Jail for Baptizing Baby Misleading Headline

The headline reads: North Carolina mother jailed for baptizing 2-year-old daughter. The reality is quite different. Kendra Stocks was jailed for violating a court order that gave the baby’s father final say in legal custody decisions including those of a religious nature.

Stocks was specifically told by the judge not to have the Baptism without the father present. The two are engaged in a custody battle over the baby. She went ahead and did it anyway. Now she’s in jail.

I would hope nobody has a problem with it.


Blue Apron or Food Stamps?

food stampsPresident Trump is apparently championing an effort to change the way food stamps are allocated to people in the United States who cannot afford to feed themselves and I wanted to examine this from a Libertarian point of view. The current program distributes food stamps which can be used to purchase a variety of products although there are limits on the type of food that is allowed to be bought. The proposal is to replace this system with ingredients which are then prepared by the recipient, in the style of Blue Apron.

I suspect the reason this proposal is being considered is the perception people who are getting food stamps use them on wasteful items like processed foods such as chips or on expensive items like steak, rather than using them for staple items. This perception is largely incorrect although not particularly relevant to my objections.

There is certainly a visceral appeal to the idea of providing simple ingredients using healthy options to the people who use food stamps. I also agree it is probably healthier for many of those who get food stamps. There are a number of problems with this plan although I’d like to focus on a single one. The plan assumes government knows better what foods people should eat than the individuals themselves.

While government might be right in some instances, it is a classic example of the arrogance of those who promote a beneficent and intrusive government. We know what is better for you than you do, just trust us to put the right things in the food and don’t worry about anything else, we’ll take care of you.

Now, there are other issues. It is certainly more expensive to contract this work out and where billions of dollars of government contracts are in play there is inevitable corruption. There is no doubt the companies who receive the bids to provide the food will end up skimping on ingredients and hurting some people. Still, with that said, my objections are purely Libertarian.

Government should not be the one to make decisions about what you eat. Even if you are poor, cannot afford to purchase your own food, and must rely on government help, that does not give a bureaucrat the right to make such decisions for you.

Personally, I think the existing restrictions on food stamps should be removed. If people want to purchase chips, candy, and steak with their government allotted stamps, that’s their choice. Certainly, it is a bad selection that has negative impact on the family in question, but it is their choice.

While this particular cause will most likely be championed by so-called conservatives, it is really extremely liberal. It is big government, just one with which conservatives happen to agree. This apparent paradox is quite consistent with what I observe about our current political divide. Principles mean nothing, it is simply a matter of what is expedient to whichever party you imagine is on your side.

When we cede power to government over the individual we slowly erode our freedom. Do you agree with government deciding on the food we eat? Even if it doesn’t affect you but simply the poor people who, for whatever reason, are dependent on government aid?

Tom Liberman

Is a Diamond a Diamond?

diamondCompanies have been able to manufacture diamonds through industrial processes since the 1950s but with advances in technology it is now possible to create a diamond that is equivalent to those found in nature in all respects except, perhaps, resale price. These grown diamonds are significantly cheaper than their naturally occurring counterparts and their share of the market is increasing, much to the chagrin of those companies who sell found diamonds.

I think it’s an interesting study in human behavior because found diamonds and their grown competition are essentially identical from a practical respect. Yet, I imagine most people are so enamored with the illusion of a real diamond they would, if they had the financial wherewithal, generally purchase the more expensive version.

Let me be honest, I find the entire diamond industry to be largely artificial. Diamonds are not particularly rare but for a long time the companies that mine them kept enormous numbers in warehouses to create scarcity. In addition, those same companies launched successful advertising campaigns which promoted the idea of their value. I have no problem with either of these tactics, no one is forcing anyone to purchase an overly expensive rock. I just don’t plan on shelling out a bunch of money for a diamond.

That being said, I’m in the minority as far as this goes. Diamonds are considered an almost necessary declaration of love between a couple. The giving of diamonds from one person to another is considered of great importance in matters of romance. This is why people pay large sums for relatively common sized stones.

It’s also no surprise established diamond companies would like to convince people the grown stones are not equivalent to those found. Those companies producing the grown diamonds are quite interested in overcoming this perception. This is business and all quite normal.

I don’t have any great insight into this issue. I don’t really know if grown diamonds will eventually completely usurp their found counterparts or if the industry will continue to distinguish one as better than the other. Possibly diamonds will simply lose most of their value as people don’t find them useful in matters of the heart anymore. I don’t know, I just find the entire situation interesting from both a marketing standpoint and that of human psychology.

For those of my readers who actually have something more than an emotionless, pea-sized, black, barely beating heart; if you had enough money would you purchase the more expensive found diamond over the grown diamond despite their being molecularly the same?

Would you pay more for a "found" diamond?

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Tom Liberman

Lady Friendly Doritos and why a Gender Trend is not Sexism

DoritosPepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi recently gave an interview in which she noted market research indicated men and women generally have different habits when eating Doritos, a snack made by the company. She said the company planned to release products that catered toward the eating habits of women. Social Justice Warriors Triggered!

How dare a company market a product designed specifically for men or for women besides, say, tampons and jockstraps. What unbridled sexism to suggest research indicates women generally don’t like to lick their fingers of the Dorito residue or pour the crumbly remnants of the bag directly into their mouth.

The problem is groups of people do perform tasks differently, eat particular foods, and otherwise differ from one another for a variety of reasons including gender. If PepsiCo has done market research indicating certain Dorito eating trends in women then promoting a product to that gender’s preferences makes sense. What it doesn’t mean is all women eat Doritos in a particular way. That’s the gist of all the tumult. An angry female says: I’m a woman and I do like to lick my fingers of the Dorito residue. I’m a woman and I enjoy pouring the crumbs from the bag into my mouth.

No one at PepsiCo is telling you how to eat your Doritos. They are simply creating and marketing a product toward particular trends their research indicates. They discovered a certain percentage of women don’t eat Doritos because their fingers get sticky and they don’t like leaving the crumbs behind but are unwilling to pour them directly into their mouths. I’m sure there are plenty of women who do these things just as I’m sure there are plenty of men who don’t like sticky fingers and crumbs.

Let’s imagine the research indicated 70% of women don’t like to eat Doritos in the way described. With there being about 300 million people in the United States and approximately 150 million of them being women that suggests 45 million women out there do not meet the trend. That’s a lot of ladies. It also means about 105 million of them behave as the marketing indicates. Now, I’m making up the 70% figure but let’s work with that for the sake of argument.

What PepsiCo has found is their product is unappealing to 105 million women because of the sticky residue and crumbly product. They want to target that large group of people, who happen to be mostly women. Is that wrong? Is that sexism? Is that terrible and awful? I say absolutely not. I say it’s finding a market and making a product that appeals to it. That’s smart business, not sexism.

No one is saying all women eat Doritos in a particular way or that all women are dainty and all men are rough. It is impossible to deny there are differences in women and men. Savvy companies use those tendencies to market their product to specific segments of society. Does anyone deny certain television shows and movies appeal more toward women than men and vice versa? Does this mean all women love Chick Flicks and hate Action Movies? Does it mean men don’t like Chick Flicks? No. I think Steel Magnolias is a great movie but I love The Right Stuff and Fight Club as well. It’s a tendency, not a sexist agenda.

Men and women are unalike in some respects and their respective preferences in eating Doritos might just be one of those differences. That’s a fact whether you like it or not.

Tom Liberman

Will Study Disproving Fish Oil Health Benefits Dissuade Believers?

fish oilA study involving 78,000 people shows taking Fish Oil supplements does nothing to prevent heart attacks or in any way reduce heart disease. No surprise there. The American Heart Association came to similar conclusions in a study last year. That being said, I’m fairly confident the study will almost certainly not change the purchasing habits of the almost 21% of United States citizens. Why?

A quick perusal of the internet shows me that a bottle of the pills can cost as little as $10 and as much as $40. Why would anyone continue to make the purchases when there is clear, empirical evidence they are completely ineffective? There are a number of reasons including something called Confirmation Bias but what I’d like to discuss today is the role pride has in all of this.

Pride seems to drive any number of poor decisions. By concluding all the money spent on fish oil supplements over the years was wasted, we are admitting a certain level of stupidity. There has long been a great deal of skepticism about supplements in general and fish oil in particular. It is quite likely most of the people taking fish oil supplements have been spoken to by friends and family expressing doubt about the efficacy of the product. The women and men taking it, and spending money on it, over the years have almost certainly defended the practice.

Many aficionados have likely read about the supposed benefits of fish oil touted by the manufacturers and decided to believe these claims despite the skeptics. There is some sense of their own self-worth tied up in taking the supplements.
This pride will be manifestly displayed in people who continue to take fish oil pills even after being confronted with incontrovertible evidence of their ineffectiveness. What does this tell us? It suggests that Pride is indeed one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

The entire thing is really just an interesting study in human nature. We don’t like to be wrong and when I say we, I include myself. That being said, it is important to attempt to engage your critical thinking skills as much as possible when presented with information of this nature. If you take fish oil supplements, take a moment to consider the implications of the test. Take a few seconds to think about alerting your like-minded friends that the benefits do not exist, that taking the pills is not helpful to your health or to your financial future.

It is only when we can take our pride out of the equation that we can hope to make better decisions.
And to finish things up, an informal poll. If twenty percent of people in the United States are at this time taking fish oil supplements then certainly a few people that read this article will be among them. Will this study, and the one’s the preceded it, dissuade you from future purchases?

What is your take on Fish Oil Supplements

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Tom Liberman

Disgusting Behavior at the President’s Club Charitable Trust

president's clubThere’s a pretty interesting story making the headlines in London and throughout England in regards to the President’s Club Charitable Trust where many members of a group of wealthy business men behaved crassly toward the young women who acted as hostesses for the event. What I find fascinating about the proceedings that transpired is problems could have easily been solved by some simple communication.

First, let’s review what occurred at the event for those not familiar with the story. The charitable gathering was attended by only men. The female hostesses were groped, propositioned, pulled onto laps, and otherwise harassed during the occasion. Before the dinner began the women were told their job was to serve drinks and put up with annoying men.

The woman who exposed the activities, Madison Marriage, was working undercover as a hostess and in her article, admits that some of the hostesses, most likely those who knew what to expect and came as a group, had fun and enjoyed themselves during the event but many others were horrified and tried to hide in the restrooms to avoid the situation. These women were escorted out and forced to rejoin the party. This dichotomy of experiences tells us virtually everything we need to know.

The President’s Club planners needed to communicate with the hostesses exactly what sort of behavior they could expect and the men attending needed to understand what sort of activities would be tolerated. I’ll give you an example. Marriage indicates a man in his seventies asked a nineteen-year-old woman if she was a prostitute. Many people find that horrific. I have no problem with it. He asked, she told him no, and he continued on his way; presumably without bothering her further. That is the way the entire event should have unfolded.

The President’s Club should have been explained to the men attending they should keep their hands to themselves unless a hostess acquiesced to whatever he had in mind; maybe just holding hands, or sitting on his lap, or perhaps even performing sexual services for an agreed upon financial return. That any man who violated these rules would be warned and ejected if they persisted.

Meanwhile, the hostesses should have been told men would be propositioning them, hoping to hold hands, sit on their laps, perhaps asked to gyrate in only their underwear but they were under no obligation to do so. It’s clear to me from the story that some of the hostesses knew exactly what to expect, turned down propositions they didn’t like, and acquiesced to those requests they welcomed. They earned money for attending the event and possibly got side payments for particular behavior.

Communication was the key element missing from this entire sordid affair. The women and men were all adults of legal age and competent minds. They just needed to know what was expected and what would be tolerated. If that had been done I think everyone would have had an enjoyable experience.

Sure, the men are pigs. I get that. I’m a fifty+ year old man. A like looking at a pretty young woman. I enjoy it when the attractive waitress puts her hand on my shoulder or touches my elbow. I don’t grab her ass or try to shove my hand up her skirt but I might touch her shoulder and say thank you. Perhaps she wants a larger tip or maybe she finds me attractive and hopes I’ll ask for her phone number; maybe she wants both! That’s her prerogative and I think it’s wrong to tell any young woman she shouldn’t attend an event of this nature; provided she knows what she is getting into and the men are punished for behavior that goes over the line.

The idea older men should not be interested in slap-and-tickle with younger women is a hopeless concept. Some men will always be interested. And the general assumption the women were all harassed, abused, and needed protection is also nonsense. Some women enjoy this sort of event and should be allowed to attend without shame.

Adults should be trusted to make these sorts of decisions on their own. The women don’t need to be protected and the men don’t need to be punished; provided everyone knew what was expected and reasonable limits were kept. That is the fault of the hosts.

The most egregious thing that happened at the event was the President’s Club forcing clearly uncomfortable women back to the party. That is despicable; the rest of it could have been easily avoided.

Tom Liberman

President Trump and the Friendship with Kim Jong-un

jong-unPresident Trump and the Wall Street Journal are disputing whether he used the word “I’d” or the word “I” in reference to his relationship with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. As a writer I find the use of words to be interesting and important. At their base, words are nothing more than sounds. However, these sounds are used to convey meaning and thus using the right words in particular circumstances can make a huge difference.

The disputed quote is as follows: I (I’d) probably have a good relationship with Jong-un. The quote using the singular “I” is the one touted by the Wall Street Journal while the one using “I’d” is that the White House and Trump claim is accurate. Let’s examine the different between the two.

If the Wall Street Journal is correct, Trump thinks he currently, most likely, has a good relationship with Jong-un. This statement is optimistic considering the two have engaged in a war of words from even before Trump came into office. Trump has called Jong-un by various derogatory names and the Supreme Leader of North Korea has returned the favor. Their relationship appears to be antagonistic.

On the other hand, if Trump’s version of the sentence is correct it means that under different circumstances he imagines he and Jong-un would have a good relationship. The exact nature of this other world is not explicitly stated but I’d guess it involves a situation where North Korea is not attempting to build Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles capable of dropping nuclear warheads on the United States.

What I find absolutely fascinating about this story is the vehemence coming from both sides considering the irrelevance of the difference. Whichever words are accurate they amount to exactly the same, horrific, thing. Jong-un is the leader of the most repressive, violent, and least free nation in the world. He has ordered the murder of his uncle, half-brother, and many others. His people live in abject poverty and worship him as a living god. He lives lavishly with many luxuries while many of the people in his country are starving to death. Trump believes he either does or could have a good relationship with this person.

I can state unequivocally I could not, under any circumstances, have a good relationship with Jong-un. He is the perpetrator of literal crimes against humanity. Were I President of the United States I would deal with him as the leader of another nation. I would attempt to negotiate a better way for his people, but I would not, I could not, have a good relationship with him. Anyone who imagines they have such a relationship, or actually has one, with Jong-un clearly does not understand the nature of this man. Someone who thinks they have a good relationship with Jong-un is sick. Their mind is diseased.

The thought of the suffering in North Korea directly and indirectly attributable to Jong-un makes me physically ill. The thought of those millions of people suffering unnecessarily induces rage. The idea of him enjoying conspicuous luxuries and total freedom while denying even basic amenities to the people is nauseating to me. He is a vile person, possibly the worst excuse for a human currently alive.

It matters not if Trump is deluded enough to think he does have a good relationship with Jong-un or whether he only imagines he might have one; it shows a disturbing detachment from reality. No decent human could possibly imagine they have a good relationship with such a monster. To do so is to ignore the suffering engendered by Jong-un, to pretend the world is other than it is.

I ask you, could you have a good relationship with Jong-un? Would it be possible with an understanding of what he has done, who he is?

I hope the answer is no.

Tom Liberman

Early Morning Exercise Bad for You Misleading Headline

Exercise UnhealthyHow Waking Up Early in the morning could be Counterproductive blares the misleading headline from PopSugar. Yeah, well, what they mean is not getting enough sleep is unhealthy. Duh. Exercise has nothing to do with the problem.

The idea is that people get up early to exercise and this cuts into their regular sleep schedule. Exercise is almost always good for you barring extreme overworking.

So there you go. Get your sleep and exercise. You heard it here first.

Oh, and SugarPop, you win my not so weekly Misleading Headline of the Week award.

Tom Liberman

Natalie Portman and the Snide Comment

natalie portmanDuring the recent Golden Globes award ceremony Natalie Portman and Ron Howard presented the award for Best Director of a feature film. Portman announced, “And here are the all-male nominees.” I think she was being unfair and incomplete.

If she had mentioned what she thought was a worthy film directed by a woman, there are certainly several choices this year, and which male directed film she would have left off I would say that at least her speech was complete if still unfair. The dig was unfair to all the nominated men because they had nothing to do with their selection. The statement certainly implies that some, if not all, of them didn’t deserve the nomination. The winner, Guillermo del Toro, might have responded during his acceptance speech but instead he took the high ground and gave an emotional speech about how much of his heart he poured into the move; The Shape of Water. He was the better person than Portman, in this case.

I certainly think there is a point to be made that some of the films this year directed by women were equally deserving of nomination, I just don’t think that Portman chose a good time for her nasty comment. It was nasty, true or not, you cannot deny her statement devaluing the award one of the directors was about to receive was anything else. You might well support Portman for making the statement and that’s fine, but it was rude, nasty, and unfair.

It was, to some small degree, exactly what she was complaining about. She essentially attacked a group of men for the single failing of being a man. It was sexism. Certainly, it was not an egregious attack. She didn’t threaten their livelihood or physically assault them. They will go on about their lives pretty much as before. I don’t think a crime has been committed. I don’t think Portman should be blacklisted from Hollywood for her actions. I don’t think she should be denied a chance to participate in the making of future movies. I just think it was nasty and rude. I think she owes the five directors an apology. I don’t expect she’ll be making one.

She is largely being lauded for her bold statement. Most of the articles I’ve read on the subject seem to think she did the right thing in calling out the fact that all five of the nominated films were directed by men. I disagree.

The statement she should have made, in my worthless opinion, is to refuse to give out the award. If she feels strongly there was a miscarriage of justice then she should simply have refused to participate in the ceremony. That I would have respected. But the reality is she wanted to be up on that stage giving the award, she wanted to have her cake and eat it too. And she is apparently getting that wish, at least from everyone except me.

Tom Liberman

Hell Hath No Fury Like Lindy Lou Layman Scorned

Lindy Lou LaymanThere’s a trendy story about a woman, Lindy Lou Layman, who damaged some expensive pieces of art after being intoxicated at the home of a prominent Houston Attorney, Tony Buzbee. It’s not completely her fault. She’s nuts, I get that, but bear with me for a moment. I’m going to have to do a lot of speculation but I think it’s important to consider our actions and Buzbee needs to think about that as well as Layman.

It is claimed Layman and Buzbee were on a first date and I’m already suspicious of the official story. Why didn’t Layman have her own car? Did they meet at the restaurant or wherever and then decide to drive back to his place in his car? I suspect they simply met while out on the town. Layman is an attractive young woman and Buzbee a wealthy man. Eye contact was made, drinks were purchased, things progressed, and she agreed to return home with him.

She got drunk and Buzbee decided he’d call her an Uber rather than continue the date. Again, suspicions raised. Why wouldn’t she leave when he called her a ride, then hide in the house, and finally begin to destroy property. It seems fairly apparent Buzbee made certain verbal contractual statements. You can stay until morning and we’ll go get brunch. I’m having a great time and would like to see you in the future. In exchange for these verbal commitments some sort of oral or other services were provided. After the completion of services Buzbee decided he’d had enough and wasn’t going to fulfill his verbal, and non-binding, contractual statements. He called an Uber and went up to bed. Thanks for the memories.

Somewhat or completely intoxicated and feeling both rejected and used, Layman began to take out her feelings on the artwork in the house. Hearing the commotion at some point Buzbee realized the girl he treated like crap was maybe a little pissed about it and wanted vengeance, go figure. Police summoned.

What’s the lesson here? I’m not sure. Buzbee might well not have gotten the services he desired if he’d been honest with Layman about his intentions to send her home immediately after completion. He almost certainly lied to Layman in order to get what he wanted. Buzbee shouldn’t be such a douche. She has legitimate grievances with him. Of course, there are few legal remedies to such breech of contract situations. What damages has Layman suffered? A little humiliation most certainly but anything financial? Hardly. In addition, Layman should blame herself for performing services so quickly and readily before understanding the nature of the relationship. Destroying expensive art is a good way to end up in prison and she chose to do so.

Actions have consequences. If you treat another person like garbage that other person might consider doing harm to you or your material possessions.

The question becomes if it was worth it. If I were to ask both Buzbee and Layman, I think they’d both say no. Something for us all to think about when dealing with other human monkeys.

You never know, maybe they’ll end up married. They just might deserve each other.

Tom Liberman

Aleppo vs Binomo

binomoSome comedians pranked United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley and it’s not all fun and games. The comedians asked Haley about a fictional country named Binomo. Haley indicated she knew about Binomo and was looking into Russian activity into their recent elections. There is no Binomo. What’s not funny about this is how Gary Johnson was treated when asked about the Syrian city of Aleppo. Let me compare the two incidents.

Johnson was the Libertarian candidate for the United States Presidency and was engaged in an interview when asked a question about Aleppo. The topic of conversation was not the Middle East and the insertion of Aleppo was largely without context. Haley was engaged in congratulating who she thought was the Prime Minister of Poland when asked if she was aware of the situation in Binomo. Like the Aleppo question, it came largely without context. In both cases the person hearing the word did not know exactly what was being discussed. That’s all fine and good. I mishear people all the time, particularly when a new topic comes up without warning.

It’s the reaction to the incident that tells us everything, not necessarily about Haley and Johnson although it speaks intrinsically to the values they hold as humans, but the response of regular people. Haley pretended she knew what was being talked about. She gave vague, politician friendly answers. We’re watching that very closely. I’ll report back to you when I find out more. She lied. Johnson simply asked for clarification, What’s Aleppo? The fact he used the word ‘what’ instead of ‘where’ clearly shows he was confused as to the reference. When it was made clear what was being discussed was a city in Syria, he went on to answer the question fully and cogently.

The fallout from the Johnson incident largely eliminated him from serious contention for the presidency although I suspect he had only small chances even without the event. Haley will suffer not at all. Those who support her will laugh it off as nothing and those who don’t will call for her to be fired. Nothing will happen and all will be as it was. That’s a shame.

If the people of the United States actually had the values they claim to have, Johnson would have been lauded for admitting, with a simple question, he didn’t know what he was being asked and needed clarification. Haley would be shown as a liar who is happy to pretend knowledge when she has none. This is testament to morality and ethics far more than proclaiming belief in one deity over another.

I’m quite certain if we presented these two cases as a hypothetical to a large audience there would be an almost unified conclusion. The person who doesn’t understand a question but pretends they do is clearly unethical. The person who readily admits they didn’t understand something and seeks clarification would be considered the better human. It’s unquestionable which answer was ethically and morally correct.

If Haley is too egotistical to even ask for clarification on the question presented by the comedians, what does it say about her character? What won’t she lie about? The answer is clear, lying is second nature to her. She does it without thought and great skill. This is who we apparently want leading us. We don’t want someone who honestly tries to find solutions but prefer a liar who glibly and with charm pretends to know things she or he does not.

Character is actually important but it means nothing when it comes to securing elections. I shouldn’t go that far, having a strong moral character does mean something, it means you’re going to have a very difficult time getting elected. And then we wonder what’s wrong with this country.

There is an enormous gap in perception in this country. The gap between admiring what we know to be ethical traits and our willingness to vote for those who don’t display them.

Aleppo vs Binomo is just but a single, stark example.

Tom Liberman

How Regulations Destroy Small and Medium Businesses

regulationsPeople generally assume regulations are a burden on all businesses in general but the reality is that large and enterprise companies are far less affected because of their greater resources. Thus, small and medium sized businesses are the only ones hurt. As if the small competitor didn’t have enough trouble already. It’s my opinion a great number of regulations are working exactly as planned, to benefit political allies.

You have to remember who pays the bills. Enterprise businesses bribe, I mean to say contribute, to politicians on a much larger scale than is possible for smaller businesses. When new regulations come down the pipeline they force all companies to perform a great deal of documentation to prove they are doing things correctly. Bigger companies can handle these costs much more readily and thus small producers are forced to sell their business. It’s an accelerating trend that has created carnage in the once influential small business world. I won’t get too deeply into statistics but since the 1980s small businesses have contributed less and less to the total economy of the United States.

An article I recently read about the 5,000 plus regulations that apply to apple farmers is case in point. There are regulations on scanning the entire orchard for mouse dropping before the start of the work day. Shoe to ladder to hand. While the Trump administration has reduced some regulations, they’ve also vastly increased regulations in regards to foreign workers so help does not appear to be on the horizon.

The reality of regulations is they drive out small players and aid enterprise business. Even if you support many of the regulations it is impossible to deny the evidence of their affect.

Another quite interesting factor in all of this is the standards applied by wholesalers often outstrip those applied by the government. If you want to have Whole Foods sell your produce, they require a lot of assurances about quality and safety. This means a double burden in which not only must government regulations be followed and thoroughly documented, but a second set of rules must be adhered to in order to make it to market. This, again, is to the advantage of larger operations.

I question the necessity of many government regulations at all. Let’s take the mouse droppings rule as an example. It’s certainly possible mouse droppings might make their way from the ground to a ladder to the hand of a worker and hence to an apple. The regulation requires workers walk the entire orchard each day before harvest looking for mouse droppings. This is obviously unreasonable, even for large operations. This regulation is doing nothing to prevent mouse droppings from migrating to your apple simply because it is an impossible rule to follow.

I’m not entirely against various regulations, I think there needs to be far fewer of them and they need be better written. The bottom line in the case of apples is to ensure those going to market aren’t going to make people sick. The simplest way to do this is test a random apple or two from various batches for salmonella or whatever else might cause disease. I admit this is not a perfect solution as the stray disease-causing apple will slip through the net, but that is no different than with current regulations. Citizens of the United States are sickened by food on a fairly regular basis.

Nor am I arguing against the executives of enterprise business, they have every right to conduct their companies as they choose. The problem is the majority of regulations, well-intentioned or not, basically work against smaller operations.
We want a business to succeed because they do something well, not because they are aided by the government against competition. Fewer, smarter, and better regulations is a winning recipe for the smart business owner and the consumer.

Tom Liberman

Walmart Shoplifting Deterrence is Extortion when the State is not doing it

WalmartRecently Walmart decided to suspend a shoplifting deterrent program run by companies called Corrective Education Co. and Turning Point Justice after a number of complaints about the practice. In this program people who are caught shoplifting must pay around $450 to attend classes and avoid being turned over to the police.

What is all the commotion about? The basic idea is that Walmart experiences a fairly large number of shoplifting attempts over the course of a year. Executives decided to hire private companies that provide a day of counseling to offenders instead of relying on local police departments who generally make arrests and mete out fines. They only implement the policy where local law enforcement agencies agree to do so. The result has been a decrease in shoplifting and a corresponding savings in time and effort for local police forces who estimate that investigating such minor thefts costs about $2,000 per report. In addition, the person so accused doesn’t get a criminal record or have to deal with court costs which generally add up to far more than the fee being charged for the seminars. Seems like a win-win-win, right? Nope.

A number of people have complained and state authorities are upset as well, they call the practice extortion. If you are caught committing a crime you must pay a fee or risk imprisonment. When private companies like Walmart engage in such activity it is called extortion. When the state does the same thing, we call it business as usual. Basically, every time you commit a misdemeanor, and petty shoplifting generally falls into this category, the state asks you to pay a fine or go to jail for a period of time. Somehow this is perfectly reasonable but privately offering largely the same options along with practical help to avoid having to shoplift in the future is a crime. Makes you think, at least I hope it does.

Another consideration for municipalities is while law enforcement agents clearly save time not having to deal with minor shoplifting complaints, the local government has to pay their salary either way. If the officers are engaged in duties that don’t involve collecting fines from residents, that is a loss of revenue. It should go without saying that such officers should be spending most of their time investigating serious crimes rather than imposing fines on citizens for minor transgressions. That’s not the reality in which we live. From local to state to federal levels of government, a great deal of money comes from such fines. It has largely become the main revenue stream for many municipalities so it’s not surprising they might be alarmed by such activity.

I admit there are likely to be abuses in such a system run by a private company such as Walmart but I don’t think the abuses will amount to anything more than those already occurring in the state sponsored version of the same thing.

This is a perfect example of where private solutions are better than government. This answer offers the business a documented reduction in shoplifting, gives law enforcement officers greater time to spend on other endeavors, and largely helps the shoplifter because they avoid much more severe penalties.

Shouldn’t we be doing more of this sort of thing, not less?

Tom Liberman

Cryptocurrency Mania Strikes the Tea Business

cryptocurrencyInvesting in particular ways during a financial bubble, in this case Cryptocurrency, is a good way to lose a lot of money but it also gives us amazing insight into the nature of greed. If we analyze and understand human nature during these events there is money to be made. Today let’s talk about Long Island Iced Tea Corp.

That company specializes in selling non-alcoholic beverages. What, you might ask, does this have to do with cryptocurrency? Good question. The answer is nothing. Nevertheless, the officers of the company decided to change the name to Long Blockchain and claim to be refocusing on businesses using something called blockchain. This technology is an integral part of cryptocurrency. We need not understand the particulars.

Immediately upon rebranding the company stock soared to unseen heights. What this means is people saw the name change and, in the mania surrounding cryptocurrency, immediately purchased shares. Now, the money people use to buy the stock has to come from someplace. Perhaps their saving account or their child’s education fund. The assumption of the purchaser is that, like other cryptocurrency companies, the value will rise dramatically. They hope the stock price will continue to rise and they will eventually sell their shares for an enormous profit.

There is some reality to these desires. Those who buy low and sell high stand to make a lot of money. The danger is you don’t know exactly what is low or what will be high. It’s entirely possible Long Blockchain has already reached its peak price, that anyone purchasing now will lose a lot of money. This does not dissuade the speculative investor. It is something that can be taken advantage of by a wise investor.

When perception is not aligned with reality mistakes will be made. This is clearly what is happening with cryptocurrency speculation and Long Blockchain. The company is a tea company. They have an infrastructure designed to manufacture and distribute tea. They are not well-positioned to function in competition with existing blockchain companies.

Now, I will get to the point of all this. In the same way Long Blockchain knows little or nothing about blockchain technology, the average investor, you, knows little or nothing about the nuances of the market. You see something interesting and make a purchase. In the same way Long Blockchain is most likely doomed to failure, so is the average investor. The women and men who know something about investing, who can properly take into account perception and reality; are brokers. They can help you invest your money wisely. They can take advantage of misperception without so easily falling prey to it.

The lure of easy money is almost always false and the people most vulnerable are those who have the smallest disposable income. In essence, the Middle Class. The poor cannot invest at all and the wealthy have financial advisors.

You say to yourself it’s just a bit of money and there is the chance to get rich. The same applies to purchasing lottery tickets. It’s your money, do with it as you will. I’d advise you to get sound financial advice and avoid get rich quick purchases like Long Blockchain. If not, well, my financial team is happy to take your money and I’m thrilled to pay them for doing so.

Tom Liberman

Why Are Law Enforcement Officers Risking Their Lives McKesson Makes Billions?

mckesson opioidsI just read another story about the so-called War on Drugs involving one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, McKesson Corp. The company generated almost $200 billion in revenue in 2017 and recently agreed to pay a $150 million bribe, I mean fine, to the government for essentially selling enormous amounts of opioids to warehouses that were in turn supplying drug dealers, legal and illegal. McKesson paid this bribe rather than having executives go to prison and having distribution centers shut down.

I wonder what law enforcement officers think about this. They are on the front-line of the phony War on Drugs. They are risking their lives every day investigating, confronting, going under-cover, raiding, and arresting those they suspect of dealing drugs. They have largely destroyed their relationships with the communities they serve in the attempt to stop illegal drug use. Meanwhile the federal government, and many state and local entities, are filling their coffers with drug money obtained by providing people with opioids.

It seems fairly apparent to me that law enforcement officers are being used to suppress competition to the drug companies and provide revenue to local, state, and federal government agencies. They are being paid some small salary as a bribe to risk their lives in order to enrich a bunch of people sitting around counting money and laughing at them.

Drug companies like McKesson provide billions of illegal pills to the market because it generates huge revenue. I respect this part of the equation. As a Libertarian I think all drugs should be legal. McKesson should be perfectly free to market and sell their product to able-minded adults as much as they desire. However, at the same time, they are asking law-enforcement agents to sacrifice their well-being and even their lives and this does not meet with my approval.

As an example; McKesson was distributing upwards of 2,000 pills a day to a small town in Colorado with a population of 38,000 people. This was not an isolated incident. There is an enormous demand for opioids and this market generates huge amounts of money. The drug companies, doctors, pharmacists, and others see this and provide product. Meanwhile they are using law enforcement agents to crack down on other groups doing the exact same thing.

Government in the United States is quite clearly financially dependent on the illegal drug trade. There are many jobs that would not exist without the illegal drug trade. The entire investigation into McKesson likely involved tens of thousands of hours of work and many millions of dollars. Local and state government are likewise financially tied to the illegal drug trade. If all drugs were made legal it would be an enormous financial blow to the government.

I wonder how long the people who are putting their lives on the line are going to put up with this contradiction? I’m certain many of them honestly believe they are doing something good in attempting to interdict the illegal drug trade, they do not realize there are being used as dupes in a much larger game and are making the situation much worse. That’s a shame.

We are not engaged in a War on Drugs. The government is happy to collect money from drug dealers, illegal and otherwise. Drug companies make billions but so do many ancillary organizations like the penal system. Law enforcement officers have a role in all of this. They are complicit in the tearing apart of communities, families, and people.

When will they say enough? That’s up to them.

Tom Liberman

What Turkey Purchasing Anti-Aircraft Missiles from Russia Means

turkey purchases russian missilesThe nation of Turkey just purchased a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system from Russia and I’m willing to bet it’s just a tiny story way down on whatever news site you frequent, if it’s there at all. It is a far more important story than most of those you are reading. Turkey is a member of NATO. By and large, the purpose of NATO is to counter the threat of attack from Russia. So, this purchase is a sign of a significant shift in that nation’s commitment to the organization.

Turkey has, until now, purchased most of their military hardware from the United States. It is estimated there are about fifty nuclear bombs at Incirlik Air Base and that base is an immensely important strategic staging area giving us the ability to project force into the region.

This purchase further cements the idea Turkey is turning away from NATO and welcoming the overtures being made by Russian President Vladimir Putin. As our relationship with Turkey continues to sour there is every possibility the United States will lose one of their most important allies. Without Turkey as a supportive ally the entire Middle East is dramatically destabilized. If Turkey quits NATO, something I see as a real possibility at this point, it will be a disaster from which the organization will not easily recover. Turkey has the second largest standing military force in NATO.

What is happening is a direct result of our meddling in the politics of the region, particular siding with Kurdish forces in the war against ISIS although there are other reasons as well.

The recent problems between the United States and Turkey started in 2016 when a dissident living in the United States, Fethullah Gulen, may have attempted to orchestrate a takeover of that country. Turkey certainly believes he did although the United States refused extradition without better proof. The biggest blow to relations between the two countries has been the continued arming of Kurdish forces helping to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq. These forces have long been considered a terrorist organization in Turkey where they have killed approximately 37,000 people in various operations since 1984. The Kurds are now allowed an autonomous territory in northern Iraq and plan a referendum to declare independence. Such a vote will put the United States in an extremely difficult position. In addition, our declaration of support for making Jerusalem the capital of Israel has further destabilized relations.

The upshot of all this political maneuvering and battlefield conflict is Turkey is moving away from the United States, Europe, and NATO and toward Russia. There is a large Islamic population in Turkey although, for now, the country has remained secular in the courts and military. The purchase of these missiles from Russia, which cannot be integrated easily into the existing anti-aircraft systems, further confirms the movement of Turkey away from the United States and toward Russia.

I cannot strongly enough point out how our meddling in these situations invariably comes back to haunt us. We backed the Kurdish fighters primarily because they were one of the most effective military forces in the region. It seemed to our leaders that backing the Kurds to defeat ISIS was the best strategy.

I think most of our politicians were so frightened by the emergence of ISIS that this policy seemed correct. Before agreeing we must ask ourselves how ISIS became so powerful in the first place. That outcome was almost exclusively the result of our war in Iraq. The war was conducted to make us safe from the potential of weapons of mass destruction. How had Iraq had grown so powerful in the region? Well, because we backed them against our enemies in Iran during the wars between those two nations. We feared the growing power in Iran. Why is Iran considered an enemy? Take a wild stab at it: Because we backed a coup in that country and installed a brutal dictator because we feared a populist takeover.

Are you seeing a trend?

We enact policy after policy intended to make the United States safer while meddling in the politics of country after country and in so doing make our lives markedly less secure. Every time we act in this manner we alienate people in the affected nations, people who eventually come to power. Our politicians convince us these actions are a method to making us safer and yet, time and again, the actions end up resulting in more danger.

Our current leaders are now selling increased meddling in more and more countries. Those who support such activities have convinced themselves it makes us safer. If you support such policies, I urge you to look at the historical record. It’s not good.

Tom Liberman

Government Fails to Save us from Silver Dragees

silver drageesI just learned a rather astonishing fact. Those little silver balls, dragees, you often see on cakes and pastries during the holiday season are for decorative purposes only. The United States government does not allow them to be served for consumption. Presumably if you did so, you’d be subject to imprisonment or a fine. Well, a lot of people I know should be in federal lockup, which is the point of my article. What good does banning silver dragees do?

To me this is a clear illustration of the responsibility of government as compared to what is actually happening. If the government has evidence silver dragees are dangerous, they are considered edible in Europe so I’m guessing the science isn’t conclusive, what are the options? People are going to put them on desserts no matter what and some people, me included, are going to crunch away.

I have no problem with government alerting people to the potential dangers of silver dragees and warning against eating them. That’s fine. That is the role of government. I’d support research on the subject funded with taxpayer dollars and a website illustrating the issues. However, it is when the government tries to enforce these suggestions with actual laws that we run into all sorts of troubles.

In only one state, California, are the silver dragees illegal to sell. Everywhere else you can sell and use them as long as you remove them before serving. Good luck with that. This law does several things, none of which I suspect the government was hoping to achieve.

First: It puts a huge financial strain on companies that do business with silver dragees. California is an enormous market and losing it is not an insubstantial hit to profits. This hurts these businesses and the people who work there.

Second: It creates a potential black market in California for the items. People from neighboring states will smuggle illicit bags of dragees into the state and money will be funneled to criminal enterprises. I’m not certain if this is happening but I see no reason why it would not be so.

Third: The people of California won’t have pretty pastries. It takes away from the esthetic pleasure of looking at them. This might seem trivial but it is a big issue for me. The government is basically taking away from the pleasure of people who might well use the dragees without consuming them. Let’s assume they are dangerous to eat, there is still no reason to make it illegal to put them on cookies. It reduces the quality of my life, even if by an insubstantial amount.

Fourth: It creates an enforcement nightmare. California is presumably devoting policing resources to visiting retails stores and pastry shops to ensure they are in compliance with the law. They might even be raiding homes this Christmas to ensure no one is putting dragees on their cookies. Then there is the time spent in courts prosecuting the scofflaws who dare to put them on their pastries.

I know all this sounds a bit ridiculous and far-fetched but the War on Drugs is, for all practical purposes, a large-scale example of this issue. Every problem I’ve illustrated here has done much to destroy our way of life in the United States when it comes to drugs. We have spent enormous amounts of money interdicting drugs and locking up those who choose to use them. This cost is not just in money but in human potential, human lives. I’ll leave off the War on Drugs comparison to the ban on eating dragees but the two issues are related.

By the people and for the people. That is the idea behind government. It is one of the jobs of government to protect its citizens but when government becomes financially invested in protecting its citizens from their own decisions, they are not making our lives safer, they are merely heading to a totalitarian state.

Tom Liberman

Hero or Bad Example to Save Rabbit from Fire?

man-saves-wild-rabbit-from-fireA video of a young man standing near an intense fire in California and rescuing a rabbit attempting to flee the flames has engendered a bit of controversy that I’d like to examine. One group of people, apparently the majority, think he is an amazing hero while another group think he was incredibly foolish and set a terrible example.

It’s an interesting case. If he had rushed toward the fire to save a baby would the perception be different? If he was a trained firefighter would people view his actions in a different light? The debate seems to largely center around the fact he risked his life, a human life, to save that of a common animal.

There is one group of people who think this was incredibly stupid and foolish and might inspire others to risk their lives for equally insignificant reasons. The second group includes those of the opinion the life of the rabbit is of equal importance to that of the man; that his actions are noble in that regard. Others do not argue the life of the rabbit equivalent to that of a person but still laud his actions as heroic and worthwhile.

A human life might well be more important than the rabbit. I think arguments can be made that given a choice between saving a human baby and saving a rabbit, the objectively correct choice would be to save the baby. Some of my more passionate animal rights friends will argue the rabbit life is perhaps of greater importance than one of the seven and a half billion people living on the planet. There are likely fewer rabbits than people.

To me the life of the rabbit and the life of the young rescuer are of little importance to the question. Likewise, the inspirational impact of the young man is not a primary factor I consider. To me it comes down to my Libertarian principles. He wanted to save the rabbit. He chose to do so. He was not coerced into doing so. He was successful and I think it cannot be debated his life was enriched. Perhaps he will look back on his actions with sheepish regret and realize risking his own life, and perhaps others who might have had to rescue him should he have succumbed to smoke inhalation, was not worth the risk. But, his actions reflect his clearly powerful desires of the moment.

Let’s imagine he did fall while making the attempt. That another person went to rescue him and died in the effort. The same principles I’m applying to the young man work with the hypothetical rescuer. She or he chose to make the attempt. That is what being free is all about. This is the heart of the Libertarian Movement.

The government solution is that we must be protected from doing things that might cause us harm. I would not be surprised to see legislation arise in some states making it illegal to attempt to rescue wildlife from dangerous situations.

It is clear the young man put himself in danger. He might inspire others to do the same. So what? What business is it of yours, of the government’s? It’s his life and, as long as he’s not harming others, he should be able to lead it as he chooses!

If you think he’s a hero that’s great. If you think he’s an idiot setting a horrible example that’s fine also. The important point is that he did as he chose to do, as should we all.

Tom Liberman

Sandwich Dispute Illustrates the Demise of Capitalism

sandwich-capitalismThe demise of capitalism in the United States is amply illustrated by a lawsuit that took place back in 2006 in the state of Massachusetts between Panera Bread Company and Qdoba Mexican Grill. I came across this horrific little story while perusing Wikipedia’s Sandwich entry. The sandwich, you might ask? A lawsuit? Sadly, yes.

There was a time in the United States when business owners and operators devised methods of defeating their competition by providing a better product, a lower price, more amenable service, or any number of other methods. While for many companies those days still exist, more and more we are descending ever further to a point where success is decided largely by government intervention.

The Panera in question was, perhaps still is, located in the White City Shopping Center in Shrewsbury, MA. The company agreed to move into the center as long as it was written in their contract that no other “sandwich” shop would be allowed to rent space there. The fact someone actually attempted wording like this in a contract is by itself alone enough to raise the ire of this Libertarian. Competition is the backbone of capitalism. Without competition the consumer is the ultimate loser. The fact that contracts like this are legal is another huge problem from my perspective. It encourages companies to rely on government backed capitalism, or Crony Capitalism.

More and more businesses must rely on government for survival. It is not enough the government spends enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars simply to support whichever business pours the most money into election campaigns, the government is the ultimate arbiter of legal disputes. The law and its equitable enforcement is a vital component of healthy capitalism and the law has gone wrong.

The very existence of non-compete clauses like the one Panera tried to enforce are an affront to the tenants of capitalism and, by extension, to our nation. If industries can legislate their rivals out of business as the primary way to achieve profitability, the consumers lose. While I’m not suggesting capitalism is dead, I do think it is beginning to fail. When competition dies it means the end of enterprise in the United States. Businesses in other countries will overtake industry here. They will win customers through true capitalistic ingenuity. I think this phenomenon is already manifestly occurring across the globe as other nations are filing larger number of patents and surpassing the United States as an innovative leader.

Our government’s solution to the issue seems to be larger involvement in business processes. There is a strong sentiment in our leaders to impose tariffs and restrictions on the companies competing with businesses in the nation and this America First policy seems to have found strong support among a populace that apparently fails to understand what is in their best interest. So be it. We live in a nation where we vote for our leaders and if the people believe in this sort of intervention, we deserve what we get.

The proper solution is the opposite of this approach. Government should lessen their presence in enterprise. Many people consider this a reduction of regulations. The sad part is the majority of regulations are designed to give one company or industry an advantage over a competitor rather than protect the consumer. I support most deregulation for this reason. That being said, the main problem is government contracts and legislation decide which company makes a profit and which go out of business. This outcome should instead be related to the purchasing habits of consumers.

Only when companies survive by providing better products, cheaper products, and better service will they be able to compete globally.

A business that relies on government to save them from rivals is eventually doomed, either to foreign takeover or violent revolution. The government of the United States is culpable in all of this, and by extension the voters, and it should end. Voters have this power although they seem disinclined to use it.

Tom Liberman

The Decision of an Objectivist is not Static but that does not make it Subjective

objectivist thinking
It is my opinion there is a large and important debate going on in the world between those who hold an Objectivist philosophy and those who favor the Subjectivist point of view. One idea, objectivism, is that each problem has a correct path to follow and that an objective person should attempt to find it. The other idea is that there is no real correct path, the decision that I choose is always correct simply because that is what I wanted at the moment. This morning, as I was deciding on breakfast at Whole Foods, I made an interesting realization about these concepts and much of the confusion they engender.

My story goes as follows: Whole Foods generally has two breakfast sandwiches that interest me; a breakfast burrito and a breakfast muffin. Both cost the same amount but one, the burrito, is significantly larger than the other. However, I enjoy the taste of the muffin more. The subjectivist will say there is no right answer. I might choose one today and another tomorrow. The objectivist will suggest that one choice is right for me and the other wrong. The reality is one day I might be hungry or have less money for a later lunch purchase and thus the burrito is the correct choice. Another day I might have more money or be less hungry and the muffin is a wiser decision.

What I think it is critical to understand is that just because I made two different choices on two different days doesn’t make either of my decisions subjective. I analyzed my desires at each moment and made the correct, objective, decision in both cases. The subjectivist will incorrectly argue these events prove their point. The circumstances of the moment changed the resulting choice. They will say there is no “right” answer. All answers are subject to the circumstances and opinions of the moment.

This is where I think most subjectivist go understandably wrong. The decisions, while different, are objectively correct both days. This is the heart of the objectivist position about how to conduct your life. We try to make decisions that are going to best improve our lives taking into account the affect of the decision both in the short and long-term.

It is clear I made two different decisions on subsequent days. It appears the decision itself is completely subjective but it is actually quite objective both days. This is a difficult and fine nuance. A subjectivist believes that it doesn’t matter what I choose on either day, it is the right choice because I made the decision. An objectivist believes there is a correct decision on both days. The difference is illustrated when we imagine a third party weighing our decision.

I’m not particularly hungry, I prefer the taste of the muffin sandwich, I have an early lunch date planned with Emily Ratajkowski, and I decide to have the muffin over the burrito. From a third-party point of view that is clearly the correct decision. This demonstrates the clear delineation between an objective decision and a subjective decision. If I chose the burrito under the circumstances outlined it would have been objectively the wrong decision.

In this case, the wrong decision doesn’t lead to dire results. I’m simply enjoying my breakfast less and, being full, decide to cancel my date with Ratajkowski. On second thought, maybe the results are catastrophic!

In our lives we are faced with thousands of decisions each day. It is by making objectively correct choices that we improve our lives and the circumstances of those around us. That’s the goal. The sum of all these decisions often determines the course of our lives. The more objectively correct decisions we make, the better off we will be in the long run.

This is why I think it’s important to sweep aside the ideas of subjectivism. What is good for me is good for those around me. When, as individuals, we start to make a greater percentage of objectively good decisions, we improve the world around us. The more people who engage in such behavior the better the world becomes. A society filled with people making good decisions rises while one filled with people making bad decisions fails.

It is a numbers game. If 5% of the people in one group are making good, objective decisions, and 10% of the people in a second, relatively equally sized group, are doing the same. The second group will largely be better off. The idea is to give people the foundation of objective, critical thinking, so that all our lives are improved.

Tom Liberman