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Free Thinkers Anonymous

Think with an open mind, question everything

Will more extensive gun control measures stop criminals?

A few days ago, a tragic incident took place in Las Vegas, Nevada. A lone gunman fired upon a crowd attending a country music festival, killing 59 people and injuring hundreds more. Not even a day after, the media and pundits were already quick to gravitate such an event to fit a particular narrative or agenda. Whether it is focused on gun control, abortion beliefs, immigration activities, video games, etc., no tragedy is seen as beneath the drive to attach the behavior of psychopaths and deranged individuals to different points of view or use as an excuse to advance a call to action. The drive for increased gun control measures is one that is ever persistent to such tragedies. The belief pushed by those who support such endeavors is that doing so will promote safety. However, it has been found that such endeavors have made little to no change in the level of violent crime rates across the globe. Not to mention that, in many cases, the level of rigidity that such laws embody is potentially outright unconstitutional.
Studies have shown that stricter gun control laws do not yield lower crime rates, with lowering of homicides occurring regardless of whether such laws were in place or not. One study released by Quinnipiac University found that states with restrictions on the carrying of concealed weapons tended to have higher gun-related murder rates than other states. Assault weapon bans were also found to not significantly affect murder rates at the state level. This mirrors some earlier studies that have been done in the area, especially the 1997 study from John Lott and David Mustard of the University of Georgia. The Quinnipiac study covered data from 1980 to 2009, while the Lott/Mustard study covered data from 1977 to 1992. Such bans also seem dubious,┬ásince such weapons are lawfully owned by millions of Americans, and the fact that they are…assuming we know what qualifies as an “assault weapon” as the term is applied differently depending on who uses it…hardly as lethal as conventional claims would make it appear(http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/10/06/zero-correlation-between-state-homicide-rate-and-state-gun-laws/; http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/21/gun-homicides-steady-after-decline-in-90s-suicide-rate-edges-up/; http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004723521400107X; http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13504851.2013.854294; http://www.terry.uga.edu/~mustard/ccw.pdf; (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/sunday-review/the-assault-weapon-myth.html?_r=0).
Endeavors such as background checks are used to attempt at finding an individual’s history before approving a gun license for them. This is preached as necessary to promote safety. While I do believe such a check isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it isn’t a foolproof way of deterring crime. In fact, some of the infamous events of the last decade or so have come from individuals that either had nothing or would never have been caught with one anyways. Adam Lanza, the Sand Hook shooter, more than likely would have been caught with a background check, but it meant nothing. He stole the gun he used to kill 20 schoolchildren in Sandy Hook, Connecticut from his mother. The Las Vegas shooter likely wouldn’t have been caught either, as he either got his weapons legally or off the black market.
In fact, one of the things that is hardly given much exposure on this debate is the notion of mental illness. Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter, and having passed both a state and federal background check, on a few occasions had experienced paranoid delusions, symptoms of schizophrenia. He called the police in response to these symptoms, and the police simply told him not to listen to them. And that was it. Alexis would go on to shoot and kill 12 people at the Navy Yard, a gun-free zone. Seung Hui-Cho, the shooter who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech, had been evaluated by several individuals 15 months prior to his rampage, but was never treated and fell through the cracks.
As was the case with Illinois, many of the laws on the books are unconstitutional. New York takes it further, not just having background checks and permits, but also long wait times (many a time leading to rejections…especially when trying to get open carry) and stating a reason for why you want one. Such things go against the constitutional right that every one has to own arms. No one should have to wait months for that, and especially there should be no need to have a reason to exercise their right (as if a criminal would state outright that they wish to harm people).
The Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
What does this mean, you ask? The Founding Fathers realized that the freedom of the people depended on the ability of said people to be able to defend themselves against the potential tyranny/usurpation of the state/government. A militia is defined as a group/army of non-professional forces, a.k.a. citizens. In order to be able to operate properly (“well-regulated”), it would need to be well-armed. Therefore, the citizenry needed to be able to own arms. What wards off an ever-encroachment state/government is the knowledge that the citizens can defend themselves.
When it comes to gun rights, the United States is in a unique club of nations when it comes to a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Only Guatemala and Mexico have similar constitutional concepts, though they are more conditional. Some gun control proponents like to use such a circumstance to make a case against the 2nd Amendment as being from a bygone, outdated era…yet appealing to popularity really is irrelevant as looking at history can also lead to a notice as to why a right to defense against tyrants of all walks is so paramount (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2010/12/have_gun_want_to_travel.html; https://americainchains2009.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/dictators-and-gun-control/).
Therefore, when legislation is crafted, it should be with the idea that the citizen shouldn’t be unreasonably barred from owning a firearm. The focus on the tool should also be left behind, and replaced…as with other instances of crime…with a focus on the user themselves, especially when concerned with the topic of mental illness. Even then, care should be taken as to how such a topic is dealt with, as history showcases how unintended consequences…and outright inhuman and unconstitutional abuses…can arise by needlessly stigmatizing those with mental illness. Such a moniker has been used to harass and condemn those outside the mainstream, and having such a diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean that such an individual is a danger to anyone (http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/mental-illness-gun-rights-and-medical-privacy/; https://symbolicorder.info/the-united-states-once-sterilized-tens-of-thousands-here-s-how-the-supreme-court-allowed-it-327c3ee04ccb; http://www.annalsofepidemiology.org/article/S1047-2797(14)00147-1/pdf; http://www.macarthur.virginia.edu/violence.html). Gun, hammer, screwdriver, broken light bulb, T.V. remote, truck…Giraffe-shaped decoration…it doesn’t matter the tool involved, for those who seek to do harm to others will find a way to carry out their rampage/plan. About time we focus our attention at holding them accountable rather than making law-abiding citizens, and by extension our free society, suffer to their whims.
Extra:
While some of those who support gun control like to use the Australian buyback program as being a great model to emulate (let’s forget the obvious constitutional and civil right violations involved if it ever were to come state-side, which is of course highly unlikely), research into the program comes to a far different conclusion on the “success” of the model. And despite the professor’s claims in the article about there not being a “mass shooting” in Australia since the 1996 law (again, comes down to how one defines what a “mass shooting” is), that isn’t really accurate: http://www.smh.com.au/national/australia-reloads-as-gun-amnesties-fail-to-cut-arms-20130113-2cnnq.html; http://bearingarms.com/npr-contributor-attempts-cover-australian-mass-shootings/; http://www.captainsjournal.com/2012/07/23/do-gun-bans-reduce-violent-crime-ask-the-aussies-and-brits/
Once again, as the narrative perpetrated by some about how there is no assurance that circumstances will change if people are allowed to carry guns (as if there is ever an assurance of anything in life) continues to be used, here are reports of just what being armed and able to defend can do that those who perpetuate said narrative fail to notice: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/10/03/do-civilians-with-guns-ever-stop-mass-shootings/; http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/apr/22/armed-texas-grandma-stops-would-be-robber-back-or-/; http://www.live5news.com/story/30483472/ccso-1-person-dead-after-13-year-old-opens-fire-at-suspected-burglar
In all these tragic events, so much time is given to discuss the motivations and character of the shooter, but hardly any coverage is given to those that were taken away from such callous behavior. Here are some details about those we have lost and those who gave of themselves so that others may be saved during the tragedy in Las Vegas. May they be remembered for all they brought in life: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-las-vegas-shootings-victims-list-20171002-htmlstory.html; https://www.thedailybeast.com/remembering-the-victims-of-the-las-vegas-massacre
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Is the national debt a problem?

This post was written on December 13, 2014. Therefore, some of the details within might be dated. For one, the national debt has topped $20 trillion a few days ago…and outweighs our total economic output. However, the overall issue contained within, as well as the conclusion, are still just as relevant.

You’ve probably heard that within the last week or so, the United States has now attained a national debt level of over $18 trillion. The national debt (also referred to as “public debt” or “government debt”) involves deficits owed by the central government of a country or state (In the U.S., as with other federal countries, that includes the debts of the states, municipalities, and local governments) which come usually through borrowing based on issuing securities, government bonds, and bills. Since the government derives it’s income from the population (or at least some of it), the national debt is an indirect debt of taxpayers.

The United States is 6th in the world when it comes to the ratio of it’s public debt in relation to it’s GDP (about 102%; Japan has the highest ratio at about 228%), but does in fact have the largest debt burden of any nation just as a product of the size of it’s economy. Most of the debt held by the United States is domestic, with about 34% being held by foreign nations. China holds the largest share of our debt of any individual nation, with Japan being second. From 1974 to today, the debt has had double-digit expansions in three decades since. In fact, we have been in the red in all but 4 of the past 40 years.

What led to this outcome? One possible cause could be the decision by President Nixon in 1971 to take the American dollar off the gold standard, creating a “fiat” currency with no precious metal backing it up. This had the impact of expanding the abilities of the American monetary system to grow in various ways, but also had the unfortunate side-effect of also removing any balance in the system which keep the printing system in check. Without the gold, the only thing to back up the currency, as with other fiat currencies, is the full faith and credit of the nation itself. With no balanced budget requirement, as well as no stopgap, government officials of any origin was free to overspend as long as they could get their get their bills through Congress. Fiscal and monetary drags through politics and the Federal Reserve have also not helped the situation, and though yearly deficit levels have lessened of late, the government is still adding about a little over half-trillion dollars to the national debt every year.

Is debt inherently bad? Not necessarily. In a vibrant economy, it is in fact vital. The reason for this is because most individuals, and organizations, can’t afford to pay straight cash to purchase high-ticket items such as a house, car, or certain programs. Without ability to borrow money, the economy would halt in growth quite quickly. However, such debt intake is balanced according to moderation. As long as it is sustainable, an individual or nation won’t be swamped with the threat of bankruptcy (though a nation like the U.S. can’t technically go bankrupt since it can “produce” it’s own money…though there is a consequence for that activity). It is when that is ignored that an individual or nation can suffer a “debt spiral”, which can be exacerbated thanks to higher interest rates and payments on the debt. A nation’s global perception can be damaged if the trust in a nation’s ability to pay it’s bills becomes lessened due to continued haphazard financial policies. Indeed our nation hasn’t come to the that scenario quite yet, but it truly is just a circumstance of a matter of time until those problems present themselves. Entitlement payments as a share of the budget are growing significantly. The United States, when accounting for all the eventual payments for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other obligations, has unpaid liabilities of well over $100 trillion. Former Federal Reserve officials expect debt accumulation to eventually pick up once again within the next decade as these payments grow, assuming nothing changes. There have already been attempts by other nations, including China, in recent years to push for a new reserve currency outside of the dollar. Standard & Poor’s, one of the major credit rating agencies around the world, recently downgraded the U.S. rating to AA, the first time in several decades that the U.S. had been downgraded. And as a previous post of mine made clear, though there are other concepts that show there is more to the story, China has surpassed the U.S. in certain economic mechanizations.

All of this demonstrates that we stand at a crucial branch point with dealing with our fiscal house. The hardships in Europe and elsewhere have granted us a valuable reprieve to putting things in order so that the American dream can still be available to future generations. If we don’t take advantage, that might not be a guarantee. Many claim that such an issue couldn’t happen here because “this is America”…but history is full of nations and organizations that used similar reasoning when met with serious circumstances. They aren’t here…or at least, not with the glory they used to have. Something is what it is…until it isn’t.

 

Google vs. James Damore

The firing of engineer James Damore at Google has galvanized different views on the matter, from some criticizing the engineer who wrote the memo to others denouncing Google for it’s response (https://techcrunch.com/2017/08/07/google-fires-memo-author/). In truth though, there is blame to go around.

Contrary to the inflammatory headlines concerning James Damore’s circulated memo being “anti-diversity”, it was hardly the case in reality. Mr. Damore took the time in his 10-page submission to criticize the manner in which Google undertook it’s diversity efforts, pointing out that in the name of instituting diversity among it’s employee ranks (according to arbitrary quotas), the company…according to Mr. Damore…was diminishing respect for ideological diversity and adherence to merit in it’s practices (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3914586-Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber.html). Indeed Mr. Damore mentions biological and philosophical differences between men and women, but such a thing is not necessarily a product of not respecting other people. By firing Mr. Damore in response to such a memo, Google in fact validated many of his criticisms regarding the topic at hand. If it were truly a beacon of diversity as advertised, the act of merely voicing an alternative viewpoint wouldn’t have been a fire-able offense. By such logic, those who advocate for better practices for women in the workplace, like Sheryl Sandberg for example (https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2017/03/29/sheryl-sandberg-interview-lean-in-four-years-later/99749464/), would have been fired for just such a similar raising of biological differences. Coupled with recent news that some of Google’s managers keep “blacklists” on those that they disagree with (https://www.inc.com/sonya-mann/google-manifesto-blacklists.html), and the reality shows the company to be hardly the supposed champion of free thought and diversity it touts itself to be.

This doesn’t mean that Mr. Damore is without criticism himself necessarily. He has threatened to sue Google for firing him over the memo…which basically undercuts his arguments involving ideological diversity by muddying the line between public and private venues (assuming it isn’t a violation of any contractual agreement under when Mr. Damore was hired). The First Amendment doesn’t apply to a private company, only to the government. Otherwise, everyone would be entitled to the use of someone else’s microphone/platform…a violation of their expression and speech since it would involve the encroachment of the state to enforce. It is understandable to be angry at an employer over the act of firing you, but government force involving associations is hardly an answer.

All this showcases how for many people, on all aisles of ideological inquiry, diversity is more of a word in defense of what they believe to the exclusion of all else. Such a belief, instead of being an enlightened position, only showcases a lack of faith in one’s own values. After all, if one is assured of their ideological position (particularly when they champion the importance of free thought and diversity), the presence of alternative viewpoints shouldn’t be a threat. How is one to grow as a human being if they are never challenged, which can only come in a truly open environment of inquiry and debate? Something to think about.

Extra:

Perhaps what is also missed in cases like this is discussion of the legal structure that encourages companies to preemptively punish employees for their views rather than face lawsuits later. This doesn’t absolve Google of it’s hypocrisy, but definitely something to consider – https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/legal-background-might-have-shaped-incentives-google-memo-case

What to make of President Trump’s military transgender ban announcement?

As with most things President Trump does, the response to the news that transgender soldiers will no longer be allowed to serve in the military has involved multiple expressions, with the typical one usually involving charges of the move being unnecessary or an act of discrimination. Those who support the president’s tweet claim that such policy is needed as a result of medical costs. Which side is correct? Well, both in a way.

The comment concerning costs from the tweet seems to come from a RAND study that the Pentagon commissioned last year. In it, the conclusion was that including transgender soldiers in the military would lead to incurring anywhere from $2.4 to 8.4 million in increased medical costs (http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_briefs/RB9900/RB9909/RAND_RB9909.pdf). The number of serving transgender soldiers isn’t truly known, but various studies (the RAND study being one) estimate the number being around a few to several thousand. Interestingly, the same RAND study also looked at 18 countries which permitted transgender soldiers to join their armed forces, and didn’t find any problems with readiness or unit cohesion. Such an outcome therefore does undercut the supposed concern of disruption. Also, while there is indeed concern of budgetary bloat in the military, it doesn’t require something as excessive as an outright ban. It also ignores the vast bounty upon which much of military activity is based. The defense apparatus (DoD, VA, etc.) offers much in the way of expenditures and benefits which don’t line-up with battlefield concerns, as well as incompetence, inefficiency, and mismanagement with contracting, rank growth, endeavors overseas, and veterans care among other things. Such bloat covers billions…or even trillions…of dollars to reconsider (https://medium.com/war-is-boring/the-f-35-is-a-terrible-fighter-bomber-and-attacker-and-unfit-for-aircraft-carriers-c6e36763574b; http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2013/07/24/the-pentagon-has-too-many-troops; https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/withdrawing-overseas-bases-why-forward-deployed-military-posture; https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/va-improperly-spent-6-billion-on-care-for-veterans-senior-agency-leader-says/2015/05/13/ab8f131c-f5be-11e4-b2f3-af5479e6bbdd_story.html; http://nypost.com/2017/07/26/us-military-blows-millions-a-year-on-viagra-for-its-troops/; http://hotair.com/archives/2017/07/28/government-needs-end-military-freebies-recruitment-tactics/). If public officials and others are concerned with attempted abuse of medical procedures covered under military budgets, like the media-covered controversy of gender reassignment surgery, such freebies could simply be removed. Such a change seems much more viable than completely locking out capable individuals from serving their country irrespective of whether they are seeking aid or not….a collectivist form of punishment if there ever was one.

If nothing else, just as with the travel ban (and recent comments against the filibuster), this episode shows how much President Trump doesn’t much care for process. While he claimed in his tweet that he had sought the advice of his generals, it turned out that the Joint Chiefs and other defense officials were blind-sided by the announcement (http://thehill.com/policy/defense/344290-mattis-appalled-by-trump-tweets-announcing-transgender-military-ban-report). Therefore, they have refused to make any changes to policy until further notice. Indeed Trump isn’t constitutionally obligated to do so, being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces (Article II), but it usually isn’t a good idea to blindside those who will be tasked with making sure that policy is carried out. It also is rather unnecessarily rushed on the part of the president to announce such a change to military policy, when the Department of Defense was already reviewing it’s policy on transgender enlistees to determine if they affect “readiness and lethality”. It is set to release the review in December (http://redalertpolitics.com/2017/07/26/lgbt-gop-group-members-white-house-blindsided-trans-ban/). Such findings would have added to the data mentioned above, and therefore could potentially have offered more substance to the conversation. Perhaps it might have even given support and political cover to President Trump in a potential policy of reform. Instead, the chief executive decided to throw such proceedings out the window for a post on Twitter. Why? I don’t know. Then again, as I and many have come to experience over the past several months, there doesn’t seem to be much logic in a lot of what President Trump does. Unfortunately, that activity might serve to darken sentiment toward other forms of policy that could have positive implications, such as tax and regulatory reform. Not a good sign.

The spirit of innovation

Here are recent technological advances and discoveries that could aid in alleged issues of genetics, climate change, disease, energy, hunger, birth, safety, sexuality, medical costs, convenience, and production among other things. Such capabilities showcase why making sure our society remains as open and free a marketplace to growth, ideas, and endeavors as it can is so important, so that such outcomes are more likely to occur. Who knows what else lies around the corner.

CRISPR –

http://gizmodo.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-crispr-the-new-tool-1702114381

https://singularityhub.com/2017/04/26/crispr-pill-may-be-key-in-fight-against-antibiotic-resistance/

http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/crispr-eliminates-hiv-in-live-animals/81254287

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608350/first-human-embryos-edited-in-us/

Other genetic projects (DNA, aging molecules, gene therapy) –

http://bigstory.ap.org/e2931badb6f14e968c8241c3b756fbcd

Researcher Says He’s Found Molecule To Fight Aging

New gene therapy may ‘turn off’ asthma

Telemedicine and health care automation –

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-telemedicine-is-transforming-health-care-1466993402

http://theconversation.com/why-are-we-dragging-our-feet-when-more-automation-in-health-care-will-save-lives-75591

Somatic cell transformation/nucleotide hijacking –

https://phys.org/news/2016-04-scientists-skin-cells-human-sperm.html

http://www.nature.com/news/mouse-eggs-made-from-skin-cells-in-a-dish-1.20817

Molecular change/process tweaking –

http://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-have-figured-out-how-to-turn-co2-into-solid-rock-within-months

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3945808/Scientists-tweak-photosynthesis-increase-crop-yield.html

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-31/swiss-pickles-set-to-benefit-from-first-carbon-capture-plant

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-41146628

Cleanup tech –

http://www.businessinsider.com/boyan-slat-ocean-cleanup-launch-2018-2017-5

http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/New-Recycling-Technique-Enables-Spent-Nuclear-Fuel-Rods-to-be-Used-Again.html

3d printing/production –

http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2017/04/25/3d-printing-consumers-future-ip/id=82533

http://www.power-eng.com/articles/print/volume-121/issue-4/departments/nuclear-reactions/print-that-part.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/hydrogen-metal-revolution-technology-space-rockets-superconductor-harvard-university-a7548221.html

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2017/nasas-van-allen-probes-spot-man-made-barrier-shrouding-earth

https://fee.org/articles/hack-your-pancreas-and-3d-print-your-smile/

http://www.theverge.com/2017/4/25/15421734/artificial-womb-fetus-biobag-uterus-lamb-sheep-birth-premie-preterm-infant

Autonomous/flying vehicles –

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/181508-googles-self-driving-car-passes-700000-accident-free-miles-can-now-avoid-cyclists-stop-for-trains

http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/29/crash-data-for-self-driving-cars-may-not-tell-whole-story.html

http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/24/technology/larry-page-flying-car/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-25/uber-self-driving-truck-packed-with-budweiser-makes-first-delivery-in-colorado

http://www.businessinsider.com/first-all-electric-autonomous-cargo-ship-yara-birkeland-2017-5

AI/robots –

https://www.forbes.com/sites/susannahbreslin/2017/06/03/robot-cop-dubai/#807281d6872b

http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/stu_bykofsky/sex-robots-are-real-and-theyre-all-made-in-the-u-s-20170713.html

https://www.cnet.com/news/why-drone-delivery-wins/

http://www.businessinsider.com/this-airport-robot-will-take-your-bags-at-the-curb-and-check-you-in-2017-6

Blockchain –

https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2017/05/23/blockstack-unveils-a-browser-for-the-decentralized-web/

Genetic engineering –

http://www.popsci.com/genetically-modified-mosquito-knocks-out-dengue-brazilian-neighborhood

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/nature/fewer-pesticides-farming-with-gmos/

Microchip implants –

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tech-implants-idUSKBN1AA2UZ

Claremont McKenna and the issue of speech on campuses

In the constant stories of how alternative views are punished on many campuses, nice to see some universities like Clearmont McKenna taking a stand toward upholding what institutions of education should be, venues of free inquiry and debate. Instead of allowing students to get away with blocking access to an event and speaker that they didn’t like, the college suspended and blocked degree access for those who violated institutional rules (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/07/18/claremont-mckenna-suspends-5-students-blocking-speech). Such a defense was probably put best by the University of Chicago, when they released letters to an incoming freshmen class last year. In them, the university proclaimed that “fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related university priority…building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds.” (http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/univ-chicago-pushes-back-trigger-warnings-safe-spaces). Such an exchange ultimately involves even sharing peacefully those ideas which might be shocking or unpopular. If an idea is truly superior, it doesn’t need walls or boundaries erected around it against challenges, for it wins on it’s own merits. The students involved in the McKenna case took it upon themselves to get in the way of an event that was voluntarily set up by other groups on campus, and therefore showcased themselves not only to have little faith in the values they supposedly care about, but also to stand in opposition to educational prudence. Glad to see that Claremont McKenna took action, and hopefully others will join in that cause.

Are more privatized educational endeavors problematic?

Instead of dealing with the understanding that the public school system has become increasingly problematic to families and students, the union American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten chose to offer only inflammatory rhetoric about school choice advocates, a demonstration of ad hominem argumentation (http://nypost.com/2017/07/21/teachers-union-president-calls-charter-schools-polite-cousin-of-segregation/). How the ability of people to have more control over the quality of their education is “racist” I have no idea. Contrary to her assertions over the so-called dangers of school choice, studies show such alternatives to have either neutral or positive results…with none finding anything negative (http://www.justfacts.com/education.asp#choice_gov; http://www.nheri.org/research/nheri-news/nationwide-study-finds-high-academic-achievement-by-the-homeschooled.html; https://fee.org/articles/3-reasons-to-support-school-choice/). This as opposed to public school sectors, which have produced stagnant results despite extensive budget support over the years (https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa746_2.pdf; https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/12/how-do-american-students-compare-to-their-international-peers/509834/; http://www.gallup.com/poll/1612/education.aspx). On the subject of diversity, charter schools have been shown to be remarkably integrated and a boon for minority students (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgb.asp; http://www.publiccharters.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/The_Color_of_Success_Full_Report_20110402T222340.pdf; http://www.newschoolsforneworleans.org/education-in-nola/data-and-analysis-old/), while public schools have actually been shown to be increasingly segregated according to a report by the Government Accountability Office…perhaps because many are leaving for better options (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/05/17/gao-study-segregation-worsening-us-schools/84508438/).

Perhaps instead of demonizing those who seek alternative choices in the quality of their education, Ms. Weingarten should focus on the devolution of the public school moniker, and how the teacher unions…especially the organization she leads…have played a role in the mess, being more focused on political causes rather than educational success, and supporting bad teachers (http://freebeacon.com/issues/seven-unions-top-kochs-in-super-pac-spending-and-thats-just-the-money-we-know-about/; http://watchdog.org/240956/aft-union-politics-2015/; https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=D000000083; http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-court-rejects-bid-to-end-teacher-tenure-in-california-marking-huge-win-for-unions-20160414-story.html; https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-teachers-no-one-wants-1499989012). Then again, perhaps that is too much to ask of those who have been all too comfortable to enjoy their power over struggling families and students.

Extra:

Some other ways that education is becoming more decentralized and diverse in application, particularly on the ever-budding information superhighway:

http://www.businessinsider.com/micro-schools-altschool-2016-1

http://mashable.com/2017/05/12/i-learned-more-from-youtube-than-professors/#ugjn0TDy9OqV

http://www.businessinsider.com/texas-teacher-got-rid-homework-2016-8

https://jrowberg.io/2017/03/13/learn-marketable-skills-online-udemy/

http://www.businessinsider.com/job-prep-online-courses-udemy-2017-1/#personal-branding-10

A good PBS program looking at the struggles of the education sector, and how some are trying to break through – http://www.pbs.org/wnet/school-inc/

Does raising the smoking age help with health issues?

With the passage of a new law, New Jersey joins a couple of other states (Hawaii and California) and districts in raising the smoking age (http://fox8.com/2017/07/22/new-jersey-raises-smoking-age-to-21/). This despite the fact that cited studies on the matter are mostly speculative, and that such a change is nothing less than a paternalist encroachment on individual liberty…particularly focused on what people decide to put in their own bodies.

The article above cites a 2015 National Institute of Medicine study that mentions alleged lives that would be saved by the law change (http://tobacco21.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Public-Health-Implications-of-Raising-the-Minimum-Age-of-Legal-Access-to-Tobacco-Products-Institute-of-Medicine.pdf)…but that is all that such statistics are, merely alleged. The study itself flatly admits that there is no baseline data that exists regarding the law changes (given the fact that the laws have been changed only recently in those few states and districts), and that other factors could be responsible for the decline in jurisdictions it considers…such as Needham, Massachusetts. Instead, it relies on models to try to anticipate teenagers getting cigarettes from retailers and older friends and family in a world with a nationwide smoking age of 21, and then tries to extend the rates of smoking and smoking related diseases out to the year 2100. Not only is such a thing obviously speculative, it also ignores the realities of the mechanics which take root in a prohibitionist marketplace. The change is also just as likely to provide the impetus for a black market to offer those who are underage the ability to garner cigarettes themselves. Alcohol laws concerning age could potentially offer a window into how such a thing could work out. Issues concerning binge drinking, fake IDs, and safety concerns have caused some campuses to begin reconsidering how age laws stand on the issue (https://fee.org/articles/lower-the-drinking-age/). Such a thing shouldn’t be a surprise considering how historical insight from previous attempts at prohibition, and how the current War on Drugs, have worked out concerning public safety concerns. An analysis conducted by the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study in 2015 found that teenage smoking rates have fallen across the United States independently of whether jurisdictions raise their smoking age (http://monitoringthefuture.org/pressreleases/15Ecigtbl.pdf).

In the end, such a change doesn’t match up on closer scrutiny. Instead, what this drive plays into is merely rescinding the rights of perfectly capable adults according to speculative theories…the calling card of a nanny state. In all the supposed concern that the adults in question get “better maturity and understanding” of the situation, there appeared to be none extended to the worry of whether they could attain those qualities toward taking out student loans, joining the military, getting married, casting a vote in an election, driving a car, etc. After all, those are all things that 18 year olds are able to do. If they are able to do those activities and face the consequences, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to enjoy a cigar and a beer too. Being able to make choices…even if they may be unwise…is part of what being an adult is, otherwise what is the significance of having an “age of majority” distinction at all? Adults of all ages should be able to enjoy their lives in peace without the state putting up needless roadblocks like this.

Jeffery Loria and the folly of public stadium deals

When looking for a dishonest business owner who has contempt for his customers, look no further than Miami Marlins owner (at least for now) Jeffery Loria. After running the Montreal Expos into the ground, and lucky to land a championship from the 2003 then-Florida Marlins team, he has developed a relationship of shortchanging team growth and competition, lying about his team’s financial fortunes, and going after his fans. When trying to convince public officials in Miami of the need for taxpayer money for a baseball stadium, Loria and other Marlins associates sobbed about the financial struggles the team supposedly had…before financial documents showed such a story to be spurious. The team had been making tens of millions of dollars of profit from MLB’s revenue sharing scheme (http://deadspin.com/5619235/florida-marlins-financial-documents/; http://www.fieldofschemes.com/news/archives/2010/08/4271_mlbleakgate_wat_4.html). Such news ultimately led to backlash from the public, leading to the dismissal of many public officials, including the recall and replacement of Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez, who had unquestionably backed the plan. After such dishonesty, and putting together a mediocre team, Loria set up a fire sale that sold most of the team’s top talent to other teams (https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/marlins/2012/11/13/blue-jays-marlins-trade-jose-reyes-josh-johnson-mark-buehrle/1703283/). Finally, to add insult to injury, he now has decided to punish fans through lawsuits…over reneging on a deal concerning season tickets that the team already violated (http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/miami-marlins-sue-fan-to-seize-his-property-in-broward-county-9475661). Most teams would avoid such a public relations nightmare, but given what Loria has done over the last few years, such a thing is a given by him.

I use to be a Marlins fan, enjoying what the team had to offer and basking in the glow of what was a fun championship season in 2003. However, as I began to become aware of what took place beyond the baseball field, it became clear how much the team under Loria’s direction couldn’t care about growing the franchise to new heights. He was more concerned with fleecing taxpayers and enriching himself than that. Learning about the dishonesty turned me off from supporting the team, and I haven’t been back since. Perhaps that will change as new leadership is set to come…whatever that is. However, perhaps I can’t be too harsh to Loria in one respect…he was perhaps the catalyst for helping me realize the cronyism inherent in the drive of teams lobbying public officials into supporting sports stadiums, and why such initiatives aren’t worth the support. While the conventional belief goes that public financing of sports stadiums will promote economic vitality and expansion, the economic data and the historical record shows such a thing to be far from the case…with many such expenditures not leading to any such bump in economic success, and empty husks left in their wake (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/09/if-you-build-it-they-might-not-come-the-risky-economics-of-sports-stadiums/260900/; http://www.businessinsider.com/2004-athens-olympics-venues-today-2015-7; http://www.businessinsider.com/brazil-world-cup-stadiums-one-year-later-2015-5). Never again will I support such sleaziness, which will cost Miami-Dade taxpayers more than $2.4 billion with interest by the time all bonds are paid off (http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Marlin-Money-Pit-to-Cost-County-24-Billion.html).

Loria’s actions should also serve as a reminder of the threat that occurs when we involve the intervention of public officials in the private sector. By himself, Loria would have been nothing more than a sports joke. Thanks to public officials, he became even more of a parasite. Insulated by taxpayer money, he had even more reason to not put his own money behind his useless promises. What is left is an empty shell of a franchise as he gets set to jump ship. Hopefully other teams don’t fall for such a con man.

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