Government Bans Vaping for Teens Because it is Popular

Vaping

The various states and municipalities across the country are quite busy enacting laws to ban vaping for people under the age of 21. The federal government has gotten involved as well, regulating it as if it was a tobacco product. These laws are largely being enacted because of the rise in popularity of vaping among teenagers.

Let’s be very clear about what municipalities, states, and the federal government are doing: vaping is popular and therefore we are making it a crime to do. We’re not yet willing to start yet another War on Drugs by banning it for adults but we must protect the poor, deluded and innocent children. It is our job as politicians to tell parents they can’t let their children vape. It is our job as politicians to tell nineteen and twenty-year old, legal adults, we know better for them then they do themselves.

Is vaping bad for you? The evidence is still out for non-tobacco products but the use of tobacco is clearly unhealthy as is the use of alcohol. The question becomes if it is acceptable for the various levels of government to decide for your children what they should and shouldn’t be doing in that regard.

As you might be able guess, in general I’m opposed to such bans from an ideological point of view. I’m for the legalization of all drugs but the question becomes a little bit stickier when we are talking about people not legally competent, children in this case. I’m clearly and unreservedly against laws preventing adults from knowingly and eagerly ingesting whatever substance they want, even if it is unhealthy.

The government does have some responsibility to protect children but that largely should be invoked when parents are abusive or irresponsible. It is largely a parent’s responsibility to ensure their child behaves in particular ways. When we involve law enforcement officers, we are making an enormous problem for ourselves, one that dwarfs the issue it is designed to prevent.

Imagine, fanciful as it might seem, a nineteen-year-old wants to vape and her or his parents have no problem with it. We are now making that person a criminal. Law enforcement must now arrest and steal from, that is to say fine, that person.

In addition, we are potentially legislating a business into bankruptcy with all its attendant casualties. We don’t like vaping and therefore we shall attempt to remove a category of consumers from being able to purchase and use the product. This has an enormous impact on the vendors, suppliers, retail outlets, transporters, and varied other players.

All laws are not bad but we must balance the freedom they take from us and the harm they do against the benefit they promise. In this case I see some benefit, it is certain less teens will vape if there is a law against such. I also see harm in the criminality that will be spawned and the black markets that will certainly arise to sell such products to teens. I absolutely oppose the idea nineteen and twenty-year-old women and men are unable to make informed decisions about their vaping habits.

I shouldn’t be telling them to vape or not to vape and neither should the government.

Tom Liberman

Clean Energy Revolution not Fueled by Government

Clean Energy v Coal

About ten or so years ago a friend of mine told me with absolute certainty that Clean Energy would never amount to more than two percent of the United States energy needs and that I was an idiot for saying otherwise. Well, in April 2019 clean energy accounted for a greater percentage of our energy than did coal. Bub, you were wrong and will continue to be more wrong with every passing year.

I’m not here to gloat about my clean energy predictions but to talk about how this revolution is happening not because of government but in spite of it. Various groups have long promoted solar, wind, and natural gas as better sources for energy because they don’t cause nearly the pollution as generated by coal. To hasten this transition of energy away from coal, such people advocated massive government encouragement, read tax breaks and subsidies, to the purveyors of clean energy. I argued that instead of subsidizing clean energy, we should simply stop doing so for coal and oil.

President Obama and the democrats largely agreed with the sentiments expressed by the clean energy crowd. They implemented plans to help spread the use of such energy and had some successes and some failures.

Enter President Trump. He essentially has the opposite plan. He wants to encourage the use of coal and dispense with helping clean energy. He has had some successes and some failures in his plans.

The reality of the situation is quite easy to see from any graph showing production associated with coal and clean energy in the last twenty years. Coal rarely dropped below 150 gigawatt-hours of energy prior to 2010. Now they never even reach this level and it is unlikely to ever rise that high again. The trend is obvious but what is driving it?

I’m happy to tell you; capitalism completely disassociated from government. Investors, builders, and entrepreneurs have no desire to invest in coal-based plants because there is more money to be made from clean energy power plants. If you’re mining coal, working at a coal-fired plant, hauling coal on the railroad, or doing anything associated with coal; start making plans to do something else. Not today, not tomorrow, but eventually; capitalism is talking and it’s not mincing words.

The most important thing to understand is this is all good and natural, as was the rise of coal in the first place. If government just stayed out of the energy business altogether, we’d likely be much further along in this process. If you enjoy breathing air and drinking water, you should be sad we are not.

Did the Obama era clean energy policies help promote them? Certainly. Have the Trump era coal energy policies helped extend the coal era? Certainly. Neither has a chance against the true forces of capitalism. Stop subsidizing energy altogether. It’s best for all of us.

Tom Liberman

The Great Bologna Bust

Contraband BolognaThere’s a news story about a woman who tried to bring bologna into the United States but was stopped by border patrol agents and it’s tickling the fancy of audiences everywhere. An unnamed woman attempted to bring in about two-hundred and twenty-seven pounds of the savory meat but when she declared it, was fined $1,000 and the meat was confiscated and destroyed. Why? I’m not sure.

I’ve read several articles about the incident which all claim different reasons for the seizure. One says the meat contained pork, another says it was simply originally undeclared, a third claims it can cause disease in the pork industry. None of those reasons makes much sense to me. Bologna is generally made from pork so what’s the problem? She forgot to declare it at first but then remembered at the second stop, who cares? How is processed bologna a threat to the pork industry?

The mere fact that three different news articles had three different explanations for the seizure and fine indicates that the sources of information for the articles probably didn’t know why the meat was seized in the first place and were making things up. Maybe, I don’t know. I do know if we have to stop someone from bringing bologna into the country, destroy it, and steal $1,000 from said person then something is wrong with the country.

I think it’s important to understand the base reason behind the entire incident. Various government agencies; federal, state, and local all, finance their operations through money taken from citizens for supposed violations of the law. This is not the way it was designed to be. We pay taxes to finance our government. If government needs other methods to take our money in order to pay their bills there is one of two things happening. Either we are not paying enough in taxes to finance their reasonable expenses or they are spending far too much and using us to pay for their extravagances. Can you guess which one is more likely?

We have gotten to the point where almost every government agency in our country funds itself one way or another through seizure of our money based on laws designed simply to take that money. This is a never-ending circle. The government needs more money, our representatives don’t have to convince us to support legislation for taxes, they simply pass ludicrous laws and begin to enforce them. It is plain to see, the majority of laws we now encounter are not designed to make us safer, but simply to steal our money so politicians can spend it on things they want.

One of the ways they connive us is the supposed lowering of taxes. We think we are paying less but they simply find even more revenue another way; fees, fines, seizures, licenses, you name it. We don’t care when it is someone else from whom they are stealing, we smile and shake our heads until it is us they prey upon. Only then do we get angry. We should all be angry when government takes money in any way, from anyone, that isn’t justified through reasonable argument.

As long as the people are willing to believe the excuses for the ridiculous laws the government enforces, they will continue to take our money. We must say enough is enough. No one is hurt when someone brings in bologna from Mexico. There is no danger. The government simply took someone’s money, and if you’re okay with that, you are part of the problem.

Tom Liberman

13 Reasons Why Romanticizing is no Reason to Censor

13 reasons whyOf late, various news stories and my Facebook wall made me vaguely aware of a television show called 13 Reasons Why which is based on a book named Thirteen Reasons Why. I knew the show and novel had suicide as a central theme and that a number of people were upset by it. Now I see it is being censored, ostensibly because it romanticizes suicide.

I don’t want to talk about the book or television show because I have neither read or seen either. There is clearly a lively debate on exactly how suicide is portrayed in the book and show, but to me it’s irrelevant. Movies, books, fictional television shows, the news, and many other sources romanticize things all the time. War is romanticized, violence is romanticized, sex out of wedlock is romanticized, horribly behavior is romanticized. Frankly, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a human behavior that is not being romanticized somewhere, in some medium.

Throughout history censorship has almost always been rationalized by a need to protect people, particularly children, from ideas. In most cases the censoring agency does nothing more than promote the particular book or content. This was true back when it was difficult to get such material. In today’s world, it far easier for anyone to get content through the internet.

This fact, to my way of thinking, makes this latest case of censorship more egregious. It is moralistic self-delusion of the worst kind. Does any librarian actually imagine by removing the book from the library they will prevent people from reading it, seeing the show? Thus, the censorship is seen for its true nature. Nothing more than a moral pat on the back. Look at me, I’m a good person. I’m helping the children! I’m so good and wonderful. I’m protecting children, look at me!

The reality is simply the opposite. By proudly flaunting the censorship, more people are made aware of the book and television show. Censors do not inhibit children from watching and reading but encourage them. They achieve the opposite of their stated goal. They know this. They are fully aware their censorship does not achieve what they claim. It reveals their actual motivation, a need to stroke their own ego.

I do not deny ideas are dangerous. People are inspired by what they see and what they read. We fear people will read and see things and be motivated to act in ways they would not before consuming such material. Ideas are also wonderful. People are inspired by ideas in beautiful and amazing ways, each and every day. This is life.

I certainly support a parent who chooses not to allow their child to watch the show or read the book. I just don’t think it’s a decision to be made by anyone else. Be they a librarian or a politician. I do caution parents who refuse to allow their children to see the show; your child is going to learn about it through outside agencies. If you refuse to allow them to watch or read it, they will likely find a way to do so without your permission.

I strongly believe enforced ignorance is not an educational tool. Those who promote censorship think otherwise.

Tom Liberman

Faith Healers in Idaho and the Law

Faith HealersThere are a number of people in the United States who don’t believe in seeking medical attention because they think such efforts should be left to a divine being. These Faith Healers die quite frequently and so do their children. That’s where we run into a difficult situation involving the Constitution of the United States and the obligation of government to protect children.

If a legally capable adult foregoes medical treatment, there is nothing to be done about it. Faith Healers base their actions on religious beliefs. In the United States the government is not allowed to interfere in such cases. However, children are not legally capable of making their own decisions. If a parent is physically, mentally, or emotionally harming a child; they are generally breaking laws.

In many states, it is possible to intervene in a situation where a child’s life is being endangered by withholding medication, but not in Idaho, where I went to college. Many of the people in western states, including Idaho, strongly believe in individual liberty. I wrote a blog not long ago about how one of the most important lessons I learned while at the University of Idaho was avoiding interfering in another person’s business. It’s not right to tell them how to live. Thus, is not surprising Faith Healers have legal protection in the state.

Any metric based study of modern medicine indicates, without a doubt, medical intervention saves many lives. Many of the children and adults who die in the families of Faith Healers would still be alive today if they were treated.

Where does Idaho have an obligation to step in? Where should we mind our own business? Is it proper to stand by and watch a child die when they most likely could be saved with medical intervention? Is it proper to allow families to treat their children as they see fit?

Much as it pains me to say, I think the state should stay out of these situations. The children have no say into what family they are born into and their fate is avoidable and terrible. The onus for their death falls not on the state, not on me, but on their guardians who chose not to seek medical care. Horrible as it is.

One would hope that children who survive in such a family, who witness their siblings’ avoidable death, would choose to leave such a religion. That eventually no one would believe in Faith Healing and no children would die unnecessary deaths. Sadly, their death is the price of liberty, of freedom. It’s a terrible and painful price. An awful price for children who had no say in the matter. I do not deny this.

It’s not always easy to believe in individual liberty when the people practicing it are incredibly stupid. When this stupidity results in the death of their children.

Tom Liberman

Eminent Domain and the Border Wall

eminent_domainThe Border Wall. It’s a fairly big news story. President Trump would like to spend some billions of dollars to build a wall between Mexico and the United States in order to prevent illegal aliens from crossing over. Much of this land is not owned by the government and they would therefore have to purchase it.

It’s quite likely that many of the people who own this land aren’t going to want to sell. The solution is something called Eminent Domain.

In essence, The Federal Government and State Government has the right to simply purchase the land for a fair market price if they deem such Taking arises from a situation of extreme necessity or of public utility. I would think the government is arguing that building the wall is of public utility in this case and therefore they can simply take the land even from unwilling owners.

This, naturally, strikes at the core of my Libertarian ideology. I think cases of Eminent Domain must be severely limited and this particular extension when the argument for public utility is rather debatable does not qualify. There are any number of arguments both for and against a border wall but I don’t want to get into that debate. I simply point out the matter is far from clear, and therefore it cannot be argued with certainty that the border wall is for public utility.

If the government would like to make an offer the land owners can’t refuse, more power to them. Otherwise I think this one has to end up in the courts and that will take years and millions of taxpayer dollars.

Now a quick story about a situation here in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. We have a north and south running highway called 170. It was designed to connect two basically east and west highways, 55 and 70. People refused to sell the land required. The government eventually built part of the highway, but the southern section remains unfinished to this day. This is a moderately significant issue when trying to get from the northern half of the city to the southern. It affects me in a negative way on a regular basis.

And yet this is a good thing. It is the course the people of the city took and the state shouldn’t have the ability to take land if the seller is unwilling, barring the rules laid out by Eminent Domain.

Another quick story about the government using Eminent Domain. Keystone Pipeline. The only way to build it was by acquiring land through the use of Eminent Domain, in Texas, Nebraska, South Dakota.

I’m not completely opposed to Eminent Domain because there are situations where all the land for something of clear public utility is purchased except one parcel, and the person is holding out for some exorbitant amount. Even then I’m somewhat skeptical. Eminent Domain is often used by the state to steal land, generally for profit. We should all be wary.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
April 2017 Release: For the Gray

Why Should the Government Mandate Cursive Writing in Schools?

cursive-writingThe answer is simple. They shouldn’t. Yet it’s a trend that just added Alabama and Mississippi and which already includes fourteen states. Fourteen states think the government should mandate spending time to learn something that is largely useless in modern society. There is little need of cursive writing but for some reason legislators and, judging by the comment section, lots and lots of regular folks, approve of these laws.

Those who support such measures make any number of claims including the ideas that it helps students think through ideas, helps creativity, it helps train the mind, and helps grammar. The reality is different and I think important to understand. The people who support such laws were taught cursive writing in school. They don’t want students today taught things differently because they are threatened by and scared of this new world in which we live.

There is very little need for cursive writing anymore and soon there will be none. We use computers, tablets, phones, and other devices to type our messages, this is self-evident. There is no need for me to argue this point. Cursive has less relevance in the modern world with each passing day. It will not return as a useful means of communication. The purpose of teaching cursive writing was to allow people to write down their thoughts more quickly than block printing but with the legibility of that style. That’s why cursive writing was taught, because it was an incredibly useful skill for people to know. We did not teach it to encourage creativity, to train minds, to help thinking, or to help grammar. We can teach those things in other ways.

Cursive was taught because it was useful to know. That is the most important thing and the basic reason it was taught. It’s not important to know anymore so we shouldn’t be teaching it. We should spend time teaching other things.

I’m not opposed to teaching grammar. I’m not opposed to teaching students creativity. I’m not opposed to teaching students how to think through an idea. I’m not opposed to teaching students to use logical thought processes. I am, however; totally and irrevocably opposed to teaching cursive in school.

The people who argue for this seem to universally lament the fact that students today are unprepared for life and that somehow spending many hours teaching them a useless skill will help this problem. Let me be clear, the people who claim young people are stupid and unable to handle the modern world are wrong. Young people today face a very different world and very different challenges than I did and they are well-equipped to handle such a life. College students, high-school students, and young adults are often intelligent, smart, capable, and largely better educated than their parents.

This insistence on cursive writing is almost solely based on fear that kids today are learning things that adults don’t know or understand. People feel safe in forcing  kids to learn the things we learned, it gives a comforting sense of continuity. It’s a bad idea.

This fear drives much in our lives. This fear holds us back. This fear will hold back millions of kids in Alabama, Mississippi and twelve other states.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
April 2017 Release: For the Gray

I’ll Use Our Second Amendment Rights to Defend our First Amendment Rights

Constitution of United StatesCongress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I want to be as clear as possible about the First Amendment.

The freedom of media to report as they will without fear of retribution from the government is vital to the survival of this great nation and of This Great Experiment. The media must be allowed to tell the story; the true story, the false story, the agenda driven story twisted with nuance, or the apolitical story. It is necessary. It is my freedom.

If you are under the impression those telling stories you don’t like must be arrested, repressed, intimidated, fined, sued, or otherwise cowed from doing their job; know that I will defend them. If necessary I’ll use another right guaranteed to me to do so.

I will accept the consequences of those action.

Just so you know where I stand if you want to discuss Freedom of the Press in my presence.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
April 2017 Release: For the Gray

Isolation and Assumption or Hamilton v. Trump

alexander-hamiltonShortly after the United States became an independent nation a fellow named Alexander Hamilton was put in charge of the treasury. The debt accrued from the Revolutionary War was a large issue and Hamilton wrote something called The First Report on the Public Credit that promoted the plan of Assumption.

Yipee, Tom, you might say. What does that have to do with President Trump and the modern world?

The idea is rather complex and sort of anti-common sense. Hamilton believed that if the Federal Government assumed all the debt from the various states, Assumption, those states would link their financial well-being to that of the central government. That is, if the union failed, the debt would fall back on the states. If the states had a financial stake in the union they would do their best to promote it and serve it.

This is a powerful idea against isolationism. If we are financially tied to other nations, they have a vested interest in seeing that we succeed, for then they succeed.

President Trump seems to be pursuing an America First agenda. The proposed tariffs would make it more expensive for other countries to do business in the United States. At that point they are given a choice. Pay the price or go elsewhere. Certainly some will pay the price in order to stay here but some will leave. As more and more decide it’s not worth the effort of staying they become independent of the United States. They have no reason to want us to succeed.

If we stop funding the United Nations it will suffer, most certainly. But the remaining member nations will soon realize they can do without that money. It won’t be as lavish. There won’t be as much waste. It won’t be as powerful. But we also will have little say in its operations. When we disengage we lose influence.

When we tell a nation they can’t do business with us without paying a price then eventually they stop doing business with us. We pay a price for influence. It’s money.

I’m not telling you that America First is a bad policy. I’m just telling you it will diminish our influence in the world. Other nations will learn they can do just fine without us.

If China decides they want to become world’s financial capital, something that could very well happen, it will mean an extraordinary shift in the balance of power in the world.

By allowing yourself to be tied to other people, other states, other nations; you make them work for your success. Their success is bound to yours and vice versa.

I just want to be very clear here. While I’m all for economic engagement with other nations I’m not for forcing regime change on those that don’t fall in line. I think we can do far more good in this world by linking people to each other financially than any soldier or covert operative working on regime change could ever accomplish.

I speak of nations and states in this article but ultimately I’m talking about individuals. When a person I play chess with in Iran wants to continue playing chess online with me, he or she doesn’t want me to die. Because it’s in his or her interest to continue the enjoyable chess games.

So it is with nations, states, and most importantly; individuals.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Lessons from Trump Taxes

trump-tax-recordsThere’s an interesting story in the news about Donald Trump and his various corporations paying no taxes. Some people are outraged and others think he’s a genius. Those are not the conclusion I draw from the story.

I’ve written about this before but I’ll go over it again.

The current tax rate on corporations in the United States is 35%. Many people argue, correctly, that this is far too high but somehow nothing ever gets done. Even when Republicans are in charge of Congress and the Executive Branch the rate stays the same despite all the complaining. Why is that?

Simple. Enterprise Businesses and rich people pay comparatively very little in taxes in relation to their percentage of wealth. The actual paid rate for corporate taxes amounts to about 11%. Why is that? Because Enterprise Businesses have access to an army of tax lawyers to find shelters. They pay little or nothing in taxes for the most part. Just like Donald Trump. Trump isn’t a genius, he’s an average wealthy person with a business and good tax lawyers. None of them pay much in taxes and that’s why they love the current system. That’s why it doesn’t change. Lobbyists from Enterprise Businesses and wealthy people ensure that it won’t change.

So who is paying taxes? Small and Medium businesses, you and me. We don’t have access to high-powered tax attorneys. We don’t have access to offshore shelters. We pay the huge rate. There’s a reason why a higher and higher percentage of all business earnings and employers are from Enterprise Businesses. The system is set up to give them an advantage and they love it.

The more complex the tax code the more the person who doesn’t have access to tax lawyers pays. The more the code is designed to stop the wealthy and powerful from paying the more it actually benefits them. They find the loopholes in the increasingly complex system that the small business owners and regular people cannot.

People argue against a Flat Tax because the perception is that it will cost regular people more. On paper this is true. Paper isn’t reality. In reality if the tax code was simplified the wealthy and powerful would pay more even as their supposed tax rate goes down. It’s all a shell game of deceit. The wealthy and powerful love the tax code that supposedly has them paying high taxes.

Simplify the code. That’s the lesson to be learned.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

New York, Cigarettes, Tax Law, and Crime

illegal-cigarette-salesThe state of New York has opened legal proceedings against UPS over the shipment of cigarettes to their state from Native American Reservations and it brings up some interesting questions about taxation as a whole.

To sum up the legal situation; New  York has high taxes on cigarettes. Native American Reservations do not. Enterprising people ship huge numbers of cigarettes into New York from the Reservations and sell them at a discount rate. They use UPS to do this. New York has laws on the books making it illegal to bring cigarettes into New York without paying the state tax.

At $4.39 New York has the highest tax rate in the country. A rate so high that shipping from other states and reselling becomes possible and profitable.

We live in a Union of States. Outside of Federal Law, these states are allowed to do as they please. New York is free to set their tax rates as they desire. I’m not going to discuss what I think about this rate. The purpose of the rate. Nor how the money is used.

What I’d like to talk about is the effect of the tax rate. It’s clear when a state has high taxes on any particular product where another state has a lower tax, we are going see this sort of behavior. In order to prevent people from bringing in product from another state the original state must pass laws making it illegal. Thus we are making something illegal that is going to be impossible to prevent.

If there is a profit to be made selling something to a willing customer in which the only entity “hurt” is the state, people are going to find a way.

I’m not opposed to New York instituting a high cigarette tax but I absolutely think it should not be illegal to purchase cigarettes in another state, ship them to New York, and sell them. The entrepreneur is making the original purchase, paying the transportation costs, and paying the expense involved in the sale. If it’s still profitable, good for that person or people.

New York is losing out on taxes but UPS and other shipping agencies are making money. The people involved in transportation and sales are being paid salaries. It’s capitalism. By making it illegal to bring in cigarettes from other states, New York is acting in an anti-capitalistic manner for no good reason.

It’s also better for the smokers in New York because they get a cheaper product. The only “loser” is the state. The state shouldn’t be trying to win. It’s should be trying to provide the best services possible to its citizens at a reasonable rate. If the state sets a tax rate on a product so high that entrepreneurs circumvent that rate; the state must either lower the taxes or accept the consequences. They should not be making the obvious outcome of their misguided tax policies illegal.

This is how the power of the state spirals out of control. Laws are passed not to protect and serve citizens but simply to ensure revenue.

And if you think that doesn’t cause harm I’d suggest you find out why a fellow named Eric Garner is dead.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

When Prisoners Work should they be Paid?

prisoners-working-slave-laborI just read an interesting story from the Guardian which brings up memories of movies like The Shawshank Redemption and Cool Hand Luke.

What is happening and has happened in the past is that prisoners in the penal system are allowed to do work but are paid either nothing for this work or a few pennies an hour. We’re all aware the United States incarcerates far more of its population than any other country in the world and that we largely use private contractors to house these prisoners. These private contractors get your tax dollars to run the prisons and operate on a profit system. They want more prisoners because that accrues more tax dollars into their pockets.

The problem here is that they are using those prisoners to do the work in the prisons and additional work outside the prison. This avoids payment to contractors who would otherwise be doing the work in the system and generates further profits for work done outside the system.

There  are a number of questions these practices bring up.

Q1: Is it right to use prisoners as essentially slave labor because they have been convicted of a crime?

A1: If you want prisoners to work then pay them a fair wage for their work. That’s capitalism. Certainly doing so would drive up the cost of incarcerating people but I think the reasons I’m going to enumerate in answering the other questions fully justifies such an expense.

Q2: Is it right to pay private prison contractors money for things like laundry service when the prisoners are providing it essentially for free?

A2: I’m absolutely in disagreement with this practice. If private prisons are going to use prisoners as slave labor then the government should not be paying the private company for the services rendered. The state is paying the prison to feed, cloth, house, and otherwise take care of the prisoner. The private company should be doing so out of the money paid to them from tax dollars.

Q3: What effect on other companies does using prisoners for work have on the economy of the region?

A3: This is the answer that goes to the very heart of the problem from a capitalistic point of view. Slavery was terrible for the economies of the southern states for the simple reason it took jobs away from otherwise able workers, it stole profits from companies wanting to provide the service that slaves did, and slavery worked against innovation and technology. For the exact same reasons we should not be employing prisoners to do work for free or for ridiculously low wages. Every service a prisoner provides is work that could be done by an able-bodied person and profits that could be made for the company employing said person.

I’m not opposed to prisoners working but they should be paid fair wages for said work. This has additional benefits. It gives prisoners a sense of worth and accomplishment in finishing tasks. It gives prisoners money to accumulate for their eventual release which makes their rehabilitation into society significantly less difficult. Prisoners should also have access to educational material so that they can, should they so choose, improve their chances of getting gainful employment when released.

Finally I’m opposed to using prisoners as slaves simply on ethical grounds. It is wrong to force another person to labor without wages under any circumstances. Prisoner or not.

What do you think?

Should prisoners be paid fair wages for their work while incarcerated?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Government to Regulate e-Cigarettes but Why?

e-cigarette-regulationElectronic Cigarettes burst onto the market in 2004 and now the government plans to regulate them in the same way they do traditional tobacco products. This despite the fact that e-cigarettes don’t use tobacco.

Today I’d like to address an issue slightly deeper than just this particular piece of legislation which was announced in 2014 giving producers two years to submit an application for approval. This application costs money and the e-cigarette manufacturers are claiming an approval must be submitted for every flavor and nicotine level available for sale. They claim the costs for such submissions would drive out all the small market e-cigarette manufacturers leaving only the largest companies.

I don’t know if this is true or not but I do know that the justification for such regulations and applications is outdated. There was a time when the internet did not exist and getting accurate information about the efficacy and danger of particular products was nearly impossible. I can understand that government officials felt it their responsibility to prevent essentially toxic products from being put on the market without at least some sort of warning.

I’m not opposed to the government employing a laboratory to test the content and health effects of tobacco, alcohol, and other products. I’m not opposed to the government using my tax dollars to disseminate information about said products on government managed websites. I think those are good things. I’m not under the illusion that a business would never market a harmful product with deceptive advertising and cover up the dangers. That sort of thing happens all the time, greed and human nature being what they are. To pretend otherwise is simply foolish.

However, with the advent of the internet and the availability of information I don’t see why the manufacturer has to provide relatively useless warnings on their labels and apply for expensive approvals. It seems to me that such rules and regulations are not intended for the safety of the population but simply generate revenue for the government and empower Crony Capitalism in order to support the largest manufacturers who fund political campaigns.

This is not the job of government.

The Information Age is a fundamental change in the nature of the world. For a Libertarian like myself it is the opening of a door into a utopia of personal freedom. If I want to use a product I can do my research and find out its nature. If I plan to buy a chicken from the grocery store, I can learn about the factory or local farm that raised it and how that chicken lived its life. Then I can make an informed decision on which chicken to buy. This was not possible until recently.

I’ll repeat, I do think the government has a right and responsibility to inspect, collect information, run tests, and publish the results for all to see. After that it is up to us. Should we choose to smoke tobacco then we know the risks and suffer the consequences of our actions.

We must trust people to live their lives in the manner they choose. We may not like. It might not be healthy. But it is ultimately their life and their decision. If they have the information they need to make an informed choice, that is all we can do. If we try to make that decision for them, even for their benefit, we end up causing far more harm in the long run.

As I point out in The Girl in Glass I – Apparition, freedom is free, it’s just not safe.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

CDC, Pregnancy, and Alcohol

drinking-while-pregnantI woke up this morning to headlines blaring about the danger of alcohol to pregnant women or even women who might be pregnant. The warnings say quite explicitly that a woman who is pregnant, who is trying to get pregnant, or who is having sex but is not on birth control, should never drink. That’s the recommendation.

The warning is specific and terrifying:

Alcohol use during pregnancy, even within the first few weeks and before a woman knows she is pregnant, can cause lasting physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities that can last for a child’s lifetime.

The danger is called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

I’ve long heard that drinking was considered a bad idea for pregnant women but this new study seems to prove this theory beyond a doubt. Or at least that’s what the dire warning from the CDC would have you believe.

If you read the Wikipedia Article the results are much more in line with what a reasonable person might expect.

Women who drink four or more drinks a day are in serious danger of causing FAS in their child. Women who have two or more drinks a day early in the pregnancy also risk mild forms of FAS. The correlation between women who drink less than this is equivalent to the correlation between men who drink alcohol during a woman’s pregnancy being linked to FAS in the infant.

Yes, you heard that right. Husbands and boyfriends who have less than two drinks a day give an equal chance of impacting a child with FAS as do the women who are actually pregnant. That’s what the studies show.

Yet, with this evidence in hand, the CDC states unequivocally that women should not drink at any time if there is a remote chance of them being pregnant or if they are, indeed pregnant. Do not have a single drink!

I’m all for studies and I have no problem with government agencies issuing warnings and advice. The government does not have the power to make a woman stop drinking if she is pregnant nor should they. One of government’s jobs is to give us the information we need to protect ourselves. I support performing such studies with my tax dollars and informing the public of the results. After that it is up to us to decide how we wish to behave.

That being said, the shrill and dire language of this warning smacks of Big Brother. It is the government twisting results to match their desired outcome.

Present the facts as they exist and, for a moment, pretend that we citizens are adults capable of making good decisions based on those facts.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

$400 a Month Forever Student Loan

student-loansI went down to my corner bar the other night to watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals play, eat a delicious burger, have a nice gin & tonic, and generally try to shake off my anti-social tendencies. The place was largely empty and I struck up a conversation with the young (and attractive) bartender. What I learned was disturbing. She’s been paying $400 a month to pay off her $35,000 student loan for seven years and she still owes $29,000.

What, what, what?

There’s a problem here. Let’s solve it.

The first step is to identify the problem. It turns out to be systemic and rather like the 2008 housing crisis that cost We The People billions of dollars.

Colleges are charging huge fees for tuition that are far above the value of the education. Banks are giving out loans to people who cannot afford to repay them in a timely fashion. Loans are structured in a predatory fashion to ensure people pay essentially forever. People are willing to take out ridiculous loans. People who should never go to college are going and incurring debt. Lots of blame to spread around.

The next question is to find out how this all came to be. The root cause is money, as is often the case. The federal government, banks issuing loans, and higher education facilities can make huge amounts of money from these loans. 2005 legislation, The Bankruptcy Reform Bill, included provisions that meant declaring bankruptcy did not absolve students of debt. This means that you can’t legally get out from under the debt, you owe forever.

So we understand the problem and its causation, what’s the solution?

I’m no Socialist. I don’t think making higher education free for all is a reasonable solution. It sounds good and it certainly has some appeal. The big problem, from my perspective, is that higher education costs will rise to take advantages of this government larder. Many students who have no business going to college will do so at a cost to the taxpayer.

I am a capitalist and I think loan institutions should make money on their loans. The loans are a good thing in that they provide young people a chance at a higher education when they otherwise could not afford such. They also make money for the banks. That’s good.

So where does that leave us?

The Higher Education Act of 1965 created something very useful called the Perkins Loan. It is more like a car or home loan as opposed to a never-ending credit card charge. It’s a ten year loan at a fixed 5% rate.

Let’s take my new bartender friend’s case. She has paid $400 a month for seven years. That’s $33,600 off a $35,000 loan. Add the annual 5% to the principal and she’s pretty much got the thing paid off. Another three years and she’d be done. However, she didn’t get a Perkins Loan. Seven years into it and she’s nowhere near paying it off and there is no end in sight.

The problem becomes how to limit student loans to just Perkins type structures. If a student agrees to pay a ridiculous loan is it the bank’s fault for offering it? If banks give out insane loans are higher education institutions wrong to raise the fees to absurd amounts? Can the government legally force banks and schools to be less predatory and make a reasonable profit while allowing students to get an education without mortgaging their future? Can we force students to be reasonable about their future and crush their often misguided dreams?

No easy answers here.

I do think predatory loan practices are essentially stealing. It’s more egregious than taking money from a person via direct criminal actions. Yes, people are foolish to willingly sign for a loan that will essentially keep them in debt forever but fraud is a crime. I see no issue with charging people with theft for loan conditions that are unmanageable. Put a few loan officers in jail for issuing such loans and I think the problem would largely be solved.

Yes, fewer students would get loans. Yes, higher education facilities would see drops in enrollment. Yes, lenders would take a hit to their profits.

The other option is sit idly by while really nice girls like my bartender are made slaves to debt. Oh, and destroy the economy with a huge student loan default.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Kim Kardashian, Diclegis, and the FDA

kim-kardashian-diclegis-minThere’s an interesting story about government regulations making the rounds involving Kim Kardashian and a drug called Diclegis. At question is the fact that Kardashian is essentially a paid sponsor for Diclegis through her Tweets, Instagram photos, and Facebook posts.

This sort of sponsorship deal is not new. Companies pay celebrities to mention their product in apparently normal social media interactions.

What’s different in this case is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has laws about advertising products without mention side-effects and other drugs which are dangerous to take with the original drug. In this case Diclegis can often cause drowsiness and it should not be taken with alcohol or other sleep inducing medication. If people take Diclegis and then go out driving, they risk the lives of many other people.

Kardashian does not mention these side-effects or incompatible drugs in her various social media advertisements. The FDA now wants to fine her for these violations.

The FDA was created back in 1938 as knowledge of what was going into food and drugs became more well-known. There were any number of cases where people ingested lethal substances when they thought they were taking medicine or normal food. A particularly loathsome case involved the deaths of thirteen children here in my hometown of St. Louis traced to a tainted diphtheria anti-toxin.

The question for me is complex.

Does the government have constitutional authority to protect people from the food and drugs that manufacturers produce, advertise, and distribute? Clearly, yes. Congress has given them such authority and the constitution does not forbid it.

Does the government act in the people’s interests with such authority? Now it becomes tricky. Certainly the idea of the FDA is good. We want to protect people from toxicity in our food and drug supply. We want to protect people from unscrupulous manufacturers selling their snake-oil. We want to prevent people from taking Diclegis and then driving in their cars.

But do FDA regulations accomplish these things? I think the answer is largely, but not completely, no. We’ve all seen drug commercials that go through an endless litany of possible dreadful side-effects and warnings. Do these warnings prevent people from mixing drugs or driving cars while taking the drug?

We must be responsible for ourselves. We must investigate the drugs we are taking. We must listen to our trained physicians who are prescribing them. If we are not doing so, then that’s our fault. The FDA shouldn’t be able to tell Kardashian to tell all the side-effects of every drug she mentions as part of a paid advertisement.

That being said, I’m not totally opposed to the FDA. I do think they have a useful function in our country. I think the FDA can and should test drugs and food. They should post all the pertinent information on readily available websites for We the People to look at. Then, with the aide of our physicians, we can make informed decisions. If a drug kills people the government can and should arrest those responsible for its distribution. If a physician lies about side-effects to a patient to sell more of a drug then that physician should be prosecuted.

There will always be snake-oil salesmen (see Dr. Oz) who find ways around government regulations. We must always be responsible for ourselves. No amount of regulation will save us if we are not.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

The Largely Unregulated Supplement Industry

supplement regulationThere’s a rather humorous John Oliver video making the rounds on Facebook discussing the largely unregulated supplement industry in conjunction with the appearance of Dr. Oz before the Senate. I wrote about that appearance a week ago and I thought I should revisit the entire subject of the supplement industry from a Libertarian point of view.

It’s a nuanced issue for a Libertarian because as such I think government intrusion into our lives should be kept to a minimum but the government certainly has some duty when it comes to criminal activity. So where do I stand? Should supplements be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or should the buyer beware?

I’m of the opinion that the FDA should not be involved in deciding if a supplement is ready for the market or not. I do however think they have a role in making sure a particular supplement is not toxic and I absolutely think they have a right to make sure they do what they are reported to do. Barring that I think their regulatory powers are very limited.

I’ll try to explain what this entails from an enforcement point of view. The FDA has the right to test new and ongoing supplements to ensure they are not toxic. I have no problem with the agency testing supplements to ensure that they will not kill people and they certainly have the right to remove toxic supplements from the market. However, there is the much murkier ground of whether a supplement is actually effective or not. I don’t think the FDA has the right to ban a supplement that has no health value.

People can choose what supplements they take and anyone who ingests a supplement without doing a little background check on its medical value deserves what they get. The vast majority of supplements have no health value. I think the scientific community should be running tests to determine if a supplement works. It’s not the job of the government to protect people from themselves. If some people want to believe the outlandish words of Dr. Oz then that’s their fault, not the government.

What completely baffles me is that according to testing at least 33% of supplements have no trace of the items that they are purported to have in them. That’s just fraud. Plain and simple. It’s fraud on a vast scale because every bottle of those supplements that crosses the state line between Illinois and Missouri is a federal crime. Everyone from the owner of the company to the driver who took it across the state line is guilty of millions of counts of fraud and could be sent to prison for the rest of their lives.

Every bottle of supplement that cannot be scientifically shown to do what the advertisement claims it can do is a criminal act. It doesn’t matter if Dr. Oz sells the supplement or not. If he claims it does something while fully aware that scientific evidence says it does not, he’s guilty of a crime. It’s illegal to sell someone a coin claiming it is gold when it is iron. It’s illegal to have a booth where other people sell iron coins as gold when you know they are iron. It’s even illegal to tell people to go to the booth to buy gold when you know it’s iron if doing so benefits you financially. That’s all fraud. You are engaged in defrauding people of their money.

This is a huge point of Libertarians who are often accused of having no compassion. I think the FDA has no business telling a company not to sell a product. If a company says Green Coffee Beans might cause weight loss and people buy them, tough luck. But if a company says Green Coffee Beans will help reduce weight knowing full well there is no scientific evidence they do so, well, forget the FDA, let’s talk about the FBI. You are engaged in interstate commerce fraud. If such laws were enforced we wouldn’t need the FDA to regulate our supplement industry. Put some truck drivers in jail for transporting fraudulent material across state lines and watch how quickly the supplement industry immediately cleans out the bad apples. Why this is not happening mystifies me.

I do think your state legislature or even your municipality has a right to say, hey this supplement is useless, let’s ban it. That is a right reserved for the states and the people just as they can ban alcohol.

We Libertarians are compassionate. We do care about people and this country. We just think that asking the federal government to get involved in areas over which the Constitution gives them no jurisdiction makes things worse, despite the good-intentions of the laws so passed.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books

 

Arrested for Bumper Sticker – Misleading Headline

Misleading HeadlineFlorida man charged with vandalism after bumper sticker protest of judge who handled his divorce case reads the blaring headline from Yahoo Odd News. It certainly makes me want to see what crazy nonsense the police are up to today.

The implication is that the authorities in Pinellas County, FL are vindictively going after a man because he put a bumper sticker on his car lambasting the local judge. That’s not even close to the case. Joe Mazzara is angry at Judge Jack Helinger over events during the former’s divorce proceeding. He did make a bumper sticker that calls for firing the judge. It’s where he put the bumper stickers that the headline convenietly omits.

He put them all over public street signs. Hundreds of them. This is clearly not only a violation of the law in that he is defacing public signage but it’s also ridiculously dangerous depending on what part of the sign he chose to cover up. It’s even possible to argue that that accidents could happen because people are reading the signage when they should be focusing on driving.Bumper Sticker Sign

I’m not only not sympathetic to Mazzara but I think he needs to spend a little time in the county lockup. Maybe five days or something like that. He has the nerve to claim it is a First Amendment issue! If this is his general entitled attitude to life I’m not surprised the judge ruled against him.

Of course the real problem is that Yahoo is trying to convince people to click the story because it is another example of police and government abuse of power. I think there are plenty of times when people in authority do misuse their power but when they are doing their job properly we shouldn’t be trying to paint them with a damning brush.

Shame on you Yahoo. You win the Misleading Headline of the Week Award.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books

Medicare Cheated out of Billions by … the Rich

Medicare FraudThere’s an interesting case slowly making its way through the courts about a company that is accused of stealing potentially billions of dollars from taxpayers in the form of medicare overcharges. The case isn’t about all the stealing, it’s about the guy who got fired because he tried to fix the problem.

You can read the story for all the details but basically a new guy was hired by an insurance company and almost immediately found evidence of chronic over-charging by filling out forms fraudulently. He claims to have discussed the issue in significant detail with corporate officials who recognized the problem and began putting away cash for what they assumed would be eventual fines. None was forthcoming and so they took the more expedient solution of firing Josh Valdez.

That’s what the case is about. A whistleblower who was fired. It’s not about the potentially billions of dollars that were stolen from taxpayers by insurance companies in Puerto Rico. This was merely one division of the much larger Aveta Inc. The charges were filled in April of 2011 and are only seeing the light of day now.

The suit filed by Valdez uncovered the fact that the fraudulent practices of Aveta are likely happening in many places. There are few audits of the Risk Score of patients which determine how much money goes to the insurance company. These scores can be artificially altered to ensure more money is paid out. According to Valdez up to $350 million of the $1.4 billion paid out was fraudulent for the each of the years between 2007 and 2011.

Remember, this is a single insurance fraud scam in Puerto Rico. Think big and then remember the financial crisis that this country is facing.

It is my opinion this kind of fraud occurs all the time and has contributed significantly to the growing debt our nation faces. This is the sort of situation that I think sets Libertarians apart from Democrats and Republicans. Democrats will scream and yell about corporate greed while Republicans will do the same about government waste. Here’s a newsflash for you … it’s both! And you are the reason it continues. Those who insist on voting for Democrats or Republicans just perpetuate the situation. They’ve both got their hands out and are grabbing the money as fast as they can scoop it up.

None of the alleged activity has been proven in court yet and it’s all speculation, but anyone who thinks this sort of thing is rare is just fooling themselves. The United States government is enormous beyond comprehension and the lack of oversight is shocking. The company involved claims it is just a disgruntled employee. We’ll see what the courts say but I’m expecting a relatively small fine against the company and some monetary reward for Valdez but nothing that will approach the amount that has been and continues to be stolen.

Greed is good, welcome to the United States.

As usual I’m not going to just talk about the problem. What are the solutions?

The idea behind Medicare is sound. We don’t want older people to miss out on medical care because of lack of money. That is a reasonable use of government money. Yet the amount of money involved will always be a magnet to those who want to steal.

A big part of the problem is software. The government is running on antiquated software and generating the reports necessary to discover this sort of activity isn’t easy. There is also a lack of inspectors so most insurance companies are allowed to self-report.

The only real solution is for people to actually want it solved. The solutions are there. More inspectors, better reports, tougher enforcement. As long as government officials are being bribed by the self-same companies that are defrauding us there will be no remedies. Being a good-guy will just get you fired, as Valdez discovered.

If you think voting Democrat or Republican will change things … best of luck.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere

Our Constitution – All or Nothing

ConstitutionI recently wrote a blog post about how members of both the Democratic and Republican parties seem to have a rather relaxed attitude about those parts of the Constitution with which they don’t agree and more passionate support over things with which they do agree.

What do these words mean to you: … nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, …

I am physically sickened, upset to my stomach, by recent events in Congress by those who are our representatives, who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution.

Back when the Founding Fathers fought for the freedom you enjoy they decided this simple oath was enough: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.

Some unnecessary words have been added but those fourteen sum it up pretty well and they are basically still there.

Lawyers can parse it all they want. They can claim Lois Lerner made a statement. They can weep and wail. The words are in the Constitution and great men fought and died to put them there.

When you subvert the Constitution for political gain, be it the Second Amendment, the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment or any other, you lose this Libertarian.

I don’t believe in Republicans. I don’t believe in Democrats. I don’t even believe in Libertarians. I don’t believe in you. I don’t believe in me. And I particularly don’t believe in the 231 Congress members who violated their oath today.

In the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere