Saturday, January 31, 2009

ILAFL Positions

The Ivy League Alliance for Liberty passed three position statements in its first conference once the constitution was formally ratified.
  1. ILAFL opposes government intervention in markets.
  2. ILAFL opposes intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries by any national government.
  3. ILAFL opposes intervention in voluntary actions which do not violate the rights of others.

Ivy League Alliance for Liberty Constitution Ratified

Congratulations to the Ivy League Alliance for Liberty, which just ratified its Constitution moments ago. The alliance will post its Constitution soon. Founding member organizations:
  • Brown Students for Liberty
  • Columbia University Libertarians
  • College Libertarians of Cornell University
  • Harvard Libertarian Forum
  • University of Pennsylvania Libertarian Association
  • Princeton College Libertarians
The alliance will be primarily directed by an Executive Board, consisting of one representative from each university that is part of the alliance. The original Executive Board is:
  • Harry Mickalide (Brown University)
  • Jamie Maarten (Columbia University)
  • Nigel Watt (Cornell University)
  • David Robinson (Harvard University)
  • Anne Skuza (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Justin Alderis (Princeton University)
There are three officer positions on the Executive Board:
  • President: Nigel Watt
  • Vice President of Outreach: Anne Skuza
  • Vice President of Logistics and Finance: David Robinson
The Executive Board also elected John David Fernandez (Columbia University) to put together the ILAFL's founding publication.

The Executive Board's first action was to formally affiliate with Students For Liberty. We are proud to have helped organize, found, and affiliate with the ILAFL.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Boaz Echoes Hayek on Stimulus Package

David Boaz, Executive Vice-President of the Cato Institute and friend of Students for Liberty, has a great Op-Ed today on RealClearPolitics.

Even if regulators are as smart as Leonardo da Vinci and as incorruptible as Mother Teresa, they can never have as much knowledge as the decentralized, competitive market process, so planned economies and planned industries fall further and further behind free-market systems. But in reality, even if they're smart, they're not incorruptible. Political influence always comes into play. What we're seeing with the bailout funds will also happen with the stimulus money.

Government planners claim to be able to aggregate all the available information and make informed decisions for the whole society. But market economies clearly produce far more economic growth than planned economies. It isn't just the United States versus the Soviet Union or East Germany versus West Germany. Consider the customer service and technological advances you get from FedEx versus the post office, or Microsoft and Apple versus the DMV.

In these few words, Mr. Boaz captures the core of the Hayekian argument against government intervention. The House voted in favor of the plan 244-188 (all Republicans and 11 Democrats voted against); the bill is expected to reach the Senate floor early next week, and needs only two Republican votes (pending the seating of Al Franken) to pass, assuming Democratic unity on the bill. Hopefully the logic of Mr. Boaz's argument with prevail.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

SFL Site Down

We apologize for the inconvenience of our website being down. Our website's host is migrating servers today and so it will be down for a few hours. It should be back online by tonight.

FlexYourRights.org

I just came across a good website--FlexYourRights.org, which details what your rights are when dealing with police, and your constitutional rights to say no to searches and questioning.

They also have this comprehensive video (45 minutes, but a refresher on traffic stops is definitely worth it) which includes your rights while pulled over, being questioned on the street/patdowns, and for entering or searching your home--as well as common tricks or mistakes people fall for in giving up their 4th or 5th Amendment rights. Viva la constitution!

DeMint Takes a Stand

With a $825 billion stimulus bill working its way through Congress (the House of Representatives is debating the bill today), Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) is drawing a connection obvious to most libertarians, but jarring to members of both major parties:

DeMint, speaking Jan. 27 at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., explained the Obama administration will "create crisis and widespread panic" just like its predecessor in order to get Congress to act expeditiously.

"I've been around long enough to know whenever someone tell me I have to make a decision right now, my response in no," DeMint said. "That clears it up right away and I think more and more the Bush administration and now this administration knows that they're not going to get a quick reaction out of Congress unless they create crisis and widespread panic. And that's going to be their M.O. to get Congress to act."
Creating false crises to push an agenda? Sounds familiar. Check out the Illustrated Road to Serfdom and let us know in the comments section how far along you think we are! Considering this socio-political trajectory, perhaps Obama really will bring us "progress."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

South Korean Econ Blogger Jailed

In South Korea, economics blogger Park Dae-Sung--writing under the pseudonym "Minerva"--has been arrested for "spreading false rumors" in wake of the financial crisis. Back in the fall, Park was forecasting the upcoming troubles while the South Korean government predicted that there would only be moderate economic disruption, and then continued growth.

The problem was, Park was correct. South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, whose approval ratings are at 15% (take that, former President Bush!), is perceived to have arrested Park because he made the president look bad.

"His crime was to have a large following and to make the government look bad," said Song Ho-chang, an attorney with Lawyers for a Democratic Society. "If a court does find Minerva guilty, everyone will be afraid to express an opinion online."

Lends new meaning to the phrase "Man, I hate it when I'm right..."

Venezuelan Story: The Frogs

At the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty Dinner, I met a Venezuelan student who I have since kept in touch with: Daniela Blank. One of the student leaders who took the stage with Yon Goicoechea to receive the award, Daniela has been emailing me with updates and stories about what is going on in Venezuela and the role that students have taken to promote liberty. I'd like to share one story that she sent to me when we first started emailing one another that illustrates both the oppression that Venezuelans face and the hope that students represent in the country:
My dear President has been crazy as usual and we had to take lots of street action, which has kept me busy. One of the things he did was create a law (he has the power to do it) that obligated the citizens to spy on your neighbors and friends and tell the government if they are engaging in any activity that would disrupt the normal continuance of the government, just like in communist countries. If you didn't tell on your friends the government could send you to jail for 8 years! We students knew we had to do something, so we made frogs and hung them all over Caracas. (In Venezuela you're called a frog if you rat someone out!) We were only 40 students and we filled the city with them. Thanks to this and many other actions, Chavez repealed the law!

I wanted to share this experience with you because I remember our conversation, and you guys were amazed by how many students there are fighting for liberty in Venezuela. There's something you have to understand. The Venezuelan student movement existed way before the TV channel [RCTV] was closed. That day was merely when the world found out we existed! The most important thing that happened as a result of the channel's closing was that we started to meet different student movements. It's not just one movement or one ideology. There are more than 100 little ones in different universities and parts of the country and we all gathered together to fight for the same cause!

Also, most students that went to the streets are not interested in politics and the don't want to be politicians, so now that the worst is over they all went back to the classroom and never went to a meeting again. It took us a while to adjust but we understand that it is perfectly normal for that to happen. Now the student movement has gone back to normal again: little ones in different parts of the country working for what they believe in! But now we all know each other. We know the power we can have when we are together, and if it is needed we will go to the streets again. We don't care if we are 1 million or just 40 students! So don't worry about numbers.

Ivy League Alliance for Liberty Constitutional Convention

The first Ivy League Alliance for Liberty Conference will be held this saturday, January 31st at Columbia University in New York City. This conference will bring students from all eight of the Ivy League schools together to learn more about the cause of liberty and discuss how best to promote liberty on their campuses and beyond. This is an opportunity for students to meet the leaders of other campus organizations with a common interest in liberty and learn effective practices to bring back to their respective college campuses. Groups from almost every Ivy League school will be in attendance, including:
  • Brown Students for Liberty
  • Columbia College Libertarians
  • Cornell Libertarians
  • Dartmouth Libertarians
  • Harvard Libertarian Forum
  • Penn Libertarian Association
  • Princeton Libertarians

The conference press release is available here. Anyone who is interested in learning more about the conference or participating please contact Andrew Loewer at asl57@cornell.edu. I will be in attendance and hope to see a lot of you there!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tip of the Day: College Students Like Free Stuff

This is a very commonsensical point that shouldn't need to be stated, but does when it comes to student organizing: college students like free stuff. Especially when you're starting out, advertising free food, free refreshments, free cookies, pretty much free anything will help you draw a crowd. Food is not enough, mind you, as students are evaluating the cost of attending your meeting versus the benefit of the free stuff they will get. And as time goes on, a reputation will develop of whether your group has good free stuff or bad free stuff (everyone knows which organizations order 10 pizzas for a meeting versus those that have a single bag of pretzels for everyone to share). Whenever you can, though, you should have things to give away at events, including libertarian books/magazines.

Note: Creativity is also highly valued by students. Instead of getting plain cheese pizza, go for the meat lovers and garden pizza, or even try Thai or other types of food to change it up. The small touches make all the difference.

Free Newspapers for All!

The Club For Growth blog recently posted about how French President Nicholas Sarkozy recently signed a law that will subsidize a free daily newspaper subscription for every 18-year-old in the country.

If this isn't a shining example of government backwardness, I don't know what is. It is clearly a government subsidy to the newspapers, hidden under the excuse of "it's for the children!" The reason that print newspapers have been flagging in recent years is because internet news sources have become convenient, immediate, and virtually free alternatives--and, a report released last year notes that young people are increasingly going here, here, and here to get their news.

And, of course, there's the matter of government-crowd out that will entice people who would have bought the newspapers with their own money anyway to take the government subsidy--probably the parents, the CFG notes, who "will cancel their current subscription and get a free one. The kid doesn't even factor into the equation."

You Scratch My Back...

Given the youth's excitement and participation in favor of Obama this election, one would hope that he would reciprocate and return the favor. FIRE released an open letter to President Obama asking him to make campus constitutional freedom an objective of his administration.

"Millions of American students are being taught that colleges have the power to censor and punish speech that the Bill of Rights protects," Greg Lukianoff, FIRE's president, said. "Failing to educate an entire generation about our constitutional ideals of liberty—and, still worse, actually teaching students that they have a duty to censor opinions with which they disagree—means that it will not be long before these illiberal attitudes result in severe consequences for our Republic."


What will be interesting to see is if conservative or libertarian protesters are mishandled by a liberal school administration during the next two or four years, what the Obama administration's reaction will be, if any.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

International Confererence Keynote: Nick Gillespie


Students For Liberty is proud to announce that
Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of Reason.tv and Reason.com, will be the third Keynote Speaker at the International Students For Liberty Conference. Prior to his current role, Mr. Gillespie served as editor in chief of Reason magazine from 2000 to 2008, during which time Reason won the 2005 Western Publications Association “Maggie” Award for Best Political Magazine.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tip of the Day: Plan Everything

Today's tip of the day is short and simple: Plan Everything.

When you're bringing in a speaker, begin planning a month in advance, maybe earlier if they are a big name. Plan out how the speaker will arrive, who will get them water, how you will advertise, who will do what advertising, what you will do after the speech, etc. When you want to launch a new project like an organizational blog, plan out not only the mission and who will be writing, but also what days of the week people will write, what topics people will cover, etc. The more you plan, the easier it is to get things done and the more time you have available to deal with problems come up. If you don't plan, though, it's very difficult to address problems when they arise. Don't think you can throw something together at the last minute. The more you plan and anticipate what is going to happen, the better your event will be.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tip of the Day: Money Doesn't Matter That Much

The economic downturn has had many effects on the nonprofit industry. Donations are down (or about to be), and investments have lost significant value. Even if your student organization has not received donations from alumni, local philanthropists or foundations, you are likely to feel a tightening of the purse strings from universities as well as many endowments have suffered in this economic climate. Then again, this all assumes that you've had a budget to work with, which is assuming far too much for some organizations that have gone for years with no budget at all. Because so many student organizations face financial constraints, it's important to know how to utilize a small or non-existent budget to its fullest. And the best way to do that is to remember: money doesn't matter that much.

The most successful student organizations can run on little to no money at all. There are many events that take very little financing such as movie nights, campus debates, reading groups, etc. When you invite speakers to campus, you shouldn't have to pay much money at all for them. Most speakers are simply interested in reaching out to students and will be glad for the opportunity to impart their knowledge on your group. When you need to print fliers, check around campus for free printing (I am willing to bet that there is at least one place on your college campus where you can do this). Find creative ways to hold activities and get students involved that don't require much money.

For the times that you do need to spend money, it should be minimal. Pizza for a movie night are nice. Socials require refreshments. When a speaker does come in, you should take them out for dinner afterward to say thank you and inquire more into their talk. These are not that expensive, though. To be an effective leader, you sometimes need to be willing to pay a little out of your own pocket. For every hour you work on your organization, it's an hour you could have been working at a paid job, so you shouldn't have a big problem with using your own money for the organization at times. If you have done an effective job at cutting costs, then there is little to worry about.

More fundraising tips will come in future editions of the Tip of the Day.

Cabinet Spots Filling Up

As of the end of business yesterday, Obama's Cabinet is as follows. Please note that all appointments were confirmed by unanimous consent unless otherwise noted:

Steven Chu - Secretary of Energy
Hillary Clinton - Secretary of State (Confirmed by vote of 94-2)
Arne Duncan - Secretary of Education
Janet Napolitano - Secretary of Homeland Security
Peter Orszag - Director of OMB
Ken Salazar - Secretary of the Interior
Eric Shinseki - Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Thomas Vilsack - Secretary of Agriculture

Expect more confirmations in the coming week, including the controversial appointments of Timothy Geithner for Secretary of the Treasury and Eric Holder for Attorney-General.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Atlas Shrugged: From Fiction to Fact

Following on to the recent op-ed by Steve Moore on how we are seeing Atlas Shrugged go from fiction to fact, check out this interview:

Are You A Servant to Barack Obama?

I spent about 20 minutes trying to come up with something to say about this video, but am just left cold and pale right now. Forward ahead to 3:54 and watch (I don't know how long this will stay public because I can only hope that people will be as frightened by this as I am). This is perhaps the most frightening thing I have seen U.S. citizens do.



My fear is not Obama as a politician so much as the absolute deference being given to him by society. The cult of the presidency is becoming the cult of Obama to a staggering degree.

Personally, I pledge to not be a servant to our President, and I hope that the rest of the U.S. will do so as well. And while I don't expect America at large to go so far as agree with this, I would much rather make this pledge: "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

Thanks to Will Wilkinson for pointing this out.

Harvard Proves the Value of Free Markets

Harvard University has experienced a year-over-year increase of over 5%, hitting an all-time high of 29,000 applications for only 1,700 spots. This is especially impressive considering the current recession, which has only exacerbated the difficulty of paying for ever-increasing tuitions. Harvard credits their new student aid program, which vastly increases the number of students eligible for university aid, which previously tended to leave middle-income families out of luck:
Admissions Dean William Fitzsimmons says Harvard's generous financial aid packages have encouraged so many students to apply. The financial aid program requires no contribution from families with annual incomes below $60,000 and about 10 percent of income from families that make up to $180,000.
I have written elsewhere how this expanded aid is, despite the press, very non-altruistic, and it seems that even on such a short time frame it's becoming clear that despite the increased outlays on scholarships, the net business effect is quite positive for Harvard. Of course, rather than undermining the aid program, this case illustrates the ability of free markets to benefit all parties involved.

Tip of the Day: Train New Leadership

This point will be short and simple. Whether your organization has already transitioned leadership (positions being a calendar year), or is about to transition leadership (positions being an academic year), if you run a student group, you need to be thinking about training new leadership. This is a long and in-depth process that should always be on your mind as a campus leader, actually. Whenever you hold events, you should be evaluating whether someone has the potential to take over the organization and what you can do to bring out their leadership skills. But supposing you only have a few months to impart all of the knowledge you have acquired in 4 years to the person who will take over for you, here are some suggestions for what to do:
  1. Create an Executive Board Handbook (more on this in a later blog post).
  2. Hold a leadership retreat for one full day on campus.
  3. 'cc the new leadership on important emails so they can learn how you email people in addition to what's going on.
  4. Hold weekly meetings with the new leadership. If you're still the leader, have them attend executive board meetings. If they're the new leaders, attend their meetings and give feedback when appropriate (but be sure not to dominate the meetings).
  5. Have one on one discussions with the new leadership about their vision of the organization, your vision of the future, and make sure they are thinking about the organization's best interests.
You cannot simply tell someone "you're in control now, enjoy" and expect them to effectively lead an organization. You need to prepare them by parting information on them and correcting serious mistakes so they learn. Guide the new leadership so that you are comfortable that the organization will be sustained for the long-term.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tip of the Day: Find Out What Your Membership Wants

Given that today is Inauguration Day and almost all political activity reflects this singular event, I began to think about how pro-liberty students are taking this day. Some are probably glad that America has reached a point where it can elect a black man to the highest office in the country, showing an incredible growth in civil liberties over the past two centuries. Some are probably saddened by what will surely be at least 4 years of government growth and authoritarian policies that will come with the Obama administration. And some probably feel a combination of both sentiments. What this got me to thinking about, though, is how there is no one answer to the question: "what should we as an organization do?" Here in D.C. it seems like the only thing people are doing right now is celebrating the inauguration, but that's not the only option.

It's important to listen to your organization's members, find out what they want to do, and do it. Don't try to impose a particular model of orgnaization on them. Have your activities reflect their interest. If your members want to watch the inauguration together, then great, do that. If your members would rather have a group reading of F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom in memorium of today, then do that instead.

This point applies to far more than just Inauguration Day, though. This should be a guiding principle of your organization. If you hold events that people don't like, they won't show up, and the organization will die. If you ask members "what sort of events would you like us to hold?", though, and then follow through with those events, the members will not only be interested in what's going on, but they will feel empowered and more closely identified with your organization. If you find out that a student in your organization really likes Ayn Rand and would want to have discussions about Atlas Shrugged, then empower that member to put together a schedule/curriculum and implement it through the organization. If a new member really likes Austrian Economics and there is a professor at your school who works in the field, have the member invite the professor to speak and lead the event.

You may be asking yourself at this point, though, "How do I find out what my members want?" While you can always just ask people outright, this may not always get you the best results. So here are some ideas:
  1. At a meeting, list off 10 different ideas for things you can do and have members vote to see what they would like.
  2. Evaluate events after the fact to see if students showed up, whether they liked the event, if they'd like to see more of the same, etc. and go from there.
  3. Talk with individual students outside of meetings to get a sense of what makes them passionate about liberty. What they talk about is what inspires them, and you can figure out how to get them more involved as a result.
This point is analogous to a business serving a customer: you need to give the customers what they want or else you'll lose them. Your student organization is the business here. The students are your customers. Give the students what they want, or else the organization will eventually go broke.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tip of the Day: Start the Semester with a Bang

Given that it's the start of the second semester, it seems appropriate to talk about how to best tackle this time of the year. Students are coming back from long breaks back home. They're thinking more about the summer, jobs, and internships than what organizations they're part of. Students are now settled in their ways and have their social groups, so with the appeal of a new school year gone, it takes extra effort to get students interested in what you're doing. So the tip of the day is to start the semester with a bang.

Hold a big event that will bring back lapsed members and attract new ones. Here are some ideas:
  1. Bring in a big-name speaker. Invite someone from a major think tank or another university that will bring a lot of students out.
  2. Hold a debate with another organization. Come up with a major topic that will entice them, like the future of Obama's presidency.
  3. Go on a field trip. Taking students away from the university is a great way to entice membership. Go to a public debate downtown, go paintballing together, or even just a trip to a show.
  4. Hold an inauguration event. Since most every student plans to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama, make it an organizational event. Invite the organization to one of the Exec Board members' apartment with some food and drinks and either celebrate or mope together.
The important thing is to make sure that you kick off the semester to make people excited. To spur discussion, what other events would you recommend?

I Have a Dream

It seems appropriate today for us to take the time and listen once more to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. With the first black President being inaugurated tomorrow, it seems obvious to me that we are closer to achieving a society where men are evaluated based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. But are we fully there? And what is to be done to completely get there?

Apparently there's this thing going on in DC tomorrow...

So, Obama's official inauguration is tomorrow, although they've been having events for the last couple of days. Does anyone know if Living Colour was invited to play at the pre-inaugurational festivities?

Martin Luther King on Civil Disobedience


From his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail,"

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.


Props to the Reason blog for the text.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Red, White...and Green?

Environmentalism became a vitalizing force for Democrats in the 2008 election as primary candidates competed to propose the largest bureaucratic structure to rein in carbon emissions. After President Bush spent most of his eight year tenure denying any human impact on the global climate, it might be suspected that the left would let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. But with a 4+ million inaugural celebration only days away, Mr. Obama is finding this task harder than expected:

The 600 private jets expected to fly visitors to and from the event will produce 25,320,000 POUNDS of CO2 -- Personal vehicles could account for 262,483,200 POUNDS of CO2 -- In the Inaugural parade, horses alone will produce more than 400 POUNDS of CO2 -- The total carbon footprint for the Inauguration will likely exceed 575 million POUNDS of CO2 -- It would take the average U.S. household 57,598 years to produce a carbon footprint equal to that of the new president's housewarming party...

Just like the well-intentioned imperative for a "green" Democratic National Convention in Denver last August, the steps being taken to make the inauguration more environmentally-friendly are proving themselves ripe for satire. According to The Hill:

But the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) is trying to be as green as possible, including a plan to scoop up all of the manure from the horses in the parade and sell it to a nearby farm.

[...]

The PIC has planned to have 6,000 volunteers pick up recycling along the National Mall and the parade route after the day’s events.

And for the first time in history, the next American president is set to take the oath of office on a recycled, solid-blue carpet.

Wanting to protect the environment is great, and when it's the Democratic Party paying for it (like at their convention), none of my business. But when it's funded by taxpayer dollars ($49 million budgeted at this time), the desire to be green must be balanced against other social wants as well. Let's hope that the Obama Administration does a better job at this balancing act on Wednesday and afterward than it is on Tuesday.

SFL FAQ

Do you have questions about SFL? We know you do since we have gotten a lot of them over the past several months. To help answer these questions, we have now created a FAQ Page on our website. Check it out at: www.studentsforliberty.org/about/faq/

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Arguments for Cigarette Tax are Smoke and Mirrors

The House of Representatives passed an extension/expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) yesterday by a vote of 289-139, and a similar bill will be marked-up by the Senate Finance Committee in the coming days. The bill, almost identical to legislation that was passed by Congress last year but vetoed by President Bush, will authorize $34.3 billion in spending on the program over the next five years. According to Congressional Quarterly:

It would allow states to cover children and families with income up to 300 percent of the poverty level. Democrats say it will permit enrollment of 4 million additional children and adults, expanding SCHIP to cover 11 million people.
This new spending will be funded by a 156% increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes, along with a panoply of taxes on other tobacco products. Joe Henchman of the Tax Foundation criticizes the move in a new report:
Some opponents take issue with the mechanics of funding health care for children, and some with the idea of government involvement at all. Our criticism is much narrower: a politically popular and expensive program should never be funded by a small, low-income, politically unpopular minority like cigarette smokers.

There’s some great data in there, and it is definitely worth a read. But as for me, I’m just loving the irony in one of Obama’s first acts as President being increasing taxes.

Venezuelan Student Protests Disrupted by National Guard

A much longer post is necessary for me to really delve into the many issues facing Venezuela right now and the role that students have played in fighting for the cause of democracy and human rights in their country. Suffice it to say for now that the leaders of reform in a country that has been ruled by someone whose image is posted on every other corner of the city and demands that the country support his cause for "21st Century Socialism", are the students. One of the student movement's leaders, Yon Goicoechea (who is a Keynote Speaker at the upcoming International Students For Liberty Conference), received the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty for his work in fighting for liberty, which he accepted on behalf of the entire student movement.

I recently visited Venezuela to act as an international observer in their November 23rd elections along with a coalition of some 20+ other students from around the world. I have kept in touch with many of the Venezuelan students I met while there and one of them just sent me this link, a photographic portrayal of the most recent student protests to Chavez's attempt to eliminate his own term limits. (Chavez proposed a constitutional reform for this and several other authoritarian measures last year, which was defeated, but he is calling for a new vote in the middle of February. It seems that Chavez believes in the principle that the people must keep voting until they get the right answer.)

These photos speak for themselves. A student movement, premised on peace, non-violence, and human rights, versus the government's use of the military to bomb them with teargas and use high-pressured hoses against students (look at the clip at the bottom of the article to see). As well, here is a short video that I took from my experience as an international observer in the Venezuelan elections this year:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This is Great

A new federal tax on cigars went into effect yesterday. In celebration, the Action on Smoking Health (ASH), decided to put an image on their website along with some sort of cheer for the legislation. The image they put up, though, was taken from The Stogie Guys, a website providing reviews, articles, and other information on cigars. (Interesting fact: one of The Stogie Guys, Patrick Ashbury, currently works for SFL's good friend, the Institute for Humane Studies.) Apparently, once The Stogie Guys found out that ASH had hotlinked to one of their images, they found an appropriate way to share their feelings with the group. Check out the bottom right of this screen shot.


Thanks to Radley Balko for putting this up on his blog.

A New Crisis in Entitlements

We all know about the looming crisis of Social Security as more and more baby boomers ready for retirement. But perhaps due to my failure to see the world through a post-modern lens, I have failed to grasp on one of the key sources of potential political conflict surrounding social security. As this article on CNN notes:

The U.S. Census notes that the United States will no longer have a white majority by 2050. Social Security payments for an aging white population will have to be paid by an increasingly brown and black work force, which may resent such support.

According to a report published by the Pew Research Center in February 2008, in 2050 the American population will be 47% Caucasian, 29% Latino, 13% African-American, and 9% Asian. More significantly, the Caucasian population will be, on average, much older; while Caucausians constituted 68% of the working-age population in 2005, they will only be 45% in 2050, while Latinos compose 31%, African-Americans 14%, and Asians 10%. While it is worth noting that “working age” does not necessarily mean “in the labor force” (for example, minorities have higher unemployment rates, and as such are not paying FICA taxes), the trend is inarguable. It will be interesting to see how the political left, staunch defenders of both social security/entitlements and civil rights/communitarianism, handles this inescapable fact. I cannot image it will be pretty.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Wait...I Have To Pay Them, Too?


Timothy Geithner, President-elect Obama's much-lauded pick to run the Treasury Department, has recently run into complications upon revelations that he had failed to pay $34,000 in taxes between 2001 and 2004. Furthermore, according to MSNBC:

Transition officials discovered last fall that Geithner also had not paid the taxes in 2001 or 2002. He paid $25,970 in back taxes and interest for those years several days before Obama announced his choice, the committee documents showed.

Geithner and his supporters have said his mistake was a common one for people hired by international organizations that don't pay the employer share of Social Security taxes. Geithner told Obama's team and senators that an accountant had reviewed his tax returns after Geithner prepared them and didn't discover the problem.

But some tax experts said the problem is not that common.

I'm inclined to believe that the mistake was unintentional; if it was, it is best to let the whole thing pass rather than focus attention on a non-issue for purely political purposes. But the convenient decision to pay up just a few short days before being named to a cabinet post raises some flags, and at the very least some more investigation should be done. No matter how much we may dislike paying taxes, and no matter how much we as libertarians may oppose most uses of tax revenue on a philosophical level, we have a responsibility as civilized persons to operate within the law and the institutions that govern the polity.

SFL Seeks Program Manager

SFL is seeking its first full time staff member to fill the Program Manager position at SFL. The press release for this position is available here. If you are interested in applying, please be sure to read through the instructions carefully and become familiar with SFL through the website.

The SFL Program Manager (PM) is responsible for overseeing the organization’s principal programs and running the organization’s daily affairs. The PM’s direct responsibilities will be to organize and run SFL’s Regional and International Conferences, Free Book Program, International Events, and other programs as the PM proves capable of handling. The PM’s tertiary responsibilities include taking care of emails to SFL, assisting student organizations with difficulties that they encounter, interacting with other nonprofits that serve students, and developing new methods of improving SFL. This position requires a highly motivated individual who is excited by the prospect of working full time for the cause of liberty and believes in the need to reach out to students to change the world.

For more information on the position and information on how to apply, visit http://www.studentsforliberty.org/about/pm/.

Foundations of Freedom Fellowship Accepting Applications!

SFL's Foundations of Freedom Fellowship is now accepting applications for the 2009-2010 school year. The Foundations of Freedom Fellowship is a year-long academic fellowship that provides talented high school students with the opportunity to academically engage the ideas behind liberty and prepare for their college ambitions. Each Fellow is assigned an advisor who specializes in their subject of study (e.g. a college professor or public policy expert).

The fellowship lasts for a full academic year, and any student who will be a junior or senior in high school during 2009-2010 and will be completing a senior thesis may apply.

All applications must be received by March 31st and the decisions will be announced by April 29th.

Learn more about the 2008-2009 Foundations of Freedom Fellow here.

Atlas Shrugged Revisited


Stephen Moore, economist and writer for the Wall Street Journal, writes a brilliant reflection on Ayn Rand's great novel, Atlas Shrugged. While I'm no Objectivist myself (and while Rand certainly did not consider herself a libertarian), her novels provide an insight and clarity of thought that individuals of any political or philosophical flavor can appreciate. Of course, her stories become much less enjoyable when stripped from the page and thrust into the political and economic reality in which we live, a situation that Moore argues is occurring presently:

The current economic strategy is right out of "Atlas Shrugged": The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you. That's the justification for the $2 trillion of subsidies doled out already to keep afloat distressed insurance companies, banks, Wall Street investment houses, and auto companies -- while standing next in line for their share of the booty are real-estate developers, the steel industry, chemical companies, airlines, ethanol producers, construction firms and even catfish farmers. With each successive bailout to "calm the markets," another trillion of national wealth is subsequently lost. Yet, as "Atlas" grimly foretold, we now treat the incompetent who wreck their companies as victims, while those resourceful business owners who manage to make a profit are portrayed as recipients of illegitimate "windfalls."

If you haven't read Atlas Shrugged yet, pick up a copy. Also worth a read is Moore's latest book, co-written with Arthur Laffer (of Laffer Curve fame), entitled The End of Prosperity: How Higher Taxes Will Doom the Economy -- If We Let It Happen.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Student Sells Virginity to Pay Tuition

I posted about the cost of college before, but this really takes the cake.

A British women's studies major is auctioning off her virginity to pay for her masters degree in Family and Marriage Therapy. She is receiving offers of up to $3.7 million thus far.

While most people would find this extreme, and illegal in the US, Britain technically allows prostitution (but not brothels or "street solicitation"). The young woman is very cogent about what she is doing:

"I know that a lot of people will condemn me for this because it's so taboo but I really don't have a problem with that. My study is completely authentic in that I truly am auctioning my virginity but I am not being sold into this. I'm not being taken advantage of in any way. I think me and the person I do it with will both profit greatly from the deal."


A mutually agreed upon and beneficial exchange? While certainly disagreeable to some, we can probably paraphrase Voltaire that "I may not agree with what you're doing, but I'll defend to the death your right to do it."

A Market Solution to Drunk Driving?


Three married couples in South Florida have created a beer/cigarettes delivery service after a night of drinking and having no one sober enough to make another beer run. After cooking up the idea on a drunken Halloween night, they committed to the plan, took out business loans, etc., and have created "The Beer Runners."

For an order of over $20, they will deliver alcohol with a charge of $5 for the first three miles, and 65 cents for each mile over that. Their formula for success?
"You think what you would have to pay for court fees if you got a DUI, what's $10 to have beer delivered?" - Jon Fox, one of the owners

Here, we have a case where market incentives have created a for-profit service (beer delivery) that has significant positive externalities--that is, keeping drunk people from hitting the roads for a beer run. The question is, how long until a "sin tax" or something of the like is slapped on alcohol delivery services?

Props to Mark Perry's econ blog for the link.

An Unlikely Controversy


Another one of President-elect Obama’s (expected) appointments is coming under criticism. No, not Attorney-General nominee Eric Holder. Not Commerce Secretary nominee Bill Richardson. Not even Rick Warren, who attracted outrage from the left when tapped to give the Benediction at Obama’s inauguration.

Who’s the source of this new controversy, then? None other than CNN resident doctor, Sanjay Gupta, who sources expect to be tapped as Surgeon-General for the Obama Administration. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) is leading the crusade against Dr. Gupta, despite having no role in the confirmation hearing, which is presided over entirely by the Senate. According to The Hill:

Conyers also cited [in a Dear Colleague letter sent to Senators] a Jan. 6 blog item by Paul Krugman in The New York Times. Unlike Conyers, however, Krugman does not have a problem with Gupta’s qualifications.

Krugman pointed out that Gupta engaged in a televised argument with Moore in 2007 over his movie, “SiCKO.”

Conyers is friends with Moore, a Michigan native who is an ardent backer of the legislator’s universal healthcare bill. Moore’s film made the case for the U.S. to adopt a “single-payer” healthcare system like Canada’s.

So much for governing from the center. If agreeing with Michael Moore is a qualification for an Administration position for the Democrats, it looks like we're in more trouble than we thought.

Krugman’s blog attacking Gupta’s supposed intellectual dishonesty can be viewed here. The Economist, on the other hand, sees Gupta as a very attractive choice for America's top doctor. You can view the controversial exchange between Mr. Moore and Dr. Gupta online here.