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Free Thinkers Anonymous

Think with an open mind, question everything

Should Puerto Rico become a state, or be granted independence?

Tomorrow, Puerto Ricans will be going to the polls to vote on the issue of whether or not the American-owned territory could become a state within the union, a process that has been ongoing for many years.
The plebiscite contains four possible steps that the territory can undergo: statehood (become a U.S. state), free association (become a protectorate), remain as it is, or independence. Supporters of statehood feel that the plebiscite will strengthen their resolve of turning Puerto Rico into the 51st state.
Those who support statehood claim that doing so will help Puerto Rico in many ways. Politically, it’ll give Puerto Rico more influence in the activities of the United States, and will allow citizens of the island to take part in national elections. Supporters also say that going through with the move will help the territory financially, which right now is in the throws of economic hardship thanks to many years of terrible economic decisions made by leaders both on the island and in Washington (no surprise considering past posts I’ve made concerning governmental decisions for the most part). However, what advocates don’t really explain are the possible downsides to the plan.
Not surprisingly, statehood advocates tend to put more emphasis on the political upsides than the economical or financial, since becoming a state doesn’t absolve the island of it’s problems. Not to mention that the actions of a state within the union are limited in manners of sovereignty as to how to manage it’s own activities. Critics feel that what statehood advocates really want is to just pass the buck to someone else regarding the territory’s financial and economic woes, which has led to Puerto Rico earning the nickname of “America’s Greece” in some circles. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have left the island over the last 10-15 years on account of the hardships there, and have set up shop elsewhere. Crime rates on the island have surged, with a homicide rate three times the rate in the United States. Almost half of citizens on the island live in poverty. Federal mandates like the minimum wage law, or regulations such as the Jones Act, have stifled the island’s economy. And thanks to all the mismanagement, the government has been left with little recourse than to basically declare bankruptcy. These and other problems won’t magically go away with completion of the process of statehood, and though benefits will still be secured, higher federal taxes and costs will more than balance out that advantage.
There is also a question of how representative such a plebiscite will be, as previous attempts have left question of how much citizens really want such a status change. The last time such a vote was undertaken in 2012, a good number of ballots were left blank on the question of statehood or otherwise, leaving the level of representation possibly being less than 50%. Therefore, there is a real chance that once again nothing much will come of this. However, though the concept of outright independence isn’t usually popular among the voters, the outcome there might be the best for the island in the long run. As a nation that supposedly prides itself on autonomy and expression, the fact that the United States still maintains territories like Puerto Rico that get some association but limited expression is problematic. It’s about time we let these societies stand on their own and chart a course that will be most beneficial to them, removed from the decisions of faraway bureaucrats in Washington, which the statehood movement will more than likely end up being. Indeed the road will be rough at first concerning how to manage their affairs, but the ability of setting up trade and financial agreements on their own terms could work ultimately in their favor on a political and financial matter. The pressure of independence will also push the island’s leaders to be more beholden to their populace, and therefore will have more impetus to get the island’s problems under control.
We’ve seen what happens when a nation gets admitted to a larger union looking to them to solve internal problems, so there is no reason to welcome a similar situation here. Of course I support however way Puerto Ricans ultimately choose to go. Like the Greeks, they will have the accolades of that choice…for better or worse.
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Is mandatory voting and registration the best way of aiding voter expression?

During the 2016 election, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took a stance regarding voting rights, mainly that voter identification systems are a danger to voter expression and that it would be best if everyone were registered to automatically vote once they reached the age of 18. Mrs. Clinton pitched the common belief in progressive circles that voter ID laws stifle levels of voting among minorities, serving simply to disenfranchise them. She also claimed that extending early voting and restoring voting rights to convicted felons would aid in turnout. However, recent reports into such issues reveal that such beliefs aren’t quite the case, and that changing to such methodologies wouldn’t be so beneficial.
A report from the U.S. Census Bureau found that voting among African Americans in the 2012 election was higher than the level of whites that did. Despite criticism that voter ID laws had caused people to be turned away to vote in Texas, turnout actually doubled in 2013 from 2011, when the law wasn’t in place. According to the U.S. Elections Project, data showed that in the 2014 midterms, the turnout of the eligible voting-age population in Texas was 28.3%. In contrast, the turnout in the state where Clinton had previously served as U.S. senator, New York, was 28.2% (NY has no voter ID law). Turnout in Georgia and Indiana have showed similar increases. North Carolina, a common bastion of criticism regarding it’s voter ID law, actually saw registration and turnout among African-Americans increase in 2014 from 2010. As a result, it is clear that the suppression claim is not supported. Voters of all walks of life are quite capable of getting an ID and, therefore, taking part in the electoral process.
Concerning early voting, a study from the University of Wisconsin in 2013 found that early voting does not increase turnout, instead actually decreasing it by about 3 to 4%. Felon voting rights are specifically delegated to the states by the 14th Amendment, which leaves a centralized decision from the feds a non-issue. And as for automatic voter registration, the issue risks rampant issues concerning multiple registration databases that exist among the states, which could lead to multiple registrations. Such problems of course exist today, which apparent proponents of automatic voting have noted. Therefore, the risk of fraud could increase. Also, according to data compiled from the Census Bureau and others, the vast majority of non-voters don’t take part because of registration issues, but because of anything from forgetting to vote to not liking the candidates or the issues, to also simply not being interested. Canada passed such an initiative in 1997, and though our neighbor to the north has a higher voter participation rate than here, the level has continued to drop since the 1970s.
Overall, the data doesn’t support Mrs. Clinton’s arguments that ID laws are a determent to the electoral process. Her push for early voting expansions and automatic voting registration would do nothing to curtail so-called voter apathy. At the end of the day, people have the right to do with what is their constitutional right however they want. Mandatory voting would not dilute the power of those who willingly take part in the process and take their time to learn about the issues, but it would also be a violation of the First Amendment as it infringes on those who decide to not vote, which is itself a form of political speech. Perhaps Mrs. Clinton, since she is so pushy of constitutional obligations, would like to set up something where people are automatically issued registration for a gun upon reaching the age of majority…yeah, didn’t think so.
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Are “get out the vote” initiatives supportive of democracy, and is a vote for a third party candidate a waste?

As any election season approaches, there is also the advancement of supposed “get out the vote” initiatives that come alongside it. The conventional belief is that it is truly patriotic in the best manner if someone votes, and to do otherwise is to be aiding in the other side’s “victory”…as if everyone had some obligation to have a hand in such tactics. Contrary to such a conception, I feel that such initiatives are in fact a complete disservice to the advancement of democratic accountability that is at the heart of a freedom-respecting society. Pushing individuals who really are not informed or understanding of the issues that affect this country (and by extension the world) into casting votes really only serves to dilute the voice of those who do have a handle on such things. It of course is beneficial for political parties to have support for such drives, as it muddles the voice that people have in such matters and therefore helps with holding on to power. After all, when we get right down to it, political parties only see voters as a means to an end in advancing their policies and ideas in public office (whatever they may be) and therefore should be held in suspicious regard as to their intentions. To believe that not taking part is to help the other party, or that voting for a third party candidate is a waste, is to basically believe that one is entitled to the vote of someone…and that people don’ have autonomy over their own choices, which is fundamentally counter to the constructs of a free society. No one is owed anyone’s vote if such a construct is true. Which candidate earns a citizen’s vote is, or should, be up to the values and decisions of that citizen. The chance of any one vote deciding an election is pretty remote…on a similar run to winning the PowerBall. With such odds, might as well do it for something other than the concept of winning/losing…like whether one’s beliefs align closest with a particular candidate for instance. In the end, if a person decides to vote for someone other than major party candidates…that is on the candidates for failing to convince people to vote for them.
 
I have much respect for someone who knows they don’t understand/care for the political issues, and decides to stay home as an extension of such a state of being. To do so shows that they understand the gravity of what is at stake in elections and know that such things aren’t to be taken for granted. That, to me, is just as patriotic as someone who goes to the polls that does have a handle on things. “Get out the vote” programs and many early voting initiatives supported by politicians are done in a manner of diminishing such a significance. Instead, I’d be open to perhaps making Election Day a federal holiday, supporting state statutes that encourage more supportive methods on the part of parties aiding voters to the polls instead of offensive ones, and more streamlined programs concerning early voting as a result. Anything that keeps our voice from being diluted to suit the ambitions of shrewd politicians is worth the effort in my book.

Are Earth Hour/Day events effective?

Why the need to draw attention to something that has happened since the Earth had climates to begin with is always a mystery, but that is where we are at I guess (only further indication of the silliness of the name change from “anthropogenic global warming”). In any case, gestures like this really mean nothing since they showcase a lack of knowledge for what energy innovation has brought to our society. In fact, emissions have gone down as better methodologies at extracting the fuel we need…such as fracking…have taken place (https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2017/march/iea-finds-co2-emissions-flat-for-third-straight-year-even-as-global-economy-grew.html; https://energyindepth.org/national/theres-no-debate-fracking-brings-down-greenhouse-gas-emissions/). Electricity has in fact allowed us to become more efficient economically, as well as emission-wise. Compare that to the use of candles and other antiquated means which Earth Hour activists have encouraged use of, which actually increase emissions (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/project_syndicate/2013/03/earth_hour_is_all_wrong_we_need_more_electricity_not_less.html; http://blog.heartland.org/2013/03/how-to-understand-celebrate-earth-hour/).

Not to mention the silliness of staying in the dark for an hour while using up the energy either through watching television, or tweeting on one’s phone about how cool they are. Such smugness flies in the face considering that such attention seekers have the benefit of going back to their comfortable energy usage after the hour is done (if, again, they aren’t already watching television, tweeting on their phone, or microwaving a dinner). People in places like North Korea don’t have such a luxury, where homes have only a few hours of power on average daily. Then again, considering how many people live in abject poverty in the totalitarian state, that just comes with the territory (https://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/rick-newman/2013/04/12/heres-how-lousy-life-is-in-north-korea; http://thefederalist.com/2015/03/28/bad-news-climate-change-alarmists-north-korea-is-destroying-you-at-earth-hour/). Let that be a reminder where the real struggle is, and that we should instead be grateful for all that our innovation and growth have given us. I’d rather enjoy that hour in the light, rather than the dark thank you very much.

Extra Link:

https://fee.org/articles/earth-hour-and-how-the-west-plays-at-poverty/

https://www.aei.org/publication/18-spectacularly-wrong-apocalyptic-predictions-made-around-the-time-of-the-first-earth-day-in-1970-expect-more-this-year-3/

Is climatic change largely the result of human activity? (And what to say of those who claim to be “defenders” of science?)

Never that long till one of these moments come along…a chance for politicians from around the world to take stock of the apparent evils that humanity has wrought upon the world, mainly in the supposed danger of anthropogenic global warming (AGW)(or “climate change”…which the acolytes of the belief feel makes their movement less questionable, cause…you know…climate has never changed ever in the history of the world *sarcasm*). The plan set forth by world leaders at the Paris conference will be to come up with guidelines of putting together a cleaner world, with cutting down emissions over a few decades. The conventional thought is that something must be done, because the danger that our planet is in requires us to be prompt in putting together a response. However, is such a dire feeling backed up?

Despite the common claim that 97% of scientists believe in the danger of human impact on the climate, that isn’t necessarily backed up by closer looks at the actual breath of research and stances on the matter (http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2014/03/16_not_97_agree.html; http://sealevel.info/97pct/; http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2013/02/13/peer-reviewed-survey-finds-majority-of-scientists-skeptical-of-global-warming-crisis/; http://www.globalresearch.ca/more-than-1000-international-scientists-dissent-over-man-made-global-warming-claims/5403284; http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/5-scientists-skeptical-climate-change; http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/08/when_ideology_t088701.html). Even those that might be more sympathetic toward the belief in dire times ahead admit that things aren’t as serious as first thought (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-will-not-be-dangerous-for-a-long-time/). Even if some “agreement” can be brought to bare, there is no indication that it will matter much in the grand scheme of things, especially if the actions of fellow carbon “polluters” are any indication (http://news.yahoo.com/smog-chokes-beijing-paris-climate-talks-under-way-061633522.html). Heck, even the dream that alternate forms of energy will be “emission-free” isn’t really true (http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/analysis/argonne-lab-study/; http://news.investors.com/blogs-capital-hill/101915-776239-ivanpah-solar-plan-emits-greenhouse-gases.htm; http://ourfiniteworld.com/2014/01/21/ten-reasons-intermittent-renewables-wind-and-solar-pv-are-a-problem/), which is pretty jarring considering how limited the output in energy such methods is compared to more conventional forms of energy now (http://www.nationalreview.com/article/419720/crony-king-elon-musk-doesnt-know-extent-his-reign-sean-noble; http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/09/26/powered-by-oil-and-gas-u-s-energy-production-is-on-the-rise/). Therefore, to cut off our nose economically for meager benefits now seems short-sighted, especially when it seems that no international trust is clearly garnerable at this point. Rhetoric is all fine and dandy, but results matter…especially when trillions of dollars is involved. Looks like some have already begun to question such questionable programs (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/on-eve-of-paris-climate-summit-britain-pulls-the-plug-on-renewables/2015/11/20/240c5630-8311-11e5-8bd2-680fff868306_story.html; http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-02-26/merkel-advisers-urge-germany-to-end-clean-energy-subsidy-program).

For all this back and forth about the seriousness of the moment, all this grandstanding distracts from the real strides that have happened on the market, even in areas that are popularly considered problematic, that could do more to get the world to more sustainable energy than any political wishboating (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fast-growth-can-solve-climate-change/; http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/New-Recycling-Technique-Enables-Spent-Nuclear-Fuel-Rods-to-be-Used-Again.html; http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2015/10/dear_bernie_science_doesnt_feel_the_bern.html; https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-31/swiss-pickles-set-to-benefit-from-first-carbon-capture-plant; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3945808/Scientists-tweak-photosynthesis-increase-crop-yield.html; http://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-have-figured-out-how-to-turn-co2-into-solid-rock-within-months). Instead, what tends to come out from avid proponents of AGW are threats, even culminating in using the government to chill dissent (http://freebeacon.com/issues/scientist-demands-criminal-investigation-of-climate-change-skeptics/; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/11/05/exxonmobil-under-investigation-for-misleading-the-public-about-climate-change/). Such actions, coupled with the whole “climate-gate” fiasco, really cut down on reasonable, substantive debate that should be going on in a subject that certainly still has much to be realized despite popular conventional wisdom. Some stances that such proponents have taken in the past, such as the effect of CFCs on the atmosphere, have possibly turned out to be hardly the case (http://www.ourcivilisation.com/ozone/king.htm
http://cfc.geologist-1011.net/; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2089537/Ozone-hole-Arctic-actually-caused-COLD-weather.html), while the seriousness of CO2/temperature levels isn’t particularly straightforward either (http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/Carboniferous_climate.html; http://hotair.com/archives/2013/12/13/study-proves-it-was-warmer-in-roman-times-than-today/). Therefore, there is still much to be discovered, as is typical of scientific inquiry. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be something that will be possible for a while yet.

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Perhaps most damning (though it really shouldn’t be surprising to supposed venerable “green” politicians who use whatever means of travel they want as well), one would want to see what the population at large does in their everyday life. Are they changing their daily routines? Not quite actually: http://thefederalist.com/2015/11/20/great-news-americans-dont-really-care-about-climate-change/

A big deal was made during one of the meetings of the conference over the supposed “expansion” of the Sahara Desert into farmland. However, one has to wonder where such doomsayers got such information…as the Sahara has actually been getting greener. This shouldn’t be too surprising, as the area has gone from greenery to aridity over thousands of years. Why is still very much debated: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/08/26/climate-change-is-making-deserts-greener.html; http://www.astrobio.net/news-exclusive/how-earths-orbital-shift-shaped-the-sahara/; http://www.livescience.com/4180-sahara-desert-lush-populated.html

Some have tried to argue the belief that climate change/AGW is responsible for the growth of terrorism. However, research into the matter doesn’t necessarily show a correlation at all. The Global Terrorism Index mentions main drivers as political, nationalist, and separatist movements as well as weak political systems and a lack of political legitimacy. Countries that have high levels of such violence tend to have hostility between different religious or ethnic groups, state-sponsored violence, political terrors/group grievances, and organized criminality. If climatic changes are of any significance, they would only be a multiplier to political and social issues that were already there: http://www.visionofhumanity.org/; http://climateandsecurity.org/2015/11/16/is-climate-change-the-biggest-security-threat-is-still-a-bad-question/

So much for that adherence to data sharing. I thought that was something only “deniers” did?: http://hotair.com/archives/2015/12/11/scientists-cheering-for-noaa-chief-to-not-be-bullied-into-showing-their-work-on-climate-data/

As stated before, always pays to keep an open mind, especially in a field as dynamic as climatology. There is still much to be realized: http://fee.org/freeman/earth-day-22-ways-to-think-about-the-climate-change-debate/


An individual that tends to get accolades in the social sphere, particularly in the realm of scientific inquiry, is mechanical engineer and television personality Bill Nye. He is perhaps most well known by the nickname “The Science Guy” as a result of the various media he has done in the service of promoting the field to people of all ages. Far be it from me to consider such an endeavor to be problematic, for more people understanding the role of science in bringing innovation and growth to the world is a truly empowering and liberating thing. However, such an endeavor is undercut by the manner in which Mr. Nye has carried out such a calling. Science is supposed to be tasked with staying ever vigilant to logical, procedural, and philosophical consistency in regards to understanding the knowledge of the universe that surrounds us. That ultimately involves accepting the results and data that are found, even if they conflict with preconceived and conventional beliefs. Sadly, many of the proponents of scientific understanding (Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye…and even the one I include in my cover photo, Carl Sagan) break such an axiom, showcasing how difficult it is for people…even those educated and practicing such endeavors…to be consistent. This is especially true with the ongoing politically-charged topic of anthropogenic global warming (now called climate change by supporters of AGW…despite the fact that an attempted clever change actually causes it to make even less sense).

For all his talk of scientific ethics over the years, Mr. Nye has shown himself to not only be misrepresenting climatic data (http://www.justfactsdaily.com/is-the-earth-warming-catastrophically-fast/)…he has also incorporated logical fallacies with how he attempts to justify his views on AGW (https://redalertpolitics.com/2017/03/16/apparently-bill-nye-never-took-basic-logic-college/). Despite his often repetitive claim that the vast majority of scientists agree with AGW, actually looking over the work of climatologists shows such an assertion to not be the case. Couple that with his continued advocacy for public policy to enforce his debatable views (even when he has shown little to no knowledge of actual constitutional law http://twitchy.com/gregp-3534/2015/05/24/bill-nye-the-constitutional-scholar-guy-the-highest-form-of-patriotism-is-science-or-something/), and use of ad hominems with regard to those who disagree with him (http://dailycaller.com/2017/02/27/bill-nye-the-science-guy-says-climate-deniers-suffer-psychological-delusions/), and it is clear that Mr. Nye is a poor representative of the discipline he claims to cherish.

Extra:

https://stream.org/bill-nye-perfect-talking-head-march-science/

As if his previous transgressions weren’t enough, Mr. Nye has continued such biased and nearly dogmatic tirade on a new Netflix show. Besides dealing with segments that hardly touch on controversial subjects, such as a transgendered song that was more cringe-worthy than informative, he has even decided to entertain the notion of state-sponsored eugenics (https://townhall.com/tipsheet/christinerousselle/2017/04/26/bill-nye-the-eugenics-guy-maybe-we-should-penalize-people-with-extra-kids-n2318527). Of course, as with any biased rendition, Mr. Nye doesn’t consider the fact that government-sanctioned programs are up to those ultimately running it…and all the passions and misconceptions that come with that. He also seems to be oblivious to the historical indications as to why such an action is a horrifically bad idea (http://www.michaelcrichton.com/why-politicized-science-is-dangerous/; https://symbolicorder.info/the-united-states-once-sterilized-tens-of-thousands-here-s-how-the-supreme-court-allowed-it-327c3ee04ccb; https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/the-one-child-policy-has-left-chinas-economic-and-social-support-systems-de). For all the time he spends concerning himself with the supposed issue of overpopulation, realty has shown that concern to be hardly as dire as Mr. Nye claims (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/01/us/the-unrealized-horrors-of-population-explosion.html?smid=tw-share&_r=4; http://reason.com/archives/2010/10/19/the-eternal-return-of-overpopu). One wonders how he continues to claim being a defender of science and it’s methodologies, when he continues to struggle at upholding them.


It has been the conventional belief of many to view the work of scientists as being above notions of self-interest and bias, preferring to see them as pursuers of wisdom and knowledge. However, that belief has been challenged of late by research that shows such devotion to be much more complicated. What has instead been shown is the increased realization of many study results that are non-reproducible, flat out wrong, or full of sloppy analysis (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/09/10/why-medical-clinical-trials-are-so-wrong-so-often/; http://www.businessinsider.com/reproducibility-initiative-study-replication-2012-8; http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/308269/; http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118972683557627104). There is also a bias toward those publications that either push a shocking new result, or that come to a solution that isn’t particularly conclusive. Hardly surprising, this is helped by the pressures of continued funding by public and activist organizations…which are of course attached to whether the results continue to justify their continued investment. Motivated by self-interest, many practitioners can simply push for certain results that will continue to bring on that funding, validity of result be damned (http://www.testingtreatments.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/0-Macleod-et-al.-Comment1.pdf; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420798/). Taken together, all this calls into question the relevance or even quality of how scientific tenets are adhered to in academic circles. Topics such as anthropogenic global warming (AGW) show how politicized science, as well as the drive for scientific advancement without any widespread accountability for such, can hurt the respect and objectivity that many have for the institution.

How do we fix such a problem? There is no easy solution, but there are perhaps a few steps. First, there must be a realization that scientists must be accountable to everyone, not just activists or bureaucrats. Scientists shouldn’t be held to only being policed by their own, but also by those outside the confines of academia. Funding, if it is to be given, should be tied to an actual applicable outcome/goal instead of simply “for the good of science itself”. No truly groundbreaking development, from the compass to the Internet, came to be without some applicability to a real-world problem. And by allowing innovation and economic growth to take further strides, technological advancements might allow even more frontiers to be traversed like never before. Of course these are only just a few possible steps, but a start like this might just work to once again focus true practitioners of science to return to solving the issues and problems that face us all and not just doing it for their own sake.

http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/3/9/160384

Extra Link:

An interesting read, though I feel Mr. Sarewitz oversimplifies some things in his way through a pretty decent analysis. Accountability toward scientists and their work ethic doesn’t just have to be through military endeavors. Such focus on research applicability can also work with those outside of it after all, though it can’t be denied that many advances through history have come through military endeavors. Monetary profit is also not as much a problem as he surmises as well. Indeed it can be destructive if channeled poorly, but such drives also work with funding that is focused more prudently. What is more important is the culture that surrounds that drive and what is being encouraged when we do business. Finally, to be so dismissive of certain fields of study, such as economics or space travel, is a little much. Indeed there is complexity with such fields, but perhaps Mr. Sarewitz should take his own advice regarding that it is how the endeavor is channeled. Travel through space can still be productive if it is focused more on an applicable solution to a real-world problem, such as dealing with efficiency and economic growth concerning fields like manufacturing (as well as an expected timetable for continued investment), rather than simply traveling to another planet for it’s own sake (though a focus on accountability through a deadline, like Kennedy’s Moon challenge or Mr. Musk’s Mars challenge can offer a hybrid solution in this case). Otherwise, a pretty good read – http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/saving-science

http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/private-science-vs-government-science

Would a watch list aid in combating terrorism?

Yet another attempted response coming in certain circles as a result of perceived threats from terrorism is the act of trying to remove 2nd Amendment rights from those on so-called terror watch lists…with the belief that if such individuals are considered a threat to the nation, they shouldn’t be able to carry a gun. Besides the usual fact in these cases that if someone wants to carry out such an attack (considering they are criminals), they will find another way of getting weapons…this drive glosses over the fact that not only do the watch lists not make us any safer, but are also the result of debatable standards for how people end up on the lists. In many cases, getting blacklisted could be because one simply makes a Facebook post, tweet, or other use of social media that someone doesn’t like. The standards are so vague that someone might end up on the list because they might have criticized or pointed out something for others to see (https://theintercept.com/document/2014/07/23/march-2013-watchlisting-guidance/). More than three fifths of those listed have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation” (https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140805/11295828116/nearly-40-those-governments-terrorist-watchlist-have-no-affiliation-with-recognized-terrorism-groups.shtml) and involve many that are simply there as a result of their identity (https://www.aclu.org/blog/numbers-tell-story-our-governments-watchlisting-binge). Not to mention that once one finds themselves on the watch lists, which once again can be for trivial reasons, it can be exceptionally difficult to get off it. Once on, simple preponderance of evidence can keep one on the list. No obligation of bringing charges to those listed is required, an absolute violation of due process (http://thefederalist.com/2015/11/23/sorry-democrats-but-there-is-no-loophole-that-allows-terrorists-to-buy-guns/; http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/427474/meet-press-roundtable-tackles-national-crisis-social-media-flag-disparity-jim-geraghty).

What instead should be done is to hold the government accountable to the constitutional violation that is involved with the terror watch lists. Those listed should be shown to either have a terrorism connection or not, and whether legal charges should be brought or not. Those that are convicted of such a crime should only then lose their constitutional rights, not before…unless it can be demonstrated that they are an immediate threat. Such laws in many cases already exist. No need to add this overgrowth of government abuse.

Is gun control policy effective in combating crime?

Over the last few years, there has been a renewed drive by some to install rigid gun control laws across the country. 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. For example, Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. Yet, Chicago is also one of the most violent and deadliest cities in the nation, with over 500 gun-related deaths in 2012 alone, an increase of over 10% from 2005. Prior to 2013, Illinois where carrying a concealed weapon was illegal. In December, federal judges struck it down as unconstitutional. But, politicians in the state continue to push further gun control laws, including an assault weapons ban, despite the evidence that such laws aren’t working. Contrast that with Houston, a city that shares many of the socioeconomic, demographics, and criminal issues as Chicago does. Yet, Houston has almost half less as many gun-related deaths as Chicago does, with 217 recorded in 2012. Perhaps there are other reasons embedded that can account for this difference, but one thing is noticeable: Houston has fewer gun laws than Chicago. One reason the numbers could be low is that criminals can expect more people to be armed.

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, 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 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.

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, had 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.

A study just 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.

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 reason given.

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.

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 with a focus on the user themselves, especially when concerned with the topic of mental illness. Gun, hammer, screwdriver, broken light bulb, T.V. remote…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. It is time for more serious debate regarding this topic.

Sources:

More Gun Laws Do Not Mean Less Crime: http://benswann.com/more-gun-laws-do-not-mean-less-crime/

Harvard Publication On Gun Laws Resurfaces As Talks About Firearms Continue: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2013/08/30/harvard-gun-study-no-decrease-in-violence-with-ban/

Initial Thoughts on the Navy Yard Shooting: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/358625/initial-thoughts-navy-yard-shooting-charles-c-w-cooke

The real Navy Yard scandal: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-the-real-navy-yard-scandal/2013/09/19/ddfde26a-2162-11e3-a358-1144dee636dd_story.html

Va. Tech Gunman’s Records Reveal Disorganized Mental Health System: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/19/AR2009081902380.html?sid=ST2009081902390

An examination of the effects of concealed weapons laws and assault weapons bans on state-level murder rates: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13504851.2013.854294

Crime, Deterrence, and Right-To-Carry Concealed Handguns: http://www.terry.uga.edu/~mustard/ccw.pdf

Extra:

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.(http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2010/12/have_gun_want_to_travel.html) 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 (https://americainchains2009.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/dictators-and-gun-control/).

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 (http://www.captainsjournal.com/2012/07/23/do-gun-bans-reduce-violent-crime-ask-the-aussies-and-brits/). And despite the claims by some 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, as different countries have different cultural views and appetites, as well as different conceptions of terms from one another. As a result, what statisticians might calculate for “mass killings” or “assaults” in one country won’t be the same necessarily as another), 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/

One 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

Exactly what defines a weapon as “dangerous and unusual”? Such terms by themselves are fairly vague and depend very much on the beholder to be defined. The Heller case in 2008 made such a distinction by claiming those “most useful for military service” were the standard by which certain weapons would be outside of the protection of the 2nd Amendment (though such a standard again is debatable at times). However, in a recent court decision in Maryland, the majority concluded that the weapons in question were “dangerous and unusual” due to being…according to them…”exceptionally lethal weapons of war”. However, since such weapons are lawfully owned by millions of Americans, such a distinction seems dubious, as well as 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 (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/sunday-review/the-assault-weapon-myth.html?_r=0). The other argument that weapons with “large-capacity magazines” are more lethal than those with smaller magazines might appear significant, but loses any sort of relevance when realized that such magazines are sold standard with handguns and such as well.

Yet another nation that has rampant gun control and supposed fewer guns…yet much more crime. So much for that “fewer guns equals less crime” narrative: http://www.tfp.org/tfp-home/news-commentary/what-about-gun-violence-in-brazil.html.

It is always those procedures done with good intentions that can end up having a deleterious effect. This new proposal seeks to limit ownership of firearms to those who are seen as unable to manage their own affairs due to “marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease”. The problem is…what determines the categorization of such concepts? The NY Safe Act is a notorious example of such a scenario, where people are lumped together into broad categories that can end up denying constitutional rights to people that haven’t been convicted of a crime and/or have taken part in activities that are hardly questionable. Such things can end up villainizing people, and ultimately lead to some reneging on treatment which could perpetuate the problem. Indeed mental illness and backgrounds should be debated concerning public safety, but that shouldn’t be taken to such a degree where innocent people are thrown into the mix. The problem, as always, is finding that balance where rights and privacy are respected as well (http://redalertpolitics.com/2016/06/13/liberals-unfairly-stigmatize-mentally-ill-mass-shootings/; http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/mental-illness-gun-rights-and-medical-privacy/)

What to make of “President’s Day”?

If there was ever a holiday that needed to be questioned, it’s President’s Day. To have a day that is aimed at venerating an office is borderline monarchical…not to mention that it inadvertently rises in importance something that is co-equal with two other branches of government…or at least it is supposed to be. Where is the Congress Day, or the Supreme Court Day? Indeed, there have been individuals who have done much to aid the growth of this nation to what it has become, but to put such emphasis on them gives the impression that it was somehow only through them that our nation has become what it is, rather than that the conceptions that define the United States have allowed for such an expansive environment to occur. Days like President’s Day serve to do nothing less than put the emphasis away from the United States being a nation of laws, but instead a nation of men.

Is the United Nations an effective organization?

In 1945, the United Nations was created through the delegations of the five major powers of the world at the time: the United States, the Soviet Union, the UK, France, and China. The intergovernmental organization was set up with the goal of international co-operation in the hope of avoiding similar circumstances that led to the two major wars that engulfed global politics in the first half of 20th century. Replacing the discredited League of Nations, the UN is made up of organizations that are tasked with different subjects of interest around the world: from politics (General Assembly), internal activities and management (Secretariat), justice (International Court of Justice), economics (Economic and Social Council), and security (Security Council). The organization is currently made up of 193 member states, and 2 observer states (Vatican City and Palestine).

Whatever it’s initial intent, the UN has expanded into other avenues of which seriously bring into question it’s mission in the modern world, as well as establishing it as a threat to national sovereignty. The recent events in Israel have seen the organization give the PLO a seat on the General Assembly, as well as observer status to Palestine, even though the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians continues to be tenuous at best. This infringement in the internal politics of Israel not only encourages other groups of people in other nations to strive to do the same (which will probably not amount to much since they aren’t as “notorious” as Hamas and other Palestinian groups have been with their presentation in the media…Taiwan anyone?), but also makes that more difficult for the people of any particular state to handle their own issues. By getting involved in the internal politics of a nation that has experienced internal strife for decades (which doesn’t seem to have produced any meaningful results despite our continued insistence over much of those same several decades), it continues to become harder to see how the situation will be any different going forward. The whole conflict was a foregone conclusion after the outright creation of Israel in 1948 by the UN General Assembly, instead of allowing the released British territory to attain it’s own identity. Forcing association by decree and continued micromanaging of affairs has not led to compromise or better relations, and doesn’t seem to be ready to recede anytime soon. Whether the Israelis and Palestinians want a 2, 1, or other state solution should be their decision to make…not bureaucrats in some ivory tower that feel it necessary to stick their nose in affairs that don’t concern them.

The UN has also shown recently their ability to infringe through their reckless use of treaties (even though such documents are rarely worth the paper they are printed on since many are hardly ever enforced…just see the situation in Iraq from years ago). The recent Arms Trade Treaty, which seeks to regulate the movement of firearms around the globe (and took effect in Christmas Eve 2014), is one such example. Though the Obama administration supported such an endeavor, many other lawmakers correctly saw how such a treaty can profoundly affect the ability of our citizens to be able to arm themselves effectively by getting involved in our nation’s imports, and other topics.

The organization has also increasing become more contrary to our national interests, now made largely of nations that make a habit of voting against our confidence by more than 50 percent. What is unfortunate is that many of these nations get foreign aid from us…as if the insult weren’t bad enough (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/09/the-united-states-30-years-of-voting-in-the-united-nations-general-assembly; http://www.heritage.org/global-politics/report/un-general-assembly-foreign-aid-recipients-vote-against-the-us). The Security Council has been largely made ineffective of late due to the fact that Russia and China have made it difficult to hold certain nations to account when they violate human rights and other treaty rules. This is helped by the fact that Russia and China, as with ourselves and the other major powers, need only 1 veto to ruin an initiative. The International Court of Justice is hardly to be seen in any such events. The Human Rights Council, given minimum standards that were supposed to be tailored toward those nations that “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”, is largely made up of authoritarian nations such as China, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Malaysia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela (Russia was once on the council, but lost re-election).

It is the combination of these circumstances that showcase why the UN has become a shell of what it’s goal was meant to be when it was first implemented. However, removing ourselves from the organization would be a mistake in my view. Power abhors a vacuum, allowing the floor to instead be occupied further by those who would be opposed to our interests. In fact, it is probably our increasing disinterest, and complacency, in involvement in the UN that has led to the current predicament. Instead, we must take a different number of steps: begin to be more frugal in our use of foreign aid, particularly with careful connection to those nations that are more in line with our values and endeavors. As the United States funds the majority of any country in the world toward the UN, we shouldn’t be hesitant to use such power against the organization when it continues to implement policies or treaties that infringe upon our constitutional rights. It is only engaging the global community that we can hope to protect the concepts that we hold dear.

Extra:

Besides the UN, another organization that has become a shell without rudder or compass is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Created to protect against an expansive-minded USSR in 1949, the almost 30-nation alliance has become rather listless in recent years. While the United States continues to largely fund the organization through it’s taxes and military power, most European nations involved have skimped on sharing in cost-sharing such defensive measures…despite the fact that such burden sharing is a part of the organization treaties.  Sharing in the defense of other nations that share our values is good and all, but not if they aren’t willing to do so themselves. NATO also has much to share in how geopolitical mishaps that have taken place in recent decades, such as the creation of a failed state in Libya, admitting of countries that serve no real military gain except to inflate the member list (or include increasingly authoritarian regimes such as Turkey)…and bring us closer to Russia’s border, and so on. Unless there is serious reform, no reason why the United States should continue the status quo of support for an organization that is increasingly becoming anachronistic. Here is some good analysis on this: http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/06/20/think-again-nato/; https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/us-should-stop-collecting-allies-facebook-friends-alliances-should-benefit.

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