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

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

Net Neutrality and all the Hype

Net NeutralityThere is a lot of news about Net Neutrality these days and the people who are proponents are incredibly passionate while those who are against are quite determined. The current administration and the Federal Communication Commission seem bent on eliminating Net Neutrality and tout all the benefits of doing so. Those who oppose fill my Social Media with diatribes and examples about how the internet will be destroyed. Frankly, it’s a lot of hype on both sides.

I’m not going to make this a long dissertation on exactly what Net Neutrality is and is not. Instead I’d like to focus on the idea it just won’t make that much of a difference either way. In doing so I understand I’m going to make enemies on both sides of this passionate debate, so be it.

There is a single factor causing the majority of the problems we have with our internet providers, the lack of competition. This dates back to the monopolies granted to cable providers. Basically, territories of the United States were broken up and given to single companies to provide cable access. These monopolies largely continue to exist across the country.

There is a distinct lack of competition in the industry and this means consumers have few, if any choices, about whom provides them with internet access. This means the power largely resides with the companies rather than the customers. They can apply any sort of rules they want and their customers have nowhere else to go. Thus, if an internet provider decides to throttle customers or block particular content there is nowhere else for the consumer to go, they must simply accept the status-quo.

It’s extraordinarily important to note prior to 2015 Net Neutrality was merely a concept that many internet providers followed simply because it made good business sense not to anger their customers. There are some choices in the industry and providers voluntarily gave open content and access to their customers in an effort to provide good service.

There were some exceptions but when they came to light, consumer pressure generally forced the provider to change the policy, it was not government enforced Net Neutrality that did anything, at least before June 12, 2015 when the provisions were accepted by the FCC.

If we had strong competition in the field then Net Neutrality would most certainly be a negative concept. If we had many choices and a company was not providing us with a good service we would simply go elsewhere. Once you get a bad meal at a particular restaurant, do you go back? Of course not, there are far too many good choices. It is the lack of competition that makes it appear we need Net Neutrality. The problem was created by the government, mainly municipal and state, in creating monopolies in the first place. The answer isn’t to enforce Net Neutrality but to open the market to competition.

The reality is enforcing or repealing Net Neutrality in our current situation isn’t going to do any harm or any good. We didn’t have Net Neutrality prior to 2015 and things were fairly much exactly the way they are now. Removing Net Neutrality is not going to bring the benefits claimed by those who oppose the concept. Keeping it is not going to fix the current problems we all have because of the lack of competition.

The proof seems obvious to me. Prior to 2015 we did not have Net Neutrality. Can you tell the difference? I can’t.

In other words, it’s much ado about nothing.

Tom Liberman

Prison Camps on Coast Guard Ships

coast guardThe New York Times just published an article which detailed how low-level drug smugglers from South and Central America are being held on Coast Guard ships for months at a time under appalling conditions. There is the usual righteous outrage that we could do such horrible things to people but I’d like to focus on the damage it is doing to the young volunteers who serve and protect our country.

What is happening is relatively simple. 1986 a law was passed in the endless and useless War on Drugs called the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act. It empowered the Coast Guard to search and seize drugs from any ship in International Waters, even if there was no evidence the drugs were intended for sale in the United States. A small amount of arrests were made on a yearly basis after that but everything changed in 2012 when it was decided to use this law to seize and arrest on a large scale.

These arrests are taking place far from the United States and there is no inexpensive way to bring the suspects to trial. Therefore, the prisoners are kept aboard Coast Guard ships for months at a time. The Coast Guard ships have no facilities so the prisoners are kept chained to the deck and fed at a barely subsistence level. The fellow in charge of all this was General John Kelly, now White House Chief of Staff. He strongly believes we need to expand the War on Drugs.

The men and women who serve aboard those Coast Guard vessels are largely idealistic and want to make the nation a safer and better place. What we are doing is wrecking them. No human can participate in chaining other humans to a deck for months at a time while feeding them little food and come away unscathed. What Kelly is doing is failing to make the United States a safer place and is destroying the moral and ethical compass of an entire generation, our people.

This is the natural extension of the horrors that occurred at Abu Ghraib and lays at the feet of Kelly. Kelly and his allies argue the prisoners are not being mistreated and the law is being followed but they completely forget the women and men who are carrying out their vile orders. These people, the best and brightest our nation has to offer, are learning we can and should treat others like animals. This is not a lesson easily unlearned. I can only imagine the nightmares being forced to do something like this would cause me and I’m a grown man.

Hundreds and perhaps thousands of our young Coast Guard volunteers are being ordered to participate in what can only be called immoral actions. They are being told by their superiors, supposedly morally sound officers, to engage in these actions, to watch as men are tortured. In these circumstances the vile among us rise while those who are good and decent must hide, quit, or simply go along because they see no other choice. What horror.

The long-term effect of these actions on the Coast Guard as a whole, on the men and women who issue the commands, and those tasked with carrying them out are incalculable. The people who are being forced to do these things will go on with their lives, they might join other branches of the military, they might become law enforcement officers, they might take roles in our government. They are forever damaged and will carry on with the lessons they are learning. That is a danger to us all.

Shame on you, Kelly and all the others involved in this ruination of the young men and women of the Coast Guard. Shame.

Tom Liberman