Americans

Home » Americans

Americans Starting to Lose Faith in Centralized Power

in Elections and Politics, Liberator Online, Libertarianism, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

Americans Starting to Lose Faith in Centralized Power

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

If you are mostly accustomed to getting your news from established TV and news sources, you might not know that a new poll suggests that most Americans have lost faith in how the media covers politics in the country. But if you have been paying attention, you probably agree with them.

PeopleA poll carried out by Suffolk University and the USA Today asked individuals “who do you think the media, including major newspapers and TV stations, would like to see elected president: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?” While the question itself could have been presented differently, taking into consideration the fact that, traditionally, the job of the news reporter is to be unbiased and faithful to facts, the fact 75.9 percent of respondents said they believe the established media wants to see the Democratic candidate win proves they know that cronyism has taken over.

According to the poll, most of those who responded believe that the media is overwhelmingly in favor of one presidential candidate, discarding not only the choice of the second most established party, but also both the Libertarian Party and the Green Party candidates.

That brings us to the realization that, as individuals begin to notice the subjects playing a role in the U.S. presidential elections are also partly responsible for influencing our decisions, they also realize that our central government is filled with individuals who have made their way to the top under far from ideal circumstances.

Instead of living by principles and the idea that they represent those who have elected them, these politicians only hold promises to those who have bankrolled their campaigns.

The “pay to play” scheme, after all, is not only a reality among clusters of politicians who are being eviscerated by those paying attention. It’s also a reality wherever a centralized form of government is in place.

Centralization of power is, at the end of the day, the right environment for corruption to thrive.

In Human Action, Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises writes that “there is no such thing as a just and fair method of exercising the tremendous power that interventionism puts into the hands of the legislature and the executive,” explaining that, in “many fields of the administration of interventionist measures, favoritism simply cannot be avoided.”

As interventionism remains an innate part of governing, what we, libertarians, can take away from this recent poll is that the access to information provided by an open wide web of ideas, such as the Internet, has helped us understand these powerful alliances, seeing their result right before our eyes on a regular basis.

People are no longer going along quietly. And that’s why we should be celebrating.

ACLU: Police Use of Face-Recognition Tech is ‘Violating Americans’ Civil Rights’

in Liberator Online by Alice Salles Comments are off

ACLU: Police Use of Face-Recognition Tech is ‘Violating Americans’ Civil Rights’

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The American Civil Liberties Union, along the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, sent a letter to the Justice Department expressing concerns over federal, state, and local police use of facial recognition technology.

FaceThe letter claims that a recent study carried out by the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law shows that “law enforcement use of face recognition technology is having a disparate impact on communities of color, potentially exacerbating and entrenching existing policing disparities.”

Adding that said systems are powerful, the letter explained that a Federal Bureau of Investigation study from 2012 shows that the technology is “5 to 10 percent less accurate on African Americans than Caucasians.” By reaching out to the Justice Department, the ACLU plus over 50 other groups are asking the government to investigate police practices associated with the technology because of the system’s inaccuracies.

While the ACLU has not argued for an end to the use of the technology, the organization’s legislative counsel, Singh Guliani, said that, unless “meaningful safeguards are in place,” the use of the technology could be putting the privacy of Americans at risk.

Mentioning the fact that half of all U.S. adults are in government face recognition databases, Guliani added that allowing law enforcement to use these technologies without clear policies may lead to abuse.

According to the Georgetown report mentioned by the ACLU, abuse may come in different shapes and sizes.

Because many law enforcement agencies employ the technology in a continuous fashion, scanning individuals on real-time, researchers believe that this type of approach may violate people’s privacy simply because law enforcement is collecting footage of law-abiding citizens without seeking a warrant beforehand. In the report, the Center on Privacy & Technology team explains that this type of use is “generalized and invisible.” In many instances, the research team adds, abuse may lead to stifling of free speech.

Out of the 52 agencies using the system, the research team found at least one department using the face recognition tool to track individuals engaged in political, religious, or other type of “protected free speech.” But because of the lack of oversight, many departments do not have access to data on the use of the technology, making it difficult for researchers to identify other instances of abuse.

All of these problems are “unprecedented and highly problematic,” researchers added in the report.

In the group’s letter, the ACLU argued that the problems raised by the Georgetown study are “particularly disturbing” when we consider that federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have been using these technologies for routine investigations without any oversight.

Considering law enforcement has been under heavy scrutiny recently over the use and abuse of “voodoo science,”  it’s easy to see how the ACLU has reason to mistrust law enforcement with the use of such a powerful tool.

How Regulations Helped to Kill the Blackcurrant Berry Market in America

in Business and Economy, Economic Liberty, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

How Regulations Helped to Kill the Blackcurrant Berry Market in America

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

It’s no secret that regulations are used as tools by rent-seeking firms in order to keep competitors off the market. But when US regulations restrict the production of items for long periods of time and for no apparent reason, it’s often hard to bring the same items back into particular communities.

FruitThis happened with the blackcurrant berry, which has impacted Skittles, the fruit-flavored sweets that are both produced and marketed by the Wrigley Company.

In the United States, the purple Skittle tastes like grape. But anywhere else, including the United Kingdom and Australia, the company uses blackcurrant to produce these pesky purple pieces of candy. Outside of the country, everyone knows what blackcurrant is. But in America, many haven’t even heard of the powerful fruit.

What many also don’t know is that blackcurrant berry is not widely known in America because of a regulatory black hole.

For many years, growing the sweet and tart berry in the United States was outlawed. Since the early 1990s, farmers were forced to drop the production, but it wasn’t because there wasn’t a demand. Instead, the policy was embraced after legislators learned that the berry bushes could act as a vector for white pine blister rust, which could destroy the wood. That was a problem for lumber producers, and the berry was outlawed.

While in the 1960s the federal government loosened restrictions, allowing states to set their own rules, a few have kept the ban in place. Nevertheless, most states now allow farmers to grow the berry. Regardless of the policy change, the decades of obscurity made Americans remain unaware of the very existence of blackcurrant berry. The fruit, which is widely popular in Europe, is seldom found anywhere in the United States.

One man’s journey to formally decriminalize the fruit in New York started in Germany, where he ran a restaurant in the Bavaria region. Coming back to New York, Greg Quinn lobbied local lawmakers, helping overturn the ban on growing the fruit. Ever since 2003, Quinn has been growing blackcurrants in Hudson Valley, and now counts with at least 10,000 bushes in his backyard.

Ever since the very first moment he learned about the berry, he knew he alone had to help reintroduce the flavor back to the American palate.

As his brand of juices and concentrates start to slowly hit the market, many cocktail bars and restaurants appear to like the products, but the flavor is so foreign to Americans that the product is often seen as a tough sell.

Until blackcurrant berries are popular in America again, one can only hope that this story will help others to think twice before supporting more restrictions in the future.

What Mainstream News Sources Get Wrong About Economic Recovery

in Business and Economy, Economic Liberty, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

What Mainstream News Sources Get Wrong About Economic Recovery

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The press, author and philosopher Edmund Burke once argued during a parliamentary debate in 1787, is the “Fourth State,” a “societal force” whose powerful influence makes it the perfect tool of the powerful men. All too often, you see this powerful tool being used to shift the blame from government’s intrusive, unproductive policies to taxpayers, in an attempt to make the idea that government always acts with our best interest in mind popular again.

WaPoIn a recent Washington Post article, Robert J. Samuelson takes American consumers to task for not allowing President Barack Obama administration’s economic recovery plan to work. A comment Zero Hedge’s sassy Tyler Durden does not seem to be very happy about.

In a piece exposing the problems with Samuelson’s article, Zero Hedge claims that Washington Post, or what the author calls an “administration mouthpiece,” goes to the extreme of indirectly accusing Americans of being “stingy” when Samuelson argues that the only drag on the economy is “us.”

Since Americans refuse to go out and buy more stuff, WaPo’s Samuelson claims, “American consumers aren’t what they used to be … and that helps explain the plodding economic recovery.”

But according to Zero Hedge’s author, America’s current economic issues may be traced back to other culprits, such as increasing health insurance premiums and the high cost of property and rentals. Zero Hedge also argues that even when looking at the jobs created over the past few years, it’s easy to see that what has risen recently is the rate of part-time or minimum wage jobs, not full-time work. Should the current administration take pride in that?

Once we look deeper into the issues Americans are currently facing, we become more aware of the roots of the economic problems we, as a nation, have experienced in the past decade, making Samuelson’s claims sound shallow.

Soaring national debt and money printing are two problems that directly affect consumers nowadays, whether they are rich or poor. Both of these problems have been devaluing our dollar, inflating prices, and crushing our money’s overall purchasing power. And both of these issues have been the policies of most of US presidents over the past decades.

While economic intervention is a real problem, it’s not the only thing keeping Americans down. Big government’s overpowering regulations are also adding more fuel to the fire by raising a greater amount of barriers to businesses.

The regulatory burden keeps entrepreneurs with little capital in hand from entering the marketplace, depriving workers and consumers from options. That, Mercatus Center’s Patrick A. McLaughlin argues, contributes to poverty.

Without government’s artificially imposed barriers, the American consumer would have a stronger currency to work with, and the unemployed would have better job opportunities.

Unlike Samuelson claims, Zero Hedge reports, the average American is now broke. Samuelson may miss what was once the “world’s most vibrant middle class,” but he does not know how to get us there.

So instead of asking broke Americans to resort to easy credit—yet another issue with today’s economy—so the current administration’s economic recovery finally “works,” how about taking the individual’s struggle to make ends meet under the thumb of government’s heavy-handed interventionism into consideration next time?

Nurse Practitioners Want to Help Patients, but Stifling Rules Stand in the Way

in Economic Liberty, Healthcare, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

Nurse Practitioners Want to Help Patients, but Stifling Rules Stand in the Way

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The fight to serve Americans freely, offering low income patients the option of having access to affordable care, has been an important battle for nurses in certain states.

According to Watchdog.org, nurse practitioners in Pennsylvania are beginning to question the straining and oftentimes useless requirements they must meet in order to help their patients.

MedicIn many states, nurses with advanced degrees and special certifications are allowed to perform several functions primarily performed by physicians. While giving these nurse practitioners the freedom to help patients without access to expensive health insurance is important, many states limit their effectiveness by forcing nurses to seek the approval from doctors before being able to help patients in need.

To the thousands of patients who benefit from having access to nurse practitioners, the process may seem confusing. But they are not alone, healthcare providers also share their frustration.

To nurse Jerry Driscoll, a nurse practitioner running Primary Homecare, doctors “are signing paperwork on patients they’ve never seen,” making their job extremely difficult. After all, nurses like Driscoll “can order their insulin, but not their shoes” he said.

In an interview with Watchdog.org, Driscoll explained that issuing prescriptions or even ordering medical devices such a simple walker or orthopedic shoes is impossible for nurse practitioners in Pennsylvania, forcing organizations such as Primary Homecare to spend thousands of dollars yearly to maintain collaborative agreements with local physicians.

If Primary Homecare didn’t have to spend $25,000 a year due to the state’s laws, Driscoll explained, he would be able to give his patients much better care. Some of the pieces of equipment Driscoll’s company would be able to afford if laws were different include mobile imaging equipment and other technologies used for blood tests. On top of that, not having to spend so much on agreements with physicians could also lower the cost of care to patients, making access to direct healthcare much more affordable.

Last year, lawmakers in the state sought to put an end to this problem by introducing legislation that would have ended the mandatory collaborative agreements between physicians and nurse practitioners.

While the last attempt had failed in the previous session, the bills introduced in the State House and Senate last year are currently languishing in legislative committees. If at least one passes, Pennsylvania would be the 22nd state to allow “full practice” models, giving nurse practitioners the freedom to practice more broadly but still within the scope of their training.

But before nurses are able to obtain the freedom they require to better care for their patients, they must fight the crony capitalists at the Pennsylvania Medical Society, who are opposing the bills currently under review.

According to the medical association, physician oversight of nurse practitioners is essential. The idea that the arrangement between physicians and nurse practitioners is just a formality is far from the truth, said Karen Rizzo, the president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

But according to recent studies, the notion that patients get better care from nurse practitioners in contact with physicians is nothing but a myth.

Nurse practitioners, the five studies conclude, improve patient outcomes while also reducing healthcare costs by as much as 29 percent. One of the studies has also suggested that patients who have access to nurse practitioners have lower hospital admission rates.

As Pennsylvania struggles with 155 areas in which patients have little to no access to adequate health care, loosening nurse practitioner’s requirements could help to give more patients access to quality care at a lower price.

What are lawmakers waiting for?​

Does the Bill of Rights Guarantee the Right to…Own a Pet?

in Liberator Online, Libertarianism, One Minute Liberty Tip, Philosophy by Sharon Harris Comments are off

Does the Bill of Rights Guarantee the Right to…Own a Pet?

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant & free… it expects what never was and never will be.”

One can only imagine Jefferson’s reaction to a recent national survey by the respected Annenberg Public Policy Center.

The Annenberg survey found that a terrifying large number of Americans are unfamiliar with even the most basic and most fundamental facts about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the structure of the U.S. government.

Rights And, in their ignorance, many are ready to toss out essential liberties and safeguards. Among the findings:

  • Only one in three Americans (31 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government. Thirty-two percent could not identify even one.
  • More than one in four Americans (28 percent) incorrectly thinks a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling is sent back either to Congress for reconsideration or to the lower courts for a decision.
  • Fully 12 percent say the Bill of Rights includes… the right to own a pet.
  • One American in four thinks the Bill of Rights guarantees “equal pay for equal work.”

 
This ignorance, alas, is nothing new. Many surveys over the years have reported similarly depressing findings.

Perhaps this partially explains why the Annenberg survey also found that significant percentages of Americans support getting rid of some of our most fundamental liberties:

  • Thirty-one percent say the government should have the power to outlaw a religion if a majority of voters believe it holds “un-American views.” Another 13 percent don’t care one way or another. Less than half (46 percent) oppose this.
  • Twenty-seven percent say the government should be able to prohibit a peaceful march down a main street if the marchers’ views are offensive to the majority of a town’s residents. Another 15 percent don’t care. A little more than half (54 percent) oppose.
  • Twelve percent support giving the government the power to stop the press from publishing articles critical of the government (prior restraint). Another 9 percent don’t care one way or the other.
  • Nearly half (46 percent) oppose current prohibitions on “double jeopardy,” the practice of retrying a person for the same crime twice if new evidence emerges after a not-guilty verdict.
  • One-quarter of those surveyed (26 percent) favor requiring a person to testify against himself in court. Another 17 percent don’t care either way.
  • A quarter of the respondents (25 percent) agreed that “it might be better to do away with the Supreme Court altogether” if it starts making a lot of rulings most Americans disagreed with.

 
Whatever your beliefs about government, the Constitution — and especially the Bill of Rights — has historically been the greatest resource for the day-to-day peaceful protection of American liberties. Thoughtful people of all political persuasions — liberals, conservatives and libertarians alike — find much common ground in these documents.

The lack of knowledge the Annenberg survey found constitutes nothing less than a civil liberties emergency.

Can anything be done to change this? Can you personally do anything?

Yes. We have many tools available to us, and many opportunities.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Share with your inner circle. Most of us have our greatest influence over those closest to us: children, grandchildren, other family members, close friends, neighbors, business associates, and so on. Share with them the importance of understanding how the government is structured and why our Bill of Rights freedoms are so vital. Encourage them to share them with others, creating a ripple effect. If your children attend a school, ask what is being done to teach these issues.
  • Use social media. Most of us are in contact with a great variety of people through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and other social media. Share this crucial information via videos, memes, links to news stories and articles. (The Annenberg poll press release, linked at the start of this article, will shock and amaze many of your friends and followers.)
  • Use holidays.Bill of Rights Day, (December 15), Constitution Day (September 17), and Independence Day (July 4) offer especially good opportunities to discuss these issues with family, friends, social media followers, and so on. They are great times for letters to the editor discussing the vital importance of our Bill of Rights freedoms and the need to understand them. Such letters can reach thousands or even tens of thousands or more people. Just a few letters in large newspapers can reach millions. Put these holidays on your calendar!

 
(By the way, all publicly funded educational institutions — including any schools receiving federal funds of any kind — are required to provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution on or near Constitution Day. So on Constitution Day these matters will definitely be on the minds of many people.)

That’s just a start. Doubtless you can think of other opportunities and forums. As always, use the effective communication skills taught by the Advocates to make your communication appealing and welcome. (You’ll find lots of them in my book How to Be a Super Communicator for Liberty: Successfully Sharing Libertarian Ideas. e-book here)

It’s up to you. Government schools have failed miserably at teaching basic civics. So has the media. (The more skeptical among us might even note that government benefits enormously from having the public ignorant about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.)

As the great libertarian writer Harry Browne pointed out: “If the American people are to learn the importance of limited, Constitutional government, we have to teach them ourselves.” We have the power to reach those closest to us, and to reach — via letters, speeches, social media and many other ways — millions more Americans as well. Are you ready?

Supreme Court Ignores Privacy Group’s Request to Disclose DHS’s Cellphone Shutdown Policy

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

Supreme Court Ignores Privacy Group’s Request to Disclose DHS’s Cellphone Shutdown Policy

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Do you think the Department of Homeland Security keeps us safe? What about the Supreme Court? Do you believe it upholds the Constitution as it should?

Recently, a petition from the Electronic Privacy Information Center demanding the DHS to release its plan to close mobile phone services in the wake of disasters was set aside by the Supreme Court.

With the snub, the highest court of the land refused to look at the federal appeals court’s May ruling that upholds the secrecy surrounding DHS’s plan. If the ruling remains in place, DHS officers are not required to disclose details concerning Standard Operating Procedure 303, which outlines the guidelines that private and commercial wireless networks are required to follow during the service shutdown and restoration processes in the event of what the DHS describes as a “national crisis.”

Large Man Looking At Co-Worker With A Magnifying Glass

The appeals court used the Freedom of Information Act to keep the DHS from disclosing the plan in May, claiming that allowing details from SPP 303 to become public would put the safety of Americans at risk.

The factor that prompted the privacy group to act involved a full shutdown of cellphone service in the San Francisco Bay Area subway system during what EPIC calls a peaceful protest back in 2011. At the time, EPIC demanded DHS to divulge the contents of SOP 303, but the agency refused. Later, the case was taken to a district court in Washington, D.C., where the judge ruled in favor of the privacy group. Soon after, the federal appeals court overturned the district court’s ruling, claiming the SOP 303 is a “voluntary process” designed to protect Americans during “critical emergencies such as the threat of radio-activated improvised explosive devices.”

According to the heavily redacted version of the shutdown policy obtained by EPIC, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials have access to the powers granted by SOP 303. Despite the overreach and the policy’s restrictions on individuals’ communication devices without proper warning, document details are not accessible to Americans.

If a peaceful protest is enough of a reason to shut down the phone service of countless individuals who may have not even been part of the incident, privacy groups like EPIC want to make sure the DHS opens SOP 303′s contents for discussion.

By infringing the individual’s right to privacy without due process, the DHS is acting unconstitutionally, despite the Supreme Court’s decision to ignore EPIC’s petition.

If the American people are not made aware of the Supreme Court’s decision to ignore privacy concerns and government abuse, agencies like DHS will continue to abuse its powers.

Trashing the restrictions on government imposed by the US Constitution will not make us safe.

According to the Cato Institute, DHS is responsible for increasing bureaucracy while not improving the efficacy of Department of Homeland Security’s programs. In a perfect world, the DHS’s inefficiency alone would be enough to have it slashed.

As taxpayers foot the bill, agencies like the DHS work relentlessly to keep Americans from having access to policies that impact them directly. If privacy groups like EPIC are not able to push the Supreme Court to rule on this matter, what are other ways we should go about demanding our privacy is fully restored?

Counter-Terrorism ‘Experts’ Failed to Identify Threat Prior to San Bernardino Attack

in Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, National Defense, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

Counter-Terrorism ‘Experts’ Failed to Identify Threat Prior to San Bernardino Attack

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The deadly San Bernardino attack prompted everyone from presidential candidates to media personalities to focus on the threat of Islamic radicals committing terrorist attacks at home. But in their quest to focus only on the religion as the root of terrorism here and abroad, many ignored the fact that both San Bernardino and Riverside counties held the First Annual Inland Terrorism Liaison Officer Conference just weeks before the San Bernardino shooters killed 14 people and injured other 22.

The region, The Intercept’s Jana Winter argues, has become home to a hub of counter-terrorism training groups, where countless people are taught to identify would-be terrorists before they actually put their plans into action.

FBI

Law enforcement, public officials, and several members of the private sector have access to these trainings. Yet nobody was able to identify the two attackers in time to avoid bloodshed.

As Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik planned to carry their attack, locals who were part of these trainings just 25 miles from where the attacks took place were unable to identify what experts call “behavioral indicators” of potential terrorists. Such indicators are a central part of the US counter-terrorism prevention strategy.

According to Michael German, a former FBI agent who’s now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, behavioral indicators used by law enforcement to fight terrorism rely “on generalized correlations found in selectively chosen terrorists without using control groups to see how often the correlated behaviors identified occur in the non-terrorist population.” To the former FBI agent, the theories that back the counter-terrorism trainings are flawed:

“The FBI, [National Counter-Terrorism Center], and [Department of Homeland Security] promote these theories despite the fact they have been refuted in numerous academic studies over the past 20 years.”
Even as groups debunk the US counter-terrorism effort to use behavioral indicators to identify potential terrorists, the industry is and has been blooming in California in recent years.

The Joint Regional Intelligence Center, which is a Los Angeles chapter of InfraGard (an FBI-backed group), is known for having produced dozens of Official Use Only intelligence bulletins that focus solely on behavior indicators.

In 2002, California hosted the first Terrorism Liaison Officer program, an initiative that enlists community members and representatives of the private sector to be the eyes and ears of the counter-terrorism community nationwide. While the program was first launched out of the Los Angeles chapter of InfraGard, it has been since expanded to the entire nation.

In 2013, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors renewed its contract with InfraGard’s LA chapter by signing a new $2,530,000 deal with the group, which was later extended through 2018. CT Watch, one of the companies hired by InfraGard to conduct counter-terrorism trainings, is famous for its “Threat of ISIS and radicalization in the homeland” seminar. CT Watch’s director, Roque “Rocky” Wicker, says that behavior indicators work, “you just need to train the right people.”

Other training sessions held recently in Riverside include “The Stealth Jihad in the United States,” “How to assess the threat posed by a potential lone wolf attacker,” and “Behavior threat assessment: preventing the Active Shooter.” All of these sessions took place on October 22, a few weeks before the December attack in San Bernardino.

Despite California’s long lasting relationship with the counter-terrorism effort, none of the well-trained officers or community members in the region were able to identify the terrorists operating from San Bernardino.

Should we, as Americans, allow the government to continue using the same failed tactics to keep us safe? Better yet, should we allow our tax dollars to go to groups that claim to know what they are doing, even as they fail to contain potential threats at home repeatedly?

These are some of the tough questions we should be asking our presidential candidates this year.

No, Violent Crime is Not Getting Worse

in Criminal Justice, Gun Rights, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Jackson Jones Comments are off

No, Violent Crime is Not Getting Worse

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

One wouldn’t know it if they read what some news outlets are reporting or listened to the words of some Republican hopefuls and pundits on television, but there isn’t any real evidence that crime is getting worse.

The Pew Research Center, in May 2013, noted that the gun homicide rate was down 49 percent since 1993, when it peaked. What’s more, non-fatal gun violence dropped by 75 percent over the same period analyzed. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, an agency in the Department of Justice, found similar figures, a 39 percent drop in gun homicides and a 70 percent drop in non-fatal gun violence, between 1993 and 2011.

Police-Car-Lights-GOOD.JPG

Although instances of gun violence were falling, according to the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of Americans believed gun-related crimes were on the rise compared to 20 years before. The causes of this belief are certainly up for debate, but the media’s focus on shootings and coverage of politicians’ reactions could be a cause. After all, bad news sells.

At the end of August, The New York Times reported that “[c]ities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines.” The Times offers data from several U.S. cities that have seen spikes in homicides. Some have interpreted the story as a nationwide spike in violent crime attributed to the so-called “Ferguson effect.” Heather Mac Donald pushed this theory in a May editorial at the Wall Street Journal.

“Since last summer, the airwaves have been dominated by suggestions that the police are the biggest threat facing young black males today,” Mac Donald wrote. “Almost any police shooting of a black person, no matter how threatening the behavior that provoked the shooting, now provokes angry protests.”

Others, including Bruce Frederick of the Vera Institute and John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center, have taken a more reasoned approach to the perceived spike in violent crime.

“[N]ot all of the increases cited by the Times are statistically reliable; that is, some of them are small increases, or are based on small numbers of cases, such that the observed increases could have occurred by chance alone. Among the 16 top-20 cities for which I found publically available data, only three experienced statistically reliable increases,” Frederick explained. “Only one of the top-20 cities included in the Times’ sample, Chicago, experienced an increase that was statistically significant.”

“Even where a statistically reliable increase has been experienced,” he noted, “a single year-to-year increase does not necessarily imply a meaningful trend.”

Writing in response to Mac Donald at the end of May, Lott pointedly contested her narrative, writing, “The bottom line is that across the largest 15 cities in the US the murder rate has fallen by by 12 from 749 to 737 (a 2% drop) or from 43 from 871 to 828 (a 5% drop).”

And while many are insisting that violence against police is becoming a trend, the Associated Press recently noted that shooting deaths of police officers are actually down by 13 percent. “There were 30 shootings last year and 26 this year,” the report explained. “Those figures include state and local officers, as well as federal agents.” The data used in the report came from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Each shooting, whether of an innocent person or a police officer, is a tragedy, but everyone needs to calm down about this supposed uptick in violent crime because the data suggest that 2015 is consistent with recent years. Even if by year’s end there’s an increase in violent crime, it’s far too early to call it a trend.

Free the Hops: Sin Taxes Drive Up the Cost of Beer

in Economic Liberty, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Taxes by Jackson Jones Comments are off

Free the Hops: Sin Taxes Drive Up the Cost of Beer

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Your favorite frothy adult beverage would be a little cheaper if sin taxes were not part of the equation, according to a new report from the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan policy research center.

Each state taxes beer by the gallon, with the costs ranging from just 2 cents in Wyoming to $1.29 in Tennessee.

“State and local governments use a variety of formulas to tax beer,” Scott Drenkard writes at the Tax Foundation. “The rates can include fixed per-volume taxes; wholesale taxes that are often a percentage of a product’s wholesale price; distributor taxes (sometimes structured as license fees as a percentage of revenues); case or bottle fees (which can vary based on size of container); and additional sales taxes (note that this measure does not include general sales tax, only those in excess of the general rate).”

There is a trend to be found in the rates, as well. States in the Southeast tend to have the highest beer taxes. Seven of the top 10 states with the highest beer taxes are located in the area of the country known as the “Bible belt.” Northeastern states tend to have lower beer taxes.

Beer Tax

Beer Tax

The Beer Institute estimates that consumers pay $5.6 billion in federal and state excise taxes annually. “Surprisingly, taxes are the single most expensive ingredient in beer,” the beer centric think tank notes, “costing more than the labor and raw materials combined.”

Although the Tax Foundation report does not touch on the cost of federal and state regulation of beer, which adds to the cost of production, particular of micro-breweries and small craft beer producers.

In a June 2014 editorial at US News, Matthew Mitchell and Christopher Koopman, both research fellows at the Mercatus Center, explained that the excessive regulations, which are just another form of taxation, create burdensome barrier to entry for small brewers looking to take their product to market.

“Once in business, brewers face more hurdles. Among the least efficient regulations are the ‘franchise laws’ that restrict their ability to sell beer directly to consumers, instead mandating that they sell through distributors. These rules can even dictate how brewers may contract with distributors,” wrote Mitchell and Koopman. “For example, some grant distributors exclusive territories, and others limit the ability of a brewer to choose to work with someone else. A recent survey found that in most cases, these rules make consumers worse off.”

Beer taxes may be an easy target for lawmakers looking to raise revenue for big government programs and regulation may be a convenient way to protect big beer brewers, but these policies are keeping Americans from the frothy goodness that is their favorite brew. Raise a glass and tell your lawmakers to “free the hops!”

VIDEO: Fire Sale on U.S. Military Tanks — Get One for Your Town Today!

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online, Military, National Defense by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Millions of Americans were shocked to see protestors in Ferguson, Missouri met with a militarized police force decked out in Kevlar vests, helmets, and camouflage, armed with pistols, shotguns, automatic rifles, and tear gas, and riding in armored military vehicles.

Though the weapons came from a variety of sources, such scenes brought public attention to the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which supplies military-grade equipment to local police departments, often for free.

Now the crack investigative journalists at Reason TV have unearthed a Pentagon commercial advertising the program to law enforcement. (Or so Reason TV says…)

Watch “Pentagon Has ‘Everything Must Go’ Sale.” Laugh, cringe… and laugh again. Then share with friends!

Approximately 1:37 in length. Performed by Will Neff. Written and produced by Neff and Paul Detrick.

Read the next article from this issue here.

Go back to the full issue here.