hereditary materials prepared outside the organisms such as biolistics, microinjection, macro-injection, chemoporation, electroporation, microencapsulation, and liposome fusion.

This is Big Organic’s lovely exemption. This is the whole motive behind this ballot measure. It only targets half of the GMO’s and not the ones that are considered Organic. This is targeting Biotech companies, like the IRS targetednconservative and liberty groups, and it unacceptable.  While even Pure-Organic(no pesticides natural or synthetic, or CMS alterations) activists are against Big Organic on the issue.  When you read for the purpose of this definition, it misses literally ¾ of the geneticially modified foods.  When you have it so precisely defined, and leave out CMS altered seeds, which fall under “hybridization” Since they are cisgenically altered, and are considered cell cusion. The difference between Cisgenic and Transgenic is simple; Cisgenic means of the same species, Transgenic covers different biological families. Internationally hybridization is considered Genetic Engineering, and must follow the same guidelines for labeling. So why intentially leave it out on Measure 92, the motive is clear, it gives Big Organic an unfair advantage in the market, and allows for them to continue to spread lies about pesticides and GMO’s, when they themselves genetically modify in labs, just like the companies they are wanting to force to Label.
The definition is purposefully missing Mutagenisis(Process of using Radiation to force mutations in cell structure) which has zero guidelines or regulation in the United States, and no safety procedures before going to market, Cisgenics,  cell fusion hybridization, and several others. Which have no regulations, or testing before going to market, which this Measure blames on Biotech such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, and Dow Chemical, when in reality, the proponents of Measure 92 are the ones who are the culprits of these problems.
I have heard the argument of the “Right to Know” side, which there is a valid argument for. I absolutely think people should be able to know what is in their food. This measure does not do that, what it does is Unfair and Bias targeting of certain industries while exempting others from safety and health regulations. It continues the bias that “Evil Corporations” are poisoning you, but these billion corporations “are looking out for the people”. If we were to label, it would have to include all sides, and include pesticide toxicity and thresholds. While I would prefer private companies do this, If that is not an option then we must limit the cronyism attached to it, by not strictly attaching it to Biotechnology, but Big Ag as a whole.  Simply because the misinformation leading to ill-informed voting on a measure that does not protect them, or change anything, but aims to add more costs to the opposition, while leaving loopholes for the proponents is bad for the market, bad for America, and bad for consumers. The reason Big Organic exempts themselves from GMO labeling everytime legislation is proposed, is because well, if you read “Certified Organic” and “This product has undergone the process of Mutagenisis where it was put in radioactive enviroments to force mutations.” You would question what you were buying.

What measure 92 is doing is furthering the hyperbole, and destroying the market. There are plenty of reasons to not like Monsanto, or any other Big Ag group, this is not one of them, the motivation behind them funding “No on Measure 92” is them fighting an unfair market regulation, and hyperbole, any business would fight lies and giving another company and unfair advantage. If we want to attack the “Evil Corporations” let’s go to congress and fight agriculture subsidies,  and crony politics used to get them, on both sides of this measure.

When “Free and Equal” says “Big Money is not just an amount, but who is behind it.” When challenged about Big Organic pouring money into this measure as well.  The response is appalling, it essentially says “Big money is fine as long as it is the Cronies I support, not the ones you support” then add “For their own pocket and not the people” is very intellectually dishonest if you read the actual ballot measure. At least Free and Equal disclosed that they are sponsored by a proponent of Measure 92, but still if they support real freedom and equality under the law, they would still be actively against measure 92, since it goes against everything an organization that pushes government transparency and equality under the Law. I have been in this movement for over a decade, and am scared when I see it coopted by people who think “Big money is bad, crony capitalism is bad, but unless it looks like it is for people then it is good”  Which is essentially what Free and Equal said here.
They are exactly right though, it is important to examine the motive behind Big Money, because Measure 92, the money behind it, is very much against the consumer, against the market, and against half the industry. This measure is something conservatives, libertarians, and progressives can come together on the one thing we all agree on, crony capitalism is what is wrong with this Country, and we need to fight to end that. This measure shows exactly the problem with fear-mongering and scare tactics can do, and how easy it is to push something like this onto people with clear motives to target a certain group and create new barriers of entry and extra cost to the consumer.

If you believe in labeling or not, you should vote NO on Measure 92, because it isn’t a labeling bill, it is a targeted bill, and exempts Big Organic, if you want labeling lets work together and create a real labeling bill that is fair to the whole market—That’s only if you think it is a right to know what is in your food.

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October 28, 2014

Can Florida Ban Beer Growlers?

by Brad Warbiany

Damon Root, at Reason, on Florida’s ban on 64-oz beer growlers. The law is being challenged by a retail company called The Crafted Keg, which is a “growler bar*”.

To survive judicial review under existing Supreme Court precedent, economic regulations such as Florida’s growler ban must pass what’s known as the rational-basis test. In effect, this test tells the courts that they may strike down a contested law only if it lacks any conceivable connection to a legitimate government interest.
Green Flash Growler of 30th St. Pale Ale
To be sure, that is a highly deferential approach to government regulation. But the Florida growler ban is so moronic it fails to satisfy even the generous terms of the rational-basis test.

After all, what possible legitimate state interest could this ban serve? It certainly cannot be part of some regulatory scheme designed to limit beer consumption and thereby curb public intoxication or drunk driving. That sort of scheme would only be rational if the state also banned six packs, kegs, and other large-size offerings. The fact that customers may purchase 72-ounces of beer via six pack but not a 64-ounce growler of the same beer highlights the fundamental irrationality of this preposterous regulation.

When I was at Purdue, there was a ban on kegs in fraternity houses out of concern that the end of the night might result in a “finish off the keg” mentality and lead to excessive drinking. This is due to the typical hand-pump tap used to maintain pressure, which severely oxidizes the beer and causes it to go stale extremely quickly. Often a beer would taste terrible by the next night when using a hand pump. (This is not an issue on keg systems dispensed with CO2 or “beer gas”.) Instead, without kegs, we were forced to drink excessively via other means.

One can make an argument that a growler suffers the same issue. Growlers are really meant to be single-serving containers, or at most maybe split over two nights. The beer will go stale quickly if allowed to sit. Growlers aren’t filled with the same care to minimize oxidation as bottles or cans, and many growlers have trouble maintaining CO2 over more than a few days due to poor seals. Thus, you often drink a growler as quickly after purchasing it as you can to avoid it going stale or flat.

In addition, many growlers are “special release” beers, often higher in alcohol than typical. I often don’t like growlers for this exact reason. My wife doesn’t drink beer, and I tend to have trouble putting away 64 ounces of 8%+ double IPA in an evening on my own and getting up at the crack of dawn to feed children the next morning. For that reason, I actually love the 32-ounce growler as a format. It’s quite uncommon in the industry, however.

Six packs don’t have these issues. 22-oz bombers don’t have these issues. And kegs are clearly not intended for a single-serving. They’re either purchased for groups (using a hand pump tap) or for personal kegerators using CO2.

One 12-oz bottle from a 72-oz six pack won’t get you drunk, and the other 5 bottles can be easily stored for weeks or months. Drinking an entire 64 oz growler will get you drunk. And with the difficulty in storing a growler at all — much less a growler that’s already had a pint or two poured out of it, make it highly likely that it will be consumed in a single sitting.

Thus, while I don’t agree with the growler ban, I can see it passing a rational basis test.

(more…)

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Quote of the Day: #Ferguson Edition

by Stephen Littau

Here’s a great observation for Lucy Steigerwald writing from Rare:

Whether the shooting of Brown by Wilson was justified or not, it’s important to remember that there were good reasons people distrusted the Ferguson police’s narrative of events.

Police did everything wrong after Brown was killed. They left his body in the street, they refused to answer questions or identify the officer. They used military tech to answer the protests that resulted. They repeatedly teargassed crowds, arresting peaceful protesters and members of the media.

Officer Darren Wilson shouldn’t be punished for the impression that people — especially minorities — have of the police. If he doesn’t deserve prosecution, he shouldn’t be prosecuted. Whether he deserves harsh, little, or no punishment is still up for debate.

Read the whole thing. The entire article is worth quoting but I thought I would just wet your beak.

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Why FIRE Is Wrong To Criticize Utah State For Anti #GamerGate Speaker’s Cancellation

by Kevin Boyd

sarkeesina

Let me get this out of the way before we get started. For the most part, I like the work that FIRE does on free speech issues on university campuses. Universities are meant to be a place where ideas can be expressed freely, and all too often that’s no longer the case for many reasons.

I also deplore death threats and believe they have no place in political discourse, on either side of any political issue. Anyone who issues death threats for the purpose of silencing speech should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for terrorism, because that’s what this is.

Now that all that is out of the way, let’s get into the story. A couple of weeks ago, Anita Sarkeesian, who is a feminist speaker and opponent of #GamerGate (if you need a #GamerGate 101, read Christopher Bowen’s piece on the topic) canceled her scheduled lecture at Utah State University due to death threats and the fact that Utah universities allow concealed weapons at universities.

The Salt Lake Tribune has more:

In a phone interview from San Francisco, Anita Sarkeesian said she canceled Wednesday’s lecture not because of three death threats — one of which promised “the deadliest school shooting in American history” — but because firearms would be allowed in spite of the threats.

“That was it for me,” said Sarkeesian, who has kept multiple speaking engagements in the face of death threats, including one last week at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. “If they allowed weapons into the auditorium, that was too big a risk.”

She also pledged never to speak at a Utah school until firearms are prohibited on Utah’s campuses and called for other lecturers to join her in boycotting the state.

The USU police and the FBI determined that the threats against Sarkeesian were not credible. Also, Utah passed a law in 2004 that banned universites from restricting guns on campus. Whether or not you like that law, that is the law in Utah.

USU police though offered to tighten security at Sarkeesian’s lecture:

Sarkeesian said she asked for metal detectors or pat-downs at the entrance of the Taggart Student Center auditorium, but USU police said they could not prevent those in attendance from carrying weapons into the lecture if they had concealed weapons permits. Though she said, “in hindsight, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable with any weapons in the auditorium.” Police instead promised more officers and a backpack check at the doors. Sarkeesian said she asked whether police could screen the audience for guns and let them in if they had permits, but Vitale said campus law enforcement officers believed that would have been needlessly invasive for the audience.

“If we felt it was necessary to do that to protect Miss Sarkeesian, we absolutely would have done that,” Vitale said. “We felt the level of security presence we were putting into this was completely adequate to provide a safe environment.”

In this era of where we read about police officers violating the rights of the citizens they’re supposed to protect and serve, it’s good to see the USU police try to balance Sarkeesian’s safety with the rights of the audience. However, this wasn’t good enough for Sarkeesian and she cancelled her speech.

It’s clear that Anita Sarkeesian canceled her speech to make a point about concealed carry on campuses and this is a political stunt, not a threat to free speech because the university tried to work with her on security. The university did their job. For more on the gun control implications, read this.

Now enter FIRE’s Gina Luttrell who on their official blog criticized the university for not doing more to prevent the cancellation.

Regardless of the specifics of Utah’s open carry laws, universities do absolutely have an obligation to make sure that reasonable steps are taken to protect speakers—particularly when credible threats are made against them or when there may be violence toward them for their speech. Utah State should have worked harder to ensure that Sarkeesian would be safe speaking on its campus. Frankly, it’s difficult to believe that this would not have been possible to do while also staying within the bounds of state and federal law.

What more does Luttrell and FIRE want USU to do? They tried to work with Sarkeesian on a security plan that would’ve been compliant with Utah law against a threat that the FBI and USU police deemed to be non credible and Sarkeesian rejected it in favor of a political stunt against guns on college campuses. Instead of attacking the university, FIRE and Luttrell should be attacking Sarkeesian for trying to frame her attacks on the Second Amendment as a free speech issue. At the same time, you can’t force someone to speak somewhere they’re not comfortable speaking for whatever reason.

The answer to attacks on freedom is not to restrict freedom. It’s truly disappointing to see organizations give the cover of defending civil liberties to those who are attacking freedom, in this case giving the cover of defending free speech to a woman who is trying to restrict the right to keep and bear arms on campus.

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More on Amazon, ebooks, and monopolies

by Tom Knighton

Yesterday, Brad wrote a wonderful piece blasting away at accusations that Amazon has a monopoly on the ebook. As an indie author who making most of his income via ebook sales, I thought it might be worth getting another take on the same issue.

Brad makes excellent points, but there are some points that I figure he missed. First, let’s look at the definition of the term “monopoly“.

1. exclusive control of a commodity or service in a particular market, or a control that makes possible the manipulation of prices.

2. an exclusive privilege to carry on a business, traffic, or service, granted by a government.
3. the exclusive possession or control of something.
4. something that is the subject of such control, as a commodity or service.
5. a company or group that has such control.
6. the market condition that exists when there is only one seller.

[I did leave out one possible definition, but that was because it involved the board game, hence irrelevant]

So, the implication is that there is no competition in the realm of ebooks. Amazon controls the whole shebang. Now, Brad points out how myopic that thinking is in his post yesterday. (more…)

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The Important Subject You’re Not Being Taught In College

by Daniel Golliher

Imagine that you are in college, and that you have registered for a survey course you think will be particularly interesting. Based on the course description and preliminary syllabus, you conclude that, although your knowledge level is lacking in the course’s field, it seems that the course takes that into account and that you should be fine.

Finally, imagine that you were wrong. You are in over your head. You simply don’t know enough. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

I’m sure that we’ve all been in situations like this at one point or another, whether in college or not. You take on a task for which you feel prepared, or at least able, and then the whole thing turns out to be a non-starter. I happen to have been in the exact situation outlined above. But here’s the scary part: this was a history based government course. I was a junior in the Government Department. And I found my knowledge of history lacking.

It would have been one thing if I were a freshman. Lack of knowledge at that level is expected. During sophomore year it is made fun of. But the third year? That is supposed to be the point in an undergraduate’s career when their hand finally steadies at the helm. The oceans of knowledge are not as threatening, and a course forward can begin to be charted. Instead, I found like fifteen leaks all over the place. And then the ship pitched sideways. Metaphor over.

This particular class, for me, was entitled “The Early Development of American Political Institutions and Organization,” and it was a junior level research seminar in the Government Department of Harvard University. The first day of class, I immediately noticed that I would have to learn a lot of new information to stay abreast of the material and classroom discussion. Before I could even complete the required readings, which were complex overviews and analyses of American history, I had to do swaths of background reading at a much lower level. This was just to give my coursework a context. Imagine trying to think seriously about the development of the Democratic Party (which we had to do), but with little idea of the history of Andrew Jackson or the United States at that particular time (which is what I had). Tough sell, right?

The scary part is that I suspect most of my fellow classmates were caught by surprise just as much as I was. I wasn’t surprised by the difficulty of the course material or the amount of it. I was surprised that I didn’t have the proper antecedent knowledge to engage it at a high level. I’d like to stress here, again, that I was a junior at this time. There was no excuse for this dearth.

This part of the story has an OK ending. I stayed with the class, didn’t speak as much as I normally would, and tore through a lot of extra reading in addition to the classroom materials. I finished with a B. (Despite what some of you may have read about grade inflation, that grade was not an easy task.) I learned a lot about the early history of the United States, but more importantly I learned that my knowledge of history in general was greatly lacking. Even though I had very good knowledge of modern events, history is a subject that is only fully valuable when you have a grand scope. That’s kind of the point of the field.

Fast forward to the second semester of my junior year. Armed with the knowledge that I didn’t know anything (or enough to matter), I decided to start at the Founding, the very beginning. I’m told it’s a very good place to start. I poured through the course catalog in an attempt to find survey courses on American history (American History 101, or something). When I didn’t immediately succeed, my eyes narrowed a little as I stared at my computer screen. After I changed my search terms and tried again, I was still unsuccessful. The best I could find were courses like ““History 13a: The European Enlightenment.” What good are courses like that if one doesn’t know basic European history? At this point I was distressed: I didn’t know history, and there seemed to be no courses to help me. At Harvard. What. The. Hell. In one last attempt, powered by rage at what seemed to me to be a ridiculous oversight, I changed my search parameters and dove back in. Eventually, and to my stunned relief, I found one! It was a course on the American founding, which covered colonial American history on through to the construction of the Constitution. Ironically, the course wasn’t even in the History Department, but the Government Department. It was entitled “Political Thought of the American Founding,” and it was taught by Professor Eric Nelson.

This is the part where my story begins to look up, and the light is visible at the end of the tunnel. Not only had Professor Nelson noticed the lack of a course on the Revolution, but he stepped in to supply the need. In an interview with the The Harvard Gazette, he says:

“A group of undergraduates came to my office hours in 2008 to complain that there was no course at Harvard on the American Revolution. My initial response was: “Look harder!” But it turned out that they were right. This seemed unfortunate to me, not least because my office is about 400 yards away from the spot where Washington mustered the Continental Army in July 1775.”

His course was easily one of my favorites, if not the favorite, of my undergraduate career. It provided a large amount of information and grounded it systemically with essential background knowledge. As a student, I could tell he was passionate about his subject. In fact, he’s written a book about it. After I had completed it, I felt confident in my knowledge of the American Founding, and prepared to tackle the rest of American history. But important questions remain: why was I ever in the position that I was at the beginning of my junior year, and where are all of the history courses like Professor Nelson’s?

 

NO HISTORY IN OUR COLLEGES

This lack of history may seem unsurprising to some, and it certainly was to me. But it’s not new news. On Wednesday, October 15, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni released its 2014-2015 What Will They Learn? study. The survey gives American liberal arts colleges a grade from A-F, which is determined by the material they require their undergraduates to cover. According to their press release, this material consists “…of seven subjects that are essential to a liberal arts education: literature, composition, economics, math, intermediate level foreign language, science, and American government/history.” Here is the criterion for a satisfactory mark for U.S. Government or History:

“What Will They Learn?TM gives schools credit for U.S. Government or History if they require a survey course in either U.S. government or history with enough chronological and/or topical breadth to expose students to the sweep of American history and institutions. Narrow, niche courses do not count for the requirement, nor do courses that only focus on a limited chronological period or a specific state or region” (page ten of the study).

Not only does Harvard not require a survey course in American history as a condition of a bachelor’s degree (check here for degree requirements), but it doesn’t even have that many. Evidence: the lack of a course on the American Revolution, until just recently. Additionally, many of its courses are “Narrow, niche courses.” This general trend in history was lamented the day after ACTA released its study in an article co-authored by a Harvard professor.

Harvard Grade

According to ACTA, only 28% of public institutions require American history. This may seem bad, and it is. But it is almost treble the 10% of private institutions that require it. According to the ACTA report, Harvard gets a D across the board, and one of the reasons for this is that it doesn’t require survey courses on American history (see page 63 of the report).

 

WHY HISTORY IS IMPORTANT FOR LIBERTY

As an advocate for liberty, I’m troubled that history doesn’t seem to be being transmitted to my generation. It’s important for a lot of reasons, and one of them is keeping everybody (read: the State) honest. If one can examine history and pull out trends, one can extrapolate into the future. If the State says that a policy is necessary, one can see if it’s been tried before and to what end. And maybe someone can also remember if we’re at war with Eurasia or Eastasia…I can’t remember.

Here’s an example of the importance of history played out: If historical knowledge were more prevalent, I think it would have produced more comparisons between the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, and maybe enough to have stopped the latter. Both were passed days after a national shock (some more real than others), and granted sweeping and vague powers to the executive. Although the circumstances were not the same, a pause for rational thought was in order both times, especially to contemplate the powers Congress was granting the president. A comparison between the two could have saved the US two long and costly wars, which not only shackled future generations to a mountain of debt, but gave birth to the Patriot Act.

On the other end of the scale, I also had this same need of history in my day to day life as a college student (and, unfortunately, still after). Not only does the State need to be kept honest, but its myths need to be busted. One that I heard and continue to hear from my fellow citizens is that “FDR led us out of the Great Depression with his social welfare programs and is our greatest president!” There are two arguments being made there. One is about the efficacy of state welfare programs (and why we must have them), and the other is about FDR’s legacy. History gives abundant evidence to properly evaluate these facts, but I find that a lot of them are either forgotten or glossed over.

As to the historical (and economic) analyses of his welfare programs, one could begin with Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. It was provoked by FDR’s New Deal. It itself was based on an essay by Bastiat commenting on a situation almost a century prior in France. These types of programs are not new, but the State always seems to be saying that they are. History can keep them honest. Concerning FDR’s legacy as a good president, I offer this jumping off point: the forced and involuntary internment of Japanese-Americans.

Broadly, a knowledge of American history encourages suspicion toward the State. A lack of historical knowledge leads to a very misplaced trust. Here are some more quick examples before I close:

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I have offered my personal experience as a case study to show that history is not being taught, or at least not being taught properly, in our nation’s colleges. If one is concerned for the well-being of liberty, one must be concerned for the well-being of history. In its What Will They Learn? study, ACTA says that

“Higher education in a free society also has a civic purpose. Colleges and universities must ensure that students have a working knowledge of the history and governing institutions of their country. An understanding of American history and government is indispensable for the formation of responsible citizens and for the preservation of free institutions” (emphasis added, from page ten of their report).

Colleges need to step up their game, and so do all Americans. I don’t like poison in my alcohol.

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October 27, 2014

There’s No Such Thing As An “eBook Monopoly”

by Brad Warbiany

First things first… I’ve spent a lot of time criticizing Kevin Drum over the years. Suffice to say that we don’t see eye to eye, and a reliable way to generate content here has often been “wait for Drum to say something ridiculous, then flog him for it.” It’s a well I’ve gone back to from time to time when thirsty, I’ll say that much. That said, he recently was diagnosed with cancer. All politics and blogging aside, best of luck to him in his treatment and recovery. It may be uncommon on the blogosphere to recognize that our ideological opponents are actual human beings, but he is and so I wish him the best.

With the niceties out of the way, Kevin fired off on the recent hot button of Amazon and its market power. Specifically, people question the extent to which Amazon is a monopoly. That’s a much wider topic, but I see something here that is a wrinkle that needs to be highlighted. Kevin says:

In theory, this is a great opportunity for an innovative startup. Startup costs are modest since there’s no physical inventory to worry about. Publishers are eager for new entrants. Maybe a smart startup could appeal to consumers with a great new e-reader concept. Or a better recommendation engine. Who knows? There are loads of possibilities. The problem is that no startup can possibly compete with a huge incumbent that’s willing to sell e-books at a loss. There’s no VC on the planet willing to fund a trench war like that.

So Amazon really does have a monopoly position in this market that it sustains via predatory pricing and heavy-handed business practices—against publishers both big and small—that might make John D. Rockefeller blush.

…snip…

So sure, leave Amazon alone in most of its business lines. But in e-books? Nope. They’re a monopoly in every sense of the word, and they use predatory practices to stay that way. They may offer cheap books, but in the long run it’s vibrant competition that truly benefits consumers. Regulating Amazon would hardly solve all our e-book problems—far from it—but it would be a start.

Now, I know marketing dweebs always love to slice-and-dice marketing data, torturing it until it shows that they’re the market leader in the critical “males age 24-27 in the Pacific Northwest who own cats” segment. It’s a way to claim that you’re a winner. As long as you cast the net narrowly enough.

But you can’t do this with monopolies. The Kindle doesn’t compete in the eBook market. It competes in the book market.

Trying to suss out a monopoly in only a single segment of the market reminds me of a debate I had with an old neighbor about the XM/Sirius merger several years ago. He said it should be blocked as it would create a monopoly. I said that it’s not a monopoly, because the market for mobile entertainment is much wider than just satellite radio:

What’s wrong with a monopoly in satellite radio? After all, look back a mere 6 years, when there was no such thing as satellite radio. At the time, people functioned. The world wasn’t falling apart because there were no blues stations in BFE. People lived without satellite radio, and yet people didn’t even know they were missing it.

…snip…

Thus, for a satellite radio provider, they cannot be a true monopoly. First, they’re offering a product that didn’t even exist 6 years ago, and currently has such a tiny number of subscribers that it’s not in any way a necessity. Second, they’re competing not only against other satellite radio companies, but against terrestrial radio, internet radio, CD’s, and portable music players. If they don’t offer a product worth paying for, people won’t pay for it.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite eBook
Amazon basically created the eBook market. Yes, there were eReaders prior to the Kindle, but they didn’t have a good distribution platform for books. Amazon was able to leverage their distribution model and really popularize the segment. They’ve continued to invest in the segment and thus have maintained absolutely crushing market share. They’ve even enabled completely new models for books, like the $2.99 price point that allows people to write and sell books that don’t fit the 200+ page model, and even a revival of the serial novel*.

But that doesn’t make them a monopolist. Yes, if you cast the net to ONLY eBooks, you might be able to make that claim. But eBooks are a substitute for physical books. If eBooks disappeared tomorrow, we’d all go right back to buying paperbacks and hardcovers. You simply cannot separate the eBook market from the wider book market.

Now, that gets harder to say when you see many books (like those mentioned Kindle Singles or serialized fiction) released only in the eBook format. I happen to be working on something that would fit into the Single format and something for which I would never get a “book deal” and don’t particularly want to self-publish.

But along those lines, you can’t blame Amazon for creating a new genre for publishing any more than you can blame SiriusXM for creating comedy stations where they can play George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV” uncensored even though you could never play that on their primary competitor, terrestrial radio. It still doesn’t make either a monopoly.

Monopoly is a word thrown around a lot, and despite where you stand on the validity of anti-trust law, it’s important to distinguish where the word is and is not valid. Someone who has carved out a dominant position in one niche of a much wider market–a market with many ready substitutes–is quite simply not a monopolist.
(more…)

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Here’s A Crowdfunding Idea, A Volunteer Brigade To Fight ISIS

by Kevin Boyd

Crowdfunding through sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe has made everything from business startups to trips a reality for many that otherwise would not have been. The beauty of crowdfunding campaigns is that it provides a way for people to leverage their social media networks and real life friends to collect and pool together small contributions into a large sum of money for a purpose. Crowdfunding also builds grassroots support for projects, big and small.

If crowdfunding can be used to launch a business or a documentary, can it be used to recruit and fund an all volunteer brigade to fight ISIS? Best-selling sci-fi author and U.S. Army veteran John Ringo seems to think so. On Friday, he posted a status update on his Facebook wall that he was considering such a concept:

RingoFacebookPost

As Ringo points out, members of Dutch and German biker gangs are fighting alongside Kurdish forces in Syria against the jihadist scourge that is ISIS. A couple of Americans have already volunteered to fight alongside the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia. However, there’s nothing on the scale that Ringo* is envisioning. Ringo is envisioning something like a non-Communist version of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of American volunteers who fought for the Communist-aligned Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s.

As for the legal issues, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has warned against volunteers joining the Syrian Kurds due to the YPG’s ties to the PKK, which is a Turkish Kurd political party on the terrorist lists of both the United States and the European Union. The U.S. State Department advises that serving in a foreign military is not grounds for loss of citizenship on its own. However, if that foreign military is facing combat against U.S. forces, that could be grounds for loss of citizenship.  A possible grey area is that U.S. law appears to state that serving as a commissioned officer or non-commissioned officer in a foreign military could be grounds for loss of U.S. citizenship. It’s important to note that I could not find any attempts at prosecuting members and commanders of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade or attempting to strip them of citizenship for their role in the Spanish Civil War.

Similiar legal issues were raised over the summer when Americans who served in the Israeli Defense Forces were killed in Gaza. Americans have had a history in serving in the Israeli Defense Forces and other foreign military units such as the French Foreign Legion.

So legally, serving with the Iraqi Kurds shouldn’t be a problem. However, serving with the Syrian Kurds could be legally problematic, given their ties to the PKK. However, the PKK itself is fighting alongside the Iraqi Kurds and the U.S. is arming other Kurdish organizations designated as terrorist organizations to fight ISIS. My guess is, the U.S. would turn a blind eye to Americans fighting ISIS, regardless of what units they’re with.

As for the crowdfunding idea itself, I like it. This could be a way for Americans who are frustrated with the current U.S. policy towards ISIS to step up and do more. They can give money to help American (and likely other foreign volunteers) equip themselves to fight an evil enemy. This unit can be recruited from social media. An example of this is the Donbass Battalion, which is a Ukrainian militia unit fighting against pro-Russian and Russian forces in the Donbass War in Eastern Ukraine. As its commander admits on this Vice News documentary, they recruited on Facebook and relying on donated weapons, uniforms, and provisions.

This is part of a trend of decentralization in warfare that’s going to become more common. As the enemies of freedom are often stateless, the forces of liberty need to decentralize and use the funding mechanisms of peace to respond accordingly. As has been shown in Ukraine, the enemies of liberty and freedom are still often powerful states, so a decentralized means of warfare is often a necessity.

As everything else has become decentralized and crowd-driven, why should warfare be any different?

*Ringo isn’t the only one with this idea. One friend of mine, who has military experience as well, is working on a similiar project as well.

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October 26, 2014

The Unlikely Billboard, Your Laptop

by Kevin Boyd

Everyone has been putting bumper stickers on cars for as long as bumper stickers have been around. Have you thought about putting bumper stickers on your laptop?

That’s what I’ve done. It works for me because I take my laptop out and about. I love to work in coffee shops and other places to get away from the house and I figured I can do some political advertising while I’m working.

Here’s what I’ve got on my laptop:

10636223_10101195037123324_2636047169617167937_n

The first sticker, “Less Government, More Fun” is part of a line of gear that’s sold here. I got the sticker, along with some wristbands, and at least one camo koozie free when I ordered one of their mint colored T-shirts with that slogan. When I wear the shirt out, I get lots of attention, which is weird becaue I actually try to avoid attention when I’m out.

The second sticker I’m afraid is not for sale, well at least the version I have on my computer. The sticker is a Gadsden flag (you can find plenty of those stickers anywhere), but mine came from Generation Opportunity. I got it when I filled out a questionaire and survey from them. The problem was I didn’t what to do with it because I already had a Gadsden flag sticker on my truck, so I decided to put it on the laptop.

Am I the only one who decorates their laptop? If not, what do you have on yours? Sound off in the comments!

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October 25, 2014

Could The Fuel Of The Future Come From Whisky?

by Kevin Boyd

This is a possibility according to a new Scottish startup company. Celtic Renewables Ltd. hopes to turn the waste products in Scotch whisky production into a biofuel.

Science Alert.au has more:

Whisky making requires three ingredients: water, yeast, and a grain. However, only 10 percent of those products end up as whisky, the remaining 90 percent is wasted during distilling. These waste products are either released into the sea or turned into animal feed.
Celtic Renewables Ltd is a start-up company in Scotland that is working to reuse the waste products from the Scottish Malt Whisky industry to develop biobutanol – an advanced biofuel that can be used instead of fossil-derived fuel. This will in turn reduce oil consumption and CO2 emissions, and provide an energy guarantee for rural areas that have a booming whisky industry.
The team have refined an old industrial fermentation technique, and managed to change draff (husk residue left by fermented grains) and pot ale (liquid produced during the mashing process), into 1-butanol and ethanol – which can both be used as fuel.

According to About Autos, the advantages of biobutanol over ethanol is that it has a higher energy content than ethanol. Biobutanol can be blended with gasoline at higher percentages and doesn’t need a separate distribution network, unlike ethanol. Finally, unlike ethanol, biobutanol is not corrosive.

However, the major disadvantage of biobutanol over ethanol is that ethanol has a much larger production capacity and has been the beneficiary of subsidies all over the world. Hopefully this company can change that and this technology can be adapted to other whisky producing areas of the world such as Canada and the United States.

 

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Watch Out For The Lever-Action Full Auto Double Barrel AR-15

by Kevin Boyd

Here’s a picture from the folks at Satirical Analysis, whose Facebook page you should like, along with our page, that sums up the American media’s stupidity in the gun control debate.

10407684_577416762360154_4217636978870922729_n

Of course, the Ottawa shooter was using a common lever-action hunting rifle, but they’ve also been nicknamed the “cowboy assault rifle” because they have a high rate of fire compared to bolt-action rifles.

Hmmm…….maybe this picture may not be so satirical afterall….

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Here’s A 10 Year Old Girl That Can Shoot Better Than You

by Kevin Boyd

Meet Shyanne Roberts, a 10 year old girl from New Jersey. However, while most girls her age play soccer or softball, she shoots competitively.

As you can see, she can handle an AR-15 and a Glock semi-automatic handgun. I’m sure she can already shoot better than most of our readers and contributors.

It just goes to show you that if kids are taught gun safety and how to handle firearms responsibly, they won’t pose a risk to themselves and to others.

For more about this remarkable young lady, check out this post at IJ Review.

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Brad’s Beer Review: Alpine Brewing Company – Duet

by Brad Warbiany

Weekends tend to be a slow time for political blogs, so it’s a perfect time to get into another passion. So I’m happy to announce a new weekend off-topic feature here: Brad’s Beer Review.

As many of you already know, I’m a homebrewer and a beer geek. What’s a beer “geek”, you [probably don't] ask, and how is it different from a beer snob? Well, it’s simple:

A beer geek cares what he drinks. A beer snob cares what you drink.

Alpine Brewing Company - Duet

Alpine Brewing Company – Duet


I’m a beer geek. I don’t care what you drink. Unlike the folks from the Washington Post, I’m not going to deride you for what you drink, whether it’s Bud Light or Smirnoff Ice.

That said, if you’re looking for a beer sherpa on the path to enlightenment, I’m happy to show you the way. So to start off this new feature, I decided to reach into the beer fridge for something a little special. In future instances, the feature may not be a beer, rather it may be a beer bar, brew pub, or craft beer centric restaurant. I travel quite a bit for work, so I’ll do my best to keep it varied. And it may not be a commercial beer. As a homebrewer, I might offer my own brews up from time to time (with recipe, of course).

Alpine Brewing Company is located in Alpine, CA, a tiny town well east of San Diego. They’re well known in the craft beer community, but even living in SoCal I didn’t get the chance to taste their wares until a few weeks ago. Mostly because Alpine CA is in the middle of freaking nowhere. They’re well known for their signature Double IPA, Pure Hoppiness. They didn’t have it available in bottles when a friend was in the area, so he brought me a few bottles of Duet, an IPA.

Duet is so named because of the use of Simcoe and Amarillo hops, and the first impression of the beer is the aroma. You can smell the Simcoe. Simcoe is well known as one of the key hops in another highly-touted beer, Pliny the Elder from Russian River. The Simcoe is offset by the Amarillo, which is known for a strong citrus aroma.

Visually, although my picture shows it a bit dark, the beer pours a nice pale gold. Great clarity.

On the tongue, this hits the mark. Any west-coast IPA should be hop-forward, an it is. Poor examples of the style are all hops, without any malt backbone to back it up. Duet has enough malt to give a great foundation for the hops, and let them shine. It’s got malt without being sweet (Dogfish Head, I’m looking at you!), and while it’s not quite as dry and crisp as I like my IPAs, it still makes me want more. You taste this beer and you know why everyone goes nuts over Alpine.

Then you come to the question in the craft beer world of drinkability. Which is really the question “does this taste like this beer will mess me up as much as it will mess me up?” On that metric, this beer is highly drinkable. The Alpine web site says this is a 7% ABV beer. Taste wise, I’d guess much lower. This beer carries zero alcohol warmth, and you’re left feeling like you could pound these away until you’ve forgotten that you’re at a brewery that’s closer (as the crow flies) to Mexico than it is to San Diego and you don’t have a ride home.

In short, I’m impressed by this beer. Alpine has absolutely nailed it. You’ll find as this feature continues that this is not all that common when it comes to me and beer. So if you can find some Alpine (you can’t… sorry.), buy it!

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