How Theft Became Legal in the United States

The story of Robin Hood is about a man who steals from individuals and gives to others yet his character is looked at as one with virtue. How can a man who steals be considered virtuous? The reason is because we are told that the men he stole from were the real bad guys and that Robin is the purveyor of justice. This same narrative is prevalent today in the form of civil asset forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture allows police to confiscate possessions from individuals just based on suspicion alone of the possessions being involved with illegal activity. This means that officers can legally take your money, your vehicle, your jewelry, or any other possessions they deem to be connected to illegal activity without a crime being committed. They don’t need a warrant. They don’t need a judge. After they take your possessions the burden of proof now lies with the victim to show the items weren’t connected to illegal activity. This means paying for a lawyer and court costs with the potential to STILL lose the case and their possessions. 

Officers and agents tell the American public that they are Robin Hood stealing from the real bad guys to support themselves, the good guys. This is how they convince the public to allow them to commit legal theft. We read of stories about corrupt officers abusing their power and we applaud when they are brought to justice but when a law abiding citizen has his entire life savings literally stolen from him by the government many don’t even bat an eye. What happened to due process? What happened to being a nation of laws? 

Some states, like New Mexico, have recognized the potential and actual abuse of asset forfeiture by law enforcement and passed very restrictive state laws. The problem is that while state level governments may try to curve the issue there is a glaring loophole that local and federal law enforcement use to keep their illicit profits booming. The loophole is called equitable sharing which allows federal agencies, not held to individual state restrictions, to bypass those laws, continue to cease property under civil asset forfeiture, and then funnel the property back to the local authorities. So instead of our government being okay with legal theft they’ve decided to step it up a notch and enforce legal racketeering. In our current political atmosphere it can be hard to hear numbers like $5 billion in seized assets and still feel your stomach turn but here is another way to understand just how out of control this issue is becoming. In 2014 the total amount of burglary losses in the entire country came to $3.9 billion dollars according to FBI reports. Even when you account for seized assets being returned to victims, such as Ponzi scheme cases, and remove those dollars the federal government still raked in over $4.5 billion and this still doesn’t even account for local and state forfeiture amounts. 

Some states like, my home state of Indiana, are trying to do the right thing by introducing legislation to not only close the federal loophole but also to require convictions of individuals in order to carry out asset forfeiture. Others, like Arizona, are ramping up their efforts of this disgusting practice by introducing legislation that allows police to use asset forfeiture against violent protestors. The language in the bill was so vague that a protestor needn’t even become violent but only be suspected of possibly becoming violent to become a victim of the state. It also included language to go after those who organize a protest that turns violent or damages property to suffer from this law. This means your political enemy could plan a legitimate protest. You could then plant a couple of miscreants among the protestors to cause commotion, violence, or destruction of property at the protest and the organizer, whether they were present or not, could have their assets at risk and even be charged under the RICO statute. Thankfully the Arizona house shot down the bill that passed in the Senate but just it’s introduction is setting a terrible precedence of what’s possible for lawmakers to introduce. 

This ideological abuse from government makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Milton Friedman. He said, “The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.” What he means by this is that we, the people, must use our voice in the form of voting to pressure politicians to making the best decisions. We must become so opposed to this issue that politicians will believe their reelection to be impossible if they don’t change the current circumstances. We must tell every neighbor, every friend, every relative of the consequences of this law. We must tell the world about Tony Jalali, the 130 victims from ‘Funk Night’Lyndon McLellanVu Do, and the countless other stories of citizens being abused by our current police state. We must make every politician know that these laws will not be tolerated and those who support the abuses without demanding real reform will not remain in office. 

Advertisements

Women make less because they want to

There are lies, damn lies, and then statistics.  It is technically true that a wage gap exists in the United States.  If we examine in aggregate the wages of women overall and those of men, women on average make approximately 3/4 of what a man makes.  Feminists, liberals, and anyone looking to rally votes on the left has latched on to this statistic and inferred that therefore there is a structural bias or a patriarchy and this is why the pay gap exists.  Calls for legislation demanding equal pay abound, but the actual reason for this pay gap is not sexism.

The left finds itself in a conundrum with this one.  If it were true that companies place profits over people, then giving a company a surefire way to save 25% on fixed operating costs seems like a no-brainer right?  Fire all your men, only hire women and save a ton of money.  Kristen Bell and Huffington Post made an ironic video about this:

In doing this, however, they didn’t realize they were defeating their own argument.  Companies don’t do this because when we control for other variables and make apples to apples comparisons, it turns out women make the same amount as men (and in some cases more).

Just like every other product in the marketplace, there are industry standards of price.  If I told you I bought a car for $10,000, you already have a type of car in your mind, and if I told you I bought a house for $1 million, you have an idea of what that house looks like (in your area).  Markets set prices for goods.  Producers want to charge as much as possible, and consumers want to pay as little as possible, the producer that answers customer needs best is rewarded with lots of business.  Wages operate on the same principle.  A director or Vice President is paid a lot more than an office assistant, and a GOOD VP is worth even more.  If you as a company attempt to pay someone with VP experience minimum wage, that person is very unlikely to take the job because their labor is worth more…or should I say, the PRICE of their labor is higher.

Then why is it technically true that in aggregate, women’s pay is lower?  Well, one other feminist cause is to increase female participation in STEM fields.  Women tend to gravitate towards industries that pay less like social work and teaching and are less interested in engineering and computer programming.  It’s just how we are wired differently.  It’s also the same reason men gravitate towards more dangerous jobs like police and firemen, or dirtier jobs like farming and plumbing.  Women are less likely to place their career above their family and more likely to stay at home.  This doesn’t mean that one behavior is better than the other, it just means that we have different desires and goals, and that’s ok.

No matter how you look at it, and no matter over time, women have different preferences than men, and those preferences drive them towards lower paying fields.

 

The pay gap is playing with statistics.  It’s false and needs to go away because people are now asking politicians to get involved and create laws for “equal pay.”  Giving the government the ability to monitor what a company pays employees and then determine whether something is “fair” is a terrible idea.  Imagine government agents rifling through your HR files and interviewing people in your workplace.  Imagine that power given to someone who disagrees with you politically or doesn’t like your company.  Imagine Donald Trump sending his “fair pay enforcement agency” to harass Planned Parenthood or Huffington Post.  You don’t want this agency based on a myth.

 

 

Democracy Stolen: We Must End Gerrymandering

Find me at @edub910 on Twitter

Imagine a world where, rather than politicians being selected by voters that the voters get selected by the politicians. Well, you wouldn’t need much of an imagination because this is exactly what’s happening in America today. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to gerrymandering. The United States is one of two democracies in the world that gives its politicians an active role in drawing up voting districts with a ‘winner-takes-all’ voting system – and the result is disastrous. It’s exactly what it sounds like, districts are manipulated to maximize the benefit of a specific political party thus creating brash representatives with no fear of losing an election. The last time that Congress had an approval rating higher than its disapproval rating was way back in January 2004 – over thirteen years ago. Not only that but its approval rating has even slipped down in to single digits while yielding no real improvements through the election process, and this is no coincidence. Meanwhile, since the country’s inception this method has continued to be used at the expense of the American people and now it’s up to us to make a change.

“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”

gerry2

The very first case of gerrymandering in America occurred in 1788 (even before all the states had ratified the Constitution) by none other than the man responsible for the above quote, Patrick Henry. He intentionally created a skewed voting district of whom he anticipated would include a majority of anti-federalist voters in order to snub our future president, James Madison. Though his effort failed, the idea that ensued has played a vital role in the political tides throughout American history. So where did the term “gerrymandering” originate? Elbridge Gerry, former Massachusetts governor and vice president to James Madison. See the photo above? That is a caricature of the egregiously drawn voting district that made gerrrymandering famous. The term is actually supposed to be his last name mashed together with ‘salamander’, which as you can see from the photo, was used to describe the shape of the district that coined the term.

gerry4

There are two main methods used to gerrymander voting districts, the first of which is “packing“. This is when you purposely pack together as many voters from the opposing party as possible in an effort to minimize the amount of seats they can win in an election. A perfect example of this is the state senate district where I reside here in Fayetteville, North Carolina – senate district 21:

gerry3

As you can see the district purposely reaches out in to Cumberland County and grabs up some of its biggest African-American voting precincts. This story goes a bit deeper than the map above suggests though. I’m sure most of you have heard of Zach Galifianakis, the actor made famous from the movie “The Hangover” (yes – Alan with the beard). As a North Carolina native he helped film a documentary about the detrimental impact gerrymandering has on the state and featured this very district along with former state senator Margaret Dickson (watch the clip in this link). As you see they intentionally took her out of senate 19 and redistricted her home address in to senate 21 removing her ability to represent what was once her district. Aside from her, they also took four Democrats from the United States House of Representatives and fused them down into two districts creating the same effect. How is this legal?

wp-1488081595016.jpg

The second technique is “cracking“. This is when people from the same area (who tend to vote similar) are purposely divided up into different districts to dilute their voting power. This is usually done when a district can no longer be packed so they take the remaining constituency and split them apart.

The Voting Rights Act

Martin Luther King Jr.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the most monumental achievements of the civil rights movement. It guaranteed fair government representation for minorities, and that racial discrimination couldn’t be used when it came time to hit the polls. The bill assured that the rights from the fourteenth (due process) and fifteenth (the right to vote) amendments extend to racial minorities while also enacting many provisions to protect them from other circumstantial situations.

To no surprise, gerrymandering was used as a means of vote suppression, and for the most part it was the “cracking” method at first. Picture this – you have a black neighborhood surrounded by four white neighborhoods. Rather than group the black neighborhood together as a district (giving them representation), the legislature decides to split the black neighborhood in four parts and put a different piece in each of the surrounding four white neighborhoods. What’s that mean? The black voters don’t have enough votes to carry any district, thus their vote is suppressed from being diluted through redistricting.

This brings us to what changed the game as far as redistricting goes – Thornburg v. Gingles. This created what is known as “majority-minority districts” which is defined as:

A majority-minority district is an electoral district, such as a United States congressional district, in which the majority of the constituents in the district are racial or ethnic minorities (as opposed to white non-Hispanics).

What this did was take away the ability to “crack” minority communities and provide them with government representatives that truly act as a reflection of them. However this led to consequences rather early. While Congress steadily (and still continues to) became more racially and ethnically diverse the Democrats started losing congressional seats. Though there are plenty of state legislature examples one could look at, we will go with Newt Gingrich and his “Republican Revolution” in 1994. The Republicans won both chambers of Congress for the first time in over 40 years, but as you see from this New York Times article dated just a few days after the ’94 election, grouping large portions of minorities together pulled Democrat votes from swing districts and handed them over to the Republican party. This is the idea that ‘mainstreamed’ the “packing” concept. The more like-minded voters you group in a single district, the less effect they will have in places that would otherwise have been competitive. To put it simply – yes, they discovered a way to use this historic legislation against the people it was meant to protect. This is why North Carolina’s districts were ruled unconstitutional in a federal court.

So How Has It Affected Us?

wp-1488076384268.jpg

Though gerrymandering is a technique which has been around for centuries, the 2010 election cycle took things to an entirely new level with the Republican-led “REDMAP” initiative. This was a two part plan with the ultimate goal set as obtaining the ability to draw up the new congressional districts after the 2010 census and give themselves a clear advantage heading forward. In order to do that though, they needed to take back some of the state legislatures that were, at that time, in the hands of Democrats. Karl Rove actually warned the Democrats prior to the election but they failed to take it serious. The first step of REDMAP was dumping $30 million into what would normally be docile districts that were generally uncontested or unsuspecting, flooding them with attack ads among other things. So did it work? Absolutely. They flipped 10 of the 15 states they targeted.

us-house

The above photo is the dramatic change to U.S. House of Representatives that was ushered in after the implementation of REDMAP. How bad is it? Lets view the numbers. Just through state legislatures the Republicans have gained almost 700 seats (more than Democrats did after the Watergate Scandal!). This plan gave the right wing vast control of state legislatures across the country. On the national level the results mimic those of the states. In its first election in 2012, REDMAP paid off tremendously for the GOP. Even though Democrats received 1.4 million more total votes for the House than Republicans, the GOP still grabbed a 33 seat advantage. North Carolina has thirteen districts and Democrats scooped up a 51%-49% advantage overall which would mean seven Democrat seats and six Republican, right? Wrong. Despite the numbers the Dems only took four of the thirteen seats.

13556889_1750566291894190_1713595225_n

David Daley’s book explaining the effects of REDMAP and gerrymandering

It has happened all over the country – in Pennsylvania the Democrats won 51% of the total vote yet only won five of eighteen congressional seats. In Wisconsin Democrats received a majority of votes yet only won 39 out of 99 state legislative seats. In Michigan Democrats held a majority yet only hold 47 of 110 state seats. In Virginia the Democrats had a 4% advantage yet were held to just three of eleven congressional seats. This problem is bipartisan, even though so far I have primarily talked about the affect gerrymandering has had on Democrats. According to Harvard Political Review, redistricting heavily favored the left from the 60’s to the 90’s – it’s just this current level of gerrymandering has never been seen before. The Democratic state of Illinois is notorious for using similar gerrymandering techniques, and so is Maryland. Since the Constitution only says how to pick representatives, the fine print on the procedural end is generally left to interpretation.

REDMAP was such a success, in fact, that Democrats have planned out their own initiative for the next census titled “Advantage 2020”. The problem? Well for starters the right will see it coming from a mile away. Also, it will be much more difficult to take back districts already set against them in a way that was done with such precision. However some feel as though this gerrymandered atmosphere created by Republicans is responsible for the current grassroots campaigns on the left and may end up helping Democrats in the long run. Another issue that’s created – you have two parties who don’t fear the loss of elections which creates an enormous tank of fuel to add to the partisanship in Washington. The reason is simply because politicians will be more focused on playing to their bases to win primaries rather than losing in the general election where there isn’t any real competition. Just look at our most recent election as an example. Congress holds an average approval of around 10%-15% yet out of 435 congressional districts *drumroll* only eight districts actually saw an incumbent lose.

 So How Do We Fix This?

imrs

There are many solutions that have been proposed to end gerrymandering, above is one of them – computer generated compact districts that are based solely off population. This way ensures that your party, race, wealth, along with practically every other ‘class’ label become irrelevant. We all know how bad NC is gerrymandered, look at the difference:

wp-1487550805063.jpg

Now on the flip side let’s give Maryland a look:

wp-1487550814698.jpg

We also have what is known as the “fair vote” which I find very interesting. Not only that, it isn’t as complicated as it can initially seem to be. It basically takes the existing congressional seats and merges them into larger districts – meaning a district has multiple seats. Why would a district need to have more than a single seat? Because governing power would be split within the district between the winner and the loser(s). Meaning if a district has 8 seats, and a candidate wins 55% of the vote they get to hold 5 seats of those 8 seats, with the ‘losing’ representative acquiring the remaining ones. The goal here is to give every voter representation, even if their party loses. CLICK HERE for a video that explains this in more detail.

Another idea I saw suggested is called the “double proxy” system. Now this one is kind of complicated. But using the example that the source above gave:

In this system, every Congressional district gets two members instead of just one.  Each political party fields one candidate per district, and the top two vote-receiving candidates are elected to Congress.  Typically, that would be one Democrat and one Republican. However, and this is key, the members are not equal.  Each elected member carries to Congress the proxies of those who voted for him/her, and it is those proxies that he/she casts when voting.  If member A is elected with 300,000 votes, and member B is elected with 200,000, then whenever a bill comes up for a vote, member A will be casting his/her 300,000 proxies, and member B will be casting his/her 200,000 proxies.  To pass a bill, you would need a majority of the proxies.

One of my favorites however is “ranked choice voting”. Being that I’m from North Carolina I’m a major college basketball fan so maybe this is why I find it so appealing. This would be like voting for your politician the same way that the AP votes on college rankings every week. You rank your favorite to your least favorite, and the “number one” candidate just depends on how the numbers tally up. Not only that, but the cities that have attempted this have yielded positive results.

And while all these are all new and innovative ideas, we could make this extremely simple just by looking at Iowa. Their state legislature stopped handling redistricting in 1981, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since. They created an independent and non-partisan organization that ensures the redistricting process is a fair one. While their main focus is population equality, when necessary they do take into account certain boundaries like county and city lines. They even have a provision stating that districts have to be geometrically sound and can’t be irregularly shaped.

With all these possible alternatives it is crazy to not create a better system to take the power of voting from the politicians and return it to the people. Grassroots campaigns have sprouted up across the nation addressing numerous issues (including this one) and we have to continue to mobilize so we can produce results off this momentum. Get active. Get involved. It is up to us to make a difference for the future.

Wednesday March 1st in Raleigh, North Carolina we are having the “Citizen’s Lobby Day to End Gerrymandering” at the NC General Assembly Legislative building. #FairMapsDay will hopefully begin the movement to put an end to this once and for all. If you’re interested in attending you can click HERE for a video explanation. RSVP HERE or HERE on Facebook, and for any further questions contact Common Cause NC. For my fellow North Carolinians here are some stats Common Cause has provided regarding our current electoral process:

Redistricting in North Carolina 

The Problem

30% – Percent of 2016 state legislative seats where candidate had no primary or general 

election opposition

40% – Percent of 2016 state legislative seats with no opposition in the general election

0 – # of competitive congressional races in North Carolina in 2016

91% – Percent of 2016 state legislative races decided by more than 10 percentage points

30+ – # of court interventions in North Carolina redistricting cases since 1980

The Solution

63 – Number of NC House members (out of 120) cosponsoring bipartisan reform bill to take 

partisan politics out of the process and remove map-drawing power from politicians in 2015

Once – NC House passed reform bill in 2011 with bipartisan vote 88-27; including support of NC 

House Speaker Tim Moore and U.S. Senator (and then-House Speaker) Thom Tillis. NC Senate 

never considered.

5 – # of times Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger sponsored reform bills while in the minority 

party

4 – # of times House Speaker Tim Moore sponsored reform bills while in the minority party

0 – Number of redistricting lawsuits in Iowa since that state adopted redistricting reform

“I think the gerrymandered districts where we have no competition in the general election, 

makes all of our jobs difficult.”

 Former Gov. Pat McCrory (R)

“I will work to expand voter opportunities and create a non-partisan Redistricting Commission 

to make voting districts fair and competitive.”

Gov. Roy Cooper (D)

Together we can and will make a change! I hope to see you there!

-John Streaker

Greedy Big Pharma and How Big Government Fuels That Greed

While researching for my last article on monopolies I found that the biggest threat from monopolies came when the government itself enforced and backed those protectionist policies. The biggest difference between a true, free market monopoly and one backed by government force is that of competition. Competition never goes away in the free market as shown by my example of when Standard Oil controlled 90% of the oil industry. However, when a government grants a monopoly, it is literally illegal for others to compete and, as with everything in government, is backed by the barrel of a gun. Classical economists, including the father of modern economics Adam Smith, usually understood monopolies as those with grants of exclusive privaledge from the government. The fear arose from policy rather than the businesses themselves. Today, our laws suggest we have flipped this narrative around and are afraid of big business more than the policies protecting these big businesses. In a world of antitrust laws it perplexes me how the same government, which is so afraid of big business killing competition, will implement policy fulfilling that exact fear. 

There are several examples of protectionist policies but one that seems to rarely get challenged, until recently, is patent law. Patent law can be traced back to the 1400s in Venice and, sure enough, they were formed as a means to protect their local economy. Venice had lost it’s stranglehold on the Eastern trade routes after one of several wars with the Turks. The Venetian government thought they could pull in skilled artisans from other countries by offering a grant of protection to the individuals. Patent law proponents today, however, don’t usually argue from a point of protection but rather from one of ingenuity and reward. The problem with this argument is that research doesn’t back it up. They will even use the IP industry itself as an argument to maintain the laws. That’s akin to saying we can’t simplify the tax code too much because individuals would lose jobs in the tax preparation industry. This argument just doesn’t make any sense to me. 

The negative affects of IP law are becoming quite clear in recent times. One of the best examples of this is prescription medicine. We see stories in the news about the price of Daraprim going from $13 to over $700 overnight or the price of Isuprel being raised 500%. Rare diseases can bring annual costs of medicine to insane levels from their beginning but one of the biggest tools the free market has to incentivize the best pricing is competition. The biggest fear from monopoly is price setting. Once a business gets rid of it’s competition then it can set whatever price it wants for the product or service it sells. Patent laws give this power to businesses on a platinum platter. 

Many lawmakers are aware of the problem of life saving drugs getting priced out of availability but what are their solutions? Bernie Sanders has been one of the most outspoken reformers for prescription drugs but his solution is what his solution always is, heavier government involvement. This is the definition of insanity. Government got us in to this mess by giving these companies their monopolistic power to begin with so why do we think more government will solve the problem? Bernie’s plan says that drug companies convicted of fraud will lose their monopolistic power and it also says every major company has been convicted of fraud in one way or another so why not make it simple and just remove the power altogether? His plan also calls for transparency from the drug companies. He wants them to publicly breakdown every situation that would cause their cost to rise in order to justify when they do raise prices but this just adds more red tape which by definition will cause their cost to rise. Regulations like these cost businesses over 100 billion dollars last year and these costs will inevitably get passed to you, the consumer. I disagree with other parts of his plan but my concern in this article is patent law. Take this power away from the corporations and let them be subject to the free market. This alone would not be the ‘end all be all’ solution but it would be a huge step forward. 

Another objection will be that Big Pharma needs to make more money in order to maintain their research and development in order to make the next life saving drug. Leaving aside the fact that 9 out of 10 of the top pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing (the majority of marketing going as payoffs to doctors) than they do on RnD. Many researchers have discovered that trade secrets and first mover advantages are more valuable to recouping investment than the patents themselves. At the same time over-regulation by the FDA is a substantial cause of this high cost of RnD. According to a CBO report ‘Innovative Drugs’ on average take 12 years to create because of regulation and other factors. By their estimates, half of the cost of the drug comes from lost interest and earnings from the capital that is tied up during this period. At the same time the National Institute of Health spends upwards of 30 billion dollars a year financing research. I am rarely one to suggest more spending in any federal agency but I have to believe that cutting red tape and freeing up man hours within the FDA could save substantial amounts of money that would be better served doing actual research. 

As a free market advocate my goal is not to say a certain business is making too much money but rather to see what the free market actually allocates in the form of prescription drug pricing. Government intervention creates artificial prices. The market allows the people to determine what they’ll pay. As Ludwig von Mises said, “The capitalist system of production is an economic democracy in which every penny gives a right to vote. The consumers are the sovereign people. The capitalists, the entrepreneurs, and the farmers are the people’s mandatories. If they do not obey, if they fail to produce, at the lowest possible cost, what the consumers are asking for, they lose their office. Their task is service to the consumer. Profit and loss are the instruments by means of which the consumers keep a tight rein on all business activities.” In an area that can have such a profound effect on one’s life I must agree with Mr. Mises that the people must have their vote. They must have their voice. 

How the Left Created Betsy DeVos

“A bible and a newspaper in every house, a good school in every district- -all studied and appreciated as they merit- -are the principal support of virtue, morality, and civil liberty.” When Benjamin Franklin penned these words, he was far from the minority with his opinion on education. In fact, many founders believed in public funded education such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and others. A society of the uniformed will only last as such for a finite period by either becoming informed or ceasing to be. But what would our founders think of our system today? 

Gallup poles consistently show that Americans overwhelmingly believe their local schools are above average but at the same time believe public schooling in the nation as a whole are average or worse. I think it’s fair for me to infer, based on these numbers, that most Americans agree with having public education but that the system overall isn’t as good as it should be. Worldwide comparisons back this notion up. According to the OECD America leads the world in annual spending per student but is only slightly above average for performance. We already spend more than any other country but are middling in performance so you’d be hard pressed to convince me that throwing more money at the situation is the answer. Some like to point to Denmark as the shining example, like how well they pay their teachers, but other countries like Poland have shot up the ranks in recent years yet pay their teachers very little. At the same time, other areas that set Denmark apart, like their more lax stance on homework, contrast that of other high scoring countries like China who enforce spending almost 5 times as many hours dedicated to homework. 

One way in which I think we can learn from Denmark is how they’ve abandoned the world wide method of coercion and instead implemented the free market idea of consumer choice. Education is a product in the form of labor from a teacher. The students and their parents are the consumer. Many opponents of this thought will point to failed voucher systems but it has never been truly tried because of heavy regulation and tight control over what the system entails. At the same time this can’t be the ‘fix all’ solution that some proponents claim it to be. 

The biggest contributor in the US of that exertion of control over the educational system is the Department of Education. Technically speaking a state can control their education however they wish with a few federal discrimination laws they must adhere to along with other certain guidelines and policies from ED that must be met. This is especially true when any state is accepting federal funding. The federal government collects taxes from the people.  They in turn offer money  to the state governments in the form of incentives which means they comes with a catch. While the states do fund the vast majority of public education, the federal government still funds over 8% of all public education in the country. Potentially losing 8% of 100’s of billions of dollars is nothing to sneeze at and states and their politicians certainly don’t want to be the ones cutting  spending on education. The reason I say the federal government is the biggest contributor when it comes to control is because they are the only player with their hand in everybody’s pot. Indiana may have more control over Indiana’s education but they don’t have any control over the 49 other state’s education. The reason this matters is because of the differences I pointed out with Denmark and other high ranking countries. What works for one area may not be best for another and when one centrally controlled agency (an unelected, president appointed agency I might add) sets one system of standards that all must adhere to then how can we expect any other results than the ones we currently have? Read about NCLB and ESSA for more info on these standards. 

Why, then, do we have a Department of Education? There is a history before the modern ED of today but formally the Department was started in 1980 under then president Jimmy Carter. The original function was to collect data from schools which they could in turn give out advice to enhance any deficiencies from this data. This turned in to forcing the states to pay to collect this data and then forcing the states to adhere to these policies in order to receive federal funding in return (incentives). From the beginning there was opposition from Republicans. In fact it was apart of their official platform until President Bush Jr. passed NCLB. The most outspoken defenders of the department has always comes from the left though since NCLB there has been little opposition from either side. Even after a historic senate confirmation vote over appointing Betsy DeVos, where for the first time the United States vice president cast the tie breaking vote, we still won’t hear a peep from the left about whether or not we should have a Department of Education. This is the insanity of the two party system within American politics. The left will pump up federal power in one area of government. The right will take control and abuse that power in the eyes of the left. The right will do the same and likewise complain of the abuse when the left takes control. All the while both sides are continually making the presence of the federal government ever larger with no end in sight. The right solution would be to start shutting down these agencies and restricting the reach of the unconstitutional practices of our beurocrats but alas…. I’m a realist. As much as I applaud the idea of shutting down areas of government incompetence, I understand this isn’t something you can do overnight. Our politicians are professionals at making the masses dependent on their policies. Another role ED has is guaranteeing student loans and also directly giving out student loans. Shutting down the department means figuring out how to deal with the massive amount of loans and grants the agency deals with which is no small feat. There is no longer an easy answer here. All of this said though means whenever you hear your friends on the left complain of our new Secretary of Education, you can tell them to thank themselves and the politicians they continue to elect for creating and then protecting the agency we have today which is now ran by Betsy DeVos. 

The Antitrust Inquisition and True Government Monopolies

Public fear of big business is nothing new in this country. From legitimate concerns in the 1800s over corporate influences in politics leading to several Citizen Authority clauses throughout many state constitutions and state laws to illegitimate concerns such as Big Agriculture preferring illegal aliens for cheap, seasonal farm labor. People who own big businesses gain big wealth and class warfare is as old as wealth itself. On one side you might have some rich and powerful individuals who can be very indignant to the less fortunate and look at the poor as simply lazy. On the other side you might have individuals who feel that any person with wealth is evil and manipulative, only using their money for greedy endeavors to further their own interests. Of course there are going to be instances on both sides to back these narratives up but as a whole both are terribly misleading. 

With few exceptions, such as the Roman Empirebusinesses throughout history were usually limited on growth because of geographical constraints and the inability to mass produce products but the Industrial Revolution changed this for everyone. New technologies in travel and also in production allowed global markets to become a reality. Along with these new founded global markets came the ability to amass wealth as had never been seen in history. This also led to the standard of living of the average person to consistently increase for the first time in history. The world grew richer but with incredible change, new fears always arise. One of these fears in America was that a specific business within a specific industry would become so powerful that it could become the exclusive player within this industry, controlling all aspects. If said industry is vital to our way of living, such as electricity is today, then the fear is that this one player can set any price they choose and the public at large can either pay the company’s demand or lower their standard of living. This is called a monopoly.  My question is how valid are these fears? Do we need government to protect us from these greedy price setters? 

Let’s take a look at one of the biggest, true monopolies and probably the most famous in American history, Standard Oil. Part of Standard Oil’s fame came, not only from the powerhouse it became in our country as a corporation but from the affects that came in the form of antitrust laws (laws that break up and limit monopolies). Allegations against the firm included predatory price-cutting, inflating prices after competition was gone, and even creating company towns which basically became indentured servitude. Standard Oil was founded in 1870 and they most certainly did use unscrupulous business practices to rapidly grow, some of which I absolutely condemn. Price-cutting was included in these practices but does this really hurt the consumer? It’s hard to logically explain to me how a company offering cheaper prices on a product than any other competitor can match is a bad thing for the average citizen. Just imagine paying $200/month for your electric bill when another company comes in and offers you the exact same electricity and service but instead you only have to pay $50/month. Somehow people will have you believe this is bad for you. But the biggest move for Standard Oil was not from these less than savory practices but instead from the Crash of 1873. SO had controlled about 80% of the refining capacity in Cleveland alone by that year but 1873 allowed them to buy up failing business after failing business caused by the ’73 Crash. By 1978 SO went from 80% of Ohio to about 90% of the oil refined in all of America. Once refining was accomplished they started focusing on other areas in the industry such as production and distribution. Was all of this just the result of a greedy man or was this the result of innovation and maximization of resources? 

Standard Oil was able to cut costs in ingenious and revolutionary ways in order to sell a superior, cheaper product. Some examples of this include how Rockefeller self-insured his refineries instead of following the norm which as to pay insane premiums for fire protection. He heavily invested in state of the art equipment to not only limit these disasters but also to maximize output at an exponentially greater level. He would purchase the land to build these refineries in very strategic areas that were easily accessible by water or railroad which put him in a position to have shippers compete for his business rather than him compete for theirs. SO would produce their own barrels to ship the oil and eventually made whole railcars fitted with giant tanks to replace the barrels. Before SO’s innovations, up to 40% of byproduct from crude oil refineries would literally be thrown out as waste, usually straight into the ground or rivers, but under Rockefeller’s tutelage the first “complete” refineries were formed, not only making the industry more effective, but also creating a more environmentally friendly practice. These are just a few examples of cost-cutting initiatives that came from SO but being a scrupulous, greedy business man was only a shadow of the genius that Rockefeller was. 

So then, did fear come true that once they controlled a vast majority of the industry they could then hike prices in order to take advantage of the necessity of their product? No. With free markets and people born every day, competition will always be right around the corner. Companies developed such as the Pure Oil Company and the Texas Company, which continuously made SO strive for more innovation and even better pricing. In 1901 the Spindletop Strike was the largest gusher yet discovered in America. When SO was founded it had about 250 competitors. Within a year of the Strike over 1500 competitors were in the industry, pushing SO to become even smarter than had been in the past in order to keep that control, only this time the competition was well aware of what they were going up against, forcing them to remain at the top of their game. It is clear that government intervention was not necessary to keep the industry competitive but that never stops the government. Writings from Henry Demarest Lloyd and even more notable Ida M. Tarbell turned the public opinion into that of disgust and distrust for the giant conglomerate. While I do not condone everything SO stood for, such as the accusations that thugs were used to oppress competition that wouldn’t sell to SO, I also know that writers such as Tarbell often had their own ax to grind. Tarbell’s own family was among those prior competitors who couldn’t sustain business at the rate and efficiency of SO. These writers also left out that Rockefeller took care of his employees much better than anybody else by offering better pay and vacations which was very seldom for employers to offer. But much like today, writers can get the public into frenzy over a topic and once this happens, legislation will always be right behind. 

Enter antitrust laws. Before Tarbell’s writings there was the Sherman Act of 1890 which became the first antitrust legislation. But after the uproar from the public, Congress broke up the SO Trust in 1911. In 1914 the Federal Trade Commission Act (creating the FTC) and the Clayton Act were passed. These laws are very vague , and apart from some revisions, are still the three core antitrust laws we have today. This vagueness is why I call the title the Antitrust Inquisition. It basically leaves decisions up to courts to look at each case and arbitrarily decide what is or isn’t an illegal trust or merger. This is also why, even though the Sherman Act was passed in 1890, the rules of the Sherman Act didn’t force SO to break up until 1911. Even today there is no direct definition of a legal or illegal merger. The laws include very subjective terms such as “unreasonable” trade or “every contact, combination, or conspiracy in restraint of trade”, and even “unfair or deceptive acts or practices”. There is not a standard definition for unreasonable, restraint of trade, or unfair practices within these laws. Each business is simply subject to that court’s interpretation of these words. This creates a ‘pick and choose’ situation where business innovation is held hostage by fear of government bureaucracy. 

At the same time this government, which so vehemently speaks out against monopolization, has been setting up their own monopolies at will. The effectiveness of SO was literally a major reasoning tool that influenced the decision to keep AT&T as a protected monopoly up until 1982. The biggest difference between a government imposed monopoly and a true, free market monopoly is the allowance of competition. In the free market there will always be some new mastermind lurking in the shadows developing their own strategies and tools in order to capture their piece of the pie. However, under a government monopoly, it is literally illegal to try and compete which means no amount of innovation can attack the power held by that company. A great example of this today is electrical companies. You can only use the company that the government has set up in your area and this is the definition of predatory price-setting as we can’t even know how inexpensive electricity could get with free market competitors doing everything in their power to get the prices as low as possible. In spite of government protection, smaller companies are still showing ways to threaten the big, power players. Imagine if they were completely free to explore the best options possible. 

U.S. Steel is another example of the free market working, even against a true monopoly. At it’s height U.S. Steel controlled about 67% of steel production. According to antitrust logic this killed competition and allowed them to run rampant with their pricing. Reality has a funny way of weeding out truth. Even at their height, competition never ceased. Hungry up and comers wanted their piece and developed ways to get it. Better business practices were developed that U.S. Steel simply couldn’t keep up with. Throughout the decades following their control, the federal government had imposed many policies to support U.S.S. such as tariffs on imported steel, trade restrictions, subsidies, and tax credits. All of this protectionism did little to save the business as by 2009 The Corporation was producing less than 10% of all steel used in the United States. I wrote about one of these instances and the effects of government protectionism in my article here

All in all, I can understand where the fear would come from with companies holding so much power over an industry but when we look at the facts we should be much more concerned about government imposed monopolies rather than free market innovators who have the ability to raise our standard of living. Competition will always be our ultimate system for checks and balances. I do not take this position to the extreme of removing all regulations involved in business but that we must use our lessons from history to understand how important the limited role of government and what the affects of that role can be, especially when it comes to restraining consumer options. Check back for my part 2 of this topic wick will look at another example of government protectionism in the form of patent laws. In short any business that is truly providing the best options for it’s consumers will not need protection from the government and when they do then we are probably better off without that company existing. 

Trump’s Inauguration: A Day I Will Never Forget

The season finale of America was everything I expected and more – by 7pm on inauguration day I had been caught in a full scale riot, I was famished after being on the go for 13 hours straight, I was totally exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally – and yet I thought I couldn’t have gotten any luckier than I did. Over the course of that day I had agreed with and disagreed with everyone in attendance at least five times. I saw the best in those I politically rival and the worst of those who share my own ideology. I saw how the media can twist things and just how quick people are to gobble it up. But looking back at it, the reason I was so lucky is because I truly got to have the full American experience. So this is January 20th, 2017 through my eyes and why I’ll never forget it.

Let me give you some of my background to give you a better understanding on my perspective before we go down this rabbit hole together. I was born during the Reagan years but the first president I remember was Bill Clinton. My parents were able to become home owners under his tenure, and I just remember a general sense of prosperity during this time regardless of what you may think of his personal activities. My step-father of whom I had lived with practically my entire life was a die hard conservative and my mother a die hard liberal. This meant I always heard both sides of everything, but I ended up becoming a Democrat.

My first vote for president was for John Kerry. I volunteered for Obama’s campaign in 2008 after reading his books. I attended the DNC in Charlotte in 2012 – forcing my little brother and sister to go because I told them they may never see another Democrat convention in NC in their lifetime. I was a major Bernie Sanders supporter, and though the discrepancies of the DNC had me very discouraged I ended up falling in line to support Hillary Clinton. I do not like Donald Trump, and haven’t since his birther quest. However I wanted to go to this event with as much of an open mind as possible to see things objectively while trying not to allow my personal bias to influence my actions.

The morning of the inauguration I arrived at Greenbelt station to take the Metro to DC at 6am. As I boarded I was accompanied by a large number of Trump supporters who were gleeful when speaking of the days coming events. I just sat back and grinned while listening to some of the ongoing conversations until we reached the next stop, that’s when it all changed. Protesters began to flood the train and an instant level of tension swept the atmosphere. From this point forward I was subjected to watching these two groups snarl at one another while pointing and mumbling remarks that were what I will call ‘less than respectful’ under their breath. This set the tone for the day. It was as if something crazy could have gone down at any second so when we arrived at the Gallery station I was relieved to get off the train and begin what I knew would be a long afternoon.

I followed the crowd and walked to my first security checkpoint of the event which was being ran by TSA. It seemed surprisingly quiet at first, nothing more than private conversations but then protesters started pulling out signs and yelling various chants. I heard “Hey ho! Hey ho! Donald Trump has got to go,” along with “No Trump! No KKK no facist USA!” more than anything else. Whenever these chants occurred the gate didn’t have as many Trump supporters so most of them just rolled their eyes and looked irritated while a few of them spoke up. I realized I was at a ‘protest gate’ rather quickly.

At first I was pleasantly surprised, the overwhelming amount of people ready to protest Trump made me feel like I was apart of something bigger than myself. I enjoyed seeing the signs, hearing the conversations, and just being a part of this event I knew would have a significant place in history. Almost three hours have gone by just waiting to enter the 1st checkpoint and the line became stagnant. Protesters ended up making a human wall to deny everyone entry because they couldn’t take their signs inside – which was immediately met with the Secret Service completely shutting the gate down. I thought, “Are you kidding me?!”

I am totally in support of protesting (as I have done so before) but this had me infuriated. When a protest starts affecting innocent people directly who are just trying to go about their own business that’s when you take it too far. I was seriously in doubt of being able to get in and cover the inauguration properly which was my entire purpose for being present. I agreed with their message but disagreed with their method. These protesters may have cost me the opportunity to fulfill my obligations to Center of the Aisle and the people who follow us and knew we would be in attendance. Now I had to go find another gate and had to wait all the way in the back of a new line.  I just hoped I could still arrive on time.

I arrive at my second inauguration checkpoint around 9:30am irritated and upset with how things had gone up to this point. The line was moving rather quickly so I thought it wouldn’t be that bad. It took a whole 60 seconds to realize I was at a ‘pro-Trump’ gate this time which made me feel better about getting through. I immediately thought “let me look at the shoes they’re wearing” because my intent was to make a meme saying “all these Trump voters, not one pair of work boots.” However to my surprise I noticed a substantial amount of them purposely wore work boots, even with formal attire, to make a statement which I found impressive.

As I chatted with these people I never once revealed my own political affiliations. I just picked their brains to see how they felt about everything and to get a sound understanding of what this day meant to them. I heard a lot of “we finally got our country back” along with various other concerns that I actually shared with them though I may not have seen eye to eye with them on their solutions. We had a lot of similarities to my surprise, and I actually enjoyed my time there chatting with them. I met one man dressed as Ben Franklin (whig and all) who told me he dressed this way because “the great state of Pennsylvania delivered the election to Trump.”

Then I met a man who said he was from Shallote, North Carolina – a fellow North Carolinian. How many of you seen this being spread around social media:

He thought this was an actual thing and rode his motorcycle from NC all the way to DC to be a part of it, unfortunately he was a victim of ‘fake news’ on social media which is an epidemic these days. He told me he slept on the concrete floor in Union station and woke up to come to the inauguration. Whether I agreed with him on political philosophy or not, that was extremely admirable. To ride that far by motorcycle just to sleep on the concrete and then come to see your guy sworn in – that is patriotic. I realized how much this moment really meant to the people in this line.

I began to hear chants and drums in the distance and thought “oh God, here comes the protesters to mess this gate up next.” They left a bad taste in my mouth from the previous gate. As soon as the two factions were able to see one another head to head they started trading chants and things once again became intense. The police ended up having to form a wall between the two groups to keep them separated so things wouldn’t further escalate. The man in the Ben Franklin outfit began to roast the protesters which I found myself unable to not laugh at as much of what he said was rather funny. Another moment at the ‘pro-Trump’ gate I found particularly cool was that someone started singing the Star Spangled Banner and it wasn’t long after that the entire audience sang along while protesters marched on the sidewalks.

I finally made it in – the best part was that I still had time to make it to the inauguration as it was only around 10:30am. As I paced up and down Pennsylvania Avenue I quickly realized that I couldn’t cross over to the National Mall. Now I’m upset again. I asked an officer if there was anywhere to cross and he instructed me to go to 10th street and wait for them to open it up there. The line was ridiculously long, it went to the outer gate and wrapped back around inside towards Pennsylvania Avenue. I decided to try a live video to make sure it worked, and managed to get a shot of this enormous line (this is why the 11:04am and 11:12am pics of the National Mall are bogus, no one was there yet).

At about 11:25am they opened it up, way too late. I’ll say this, though pictures may not reflect it, the people were there for the inauguration but the security and logistics were a total nightmare and they ruined their own event. When we got closer to the National Mall there was another ridiculously long line. Why? Because there was another TSA checkpoint. I thought to myself “do they intend on everyone missing this?” I had to go through the metal detectors but immediately afterwards  (when they realized they were stopping everyone from attending) they told people to go through with their jackets open and that’s it. When I tell you people were sprinting and running as fast as possible to get there that’s no exaggeration.

I finally arrived right in front of Capitol Hill at 11:46am. I had barely made it (keep in mind I got on the Metro at 6am). My initial reaction was the crowd was rather light, but I knew how ridiculously long the line to get in was. I seen Pence and Trump get sworn in then Trump began to give his speech. My first impression was that he wasn’t saying a whole lot – until he said one thing in particular. He said “we will eradicate radical Islamic terrorism off the face of the planet!” The crowd went nuts where I was at. I had noticed walking in there were some Muslim people on the outskirts holding signs peacefully and not doing much.

After Trump said this the whole demeanor of the audience changed. It shocked me to hear anyone say, in their first speech, that they would eradicate any demographic off the face of the planet. It seemed very extreme to me. They started yelling “get the hell out of our country” and pushing and shoving these people which was instantly repulsive. I felt disgusted that these people would openly treat them like that so I would not allow myself to stay and watch. This led to my immediate departure. At the time I was leaving the audience was substantially bigger than it initially was with people still running in, the time was 12:21pm and I know this because I texted my friend about what was said right then. If the media produces a pic between 12:20 and 12:30, that is the most accurate reflection possible.

To my surprise I had to go through a TSA checkpoint just to leave, and a fourth one to get to the parade area. This was getting ridiculous. I was starved so I was wanting to find a place to eat, no luck. I had been invited to a protest outside the secured zone so I figured I could check that out while also grabbing a bite to eat before coming back to the parade which didn’t start for three hours. I had no clue what I was about to walk in to. So I’m on the phone with another COTA writer Matt Miller explaining to him what all happened. I didn’t go too deep into details because so much had happened and I didn’t want to talk him to death.

As I approached this protest I seen everything was going as one would expect. Then I heard a loud BANG behind me like a bomb went off. There were about 20 or so rioters with black clothes covering their faces throwing what appeared to be broken cinder block pieces at the police. I seen an officer get pelted in the side of the head with one while not paying attention and felt bad instantly. Before you know it there’s tear gas, flash grenades, pepper spray, pretty much anything the police can use to subdue the situation being used abundantly. These rioters were prepared though. Pepper spray? They put on ski goggles. Tear gas? They had duffle bags with gas masks. They relentlessly fought police which caused them to attack any protester in the vicinity. I must admit, it was even difficult for me to tell who was who. I tried to leave the perimeter (I was dressed in formal attire) only to be met by an officer who pushed me back. He asked me “where do you think you’re going?” I just stopped and looked at him upset and confused because I hadn’t done anything to provoke him to put his hands on me. It didn’t take long for another cop to scream at the top of his lungs “get the f*%k back!” which prompted me to do just that.

I felt so bad that these protesters who were properly exercising their 1st amendment right ended up being beaten and arrested due to the negligence of such a small group of people. I finally was able to leave the area, and the line to get back into the inauguration was still about an hour to two hour wait. Luckily I managed to slide in a gate no one was at and catch some live footage of the very end of the inaugural parade. I’ll say this though, when it was all over I had never been so ready to go from anywhere. It was like a nonstop mental roller coaster so when I went to get back on that Metro line at Gallery I had an instant sense of relief.

What I learned though was that we really have a lot more in common than we like to give ourselves credit for. Life is too short for partisanship. I said the next day to someone I know, how do we take the concerns we have and the concerns they have and somehow find that middle ground to appease everyone? Overall I’m glad I went, and I learned so much not only about myself, but about people in general. Instead of fighting we need to discover what it will take to come together and really make things better for our future generations. But before I go, I’d like to leave you with the photo I took at the end of the day to signify how I felt up to that point:

16174414_177407466071961_7052850548915888117_n

– John Streaker

Trump’s Inauguration: The Perfect Example of Why America Has Lost Faith in the Media

 

Please share this article to spread the information below in order to help curtail the amount of spin being portrayed in the media!

In recent years the American media has all but completely dissolved the line between impartiality and personal opinion. We have reached a point where ‘news’ outlets would rather cater to an audience than simply tell the complete and total truth. The truth hurts I know, but sometimes it needs to – that can be its intention. The consequences of this? Mass cognitive dissonance. The term applies to a few scenarios in psychology, but for those not familiar with it here’s what it means in the context I am using:

Cognitive Dissonance – When a person has a core belief or value that is very strong, it’s the feeling of extreme discomfort that occurs when they are presented with information or evidence that contradicts that belief or value. It becomes so important to protect this belief that new evidence cannot be accepted even causing a person to rationalize, ignore, or deny anything that doesn’t fit with this belief or value.

Cognitive dissonance is responsible for the current political atmosphere. The risen awareness of media bias caused the public to search for alternative media outlets which allowed ‘yellow journalism’ (actual fake news) to ascend to its current stature. The inevitable result has been the spreading of misinformation at rates we have never seen due to the viral nature of the internet. ‘Fake news‘ has become so popular because it plays off a person’s cognitive dissonance – which was already instilled by these major media outlets and the extreme partisan politics in this country.

Under these circumstances anything that aligns with a person’s beliefs are viewed in a positive manner making them more susceptible to fallacies and misinformation. To add to this effect – whenever they see something which doesn’t line up with their own beliefs they automatically write it off as ‘bias’ and close their mind to any alternative. This has lead to the ‘echo chambers’ on the right and left we constantly hear pundits refer to. Yet this is also caused when television and radio personalities become so caught up in reaffirming their own arguments they develop a tendency to present partial truths or even misinformation.

Enough is enough. The media needs to stop trying to prove that it’s right and start trying to prove that it’s honest. The moment you allow your actions to be defined by right and left, rather than right and wrong, you’ve officially become a part of the problem. Personal opinion is never to be placed on the same pedestal as facts, it’s to be formed after assessing the information that facts provide. Journalism should always be a reflection of the most accurate evaluation one can make after taking as many facts in to account as possible. However since the inauguration the media has pushed a substantial amount of spin. Let me say this – I am not a Republican, I am a life long Democrat and I did not vote for Donald Trump so I have no bias which would push me to write this. Now please allow me to rationalize the truth behind some of the biggest headlines from this past weekend.

wp-1485207976471.jpgAbove photo taken by Deadspin Editor Timothy Burke at 11:12am from ABC News live stream

wp-1485177141167.jpg Above photo taken by Erza Klein from The Vox at 11:04am

Both of these photos above are disingenuous

Now I’m not saying they were initially meant to be so, but regardless of the intent neither of these pictures is a fair representation of the inauguration crowd. They are not ‘fake’ as some have thrown around on the internet either, so let me explain. wp-1485208018536.jpg

Above is the map provided by the Secret Service on how to reach the National Mall for the inauguration, take a real close look at it. The bottom portion underneath of the National Mall has a much smaller proportion of Metro travelers than the top does. Why is that important? Let’s take another look at this photo:

The side where the majority of the people are standing is on the right which would be the bottom side of the map, you know – the one with the least amount of travelers. Reason? because that side was the only side open at the time both photos were taken. You see the parade route on the map above? They shut down Pennsylvania Avenue to prepare for the parade later that day which kept all the people on the top of the map (the majority) from crossing over at that time. They made us form a line at 10th street and wait until it was clear to open the path to allow everyone over. This didn’t happen until about 20 minutes after the pictures above. Matter of fact:

wp-1485207963570.png

I just so happen to post about this on my Facebook account while waiting, please look at the time of the post. Ironically this is around the same time this was posted:

wp-1485208253948.jpg

Yes Gillian, that’s because we weren’t allowed to cross over at that time. Shortly after to make sure my live video was functioning I proceeded to start a live feed while I was still waiting on Pennsylvania Avenue at 11:06am which lasted for minute:

Here’s the actual video where I show part of the line I am describing:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FCOTAPolitics%2Fvideos%2F730413060454271%2F&show_text=0&width=400

It wasn’t until about 15-20 minutes after this they opened the barricade to let us through and as you see I was at the front of this ridiculously long line. To even reach this point I had to wait at two separate security checkpoints ran by the Secret Service and TSA which were comparable to entering the secured zone of an airport. It took me 4 and a half hours to reach this point only to have to go through another TSA checkpoint before entering the National Mall to witness the inauguration. I finally make it over:

wp-1485207947519.jpg

It was 11:46am, and remember I was at the front of the line. Now look at this tweet:

wp-1485208257112.jpg

This is extremely significant, looks empty right? Let me show you 1oth Street:

See where the red line is at? About center of the Smithsonian Castle where it’s curved out right?

This is where 10th street is! Meaning if the crowd is back to that point she was standing on the last platform. It also means both of the photos are totally bogus. Not only that, but I was in the front of the line. People were running to try to make it in time, I know many more came in behind me as well and there’s about 30-40 minutes from then until Trump’s speech concluded. The most genuine picture I could find was from Earth Cam but it was after the people were already leaving:

wp-1485208041579.jpg

Look to the left and you will see the massive amount of people in the grass leaving already. I find it amazing that everyone has all these pictures, yet they’re mainly prior to or after Trump’s time on stage. So no one has any of him at the peak of his speech, or even speaking at all for that matter? Odd. Yet even when viewing the above photo as people are leaving, this crowd looks bigger than the crowds in the other photos. One publication went to use this same Earth Cam and coincidentally cropped out the side that would show where people would be leaving:

wp-1485208332724.jpg

Not only did those two original photos I have discussed go viral on the internet, they were placed in publications as well. However I seen the NY Times (one of my top 3 favorite sources for media) actually have the audacity to post the photo and claim it was during “peak density” which is just flat out false!

The only photo available I have found during his actual speech is this one, and it may be a different angle but you can still see the areas being depicted:

There were three checkpoints that were mandatory (and took forever) to be able to access the outer restricted area and then the inauguration and parade. The crowd peaked right as Trump’s speech concluded because people were still coming in fast the entire time. According to my own phone records I contacted a friend at 12:21pm right as it was concluding so this would be the opportune time for an accurate photo. I left the restricted area completely at about 1:30pm (an hour after Trump’s speech at the inauguration) and there was still a 1-2 hour wait just to reach the outer zone again (plus another gate for the parade beyond that one). These lines maintained this way until about 5pm so security also kept a whole lot of people from making it in.

However the fact that the media has doubled down on these photos is crazy to me. They ranted on TV about how no one was going to show up for at least a week or two prior to the event and then go through all this trouble over some dumb photos? You guys don’t want the POTUS calling you fake news? Don’t post fake news! If you want to fight against someone why would you play right in to that person’s hand? When you do things like this you discredit real journalism and make everyone look bad. The fact – whether your cognitive dissonance allows you to believe it or not – those pics are not the actual crowd size.

Now I’m not agreeing with Trump’s numbers or his claim that “it was the most viewed inauguration in history” either. It wasn’t, Barack Obama in 2008 was at 1.8 million people. I’m sure we can all agree seeing the 1st African-American president get sworn in was a very historic moment a lot of people wanted to go see. But if the media was being honest, why couldn’t they just post this instead:

wp-1485208030891.jpg

Why try so hard to use misleading and disingenuous methods of persuasion when the numbers are right there? The city of Washington DC said they made preparations for around 700-900k. There is no such thing as alternative facts, there’s just facts and nothing else. The fact here is that while pics have circulated to make things seem much worse, the crowd was not bigger than either of Obama’s inaugurations or the Women’s March on Washington (which I also attended). Total Metro for the 20 hour period was 570.5k (about 285k people) and then you have to include people who stayed in DC, people who took a bus in, and every other method. I think the most disturbing part of it all is that neither side is being honest which means people are out here arguing over which lie is true – and that is something everyone should be concerned about.

wp-1485208489562.jpg

As soon as I left the restricted area I stumbled right into the protest that turned in to a riot and once again the media has it wrong. But just to verify, this is where CNN said that it had occurred:

wp-1485208245055.jpg

My location I gave as I was stuck in the midst of it:

wp-1485208270979.png

Now I’m here to tell you this – there was not 230 rioters as much of the media has suggested. There was around 10% of that figure actually rioting while the vast majority of everyone else was protesting in the way one would expect. This small group knew what they were doing too. They had numerous bags stuffed with various items like broken up cinder blocks to pelt the police with, ski goggles for pepper spray, gas masks for tear gas, and assorted other items to be used as weapons. They knew what they were planning to do, they seemed a bit too well prepared. The media needs to stop saying that all these people where rioting because once again it just is not true, I seen the whole thing with my own eyes.

wp-1485208514832.jpg

No actually most of them don’t (deserve it) and it is truly a shame that all these people who actually broke no laws will have to go through this and more than likely take a conviction for it. I’m not saying it was ‘paid protesters’ or insinuating any sort of conspiracy theories either. I will let everyone else draw their own conclusions. Even for me it was extremely difficult to tell who was who being almost everyone was in black attire. This situation is a perfect personification of the cliche phrases “one bad apple spoils the bunch” and “wrong place, wrong time.”

madonna-womens-march

The next day at the Women’s March on Washington Madonna gave what was initially a great speech until she had a major blunder:

wp-1485207956357.jpg

I’ve seen people say that she got cheers for this comment – no she did not. The crowd became very hostile when she made that statement. I wanted to make sure I put it up because I just knew that this story was going to be all over the news. But guess what? After the march it wasn’t a major headline on any site. As a matter of fact, I was able to re-watch the speech on a video uploaded to a non-mainstream outlet. When I went to the major news outlets all I seen was clips praising her speech with this part edited out. I honestly wonder if the internet hadn’t made such a big deal out of this if they even would have pushed the issue at all?

As Louis so eloquently put it – there are no unbiased sources. The real question is what are we going to do as Americans? This site was created as a means to break the mold of bias by allowing every political affiliation to have an unfiltered outlet to voice the concerns and ideas of the demographics that they represent. The media ‘reports’ issues – then we get upset about them and make it political so finally the politicians have to address it from there. They have the ability to steer the conversation in this country so we need to start making them answer for their accountability in regards to what their bias has created. Trump’s inauguration is just one event so imagine all the spin we face on a daily basis. The bottom line is this: research everything as well as you can and as often as possible. Oh, and when you do, please leave your cognitive dissonance at the door.

-John Streaker

Abortion “Rights”

The day after Donald Trump took his oath of office, millions of people took to the streets in protest under the moniker “Women’s March on Washington” .  Although I think there were many reasons why these protests occurred, my attention was captured by the cry for abortion rights.

I’ve already written once about what you actually have a right to, but a quick recap is that you have a right to live, a right to liberty, and a right to own property.  The question of whether the baby in the womb is a person with rights is the only question that matters; from here on, the personhood of the child.

I know you want to talk about the consequences of making abortion illegal, but how we deal with those is completely dependent on whether or not the baby is a person.  If she isn’t a person, then the consequences of making abortion illegal very much weigh in, and frankly as a Libertarian, I would be compelled to be pro-choice (as I am in nearly every other matter).  If, on the other hand, the baby in the womb has a right to live, then we MUST protect that life and deal with the consequences in a different manner.

I think there are two areas where everyone can agree:

  1. Before conception there is no life, a sperm by itself or an unfertilized egg do not make a human
  2. Once the baby is born, it is a person and has a right to live

Personhood begins somewhere in-between #1 and #2.

How do we draw the line?

Viability

This is effectively how the Supreme Court addressed the personhood question in Roe. The problem with using fetal viability as a benchmark for the beginning of rights is that viability is wholly dependent on external factors.  Say for instance, a child in New York City may be viable at 22 weeks whereas one in Nairobi would need to be at 34 weeks or more because of the technology available.  Are we to argue that personhood begins at a different time for a child in the United States than it does for one in rural China?  Of course not.

Your rights are a matter of your nature, they are independent of external forces.  So whether or not technology exits to incubate a child outside of her mother is irrelevant to the question of whether that child is a person.

My Body My Choice

I agree.  I’m a Libertarian.  I belive you own your body, what you put into it, who you share it with, and how you use it to earn money is ALL your business and as long as you don’t hurt someone else, you should be free to do it.  The problem with this argument is that the baby is not your body.

The baby is in your body, and that is a very important difference.  That child has her own DNA, her own fingerprints, lungs, blood type, heart, limbs, etc.  No human being has two sets of DNA.  The child may be dependent on your body (see above) for a while, but dependency does not signify ownership and relinquishment of rights.  The day she is born, she is wholly dependent on your body still, but that doesn’t mean you have a right to kill her.

Assigning a Date to Personhood

The problem with attempting to bestow personhood at any point other than conception is that you cannot objectively define the difference between one moment in gestation and the preceding moment.  Say you attempt to define personhood as beginning in the 13th week.  Is it at the end of the week?  If so, what about the 12th week and 6 days and 23 hours?  What about an hour before?  What about a day before?

There is a distinct, measurable, objective difference between an unfertilized egg, and the moment of conception…which starts with a flash of light by the way.  Instead of a big bang, a small bang if you will.

 

Whether or not the consequences of making abortion illegal are extremely detrimental to our society are secondary arguments that can only be considered after defining personhood.  I do not believe one can make the case logically or scientifically that personhood begins at any point other than conception which frames the discussion about abortion completely differently.  You are now talking about capital punishment, not an outpatient procedure, and we take the former very seriously (for the record I also oppose the death penalty).

-LJF

 

 

The Fastest Way To A Successful Third Party

Allow me to begin by saying that I’m a progressive that tends to vote Democrat. I have never researched and read so much for one single writing, and I did this with the help of another progressive, two libertarians, and two conservatives. I ask you all, please read this in it’s entirety before passing judgement. I assure you that even as some things may appear to not make sense or be ‘radical,’ eventually things come together. So let’s begin…

American Moderates: The Template For Success

Let me start by putting this as bluntly as possible – people are sick of the partisan circus that has taken over Washington DC. It has resulted in nothing getting accomplished while everyone points at their rivals across the aisle as a means to gain political expedience. The level of trust for our politicians is at an all time low (which has a direct effect on turn out), while the desire for change against the establishment is at an all time high. The American political system continues to polarize people in such a divisive manner that the center is slowly but surely disappearing before our eyes. We have to stop that now. The fact of the matter is nothing gets done at Capitol Hill without some degree of bipartisan cooperation.

First let me clear up what I mean by ‘moderate’ as this is such a broad term. Being a moderate does not mean you share the exact ideology as other moderates, unlike conservatives or liberals. However, most people are not 100% to the right or left with their political views either. The best definition I found was in an article by The Atlantic which stated:

Moderates… aren’t tuned-out or ill-informed, but they tend to see both sides of complex issues…

Being a moderate does not mean being an independent either. As FiveThirtyEight explained, independents tend to have a more extreme position than members of either major party with a similar philosophy (Bernie Sanders). According to polls, moderates tend to see the best of each political ideology and span across demographic lines in ways the major parties could only dream of doing. As a matter of fact in our most prior elections moderates made up 41% of the electorate in 2012 and 44% in 2008, and also tend to be the deciding factor in who’s elected.

Populist movements have become increasingly popular in the last two general elections. For those unfamiliar with the term:

Populism is a political style of action that mobilizes a large alienated element of population against a government seen as controlled by an out-of-touch closed elite that acts on behalf of its own interests. The underlying ideology of the Populists can be left, right, or middle.

In 2012 we saw Ron Paul have a sweeping populist movement, especially among the youth. This past election seen major populist movements on both the right and left in the forms of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The overall message here is people are tired of the political establishment and yearn for an environment that will finally start serving the interests of the people.

The problem with ‘moderates’ as politicians is due to the nature of the polarized atmosphere which has overcome DC, many of them are painted as ‘weak’ or ‘establishment’ representatives. I’m opposed to the idea of any politician using the moderate label to flip flop on issues – but those with a sound understanding of each issue as an individual one rather than a grouped philosophy should be viewed from a different perspective.

What I propose is a ‘moderate’ party that works for the people. If such a party was formed there is a possibility you could have the small number of remaining moderates join giving instant representation by having incumbents in DC. I believe that people witnessing the unification of those willing to get things done would be profound. A revolution in American politics “where the people finally let the establishment know, this is our country.” Sounds good right?

As I stated earlier, ‘moderate’ is a very loose term. I wanted to be able to illustrate just what this moderate party would look like which I realized rather quickly I couldn’t do on my own. So in the spirit of the National Union Party, I reached out to five other people – one more progressive, two libertarians, and two conservatives – with the goal to compromise on all our major political issues to show that it can be done. Though it proved more difficult than I thought it would be, we still managed to pull it off.

The Utilitarian Party

screenshot_20170109-221237

Now we obviously can’t go around calling ourselves the ‘moderate party.’ It sounds rather mundane and anti-charismatic. Enter: utilitarianism. This unique ideology is seldom (if ever) discussed in American politics. Classic utilitarianism is simply this: the best idea, is the one that gives the most happiness to the greatest amount of people. Imagine that – a philosophy that is driven by the happiness of everyone. I’d also like to point out that since the Declaration of Independence stated that the “pursuit of happiness” was an “unalienable right” that it is rather fitting.

Most times in history utilitarianism has been used to decide existing issues by simple majority, rather than creating new ones based off it’s principles. In my experiences when dealing with groups of polarized people, the best way to advocate for change is presenting new ideas rather than trying to prove you’re right on the existing ones. What we put together would be best described as an unexplored version of rule utilitarianism. Our goal: take the best ideas from each side and create policy to maximize utility – rather than apply the philosophy to existing ideas. Instead of seeing what provided the most happiness using current positions – we set out to compromise and create our own that would make everyone happy, thus maximizing utility to the fullest extent. We could end political polarization; rather than asking who’s right and who’s wrong the question would begin as how do we positively affect the most people? Political utilitarianism. For added insight on the logo – Democrats have a donkey, Republicans have an elephant, I went with the owl as it is a symbol of wisdom. For those seeking further discussion on social media, join the group “The American Utilitarian” on Facebook!

So here’s what we came up with, the utilitarian platform:

Compromissum Pro Unitate

These are purely hypothetical ideas! After this, I will write a series of articles detailing the specifics of the most important issues below to break down everything and demonstrate how things would work.

Immigration

Kind of hard to be a ‘fiscal conservative’ and say you’re going to deport every illegal immigrant in the United States; the costs would be astronomical to track down – then detain – then temporarily house – then transport them back to their country. A major burden on the tax payers. What we propose is a much simpler system. First of all, the immigration process is loaded with formalities and stipulations, on top of the requirements they have after all of that. We think if you can pass a thorough background check done by our intelligence agencies – then pass a civics test on how things work in America – that we are in no position to deny anyone the coveted American dream. This would apply to all those trying to come into the country (refugees included). As for illegals, we understand that they broke the law to be here. After they go through the process, we will charge them a tax penalty for a specific period of time to generate federal revenue – rather than spend more. As for walls? In the spirit of Ronald Reagan and his stance on walls, we decided it may not be a good idea.

Gun Laws – The Second Amendment

I think we can all agree that gun laws in this country are extremely confusing. Does this state reciprocate that one, blah blah blah. For instance – in New York if you get your gun rights back as a felon the manner in which they do this makes it still illegal to own a gun through federal law. We opt to abolish all current federal gun laws. Don’t think we are radical just yet! What we propose is this: A law that would require each state to start a ‘DMV-like’ department for guns. If you have a driver’s license in a state it’s recognized nationally, though each state has it’s own driving requirements. The same would apply with guns. A state would have the discretion to set whatever laws they like (as long as they don’t violate the 2nd amendment) and whatever requirements they want to obtain a license. The ‘DGO’ (Department of Gun Ownership). Every state recognizes each others license, and you have to abide by each states laws while there. This allows economic opportunities for states with loose regulation – gives states an easier template to create stricter regulation – and cuts back on federal spending quite a bit. So much so, through this we believe we could get rid of the ATF (this isn’t prohibition ya know).

Congressional Term Limits

We agreed this is a no-brainer. People argue it takes some many years (Ted Kennedy, Bernie Sanders) to have a profound effect on congress so we shouldn’t do it. But I say, isn’t that because the others who were there for decades already make it more difficult? What we propose is a 12 year total maximum amount, slightly different then the current proposal. It would equate to: 2 senate terms, 6 house terms, or a mixture of 1 senate term and 3 house terms.

LGBT Rights

We will start with gay marriage. If people want to get married, straight or gay, the government has no place saying who can or cannot do so. At the same time, it shouldn’t be able to force this to be done either. It’s only claim to marriage is tax filings, so we propose changing the tax system and taking this away to keep government out of it, but we will address that in a few. Aside from that, of course we would make sure that LGBT people are a protected class of citizens from discrimination in all cases.

Abortion

This topic was the toughest to deliberate. I suggested a federal law protecting abortions mentioned in the Hyde Amendment – which would be consistent with Poland who has some of the strictest laws in the world – including mothers who may die, rape, and incest. What we came to though was making it a state’s rights issue. Allowing states to issue their own laws on the subject.

Environment

We do not deny climate change – let me start with that. What we do have is a system that unfairly allows politics to influence environmental policy. One survey showed that 40% of EPA scientists reported political interference in their work. They do this so they can set regulations that benefit some while hurting others in the private sector. What we propose is making the EPA a federally funded organization, which operates independently from the government to remove the political aspect (eg Post Office, Federal Reserve). If a representative wants a law to help their corporate buddies, let them write and sign it themselves as they do with everything else. This would also significantly reduce the costs.

Education

If there’s one thing worth investing in – it’s education. Though we aren’t a fan of federal education initiatives (No Child Left Behind, Common Core Math) and think that all curriculum should be left entirely up to the state’s discretion. 8% of public K-12 funding is through the federal government – but through three separate departments. Simplify the process to cut out overhead by giving what’s needed by states through one grant. As a country we have 1.1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. According to the fiscal reports from the Department of Education, we spend $139.7 billion a year on PELL grants and student loans. However according to the proposal from Bernie Sanders to make public universities tuition-free, it would only cost $70 billion. You read that correctly, half the cost. Do this now. Universities can still set their own admission standards and requirements for getting in. That allows more consumer money into the economy, while providing a significant service to the public and cutting on spending. Not to mention, states will be able to invest more money in K-12 education.

Crime Reform

The United States has 25% of the entire world’s total prison population. We can’t be that bad can we? First, decriminalize marijuana entirely. If alcohol is legal there’s no reason marijuana shouldn’t be. Second, end the ‘war on drugs’ because it has taught us over the last few decades arrests and imprisonment has not bettered our society. Rather than institutionalizing our people let’s actually try to rehabilitate them. All first time non-violent drug offenders should be released from prison – period. Addiction is a mental illness and should be treated as such. We should offer more treatment, not more time. Get rid of the death penalty, if you’re going to be pro-life actually mean it. With so many people being proven of innocence, even one murder of someone wrongfully convicted is just that – murder. Abolish all federal private prisons. The more people locked up, the higher profit yielded. This has to come to an end. Not to mention, we have a federal law requiring 34k immigrants to be locked up at all times on the tax payers dime – when 60% of them are good and end up getting released. Abolish all federal drug classifications and make federal prison only for major drug traffickers and those who commit an array of crimes in multiple states. Let bankers and those from Wall Street go to state prison, no special treatment. Doing this we could shrink federal prisons by 80%. Ending the war on drugs means we can abolish the DEA.

Foreign Policy

We want to maximize military strength AND efficiency simultaneously. A high portion of wasteful spending comes from right here – audit the DoD and let the people in charge of the military decide what needs money and what doesn’t rather than some congressman trying to get his corporate buddy a government contract. Keep strategic foreign bases but cut back on the exuberant amount we have globally with no actual strategic value. Pull out of war zones and start a preemptive policy, rather than continuing an imperialist one. Focus on defense inside our nation from foreign entities. Still maintain a limited leadership role in NATO and the UN. Totally repeal the Patriot Act and the NDAA which allow the government to substantially restrict the individual freedoms of American Citizens.

Economy

Let’s start with Wall Street. We are against taxing transactions because we are afraid it would somehow lead to the regular people being taxed. We are for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagal (a law that kept investment banks and commercial banks separate) but we want amendments to Dodd-Frank because it has killed the number of small banks and credit unions in this country through regulation. We are very ‘pro-SEC’ and will support them however we can. We are against any kind of import tariffs or actions to further restrict American trade.

We wish to make major changes regarding corporate influence in DC. We currently have volunteer lobbyist and paid lobbyist – I suggested making lobbying a strictly volunteer environment. We agreed we should ban all fundraising and contributions from lobbyist entirely to stop corporate influence on politicians. Also, make PAC’s have the same spending restrictions as candidates to cut their influence there. I suggested overturning the Citizen’s United ruling which allows corporations to dump unlimited funds into super PAC’s as well.

Change the tax code to household filings rather than individual ones. This would keep government away from marriage while also significantly reducing tax fraud. Institute a modified version negative income tax at $30k per household (if you make 10k, you get 20k from the government). Doing this we could abolish all federal programs that are considered ‘entitlements’ such as food stamps, public housing, social security, etc. This would ensure every household receives slightly over $575 a week ($2500 a month) to replace every thing mentioned above. You basically streamline all programs in to one pay out which significantly reduces overhead and federal spending. Offer incentives for those who make over $30k a year, and make the first 30k tax free for every one. This program would cost about 2/3 of what social security currently does while providing more for the people it serves. Apply a flat tax of 15% above all income over 30k per household and a 15% corporate flat tax to go with it. Cut federal subsidy programs that allow government to pick and choose which companies to give an unfair advantage to with ‘free’ money. End all corporate loopholes and wasteful deductions.

After you do all this – the best part of it all – with the cuts already suggested, the government would have a minimum surplus of $200 billion. (Yes you read that right!)

We’d also like to encourage market competition with the Federal Reserve and end their monopoly, as well as make the fed a public institution and promote the use of public banks similar to the Bank of North Dakota.

We are also anti-bail out.

Health Care

The final topic! Bernie Sanders has a ‘medicare for all’ proposal at $1.38 trillion. The problem? Total health expenditures last year were $3.2 trillion, with over 2.7 of that being specifically for personal care. The math just doesn’t add up. So our proposal: since we already abolished social security with the negative income tax, we intend to do a flat 5% tax (matched by employers) on all wages which would essentially raise the same amount. What for? A single payer universal critical care system. Instead of having to wait until you’re a senior citizen to use what comes out your check it will be immediately available to you in the event of an emergency. Hypothetically, if we were to cover all 23 of America’s top health expenditures along with all hospital surgeries – we still have as much as $200 billion left when the year ended. Not only would these critical things be covered by taxes, but by doing so you take the risk out of insurance. Anyone who works in the insurance industry will tell you – risk is what drives the costs of premiums. By eliminating that, the costs of insurance would plummet and be affordable for everyone so they can receive preventative care and whatever other non-emergency treatment they need. It’s a win-win; for the left as it provides a significant safety net for everyone – and for the right as it still allows significant business for the private sector. Under these circumstances we would also allow the medical portion of the VA to be privatized so it would be easier for our vets to see doctors in a timely fashion.

A special thanks to Haley Holzer, Christopher Smith, Ronald Massenburg, Louis Fernandez, and Matt Miller for their contributions on this project! Please keep an eye out for the following writings that will provide the specifics on these positions!

– John Streaker