Nov 3, 2012

Anyone But: A Tale of Two Evils

As a libertarian, Ron Paul supporter, and (unenthusiastic) registered Republican I often get told by other Republicans that I should vote for Mitt Romney. Many arguments are made for this position, such as Romney being a great businessman and being pro private sector, but the debate usually comes down to “anyone but Obama.” After all, Barack Obama is the worst president in America’s history. Anyone could do a better job than him. Even if I dislike Romney he is the lesser of two evils and the only one who can defeat Obama in the coming election. Or so the logic flows.

To be honest, I don’t know much about every president in history. There were some past presidents that I have spent a great deal learning about in school and others who were glanced over. I’ve only recently become a fan of Calvin Coolidge, an example of a president that was all but skipped in high school history. I only have a handful of presidents to compare Obama to, thus to claim Obama is the worst is both unfair and foolish.

With that argument put to rest I’m going to forget history for the moment. Well, that is with the exception of the past four years. In 2008 Obama was the lesser evil, although I didn’t think of him as a lesser evil or even evil in general back then. I happened to be aligned to the liberal ideology at the time and was welcoming the idea of a President Barack Obama. Those were different times though. Now I understand why Obama was perceived the way he was. America was about to end eight terrible years of a Republican run executive branch. Any candidate on the Democrat’s ticket would be better than another President George Bush. Thus the phrase “anyone but Bush” was born. We all know where that got us.

The word “anyone,” however, doesn’t actually mean any other choice. As I mentioned, I’m specifically told to vote for Romney when someone says to vote for anyone who is not Obama. As I show them I’m taking their advice by stating I’m voting third party the other person scolds me and claims that I am wasting my vote or that I’m voting for Obama that way. What “anyone but” actually translates into is “vote for the opposing corporate party.” Therefore, if the incumbent is a Democrat, “anyone but” means vote for the Republican candidate, and vice versa. For anyone but devote Republicans and Democrats, the political world of anyone but is a depressing one.

I realize that the candidate I will cast my vote for as much chance of defeating President Obama as Penn Jillette does becoming an alcoholic. I’m not as interested in defeating Obama as I am in finding someone who represents the people of the nation. Unfortunately, that chance may not arrive for many years to come and we the people will only know victors that are anyone but the greater evil.

Oct 15, 2012

Debating the Debate Format

Because I only developed an interest in politics about three years ago, I never took the time to watch any of the previous presidential debates. I always assumed the process would consist of a bunch of boring facts and policy plans surrounded by political nonsense. You know what they say about assuming though. I decided on watching the first Obama-Romney presidential debate. Turns out “they” were wrong. I made a second decision to watch the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan to see if there was any difference. Aside from the moderator being a little better most of the debate was composed of the same squawking that happened in the presidential debate. What’s sad is that I will probably force myself to watch the next debate as well.

My problem in not finding as much enjoyment in these debates as the mainstream political junkie would could be because I don’t watch them the correct way. Most of these people seem to be anxious with who wins (or who loses) the debate whereas I don’t care who the winner is. Well, sure, having a winner would help predict who will win the presidency, but that’s the role of Election Day. There is also personal satisfaction that comes from knowing that your team claimed victory. That is quite difficult though when you know that neither of the choices represents you.

Debates, in my opinion, should be about getting the issues out there. It shouldn’t be about whether you think a certain candidate is better than another. Rather, you should favor one set of ideas over another. It may sound like there is no difference between the two options above. All too often people become attached to a certain politician because of his appearance or personality or the usual case of which party he belongs too. When deciding on which candidate best represents you, you should focus on both the how and why they will make the current situation better.

The first way to improve the debates is to allow more people into them. By having more people on the stage there is a greater chance that new solutions will be offered for the current problems facing our nation. I don’t mean that every person running has to be included in every debate. As of now, candidates must meet three criteria set up by the Commission on Presidential Debates to be eligible to appear in national debates. These are:

1) Meet legal requirements for running
2) Appear on the ballot in enough states to have a mathematical chance to win
3) Poll at 15% or greater in national polls

I happen to agree with the first two rules. The third rule gets a bit more controversial. Most national polls only include three candidates: the Democrat, the Republican, and another candidate. And by another candidate I mean the option is “Another Candidate.” There is no way to determine how many votes a particular third party or independent candidate would receive. At a more basic level other candidates don’t get recognized as running or attempting a serious campaign. The choice has been narrowed down to the public to only two candidates from the beginning. And why is 15% support needed? Why not 10%? 20%? When you’re a candidate that receives 40-50% of the vote before debating, shouldn’t people already know what you stand for? My choice would be to eliminate the final rule. I wouldn’t be against anyone, however, who would like to have candidates debate that don’t meet one of both of the first two requirements. There are two organizations that I found to be hosting their own debates that include third party candidates that did not meet the third requirement. They are the Independent Voting Network who will hold a debate between Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Free and Equal Elections who will also be holding a debate featuring Johnson and Stein as well as two other candidates, Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, that do not meet the second requirement.

Another way to improve process would be to change the structure of the debates. There are a multitude of options to be chosen from this category. For example, YouTube personality drinkingwithbob proposes that there should be a two minute slot per issue given to each candidate to explain what they plan to do to improve it. I agree with his proposition for the format of the debate, although, I suppose it wouldn’t technically be considered a debate then. I disagree, however, with the timing and amount of the debates he offers.

There should be a total of four presidential debates. The first debate would happen roughly four weeks prior to Election Day. This debate would be held in the drinkingwithbob style. Such issues spoken about may include general topics as education or the environment and/or specifics like the Patriot Act. After this debate the viewer should know where each candidate stands on the issues. There would be minimum discussion between candidates, thus it would be about providing reasons as to why their stance is the right one instead of focusing why it would be terrible to vote for another candidate. The next three debates would occur once a week in the argument style with one major theme for each debate, not held in any particular order: foreign policy, social issues, and the economy. These debates would give candidates the time to defend their own policies as well as attack others. The viewer gets the bonus of knowing when candidates are hypocritical or are soft on an issue when comparing the debate to what original one.

When it comes to vice presidential debates I am not certain how significant I feel they are because the VP candidates act as another mouth or cheerleader to repeat and promote what the presidential candidate would say. Those debates seem like a waste of time if the viewer watched the presidential debates. The major argument for holding a VP debate would be to have someone portray one of the candidate’s messages that may have been unclear in a more understandable version.

Would there still be some BS thrown around in the new stylized debates? I wouldn’t doubt it, but I think it would be reduced. That would be another plus to adding more candidates. It wouldn’t be as simple as my team VS your team. It becomes Team 1 VS Team 2 VS Team 3, etc. The candidate would have to stand up for his/her own views or risk being counterattacked by multiple combatants. Until changed take place, however, we are stuck with the BS slinging of our current debaters.

Feb 17, 2012

Chuck's Second War on Caffeine

NOTE: This is something I began writing around the end of December, early January. For one reason or another I forgot about it before posting it, thus some of the information might be a bit dated. I may write another article giving an update on the situation in the near future, but for now I will post this and if anyone has any new information feel free to comment below.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York aided in past efforts to put protection before personal choice. Back in 2010 Schumer fought to ban caffeinated alcoholic beverages, with the most notable being Four Lokos. Moving into 2011 the Democrat would work towards a swift elimination of sales of “bath salts.” It appears that Senator Schumer believes adults cannot make their own informed choices when it comes to recreational activities.

Now he returns to banning caffeine in another form: inhaled caffeine. AeroShot Pure Energy is the soon-to-be product of the new company Breathable Foods, Inc. Their website claims AeroShot “delivers an airborne shot of fast-acting energy. A quick boost of caffeine mixed with B vitamins that’s ready anytime, anyplace.” This takes the work out of drinking a cup of coffee as each container contains 100 mg of caffeine which nearly mirrors the amount in coffee.

Senator Schumer holds two primary concerns for the new product. The first is that it has not been properly tested in accordance with FDA guidelines. For instance Schumer worries that the powder could be inhaled into the lungs despite the website claiming the particles are too large to be absorbed by the lungs. His other concern is that it will be sold over the counter meaning a person of any age can purchase it, including children. AeroShot’s website, however, states it is meant for the average caffeine drinker and, more specifically, that children and people who are sensitive to caffeine should avoid their product.

Stemming from his previous concerns, Schumer sees AeroShot becoming the next big party drug for teens and young adults. As of now Schumer only wants more tests run on AeroShot, but he may later call for an all out ban on the product to keep people from mixing alcohol and caffeine. Current research does support negative effects from combining stimulants (caffeine) and depressants (alcohol). While many are familiar with these findings, they continue to drink the caffeinated-alcoholic elixir despite the consequences. Partiers will add shots of vodka to their Red Bull or drink a caffeinated Four Loko (well, at one point they did). There is a strong probability that people will continue to add alcohol to their caffeinated beverages or vice versa or perhaps drink a warm coffee alongside an ice-cold beer even if AeroShot is banned.

How would AeroShot fair in a libertarian market? AeroShot would be able to compete with all other caffeinated products. Any claims that Breathable Foods made about their product would be subjected to review by independent researchers. During this period of independent research individuals would have the freedom to try AeroShot and test the product themselves in a more practical way. If they feel it is too dangerous or did not undergo the proper testing they can simply refuse to buy it. Total liability would fall on Breathable Foods for any harm caused to their customers based on misinformation they presented. For instance, they claim that their product does not enter the lungs. If this proves to be false, then Breathable Foods would have broken their contract with the consumer and would be responsible for covering any of the consumer’s bills that may result because of that.

What needs to be done is to allow the consumer to have control over what he or she puts into his or her body and to keep the government from determining what is and what is not good for the consumer.

Dec 4, 2011

What Shall We Do with a Drunken Economy?

What shall we do with a drunken economy
What shall we do with a drunken economy
What shall we do with a drunken economy
Early in the century

Okay, so this will most likely not become the next big sea shanty hit, but it does describe the current unsteadiness of our economy. The song can just as readily be applied to the legislative and executive branches of (most notably) the early 21st century when it comes to their willingness to spend. In either sense I shall compare the current economic situation to a drunken mess, that is, the way in which a free market supporter views the United States’ economy.

The picture that some people create when it comes to saving our economy is to relate to that of a burning house. They state that the economic trouble represents flames burning everything we own. The only way to continue living then is to spend more money to repair or buy a new house. Once that new house is acquired then the economy will return to a more stable, and overall better, environment.

The free market image of the economy is that of a non-sober individual. In this picture, Congressional spending is considered the alcohol while the economy is personified. As the bartender (Congress) dishes out more and more rounds to the economy, it becomes more impaired. At the same time, however, the economy continues to live on false happiness that it experiences from its uninhibited state. Thus at first glance it appears everything is fine and possibly better than the economy in a sober state.

There are two paths the economy can take from this point. The first is that the economy can submit to its alcoholism and continue receiving its shots from the bartender. In this scenario the initial drunken happiness begins to wear off and it begins to become unstable. If the economy continues to drink, bringing the country further into debt, it will eventually black out, symbolizing an economic collapse.

The alternate scenario involves the economy admitting it has an addiction. It can begin a regiment to be weaned off its alcohol cravings. Then what would occur is a period of sobering up followed by a period of withdrawal. The happiness that was felt during the spending period will wear off and the road to recovery may seem harsh. This will be especially true under during the withdrawal stage. It may appear to be better to continue drinking away the depression (in both psychological and economic terms), but the sooner the intense spending stops, the faster and easier the period of recovery will be.

This analogy can be taken a step further to Congress’s relationship to the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve acts as the bartender while Congress becomes the drunk. In return Congress shares its alcoholic wealth with its friends that are high up on the economic ladder.

The question that thus remains is, “What shall we do with a drunken economy?”

Oct 6, 2011

"Ron Paul's Charity" Critique

Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican representative, 2012 presidential candidate, and strong believer in private charity. That last piece of information may sound out of place, but it aligns with his libertarian-leaning political positions. While most Democrats and Republicans have no intention of cutting government charity, Paul strays from his party and believes that individuals can provide the best aid for those living under unfortunate circumstances. However, a recent article from the Huffington Post, “Ron Paul’s Charity: Libertarian Views Fail Reality Test” by Christina Wilkie (the article is linked at the bottom of the post), states the impossibility of solely relying on private charity to provide for those in need. The real impossibility lies in the ability to know absolutely which form of charity is superior: government, private, or the perfect blend of both.

It is important to understand the libertarian’s belief in charity and how it differs from those who hold other political positions before moving on to the article. Libertarians believe that charity through taxation is not actually charity. A charity is a relationship between a voluntary donor and a voluntary receiver (the receiver technically has to accept the offer being given). Taxation replaces the voluntary role with coercion, that is, the donor becomes forced to give up something that belongs to him/her or face the threat of being sent to prison, fined, or suffering some other punishment. Those outside the libertarian influence find that force is justifiable as the end result is a noble one. The government assumes the role of Robin Hood and takes from the rich and gives to the poor. Please note that those who do believe in government charity also believe, for the most part, that private charity can coexist in society.

Getting back to Wilkie’s article, I would first like to discuss Dr. Leslie Lenkowsky’s statements. First, Lenkowsky should have given the name of the study he was referencing. Personally I would like to see how much Americans gave throughout the years, to which people/organizations they gave, and how charity measures up against tax rates and unemployment. I believe that at least part of this increase is due to technological advances, mainly the internet, having some impact of this statistic. Second, assuming the data is correct, Americans donate more money to charities today despite having higher income tax rates than in 1930 (the increase in tax rate is true according to The Tax Foundation) .1 One way to interpret the data then is to expect a further increase in taxes would lead to an increase in tax revenue and an increase in donation to private charity. It is hard to make an actual conclusion though because this study was not experimentally based, but only represents a correlation. One can look at this information with a more positive view of humanity and determine that people are becoming more generous. In that case maybe people today would give even more to charities if there were fewer and/or lower taxes. This stance also, however, cannot be proved or disproved by the study.

The article goes on to describe Paul’s recent experience with private charity. Kent Snyder, a fundraiser for Paul, had passed away in July from pneumonia. A pre-existing health condition excluded him from receiving health insurance. His lack of insurance resulted in substantial medical bills. Even with Paul and Snyder’s other friends and family donating money they were unable to pay all the expenses.

Cases similar to the one above make government programs such as universal healthcare seem appealing. Libertarianly speaking, there are alternate solutions to this problem. In fact, doing the opposite, that is, removing all government run healthcare programs would save the tax payer money. In return, he would have more money to spend on his own health choices. Government healthcare programs and regulations also have the risk of increasing the cost of private healthcare. Government does not have the same incentives as a private business does. They can charge above market prices because of the monopoly they have over the business. Citizens are forced to buy the government service whether they want/need to or not. Regulations, such as forcing insurance agencies to accept someone despite their current health, can increase the price of healthcare. Other regulations such as not allowing certain drug to be used or restricting the use of atypical medical practices (i.e. non science based treatments) can increase prices on the practice as well as limit the consumer’s medical path choice. Removal of government would allow for more competition among insurance agencies offering the best product at the best price.

Now that I have gone completely off topic, let us return to charity. If all the above happens to fail and the individual cannot find a health insurance plan either because it would be too expensive or no company would cover him, he can opt for charity. Paul says in Wilkie’s article that churches would be able to provide help. Paul’s theory is debunked by General Secretary James Winkler of the United Methodist Church who declares it impossible. However, this is assuming current conditions continue. Under a more libertarian government it may be possible. But it doesn’t have to be churches alone that handle those who need medical help. Clinics and hospitals set up by private charities can be created to support those in need.

You may be asking where we can find the money to invest in these charities. After all, we have already learned that a combined partnership of private charity and revenue raised by government in the form of taxes is still not enough today. Even if the libertarian theory is correct about people donating more with less taxation, would it be enough to offset and exceed the money made through taxation? Wouldn’t it be better to simply raise taxes to pay for this?

To the person who believes we should raise taxes, I would like to know: On whom should the government raise taxes? If your answer is the rich, what defines rich? How much should we raise taxes? Aside from health care, what other programs should the government invest in?

But where else can we get money if we’re not taxed more? My solution: Warren Buffett. Buffett has stated that he wanted to be taxed more. If he wants to give more of his money away, why doesn’t he just do it? Unless there is some crazy law that I do not know about that makes it illegal to give too much there is nothing stopping him. And he is not the only person who believes in giving more. Celebrities such as Seth MacFarlane and Jerry Springer have also stated they wanted to have their taxes increased. Again, why wait until you are forced to give your money? If you want to donate your money, my advice is to donate it. This would add lots to the charity fund and provide many families and individuals with a better chance at increasing their living standard.

“Ron Paul’s Charity: Libertarian Views Fail Reality Test”