The Red Hen and Masterpiece Cakeshop

Red Hen Masterpiece CakeshopRecently the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked to leave a restaurant called the Red Hen because they didn’t like her political ideology as expressed in her job. Before that a bakery called Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to make a wedding cake for a homosexual couple because of their sexual orientation.

The two stories are intertwined in an interesting way for this Libertarian. The battle lines have been drawn, as they say. For me the two cases do not present any sort of ethical dilemma. As far as I’m concerned, the ownership of both The Red Hen and Masterpiece Cakeshop have every right to serve, or not serve, who they want as long as they do not run afoul protected classes. Neither homosexuals or political appointees are guarded by the Constitution, so far. From a legal standpoint, I support both businesses.

From a professional perspective and from a human level I would not have done the same if I was the owner of either the cake shop or the restaurant. I think if I am going to start a business of any sort, I should respect both myself and my customers, regardless of their sexual orientation or political philosophy. From a personal standpoint, I oppose both business owners.

It’s really that simple for me. I don’t have to think much about it. I don’t have to worry about my political ideology or my personal distastes. I have a job and I try to do it as best I can regardless of other factors.

I’m aware we can get into nuance here. What if a group of Nazis wanted to have a birthday party at my restaurant? Would I allow it? Particularly if they were going to display paraphernalia supporting hatred of Jews. I’m actually of the opinion that I’d have them although I’d probably require modest, rather than overt, displays of their beliefs.

If a person with a white supremacist or a rainbow tattoo wanted to dine at my establishment I think I’d have no issue and attempt to serve them the best meal possible. I think we’d all be better off if we treated each other fairly and with decency regardless of personal convictions.

Now, if the same person was loudly and belligerently expressing their hatred of Jews or heterosexuals while dining, I’d feel within my rights to ask them to please express their beliefs in a more subdued fashion. If they refused, I’d consider asking them to leave. As long as they were polite and treated my business with respect, I like to think I’d keep any problems I had with their philosophies to myself.

Certainly, many of the people who I helped with software development were of deeply held religious beliefs. I’m an Atheist. I didn’t let that stop me from doing the best job I could. So, I have some evidence to support my convictions as expressed here.

I do find it extraordinarily interesting that, to some degree, those who support Masterpiece Cakeshop are opposed to Red Hen and vice-versa.

I think this is where critical thinking and a consistent philosophical outlook can make the world a better place. Where everyone gets to have their food or cake and eat them too. A boy can dream.

Tom Liberman

Rodrigo Duterte has Finally Gone too Far

Duterte god stupidThe Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, has often angered people for many statements and policies but he has finally gone too far for the Christians of his nation. He called god stupid. This is enough for Catholic Bishop Arturo Bastes to declare Duterte a madman with dictatorial tendencies. Duterte’s other sins have not raised quite as much outrage from the religious community.

Let’s take a look at what the Duterte regime has done since he was elected in June of 2016. He has publicly urged citizens of the Philippines to kill drug dealers and drug users wherever they find them. He said, “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there is three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” He has described drug users as not human. Any number of the killings appear not to be related to drugs in any way but simply murders carried out with drugs as the excuse. The murders were never prosecuted.

Duterte ordered the military to attack towns in the Marawi district because they might be harboring ISIS terrorists. Those assaults led to the displacement of over a million people and an enormous amount of suffering that continues to this day as the infrastructure of the region is largely destroyed and many of the former citizens are living in unsanitary camps. The terrorists were supposedly evicted although the history of the lasting effects of such actions would suggest they will return quickly enough or simply move somewhere else.

All of that was tolerated, if not supported, by his believers. But now they say he’s gone too far. In discussing the biblical story of Adam and Even Duterte came to the conclusion that god set up a ridiculous test for the young couple and because they made a decision that god apparently wanted them to make, it is moronic for all of their descendants to be branded with original sin. His exact words were, “Who is this stupid god?” and “You were not involved but now you’re stained with an original sin … What kind of a religion is that? That’s what I can’t accept, very stupid proposition.”

Even his supporters, those who believe he did the right thing in encouraging citizens to murder one another without trials simply because they were drug addicts, think he’s gone too far this time.

I’m an Atheist and I think Duterte actually got this one right. I still think he’s an evil man despite his correct interpretation of biblical insanity. I still think he’s a murderous dictator. His being right in this instance doesn’t change my overall opinion of him.

My question is what does it say about a person who supported Duterte in his desire to kill drug addicts without any judicial proceedings, without any attempt to help them recover from their addiction, to make no effort to determine if they were even drug addicts or dealers at all but simply close his eyes to the murders; but who draw the line at his assessment of the concept of original sin as stupid?

You tell me.

Tom Liberman

One Star Reviews for Ayesha Curry’s International Smoke

International SmokeIf you read reviews for restaurants or just about any other product, the news that Ayesha Curry’s planned restaurant in Houston, International Smoke, is already overrun with One Star ratings might be of interest to you. The idea of false ratings either to promote or denigrate a product is well-established but it’s rarely as easy to spot as on this occasion.

Curry is the wife of Golden State Warrior basketball star Stephen Curry. Said Warriors recently defeated the Houston Rockets in a heartbreaking seven game series, at least heartbreaking for fans of the Rockets. In any case, the series and International Smoke opening in Houston have brought out a plethora of One Star reviews on Yelp. Obviously, with the restaurant not yet open, these reviews are based on personal feelings toward Stephen Curry.

As a self-published author I’m well-aware that many Five Star reviews for novels are purchased by the author. I have been solicited for such on any number of occasions. I also know that business rivals often try to sabotage one another with One Star reviews. Where does this leave us? Frankly, in a tough spot.

It’s not always easy to spot a fake review. As the industry of writing them has become more sophisticated they become increasingly difficult to discern. If International Smoke was already open and someone was a good enough writer, it would be perfectly easy to be taken in by a fake One Star review.

Fake reviews are a subgenre of fake news but one that often has a more immediate impact on our lives. If we make a purchase based on a positive review that is untrue or if we fail to make a purchase based on an equally false poor review, we have incrementally decreased our experience in this world.

I don’t have any real solutions to these problems but I do offer a condemnation to those who write fake reviews. You are potentially depriving someone of a lovely meal. You are harming yourself and others. To those in Houston writing One Star review of Curry’s new restaurant, you are doing yourself no favors. You are demeaning yourself. You are a less decent human. That is your choice but be assured, engaging in such behavior destroys, in small steps, your own sense of self-worth.

Perhaps you find it amusing and think it harmless but the reality is you are damaging yourself on a deep psychological level. You know you are untrustworthy, you are a liar. And whose respect do you need most of all?

Tom Liberman

Landon Donovan should Root for Anyone and So Should You

Landon Donovan MexicoThere’s an interesting story in the world of sports involving Landon Donovan starring in a commercial that urges United States soccer fans to root for Mexico in the 2018 World Cup. There are fairly many people angry at the former star of the United States Men’s National Team and about an equal amount supporting him. I think this story has implications for all of us beyond sport that speaks directly to my Libertarian sensibilities.

The gist of this situation is relatively simple. The soccer, I’m going use soccer throughout this article rather than futbol, team from Mexico is the traditional rival of the U.S. team. The fans of El Tri include a number of hooligans and they have engaged in disgusting and distasteful displays against the U.S. team in the past. There is a great deal of animosity between the two teams. Because of these facts those who dislike or even hate the Mexican team feel betrayed by Donovan and his support for them.

On the other side is the simple reality that the U.S. team didn’t qualify for the World Cup this year leaving fans without a team to support. Mexico is our neighbor and many people who live in the U.S. can trace their heritage back to Mexico. These are reasons enough for many to embrace Mexico and wish them well in the World Cup.

For me, it’s not a difficult question to answer. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan and as such my feelings toward the Chicago Cubs is quite similar to many fan’s thoughts for the Mexican team. In the 2016 World Series I was most decidedly not rooting for the Cubs, darn it all.

Those who are lambasting Donovan might think this means I’m on their side in this debate, they’d be wrong. The most important factor in all of this are the concepts of liberty and freedom. I should root for and against the teams I want, and so should you. I have no say in your decisions. Whether or not you root for Mexico hurts me in no fashion and is none of my concern. Just as it was when my sister was rooting for the Cubs to break their long drought.

This simple understanding of freedom goes far beyond sports. If a PGA Tour player or a NASCAR driver doesn’t want to visit the White House when President Obama is there or if an NBA or NFL player likewise chooses not to go when President Trump is in residence, that’s their choice. It’s not my decision and I absolutely should do nothing to coerce anyone into adopting my position.

It is the same for whom you should cast your ballot. It is the same for how you choose to listen to the National Anthem before the game. It is the same for who you decide to marry, what gender your decide to be, which bathroom you use, or what chemicals you put in your body. Our lives would all be better if we stopped worrying so much about what other people are doing.

I respect your freedom to decide matters as you desire. I’d certainly appreciate it if you’d do me the same courtesy.

Tom Liberman

Stan Lee and Trusted Financial Advisors

Stan LeeFor the last few years a tragic story involving Stan Lee and the demise of his fortune has been sprinkling into the news one depressing story after the next. It reminds me again of why it’s so important to have a trusted financial advisor in dealing with your estate. Most people think of long term growth but quick and brutal theft is also possible when working with people of diminishing mental capacity.

Mr. Lee either created or helped create many of the fictional super hero characters for Marvel Comics in the era before they were enormous money-making movie machines. He was paid a regular salary and didn’t earn much despite his superlative creative efforts. Later, when the movies came out he did receive his just due.

As is often the case when there is a large amount of money involved, nefarious villains slither into the picture. Not men and women like Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, and Black Cat; but everyday people who promise to help but instead plan to steal all the money quietly and without the need for super-powers. They just lie and gain your trust, those are abilities well within the capabilities of the average person who has no conscience.

In the United States it’s not particularly easy to get someone declared incompetent so as to protect them from themselves. I discussed this idea in other blogs but the gist of it is that people did so as a way to steal money from others. In fact, many times the person coming to steal your money isn’t some stranger but a relative.

This is where it’s absolutely vital to make sure you engage a reputable financial company to handle your finances, even if you have a relatively small amount like a few hundred thousand dollars in savings. Yes, you will have to pay that company fees for their services. These services certainly include wise investing which should increase your holdings, but also protect it from those who see it as opportunity. It may seem paradoxical to trust strangers over friends and family when it comes to finances, but when those strangers handle money for a living they are less tempted to steal and more likely to protect.

As we get older we often lose our mental acuity. This is clearly what happened to Mr. Lee and since the death of his wife, who apparently guarded the finances well, much of the money was stolen. Transferred from his estate to those of supposed friends and possibly family members intent on bilking him out of his earnings.

It nearly brings me to tears to see Mr. Lee in such a condition. Paraded around and used by horrible people as they steal his money and whisper lies to a man of diminished mental capacity. Sickened is the word that comes to mind.

It’s probably too late for Mr. Lee and his money, don’t let it happen to you or the ones you love.

Tom Liberman

North Korea and the United States through Various Presidencies

North KoreaThe recent meeting between President Trump of the United States and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un of North Korea is an interesting turn in the tumultuous relationship between the two countries and I thought it might be worthwhile to examine that history. It all began way back in 1953 when the Korean War ended with the separation of North and South Korea.

The area between the two nations made up of the former Korea is considered a demilitarized zone and while there are no armaments in the zone, directly behind the lines is an area considered the most militarized place on Earth. There were a number of incidents between North and South Korea but basically the peace was held and the United States under Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson were happy with the status quo.

It was at this time North Korea began to realize their nuclear ambitions. With Soviet help, they built two nuclear reactors although could not yet produce material capable of making a nuclear bomb. It is this progress that might have spurned the actions that occurred next.

Plans for reunification of Korea took place in the early 1970s and one guesses President Nixon at least supported this strategy as there was no major U.S. intervention to prevent it. These talks eventually failed but it is the first time we see at least tacit approval for a softer approach to the relations between North Korea and the United States. It’s reasonable to conclude that the possibility of a nuclear powered North Korea spurred the talks seeking normalization.

During this time North Korea’s economy was on equal footing to that of South Korea but things soon fell apart as the disintegration of the Soviet Union led to the end of all economic support. This economic collapse resulted in immeasurable hardship on the people of the North Korea. It also spurred the North Korean government to move ahead with their nuclear ambitions.

Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush basically sat idly as these events went on, apparently uninterested in establishing a lasting peace that might curtail these inclinations and equally uneager to engage in military conflict.

The North Koreans were making great progress toward developing nuclear weapons by the time President Clinton came into power. He hoped to engage with the North Koreans as a way of slowing the progress toward nuclearization and also relieving the tremendous suffering in that nation. We helped build a nuclear power plant that was far less able to produce materials needed to make nuclear bombs in exchange for the dismantling of reactors which could easily produce such material. The idea was largely to normalize relations as was last attempted when Nixon was president.

George W. Bush reversed this policy and insisted that North Korea be treated as a rogue nation. This along with the destruction of Iraq by forces led by the United States further pushed North Korea toward building nuclear weapons as quickly as possible, it also exacerbated the already terrible economic situation in that nation. At this time the nuclear power plant we helped build was raided and fissionable material of low grade was taken from it. This was fashioned into nuclear bombs of unreliable quality and an eventual nuclear detonation.

The North Koreans began to focus on rockets capable of delivering their small nuclear arsenal to distant targets and their launch of a satellite in 2009 scuttled President Obama’s attempt to reengage with North Korea as was done under Nixon and Clinton. Obama’s strategy seemed to be to engage in small treatise with North Korea but not attempt a large-scale attempt at negotiations as was promoted by Clinton and at least approved of by Nixon.

That takes us to the recent events. President Trump seems to want to engage in negotiations with North Korea. He sees that as a better way to achieve nuclear disarmament than aggressive policies of sanctions and threats of military action, despite his rhetoric to the contrary. This puts him more in line with the Nixon and Clinton presidencies.

Trump agreed to and held a one-on-one meeting with Jong-un which both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations thought would give North Korea an inadvisable standing as an equal. They always insisted upon multi-national meetings.

The United States has largely vacillated between three policies; a hard line, an indifferent line, and soft line. President Trump seems to be more eager for the latter.

The success or failure of Trump’s diplomatic policies is subject of much speculation, which I choose not to engage upon. We will see.

Tom Liberman

Lies of the FCC and Why You Choose to Believe Them

fccIn May of 2017 the FCC claimed a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack sent their website down when in reality it was complaints from concerned citizens about the proposed ending of Net Neutrality. Gizmodo writer Dell Cameron wrote an excellent piece detailing the lies and the chain of evidence that proves them. I’m not going to try and rewrite her or his excellent article, instead I’d like to examine why the FCC felt they could get away with such an obvious lie. It’s all about you.

As some background information I’ll reiterate events. When the FCC proposed eliminating the rules of Net Neutrality, comedian and television host John Oliver gave out the complaint URL for the website and urged people to contact the FCC. This also happened in 2014. Both times the website immediately went down.

In 2014 the commissioner of the FCC decided the truth was best. He simply said increased traffic and antiquated systems overwhelmed the system. In 2017 not only did the commissioner and his agents claim it was a DDoS, they also claimed it was also a secret DDoS back in 2014 but that it wasn’t reported. These claims were, naturally, lies, to cover up the enormity of the outrage over the proposed change in Net Neutrality rules. The current commissioner doesn’t want people to think there are actually a large group of outraged citizens.

Now, this lie by the FCC was blatant and obvious. At the time any number of commentators pointed it out. The timing of the supposed DDoS at exactly the same moment as the genuine anger of many people at the proposed new rules was clearly suspicious. Anyone with even a mild amount of critical thinking skills would naturally be doubtful of the story claimed by the agents of the FCC. I dare say very few of you would be bold enough to tell make such an obvious fabrication, you have too much integrity. So, why did it happen?

To my way of thinking it’s a relatively simple answer. Those who believe the current administration and support the agenda of the FCC will largely believe anything they say. Those who oppose will assume it is a lie even if evidence supports their claim. It simply doesn’t matter if you tell the truth or not anymore. Those who are in favor of your agenda will believe your lies and spread them earnestly and without question. Those who oppose will claim even your truths are simply lies.

That’s pretty much where we’ve gotten to in this country. It just doesn’t matter if you tell the truth or not, so why bother doing it? If you tell the truth you’re going to get hammered by the opposing side anyway. If you lie you’re going to be supported by your side as if you were telling the truth.

I’m of the opinion our leaders could spew forth utter gibberish and would gain the exact same amount of support and opposition as if they’d stated some sort of a policy. Well, to a certain degree it’s not an opinion, it’s a simple fact.

A young student in Georgia got up during graduation and gave a quote he claimed was one person and they all cheered. He then informed them it was actually a person from the opposite party and silence and booing ensued. His point was the same I’m making. The majority of people in this country just don’t care anymore.

Two plus two is whatever I want it to be.

Good luck to us.

Tom Liberman

Amazon and Strict Liability Laws

Strict LiabilityThe judicial branch has ruled a woman named Megan Fox, who had her home destroyed in 2015 when her son’s hoverboard caught fire, is not entitled to damages under the Strict Liability laws enforced in the United States. The case is quite interesting for a number of reasons that, as a Libertarian, I’d like to examine closely.

Strict Liability law essentially mean that anyone who manufacturers, distributes, or sells a defective product is liable even if they were not negligent in causing said defect. The concept took root in California in the 1950s in a landmark legal case called Greenman v. Yuba Power Products. The idea being the individual harmed by the defective device often has little means to recover from a devastating injury. Prior to Greenman, liability required proof the user did not use the product in an unsafe manner. This sort of negative proof is extraordinarily difficult to show and cases that crisscrossed the United States ended up with horribly maimed victims unable to get even basic compensation.

This inequity meant that Strict Liability spread from state to state and is now established in federal law as well. Case closed, you might say. Amazon sold it and owes the Fox family for the damage. The problem is that Amazon didn’t really sell it or even list it, it was purchased on their Marketplace website. This allows third-party vendors to sell products directly to customers, Amazon merely being a common location where buyers and sellers can more easily find one another. Therefore, legally they are not part of the chain of liability. Case dismissed.

The company that manufactured the hoverboard is from China, maybe. The hoverboards ended up being extremely defective and there were any number of incidents. The company vanished. There is no one to sue. There are an increasing number of cases like this one and Amazon has won victory after victory in court.

The problem with finding Amazon liable in this situation is that such a law would then extend to any third party that facilitates the selling of goods from one person to another. Companies like eBay, eBid, and Bonanza would most likely have to shut their virtual doors immediately. Websites across the country would have to eliminate their classified sections. So, I think the courts ruled correctly.

I’ll go even a bit further in that I’d like to examine the idea of getting rid of Strict Liability altogether. The base concept is companies are more easily able to absorb the costs of catastrophic injuries related to products even if it wasn’t really their fault. They can simply budget this extra cost. Everyone pays a bit more for the product to compensate those few horribly injured. This is the idea expressed by the judge in the Greenman case which drove the concept of Strict Liability to dominate state law.

In the hoverboard case news of incidents involving the devices spread across the internet via social media almost immediately. Amazon eventually sent a warning about the devices and instituted a payment plan that anticipated many returns. You might say, well, goodness, all the more need for Strict Liability but I say the opposite. This ability to research the safety of products so quickly shifts the burden back onto the consumer. If you purchase an item without doing readily available and easily obtained information about it, then anything that happens is really your responsibility.

It’s important to understand that in this case removal of Strict Liability would make no difference. The product was manufactured with obvious defects and the company that made them would be responsible no matter what. In addition, if a person uses a product in an inherently unsafe manner and his harmed, Strict Liability does not apply.

Is it time to end Strict Liability, particular for products that have been readily available for a period of time and whose potential to cause harm has been established?

I think it’s an idea worth examining. What do you think?

Is it time to rexamine Strict Liability Laws?

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Tom Liberman