Saturday, November 29, 2008

For Your Viewing Pleasure...

The financial crisis explained via alcohol, the Detroit bailout mocked via the Pets.com puppet, and a dancing ban explained through song.





Sunday, November 23, 2008

I have been in Venezuela since Friday afternoon to participate in the International Young Observers Program, organized by Nuevas Premisas. The program is bringing a little more than 20 students and young people to Caracas to observe the election and document irregularities. I brought a Flipcamera with me and have been recording as much of the trip as possible in the hopes of producing an amateur documentary. However, there are some clips that I am just going to post straight to YouTube.

The first clip came from just tonight. The election was held today and one of the things we have been doing is responding to reports of irregularities. I took this footage of the first few minutes we arrived a the largest polling center in Venezuela. The video is largely self-explanatory, but in short, Venezuelans were being excluded from witnessing the auditing of results. Just after we arrived, a group of people on motorcycles arrived to seemingly intimidate the people (who were largely supporters of the opposition).



Another International Observer from Yale University, Sam Yellen, has been blogging about the election regularly here: http://blog.samyellen.com/.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Change is in the Air

Nancy Pelosi and other leaders in the new Democratic government have been very quick to announce an intention to "govern from the middle." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has recognized that the Democratic landslide "was not a mandate for a party or an ideology," and Barack Obama has admitted that "many of our options have been diminished because of the downturn in the economy." This could be an attempt to bring back to earth Democratic expectations, which have been soaring as high as Obama's rhetoric since the election, or a legitimate attempt to avoid the sort of over-reach that lead from Republican Revolution to Reign of Terror in just a few short years. Either way, it's a good sign.

Unfortunately, it seems all this is nothing more than some cheap talk. In a surprising House Energy and Commercy Committee coup, California Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) usurped Committee Chair John Dingell (D-MI), the incumbent chair who also held seniority over the former Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee (and who, in that post, led the steroid witch hunt in baseball). As Congressional Quarterly states:

But Waxman’s message did resonate with many other Democrats, especially younger and newly elected lawmakers, as well as those who want to push an aggressive agenda on environmental and energy issues. Environmentalists have criticized Dingell, an ardent defender of his home state’s auto industry, for moving too slowly on legislation to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.
And Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz:

His focus was on change, the fact that we need to move forward aggressively.

It is possible that this election was a fluke. It was only last month that Mr. Dingell proposed legislation addressing climate change -- an indifference I am not troubled by, but that would certainly place him far to the right of the new majority on what they perceive as a critical and urgent issue. Nevertheless, it is possible that we have a far more aggressive Left coming our way, one that is bitter about the Bush Administration, galvanized by their recent, sweeping electoral victory, and hungry to use the financial crisis to forge a massive insertion of government into American lives. This latter possibility is one we must be prepared for.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Book Idea for Naomi Klein

Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff for President-Elect Obama, spoke yesterday at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Forum on Shaping the New Agenda.




As he says, "...this [economic] crisis provides us the opportunity to do the things we could not do before."

I wonder if Naomi Klein will start working on a sequel to her 2007 polemic The Shock Doctrine (Great review of the book available here). Somehow I doubt it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

That Big Hole Where They're Dumping Our Money

I know this Onion vid has been making the rounds on the libertarian/free market blogs, but it's too good to miss:


In The Know: Should The Government Stop Dumping Money Into A Giant Hole?

Hot on the tail of the financial sector bailout, we have... yet another bailout on the table--this time, for the "Big Three" auto-makers.

Just like the old wisdom, "there's nothing more permanent than a temporary government program," it seems like what President Bush considered a one-time fix keeps happening over and over again.

Hmmm, haven't we been here before?

This time, Detroit is asking for a $25 billion infusion. Maybe if they had made a better product with greater efficiency, they would not be in serious trouble with a sinking market share.

Senator John Kyl, the Republican Minority Whip, stated that "There's no reason to throw money at a problem that's not going to get solved." Seeing how the majority of congressional Republicans bucked the direction of their own Republican president to reject the financial bailout the first time, perhaps the issue of the Detroit bailout will be a chance to rally the "loyal opposition" for fiscal responsibility come January '09.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Juicy Story: Sam's Comment

Richard posted an interesting piece on New Jersey's attempts to crack down on the anonymous gossip site JuicyCampus earlier this week. Anonymous speech has served as a centerpiece of American rights, and was critical to the nation's founding. Publius of the Federalist Papers springs most immediately to mind.

Although political theories that focus on limited government would proscribe restrictions on anonymous speech, it does not necessarily follow that a libertarian society should desire such speech. A free society is dependent upon the good consciences of its citizens to enforce (through non-violent means, of course) certain standards and norms that are felt to contribute to the well-being of the community. If someone goes running down the streets yelling profanities at pedestrians, it may well be his right to do so, but those so unfortunate as to live in this misanthrope's community would exact punishment for these anti-social actions by ostracizing the man, and denying him the comforts and company civil society provides.

This non-governmental and non-coercive enforcement mechanism, however, is entirely dependent upon free information about the actions of others. If the misanthrope from the above-stated example caused his ruckus in disguise, or shouted from out of sight so that his peers could not see him, there is no longer a means by which society may respond and thus discourage such actions. When the actions in question are not mere annoyances, as in this example, but accusations and affronts to the character of other individuals, the situation is graver. It is this concern that led to the Sixth Amendment's clause ensuring that an alleged criminal may confront his accuser, and although JuicyCampus is hardly a court of law, the underlying moral principle is the same.

This is not to say that New Jersey's prosecution of anonymous online gossip is meritorious -- far from it. But it highlights the distinction that we as liberty-minded individuals must draw between a proper government and a proper society.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Duck Tales on Inflation

I am a big fan of the work coming out of Reason.TV. Here's a great compilation about a childhood classic teaching economics.

Understanding the Financial Crisis

This is a great video about the financial crisis.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Juicy Story

For those of you not aware, JuicyCampus.com is a site, founded a year ago, where anyone can anonymously post rumors and gossip about others on their individual school's subpage. As you can imagine, this had led to some controversy.

Here in New Jersey, Attorney General Anne Milgram has told all university presidents that they must take an active role in preventing "cyber bullying," after her office filed a subpoena for investigation in March stating that "postings on JuicyCampus.com include uncomplimentary references to the physical characteristics, race, ethnicity and implied sexual experiences of students. The site's User Conduct Terms require posters to agree that they will not post content that is abusive, obscene or invasive of another's privacy. JuicyCampus.com tells the public that this offensive content may be removed, but the site apparently lacks tools to report or dispute this material."

JuicyCampus is, however, protected in part by the First Amendment and the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which states that "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider," essentially easing responsibility of websites for the posts of third parties.

FIRE has written a response to Milgram, citing the case of DeJohn vs. Temple University and "[B]ullying is not a defined legal term of art... There is a difference–qualitatively, and constitutionally–between speech that threatens versus that which merely causes hurt feelings.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Universal Health Pain

The concept of universal health care makes me sick.  Was that too blunt?  Perhaps I should restate: any mandate or policy moving America towards a nation with so-called universal health coverage of insurance is, in my humble opinion, nauseating.  I got really sick last week and had to stop off at the George Washington University ER, so I got to thinking about my old stomping ground of universal health care's symptoms and cures.
If anyone is still reading this, my statement might have made you sick.  After all, we as Americans and human beings have a duty to look out for each other and not sit idly by while a poor, innocent child dies from a toothache (think back to this story that reignited the Medicaid debatehttp://www.associatedcontent.com/article/163856/child_dies_for_lack_of_dental_care.html?cat=5).  We have an obligation to our fellow man to help if he has fallen ill through no fault of his own.  Seriously, what doesn't sound perfect about a system of health care where everyone gets equal treatment no matter his income and no one dies from the street from a simple condition which could be treated had that person been insured?
Well, unfortunately that's precisely the problem: everything sounds just dandy, but it can never work in this country.  It's not about there not being enough money or not having the proper authority supervising health administration - it's about reality.  Democratic presidential candidates call for a world in which no sick person goes untreated, and it's hard not to slap on a sticker in support of such ideals (okay, maybe it's easier for the people reading this blog).  They claim that if only the government was given enough authority, we could attain that dream.  Snap out of it, think about what is being proposed, and give a good second look at utopian policy.
What does universal health care really mean? Universal health care is defined differently depending on whom you ask.  The primary difference is that universal health care implies universal coverage for all medical needs.  Universal health insurance, on the other hand, just means that everyone has a policy, not that everyone actually gets access to care.  Whenever you debate health policy, you need to differentiate between access and coverage, and universal coverage in no way means that all people get access to care.  There is no guarantee that a doctor could see you or that a hospital would treat you faster.  In Canada, for example, it's even illegal to buy better quality insurance than what the government gives you.  Under President-elect Obama's plan (yeah, I know, I'm still trying to get over that one too), essentially everyone gets insurance if they want it, but it's not mandatory.
Government sponsored facilities are not exactly "universal" either - they're expensive and don't actually treat the root of the problem.  For any of you that have waited in a publicly-funded urban hospital for 6 hours with an IV tube hanging out of your arm before a nurse even brought you back to a bed, you know how ridiculous the promise of government-provided care really is.  I personally have sat in public clinics before, and they're not that great.  You sit in agony and pain while people around are either equally ill or simply aloof, and the staff don't seem to care either way because it's not exactly worth their while to make you feel better.
Wouldn't this help sick people get health care? Forget about the type of care received, the fact that the government is promising everyone a doctor to see them or a hospital in an emergency means that you have to wait a long time, and you might not get it when you need it.  By "long time", I mean more than just the line to get into a football game or speak to your advisor, I mean months or years.  In England where there is a National Health Service (the government-sponsored part of their health care system), nearly 900,000 patients are waiting for admission to hospitals.  On top of that, shortages force the cancellation of more than 50,000 operations each year.  You often hear on the news about Canadians coming across the border to get operations because their government makes it illegal to get private insurance, and who really wants to die while waiting in line for an operation for an MRI?  If you want an anecdote, ask a Canadian at your school (there are many at Cornell) - I'm sure you could get an interesting tidbit or two.
And what about the children???  Everyone wants to help the children.  In 1997, the State Children's Health Insurance Program was enacted to get health care for children of working poor families.  Surprise, surprise - eleven years later, kids are covered by insurance but not getting to see the necessary doctors.  Surveys on emergency room usage indicate that SCHIP-covered children are still using emergency rooms for non-emergent care, which is something they should be seeing a primary care doctor about.  If our country can't handle 21 million children, how are they supposed to cover 280 million other citizens as well?
Who would pay for this program? We're already spending about one-sixth of the GDP on health care, and that number is rapidly rising.  Taxes already take 1/3rd of our income, and no one really knows the details of dear Bailout yet.  The Tax Foundation does this really awesome analysis where it shows how long it takes out of every year to pay off taxes, and in 2008 the report was that due to the amount of taxes coming out of the average American's paycheck, it took until the 23rd of April to pay.  So while you're reading this, enjoy about 2 months of freedom before you start working off next year's debt to the government for probably at least 5 months (this is only my guess).  Many state-level plans propose payment through increases in cigarette taxes, which is ironic, because those who are poor smoke much more than those who are wealthy.  In fact, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis, the poor spend four times as much of their total annual consumption on tobacco as the wealthy.  It begs the question, who are we really helping?

All of this information put together is hard to digest, and it's certainly not the whole picture.  But when you start to delve into the data, you can't help but to lose the idealist attitude towards universal health care.  There's no cure for ideological and impractical policies, but there is a treatment: reason.  It's about time we start using it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Youth Vote in 2008

Greg Mankiw highlighted this on his blog and I figured I'd refer everyone to it as well. The results of the youth vote on Tuesday are in (available in part here). The number of people under 30 who voted only marginally increased from 17% of the electorate in 2004 to 18% of the electorate in 2008. The striking difference between 2004 and 2008 was how many students voted Democratic versus Republican. The Republican votes from youth took a serious dive.


I am not surprised by this at all, and doubt any student is surprised to see the Democrats take such a large percentage of the youth vote. Obama was/is huge no campuses. Not only due to his much younger looks, but more due to his message of change. The youth always want to see the government do something different, and after 8 years of the Bush Administration, young people connected intensely with Obama's campaign. The policies were not as important as the message. In part, I think Professor Mankiw is right that the extreme social conservatism of the Republican Party influenced youth votes, but I think the message was what really got to young people.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

2 Big Victories Against Prohibition

Two less-covered stories of election victories yesterday:

Massachusetts passed
Question 2 to remove the threat of arrest or jail for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, replacing it with a $100 fine, which could be paid through the mail without lawyers or court appearances, just like a speeding ticket. The numbers right now have it passing with 65% of the vote.

Michigan passed Proposal 1 to
permit terminally and seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana with their doctors' approval."

Both initiatives were spearheaded by the Marijuana Policy Project. More information on these available here.

What The Election Means

Now that Barack Obama has finally won the election, it seems to be an appropriate time to think about what this election means. In my mind, there are three distinct meanings to draw from this.

First, this is a historic moment in America's history. John McCain said that it was a great moment for African Americans, but that's not entirely accurate. It is a great moment for all Americans, symbolizing how far this country has come to overcome racism and reach equality. My friend, Jonathan Blanks, a former Koch Summer Fellow with me/Cato employee, who is African-American, wept at Obama's election last night, and explains why. Irregardless of Obama's policies, being the first African American elected to the presidency is a monumental accomplishment for both Obama and America. We should all be proud of the growth that our country has undergone to reach this point.

Second, the election of Obama is not a mandate for larger government, socialist policies, or nanny-state solutions. In my mind, Obama's election is a clear repudiation of the Bush administration, and nothing more than a demand for change. Michael Tanner lays this out well. The lesson that the Republican Party should learn from this is that they lost because they have strayed from their once small-government origins (or at least small government rhetoric). If they want to have any chance at reclaiming Congress in 2010, they should do like they did after Clinton's election in 1992 and create a new Contract with America. Will they do so? I'm not optimistic. I'm worried that Republicans will interpret their failure as due to not being progressive enough to keep up with Obama and so sink even deeper into the big government conservatism camp than before. But I hope I'm wrong.

Third, the cause of liberty in politics requires a unifying force, and without that unifying force, there is little that can be done. The Ron Paul movement was a huge boost in the cause of liberty, bringing people out of the woodworks to finally support a candidate who called for a non-interventionist foreign policy, decreasing the size of government, and a host of other small government policies. When it became clear that Ron Paul did not win the Republican nomination, others tried to step up and ride his coattails. Bob Barr from the Libertarian Party is the clearest example, along with Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party who got Ron Paul's endorsement in the end. But no one could unify people the way Ron Paul did. The lesson in my mind for advocates of liberty is that any success in the short term will rely on some figure or some specific issue that unifies people in some way like how Ron Paul unified people. (To fully report, though, the Libertarian Party initially sent a letter to Ron Paul inviting him to be their Presidential nominee without any election process back in 2007, and then Bob Barr invited Ron Paul to be his running mate in 2008.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Student Organization Tip: How to Create a Website

A common problem that student groups face is how to create a website. This should be obvious, but nowadays, it's important that an organization have some kind of a website. Students often look to a group's website as an indication of the group's strength and efficiency. Not having a website suggests the group isn't good enough for a website and does little. As well, a poorly designed website says that you don't care about your image. And worst of all, a website with outdated information tells students that the group is defunct. Keeping an active website is crucial to any organization's success in today's world. If you don't have a website, it's time to get on the bandwagon.

So, assuming that you want to create a website, there are four ways to effectively do so without spending enormous amounts of time on the project. (I am only going to cover the ways to create a website in this blog post. The design/layout of a webpage will be covered later on if enough people are interested in that question. For now, though, I leave it up to you to decide what layout you prefer.)

First, if you have a friend who is good with computers, can design high quality websites, and is willing to create a site for you, then go for it. What you want to avoid in this situation, though, is creating a situation where the website is built and never updated because your friend doesn't have the time to make changes. You should be able to revise pages as necessary, especially for when contact information changes from year to year. If you don't know how to edit websites in html, though, you might want to consider having your friend set up the website in WordPress format, which allows for simple editing on your part.

Second, you can rely on Facebook to act as a group website. Creating either a Facebook Group or a Facebook Page is very simple and can be quite effective. Group members can join the Facebook Group or become fans of the Page so people see your strength of numbers, you have the ability to message everyone easily, you can have open forums, students can post pictures and start discussions on issues they care about, etc. The downside is that this still suggests your group is not important enough to deserve an actual website and does not look professional. Deciding between a group and a page is also an issue you will have to decide upon, and which has raised debate already.

Sample Facebook Pages: Cato Institute Facebook Page, Reason Magazine Facebook Page

Sample Facebook Groups of Pro-Liberty Student Groups: Drexel Student Liberty Front Group, Philadelphia Forum for Freedom

Third, you can create a group blog. I am a fan of Blogspot because of its very simple platform that takes little technical knowledge to work. This is a step up from a Facebook creation in my mind because you can find it just from Google, you have a little more control over the content, people can still hold discussions, and it provides some kind of purpose to the website (i.e. people have a reason to return to the website to see what your most recent blog post is about). It is not exactly professional, but it's also not a bad start.

Sample Pro-Liberty Student Group Blogs: Columbia College Libertarians, University of Nevada Reno Students for Liberty (I am unsure how they do this, but the combination blog/full website is very interesting0

Fourth, you can use Weebly to create a website on your own. I know what you're thinking, the reason that creating a website is so difficult is because you don't know how to create a website. I empathize; I am technologically illiterate. But even I am able to create a quality website in under an hour using Weebly. Just go to the website, create an account, and start designing a site. You pick the layout you want, drag different parts of the website together that you want, and the system builds the website itself. If you don't have a website already, can't deal with html or anything intense with the internet/websites, but want a professional-looking site, Weebly is the answer. What's better, you have two options for your website domain name. If you don't want to pay anything, you can create a domain that includes the name Weebly for free (e.g. www.studentsforliberty.weebly.com, which I created in about 15 minutes without much content). But, if you've bought the domain for your organization, Weebly can set up the website right there in the domain you've already purchased. Note: You don't assign the domain name until you're ready to publish the website.

Options 1 and 4 are the best options for creating a high-quality website. It is only recently that I heard about Weebly, but I am already a big fan and would recommend it to everyone out there. With Weebly, there is no reason student groups shouldn't have a well made website anymore.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Looks like a chance of rain and...

Intrade.com calls it: roughly 91% chance of Obama victory on Tuesday, predicting 364 to 174 electoral votes.

FiveThirtyEight.com calls it: 98.1% chance of Obama victory on Tuesday, predicting 346 to 191 electoral votes.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Boston SFL Conference Begins

At 9:00am, students and speakers began arriving at the Boston SFL Conference, held at Harvard University. 20 students from 8 schools are in attendance, ranging from schools with well established organizations like Harvard, Columbia, and Brown, to students from schools looking to start new clubs at MIT, UMass Dartmouth, University at Buffalo, City University of New York, and Northeastern University.

The first speech was given by Liam Day of the Pioneer Institute, a libertarian Massachusetts-based think tank. His speech, "Libertarianism on the Left", argued that the libertarian philosophy is more closely aligned with leftist politics than the right because of a belief in social liberties. His conclusion, that it's OK for a libertaian to vote for Barrack Obama, will be challenged later tonight by Dr. David Tuerck who will be arguing for why libertarians ought to vote for John McCain. These two speakers are a great illustration of SFL's effort to promote discourse and debate on the philosophy of liberty and best practices for promoting liberty in the real world.

Starting at 2:00, Brett Powell from the Free State Project, gave a presentation on the Free State Project and the philosophy of social change behind the project. Here are some interesting notes I learned from the presentation:
  • The Free State Project began as an academic paper that just said that the libertarian movement was failing, but immigration patterns could be a solution.
  • Dick Heller, the plaintiff from D.C. v. Heller, is a Free State Project member and will be moving to New Hampshire at some point in the near future.
  • If you post on the Free State Project's website when and where you will be moving in to New Hampshre, their "Welcome Wagon" will bring members to help unload your stuff.
  • New Hampshire has the largest state house proportionate to its population, and so it's one of the cheapest places to run a statewide campaign and win.
  • The Free State Project loves to talk to students because they have few obligations, no mortgages, and most able to relocate for their values.