Free Thinkers Anonymous

Think with an open mind, question everything

Should Amazon be punished? Are monopolies inherently bad?

The news of Amazon purchasing Whole Foods has bothered many pundits, with some outright claiming that such growth calls for punishing Amazon as a result through ant-trust laws. However, such reaction shows a fundamental misunderstanding of where such growth comes from.

A large corporation isn’t in and of itself inherently bad…what IS potentially bad are the steps that such a corporation took to attain it’s power ( A company that expands and accomplishes increased levels of market share through innovation and marketable success is to be applauded. Anyone can see such concepts with regard to Amazon, which has upended the marketplace through it’s more efficient, cheaper and consistent web service. Now such a service will be brought to the grocery line. Coupled with their recent drive to offer a simpler, potentially cheaper mode of convenience-store service through less labor (, and it is clear that Amazon offers a potentially better manner through which people can attain the goods that they need and/or want. Whether they are ultimately successful in such an endeavor is still yet to be realized, but it is clear that Amazon likely wouldn’t be where they are at today unless such a service was successful. This can be seen in the consistent high-marks that the company has garnered through customers over the years (;; Contrast this with more coercive companies like Comcast, which are given more consistently-lower ratings by consumers (;, yet are propped up by public policy, whether federally or locally, that insulates them from the pain of consumer angst/competition (; What this demonstrates is that policy policy shouldn’t be used to punish companies that attain their growth through innovation and customer satisfaction. If anything, public policy has instead been shown to offer protection to some companies at the behest of others through the use of minimum price controls, taxes, license provisions, or entry restrictions. That ultimately is a loss to the consumer. Even Amazon has been known to dabble in such public dealings as well, such as supporting wide-spread sales taxes that would prove a burden for it’s smaller competitors (…then again, such a thing wouldn’t be possible if our public officials didn’t dabble in such affairs in the first place.

In any case, as long as it continues to offer nothing but a better choice and satisfaction to the consumer, Amazon should be allowed to continue going on it’s merry way…while those that don’t should be allowed to face the music without the government shielding them.

RIP Otto Warmbier

And so an inhuman event comes to a tragic end, the result of an individual being harmed by a despotic regime. If there was any indication of the danger that totalitarian governments hold to the safety and security of people, it was showcased through the unfortunate circumstances that Otto Warmbier endured. Sadly, for the better part of the year that he was incarcerated by the Kim regime, if one was to focus on much of the media reports on the matter, one would have likely gotten a different impression of what had taken place. Various editorials and reports put much onus on the alleged idiocy of Mr. Warmbier in attempting to steal a piece of propaganda from North Korea, and using his imprisonment to either condemn such behavior as an example of “white privilege” or “American hubris”. Instead, what such reports show is a fundamental lack of understanding of what the North Korean regime is capable of. It is shameful how such a narrative was automatically accepted in media accounts without some measure of skepticism. After all, as a regime that prides itself on the total control of all measures of life, the Kim regime is steadfast in propaganda to legitimize their power. That includes those considered allied with countries it considers a threat, including the United States. Since he returned to our shores, it already has been demonstrated that the whole carnard put forth by the regime of Mr. Warmbier falling into a coma as a result of botulism was spurious, so why can’t this be as well? Indeed there is a purported video of the man doing this, but who isn’t to say that he was coerced into doing so? Videos can be faked after all. Mr. Warmbier’s roommate also disputes whether the accusation was valid.

The only issue I could perhaps raise about Mr. Warmbier at all is just him being in North Korea in the first place. I could never put myself at such risk, especially since the United States and North Korea are still technically at war. However, I’m not about to take the narratives from the Hermit Kingdom…one of the worst bastions on the planet regarding human rights and freedom…at face value. RIP to the man. Even if the narrative is indeed true, no one deserves this fate as a result of such things. Condolences to his friends and family.


Some have begun putting forth the idea that travel to North Korea should be banned, but I believe such a thing would be a bad step. Indeed I do think that going to the Hermit Kingdom is a very risky venture, but that is something that should be up to those contemplating such a thing…at least if we still value our liberties. Having as open an eye as possible to what is going on inside North Korea (which is difficult enough considering how closed off as a result of the Kim regime’s policies) isn’t such a bad thing as well considering how much it serves as a reminder of the inhumanity that such a system continues to represent not just to it’s own citizens, but also visitors. As a result, a ban wouldn’t be necessary.

Is there a problem with the Citizens United case? Is money a problem in politics?

This past January marked 7 years since the decision handed down by the SCOTUS in a case that has riled many, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case, brought over the airing of a film critical of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, challenged campaign finance law provisions under the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that regulated political speech on the part of certain corporations (some, such as certain media groups, were exempt). The court struck down such provisions as being unconstitutional under the First Amendment, though provisions dealing with public disclosure of sponsors and direct contributions were left alone. The case has received much consternation on the part of some, including liberals who call openly for the case to be overturned. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have made such an aim a part of their respective campaigns. A common complaint is that the case allows a vast influx of money into elections and that such a thing has allowed a hollowing or danger to democratic expression. Is such a thing true?
Of course, those in the know about Citizens United understand that the case had more to do with the production of broadcasts relating to candidates close to the election (in this case, “Hillary the Movie”…I guess we can see why the Democratic nominee had her own personal reasons for pushing to overturn the ruling) then merely campaign contributions. Just as Citizens United published their campaign video against Hillary Clinton which the Federal Election Commission would take to court, Michael Moore published a film against Donald Trump during this past election cycle. That likely wouldn’t have been possible had the ruling gone differently (what is hardly ever mentioned is that the Deputy Solicitor General in the Citizens United case tried to make the argument that the federal government had the lawful power to ban books if they mentioned the name of a candidate for federal office, and were published in the run-up to the federal election in which that candidate was competing. Yeah…book banning…).
While some politicians, particularly incumbents, decry the growth in anonymous electoral contributions (with some alleged totals being at about $300 million), it isn’t clear why this is necessarily a bad thing. Such totals are at, around, or lower than some of the biggest box office draws or even investments in various projects across the country. If elections are indeed as important as advertised, it isn’t clear why they wouldn’t be as worthy of such levels of investment as a movie. Also, contrary to conventional belief, such opening of campaign finance has actually helped challengers and upstarts such as Bernie Sanders or Rand Paul among others to achieve more presence…which has helped electoral campaigns become more competitive. Campaign finance regulations in fact made such campaigning drives more difficult for challengers and upstarts as they require more money and donations in order to compete with incumbents, who already have an established level of support and tend to know the ins-and-outs of the laws on the books better than their rivals do. One need only look at the very high levels of incumbent re-election rates over the years to see how so-called “balancing” regulations have been a miserable failure of allowing other voices to be heard and enter office. If anything, they have provided much aid to establishment politicians.
Also, despite the fear that heavy levels of campaign spending would buy public offices, that isn’t necessarily true. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton outspent their opponents heavily in 2016, yet still lost. Bernie Sanders’s aid from SuperPAC money led him to be able to spend more in support of his candidacy than any of his Democrat rivals…and probably kept him in the race longer…and yet he still lost. Guess there is more to electoral success than just the supposed “evil” dollar. After a recent special election in Georgia, Jon Ossoff decried the issue of money in politics, yet he actually outspent his Republican opponent 6 to 1. He still lost the election by thousands of votes. Ultimately, the government shouldn’t be in the business of deciding which private voices should be drowned out in order to decide which others should be propped up (again, there is the First Amendment of course)…especially when the action involved is unnecessary and doesn’t solve the issue it is purported to be targeted at…if there even is an issue.
Extra Link(s):
The Institute for Justice is dealing with a case now in Colorado that showcases the continuing issue of campaign finance regulations on the state level as well, and how they continue to stifle the free speech of everyday Americans. Here they put a video discussing the case in a Schoolhouse Rock manner: The case has so far been allowed to go forward, but we’ll see what happens.
Despite the narrative put forth by certain politicians like Bernie Sanders regarding the supposed fear of campaign contributions, there doesn’t seem to be much motivation for such a stance…most of the largest campaign donators are supporters of Democrats (the supposedly “dangerous” Koch Industries is one of the exceptions…and they are ranked 49th):

How to deal with gerrymandering?

A topic more than a decade since being discussed by the SCOTUS is returning to the court ( Gerrymandering revolves around the tactic that public officials undertake to set up their districts. Named after former Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, it focuses on the act of drawing a district in such a way as to provide benefit to the leaders in question. As a result, gerrymandering is a huge potential boon to incumbents staying in power. Therefore, a case like this would seem to be paramount in constraining the ability of public officials to abuse their abilities. However, as with many subjects, such a topic becomes more complicated upon closer reflection.

A common complaint is how public officials misuse their ability to draw districts in order to garner unfair advantage in electoral cycles, and how this must be curtailed. However, a question that arises from such a complaint is how to effectively do so. Some propose pushing such decisions onto a non-partisan board, but such a board still requires the decision-making of public officials in order to be set up. Also, by removing such individuals from public scrutiny, there is much to be concerned as to whether they will effectively be kept in check by the voters. Lobbying and personal interests will still very much be at work, with the aim being now more directed at the non-partisan (any way to verify such a stance?) board as opposed to representatives. Redistricting criteria, with the aim of objectivity, would still be left to the eye of the beholder in how they would be implemented.

Therefore, while gerrymandering does indeed carry a risk of corruption, explicitly reforming it directly doesn’t automatically remove the problems that it raises. The only change likely to occur would simply be where the pressure is applied concerning said corruption. A practice involved specifically in political decisions will likely involve political pressures, and that will always involve the drive for power. Perhaps a good method of dealing with such abuses would be better handled in a more indirect method…such as reforming campaign finance laws to free up the ability of people to support candidates of their choice in however way they wish, as well as removing the distribution of public funds to the candidates of major political parties. Making sure the process is as transparent as possible is also helpful. Media reports concerning how redistricting is taking place will serve informative to the voters as to whether extreme gerrymandering is taking place. After all, in the end, it is up to the voters at large to hold their government to account for any abuses that occur. No amount of intricate reform will substitute for such a thing, particularly when it is dabbled in the political.

Is price gouging evil?

Whenever a natural disaster like a hurricane approaches us, there is always a mention of the supposed evils of price gouging…and authorities encouraging citizens to report on supposed swindlers in their midst. Is such a thing a valid concern?

Besides the vagueness of such encouragement (What does “suspicion of inflated prices” mean? How does such a declaration get calculated? What is “suspicious” to anyone is a subjective matter), what such policy does is get in the way of how pricing systems work. Prices serve a function of signaling to consumers and producers how much of a product or service must be demanded or supplied respectively. Controlling such a process ultimately can create disruptions in how a particular good or service is supplied and/or consumed. Look at how store shelves become immediately bare during preparation for natural disasters as well as after (news coverage tends to show many consumers hoarding water and other products beyond what they need in a disaster…causing the goods to be quickly consumed and therefore none left for other potential buyers that need those products just as much). Price bans can also cause businesses to lose distributive possibilities…which can lead to terrible circumstances for citizens, as Venezuela unfortunately showcases (;

Indeed there are con artists out there, but such people can be dealt with in other ways besides blanket bans that tend to harm many at the behest of a few.


Another related aspect of this topic –

The ongoing plight of Venezuelans under the Maduro regime

The descent of authoritarianism continues. Recently, Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro (in the loosest sense since there is a firm question as to whether citizens would support him being president still) has begun to push for a constitutional re-write that would affirm his hold on power. I guess when you’re basically a dictator, and the prospects become more and more likely that you will lose your power due to the ever-collapsing economic and political situation that your policies bring…the only option, in true dictatorial fashion, is to rewrite the structure that is tasked with constraining your power. Combine that with the recent attempt to consolidate power through the judiciary (eventually walked back due to angst on the part of massive protests in Venezuela and elsewhere), as well as baring potential rivals from unseating you…and suspending regional and gubernatorial elections last year (;;, and it is clear that the Maduro regime will stop at nothing to hold on to power. Their contempt for the populace they claim to serve showcases the danger that ever-unaccountable government brings.


The continued plight that Venezuelans face due to the poor economic and societal decisions that their government has enacted, and which showcases the result that comes from a state that holds no value for the personal decisions that everyday people make –;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

What to make of “cultural appropriation”?

Once again, the United Nations has found itself in the role of debates on interventionist policy. Different indigenous groups are petitioning the international body to basically ban the appropriation of their cultural ideas. Besides the hypocrisy involved in the UN policing any measure on the “whims of civil rights”, or the fact that many nations involved in this tripe are hardly upstanding role models of such whims, what is truly terrible is the continued belief by some that the sharing in cultural ideas of another (which is what “cultural appropriation” is) is something to condemn. As I’ve stated in the past, what defines something as offensive to anyone is largely a subjective matter. To assume that a person of a particular background or creed will be bothered by something (either a costume, word, or something else) implies that such a person operates as an automaton with absolutely no care for their individual beliefs or views. People are more than what they happen to identify as, and it would be nice if so-called “educated” professionals would realize that.

The idea of what is termed as “cultural appropriation” being something to criticize is also without merit. Besides being a violation of the First Amendment here in the States, to imply that only a particular individual and/or culture can use or take part in a particular item/activity is to promote a form of cultural segregation where people can’t share ideas and qualities they hold with others because “they don’t own it” (as if anyone truly has ownership of any concept or idea). If education and diversity of knowledge is really something we are supposed to value, wouldn’t that come more though the commingling and sharing of different traits and ideas rather than putting up walls between them? I would challenge those who subscribe to such a view of separation to name one “original” idea that can’t be traced back to inspiration from someone else. Our nation, and increasingly our very civilization, involves various cultures and creeds interacting with one another on different levels, and sharing in each other’s axioms, beliefs, goods, and services. Such an environment has allowed for much growth not just in tolerance, but also innovation and understanding. A truly tolerant society would be welcoming to all of that, not dismissive. So go out there and be all you can be…enjoy that Mexican food, use foreign slang, and wear that costume or attire…for the more we take on such roles, we dispel the notion that such identities are different to us. Not only will you have more fun and be freer…but you will also push the cultural and societal structures ever closer to that day when the fact that we embody different views, beliefs, constitutions, and identities won’t matter in the slightest. Therefore, there is no reason to let pathetic attempts at policy like this curtail such growth in character and understanding.

Is a universal basic income policy an effective way of dealing with poverty and government fiscal problems?

Of late, it has become increasingly apparent that the status quo of an expansive welfare state is running into problems. I made a post recently regarding the unintentional consequences of the system, namely that it encourages distrust among a population the more diverse it becomes as well as encountering diminishing returns on combating poverty as the years go on. In response, some have begun to bring up the idea of a universal basic income (UBI). The idea has found expression on different levels across various countries, and has found support across different branches of the political spectrum…even including those who would typically be considered skeptics of such programs (Milton Friedman and Frederick Hayek advanced some measure of a UBI program). All of this leads to a simple question…is such a program one to support, particularly with regard to handling the ever-increasing financial liability that is the welfare state?
At first glance, a UBI appears to have showcased some measure of success. Studies on public and private cash-transfer programs in developing nations of Latin America and Africa demonstrate some impact on reducing poverty, as well as not pushing recipients of the funds to dependency necessarily. There has also been, on a theoretical basis, arguments that simplifying the system to be just a UBI would encourage more transparency and less interventionism in governmental policy. As the move would be a simple cash-transfer, there would be no strings attached to how such money would be given. It would go straight to the taxpayer, and they would be treated as adults in that it would be up to them on how it is spent. Also since in theory it would be a low, flat rate, it wouldn’t provide the disincentives to employment and financial independence as more onerous welfare transfer programs have. Therefore, it would seem like something worthy of support.
However, it is when implementation starts to be considered that important questions are raised. After all, the devil is in the details, and there are grave ones to consider here. While the aforementioned studies about cash-welfare programs in Latin America and Africa appear to show some measure of success, there are significant differences in how such programs would work in the United States. While benefits in less-developed nations can be used to supply liquidity that allows for the pursuing of activities like entrepreneurialism, such opportunities are more limited in developed countries. Given that human capital works different in such nations, the causality of benefits would be less direct. Add in the difference in monetary value and hardship as a result of different economic standards (as well as the fact that each state/city/municipality has a different cost of living), and such programs would likely have much less payoff.
Even if our entire welfare system were replaced with a UBI, the sheer population size would likely lead to a cost that would dwarf how much our government currents spends on welfare programs. Again, the fact that the rate would have to be high enough to ensure that everyone would be able to support themselves would lead to a high price…likely over $4 trillion dollars if put at the current poverty level of $12,316 for a non-elderly individual. To offer context, the totality of the entire American welfare state budget tops out at a little over $2 trillion. If it were limited to just adults, the cost would fall under 3 trillion, but that of course would still require big tax hikes to make up the difference. With less universal programs like a negative income tax, or wage payments, there would be the need for oversight in order to see how such “means-tested” programs are administered, or that they are corresponded to specific limits. This, however, has the side-effect of undercutting the argument that the system would be more transparent or simple than what we currently have (which already has such “oversight” processes). Such policing would inevitably leave many people with hardship out in the cold based on arbitrary cut-offs on the margins, as well as potentially leaving some family sizes at a significant hardship to others…a form of unintentional social engineering.
At its heart, there is also other questions to consider on a measure of political nature…can we expect public officials, imbued in the constraints of votes and power, to rescind welfare programs for a UBI? Can we be assured that they will hold such programs at prudent levels? Considering history of welfare programs from ancient Rome to our modern times, such assurance(s) wouldn’t seem very likely.
Therefore, taken together, the payoff of a UBI seems unlikely given what is involved. Theories can seem good at first glance, but implementation is what really matters…and that doesn’t seem to be the case here. It doesn’t mean such a thing should be dismissed without question, but given the serious questions involved, a better solution…if a UBI is to be considered…would be to have such a thing experimented with on a more local or state level, where voters can be closer to their representatives, policy can be more tailored to cultural/local concerns and constraints, and budget levels can be curtailed. More private programs could also be a better deal, as at least those systems have shown a good chance at avoiding the corruption and mismanagement that can encompass more public initiatives.
In the short term though, a good step would be to simply rein in the excesses that define much of the welfare state today. Decentralize programs so that such regulations are closer to those impacted by them, tighten standards so that those who really need the assistance are getting such benefits, and close down those programs that are prohibitive to citizens and residents with little to no payoff…those would be big steps in the direction of bringing our financial house back to some semblance of sanity.
There are many analyses of the UBI issue, but this comprehensive study does a very through overview of the different sides of the argument. Take a gander when possible for a more intricate walkthrough –

Star Trek 50th anniversary

From last year –

50 years ago today (and the same day of the week no less), a franchise that would go on to be one of the primer benchmarks of modern science fiction was first broadcast. Showcasing a future in which humans become part of a diverse and collaborative United Federation of Planets, Star Trek stood unique as a sci-fi series that didn’t show our outcome as dystopian…but in fact as one of great promise. Though the series suffered through 3 hard-fought years where it’s parent network, NBC, was constantly looking to snuff it out…with the series ultimately being cancelled…Star Trek would live on through the devotion of it’s fans and the implementation of becoming a cult classic. Through such devotion, the series experienced a profound resurrection that would spawn several TV spinoff series, films, and various fan projects. Star Trek has truly become a global phenomenon.

As much as Star Trek has held a powerful place in my being, there are no doubt some aspects of the franchise that are debatable. The concept of the Federation as existing as a realm in which money and wealth are non-existent has always seemed illogical, if for the simple note that history has shown changes in monetary structure as doing little to eliminate ambition and greed (this is not consistently dealt with across the franchise though, as at certain points in a few films and episodes, a type of credit or currency in the Federation is either mentioned or implied). In fact, it is those qualities that have been a big part of all the technological and material success and advancement that our modern civilization has been blessed to attain. Indeed the existence of products like the replicator would fundamentally transform society in ways we can’t even completely fathom, but there will always be those who want something more…and no doubt society will craft a system upon which that ambition will be rewarded.

There is also the whole notion concerning the policy of the Prime Directive. This policy holds that the Federation must hold a premise of non-interference with other cultures, specifically those that haven’t obtained warp drive. The idea behind this surmises that cultures must be allowed to follow their “natural course/evolution” without outside contact (whatever that means…who defines what a “natural course of development” even is?)…which includes anything from conflict to sharing of technology and goods. What this is basically is a futuristic version of the “noble savage” fallacy. Indeed not projecting one’s views or morals onto another person or group of people is a product of tolerance, but the notion that another society must endure hardship, such as easily curable plagues and illnesses for example, because it is a product of their “status” qualifies as something truly more barbaric than what one would consider an “evolved” society as capable of allowing to take place. It also predisposes a belief of so-called primitive societies as being incapable of change. Cultures aren’t static, but in fact are quite dynamic and susceptible to change. Ethnographies done concerning societies in the Pacific that came into contact with American soldiers during World War II found that contrary to the assumption of such cultures dying out as a result of contact, such societies in fact continued to exist. What occurred was that such groups took ideas/objects that they found useful and applicable, while retaining the beliefs and views they still held to. The notion that people can’t understand the value of foreign ideas and technology because it isn’t at their “power level”, like something out of a video game, is a myth…and it is an idea that the Star Trek universe unfortunately perpetuates. Perhaps this is why the directive is violated many times throughout the franchise.

Still, despite such flaws, there is something of worth to take away from the Star Trek franchise. At it’s best, at least to me, Star Trek is a representation of the human spirit…the belief that despite all the hardships and challenges we might face in the future (which no doubt seem just as problematic as the ones we face today), we will ultimately have it within ourselves to overcome them. May it continue to have us boldly go where we haven’t gone before.

Extra Link(s):

Charles Sonnenburg (aka SFDebris) has done many reviews of episodes across the various spinoff series and films of Star Trek. Here are vids he has done concerning the Prime Directive, as well as the structure of the future according to Gene Roddenberry (the late creator of Star Trek) and whether it is a viable one. Good food for thought (Note: Of the link to his site, look at the video entitled “Follow-up”):;

As with many science fiction stories, Star Trek has been an inspiration for scientific and technological innovation. Here is a list of some of that. Of course, the notion of accurate prediction might be a little heavy handed since what has come about is obviously less or more than what Star Trek writers imagined, but still a good view:
Warp drive? Perhaps some day:
Maybe holodecks aren’t that far off either:

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