Author Archives: Stephen Littau

Quote of the Day: Jason Pye on the Smarter Sentencing Act


Jason Pye, former contributor to The Liberty Papers and current Director of Justice Reform at FreedomWorks posted an article yesterday for Rare Liberty about some promising political developments in the area of criminal justice reform. Perhaps one of the most promising of these developments at the federal level is a bill being considered is S.502 – The Smarter Sentencing Act.

Jason explains why he believes this reform is a step in the right direction:

With federal prison spending booming, an unlikely bipartisan alliance has emerged to bring many of these successful state-level reforms to the federal justice system. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have joined with Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to reform federal mandatory minimums – a one-size-fits-all, congressionally mandated approach to sentencing.


The Smarter Sentencing Act would expand the federal “safety valve” – an exception to federal mandatory minimum sentences for low-level nonviolent offenders with little or no criminal history – and cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. This more rational approach to sentencing will reduce costs on already overburdened taxpayers. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated a net $3 billion cost-savings over a decade. The Justice Department believes the bill will save an eye-popping $24 billion over 20 years.

The benefits of the Smarter Sentencing Act may not end with the fiscal savings. It could also reverse the damage done by federal mandatory minimum sentences in certain communities, which, as Lee recently explained, “have paid a high cost for the stiff sentences that mandatory minimums require.”

5 Memes that Need to Die

Internet memes – what would social networks look like without them? We all “like” some, share, and laugh at the most clever ones (others…not so much). Memes are a simple way to communicate to your social network your opinion on various issues from issues as serious as war and peace to more innocuous issues like which way is the proper way to install a roll of toilet paper (I’m an anarchist on that question). Not everyone has the time to write lengthy blog posts about these issues but almost everyone has enough time to click “share.” Like blog posts do, sometimes, these memes open up great discussions or debates (but often devolve into childish nonsense…sadly).

There are a few memes that are so incredibly inane that you will wish there was a “dislike” or “this is so stupid” button option when it crosses your news feed. The following are 5 memes which deserve to die by way of a logical response. These are numbered but not intended to be in any particular order as they all just need to die.

1. Those Dastardly Koch Brothers

For some reason, people on the Left have a huge hate on for the Koch brothers. If we are to believe the above meme, the Koch brothers are so rich and powerful that they could single-handedly fire 17 or more congressmen. Apparently, its only a few wealthy individuals and/or multinational corporations which advocate Right-wing ideas who lobby in Washington or contribute to campaigns and form super PACs.

According to, Koch Industries ranked #14 in the 2014 election cycle and #50 all time. To put the remaining contributors into perspective in the 2014 election cycle, 29 of the top 50 corporations donated most or all their money to Democrat/liberal campaigns while 9 donated most or all their money to Republican/conservative campaigns (the remaining 12 donated more or less evenly to both though some certainly leaned more one way or the other).

Of course, dividing these campaigns into “liberal” and “conservative” is itself, problematic. David Koch is more of a libertarian (small “L” to be sure) than a conservative. He supports many of the same causes that progressives do such as cutting military spending, being anti-war, supporting gay rights, and ending the war on (some) drugs. Apparently being socially liberal isn’t good enough; being fiscally conservatives make the Koch brothers the spawn of Satan.

The underlying complaint here is that there is too much money in politics. I have a very simple and practical solution: if you don’t like money in politics, get politics out of money. If those in congress only did what they were constitutionally permitted to do there would be little or no reason to lobby at all.

2. Drug Test Everyone on Welfare
drug test
I have to admit that I was a little more sympathetic to the notion of drug testing people receiving welfare when I first heard it being proposed. After all, when you take money from taxpayers who are earning and paying for your basic necessities of life, do you not at least have the obligation to prove you aren’t blowing the money getting high instead of looking for work?

While this is a great idea as a principle, it turns out its a terrible idea in the real world. If the idea of drug testing is to save money, then the problem is – it doesn’t. Florida had this law (before it was struck down by a federal judge) and the results were quite interesting. Of 4,086 people who were tested for drugs, a whopping 108 tested positive. The costs of requiring the welfare recipients to take the drug tests cost more that what it saved from rejecting the 2.6% who failed. Other states which have tried this experiment had similar results.

I think its very important for those of us who dislike the welfare state remember that its not just the poor who receive it. There are parasites whose entire existence is made possible only through wealth redistribution but there is more than one class of parasite. If the true reason behind drug testing is to humiliate those receiving a government check (because we now understand that it isn’t to save money) then we should ask the board members and CEOs of all the major corporations receiving corporate welfare and bailouts to stand in line to fill the cup up to the line as well.
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Today’s Nasdaq Illustrates the Phenomenon of Creative Destruction

Those of you who are old enough to remember the dot com bubble bursting some 15 years ago might also remember the handwringing about how Microsoft was becoming a monopoly. Microsoft was the juggernaut that could only be taken down with antitrust suits by the federal government. Other companies simply could not compete with such a well-established corporation; the free market was inadequate.

Fast forward to where Microsoft stands today. The once seemingly invincible company has succumbed to the realities of competition and now finds itself in third place on the Nasdaq index.

James B. Stewart writing for The New York Times explains:

The Nasdaq composite that peaked at 5,048.62 on March 10, 2000, in what turned out to be the height of the technology bubble, bears little resemblance to today’s Nasdaq index. Of the top 20 Nasdaq companies by market capitalization in 2000, only four — Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Intel and Qualcomm — remain in the top 20 today. Eight no longer exist as independent companies, most as a result of bankruptcy or acquisition, and several are shadows of their former selves. The current Nasdaq composite index has only about half as many companies as it did in 2000.

“Joseph Schumpeter was spot on when he said capitalism is all about creative destruction,” said Richard Sylla, an economics professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a specialist in the history of markets, referring to the Austrian-American economist who described the phenomenon in 1942 in “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.”

In the intervening 15 years, a new generation of entrepreneurs, newly public companies and entire industries have emerged and seized the dominant positions in the Nasdaq index even as their predecessors faltered. Apple, now the world’s largest company by market capitalization, barely registered in 2000, and the first iPhone was not announced until 2007. Over a billion smartphones were shipped in 2014.

The chart below which accompanies the article illustrates this creative destruction of the past decade and a half quite clearly.

What this tells me is that no matter how large these corporations get, they cannot rest on their laurels. They cannot assume that just because consumers like their product(s) more than the competition today that the same will be true tomorrow. How many people use Myspace today as opposed to Facebook?

It’s the creative destruction of the free market – not additional regulations which ultimately allow consumers to have more choices.

Recovered From the Memory Hole: Benjamin Netanyahu’s Prophesies of Doom


Benjamin Netanyahu is an incredibly gifted speaker – no question about that. Never can I recall any particular speech being met with so much anticipation, trepidation, and controversy as the speech that he delivered to a joint session of congress just days ago. What is it about this man – Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel that causes emotions to run so high?

Among conservatives, evangelical conservatives in-particular, to be the slight bit critical of Netanyahu or his policies is akin to hating the Jewish people. We are told we must “stand with” or “support” Israel (whatever standing with or supporting entails) no matter what.

At the risk of being met with these criticisms and others, my position is that Benjamin Netanyahu is a politician who has a geopolitical agenda. Israel is another nation which has a government that has its flaws as all governments do. I do not intend these statements to be pejorative but to bring both the PM and his government back into the realm of the real world.

Let me call what Netanyahu’s speech what it was: a political speech. Political speeches, by their nature, are designed to promote a point-of-view. Stretching the truth to its absolute limits, hyperbole, and minimizing opposing opinion is part and parcel of political speeches. In this particular speech, we are to believe that the current negotiations will only “pave the way” for Iran to getting the bomb. Iran is years or even months away from getting the bomb.

The thing is, Iran has been years or months away from getting nuclear weapons for 20 or so years now according to Netanyahu. As Murtaza Hussain writing for The Intercept points out:

“The conclusion from this history is inescapable. Over the course of more than 20 years, Benjamin Netanyahu has made false claims about nuclear weapons programs in both Iran and Iraq, inventing imaginary timelines for their development, and making public statements that contradicted the analysis of his own intelligence advisers.

Despite this, he continues to be treated by lawmakers and media figures as a credible voice on this issue.”

Jon Stewart makes many of the same observations (below). Both Iraq and Iran were supposedly getting close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Obviously, nothing of the kind was ever found in Iraq following Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Obviously, I am no fan of the despotic theocratic regime in Iran. The idea of such a regime acquiring nuclear weapons is quite frightening. And while the concept of mutually assured destruction may or may not be an effective strategy, I see no harm in diplomacy and regular unannounced inspections of Iran’s nuclear programs.

Quote of the Day: Refreshingly Honest Edition

Julie B

I think age often brings humility. Back in the day, shoot- I thought I had all the answers. Now, I have to admit to myself that I’m still learning. I’m no longer afraid of saying, “I don’t know” when asked my opinion on something that I don’t understand. I’ve made it a rule to not comment unless I believe that I can defend my view if I’m challenged. I don’t understand the Israel/Palestine conflict enough. Net neutrality confuses me. Bitcoin sounds cool but I don’t get the mining part. It’s not me refusing to take sides because I’m scurred but rather: I’m ignorant and I’ll admit it. -Julie Borowski (Facebook status update)

It’s not possible to be adequately informed on every issue and it’s refreshing to see an intelligent person with a decent sized megaphone say so.

It so happens these very issues I don’t quite have a handle on either. Israel/Palestine is a much more complicated issue than most Americans understand (I don’t necessarily think Israel is always in the right and saying so doesn’t make me an anti-Semite). On Net Neutrality my instinct is just leave the internet alone; its working just fine as it is (but then again, this is just my instinct I could be wrong). Bitcoin – I like the idea and I hope it’s as good as advertised but I also worry it’s a giant “pump and dump” scam. Don’t buy more Bitcoin than you are willing to lose.

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