The hacker group Anonymous is getting ready to stick it to ISIS

Originally published at Rare

The “hacktivist” group Anonymous has “declared war” on ISIS in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris.

The organization, which uses hacking as a means to cause disruption against organizations or individuals it opposes, released a video of a man speaking about “Operation Paris” in a French accent. As is standard of Anonymous, the man is wearing a Guy Fawkes mask.

“We are tracking down members of the terrorist group responsible for these attacks. We will not give up. We will not forgive. And we will do everything necessary to end their actions,” says the masked man in the video, which is flanked by an #OpParis hashtag. “During the attacks of Charlie Hebdo we had already expressed our determination to neutralize anyone who would attack our freedom. We’ll be doing the same now because of the recent attacks.”

As David Gilbert explained at the International Business Times:

The group says it wants members of Anonymous to avoid its typical tactic of launching distributed denial of services (DDoS) attacks against ISIS websites, but instead to attack to hack into the sites to steal valuable information and lead it online. According to the main Twitter account associated with the campaign, the group has already successfully taken over 2250 pro-ISIS Twitter accounts offline.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Anonymous hackers successfully took a pro-terror French website offline. Gilbert notes at IBT, however, that Anonymous isn’t without its critics. “The group has in the past been accused of leaking misleading information and as part of OpISIS earlier this year, a number of the accounts it claimed were associated to ISIS were shown to be inaccurately grouped with those belonging to ISIS sympathizers,” writes Gilbert.

A Twitter account specifically for the purposes of #OpParis has been created, and the “hacktivists” are posting updates, engaging with supporters, and working to organize.

There is no correct ideological approach to dealing with ISIS

Originally published at Every Joe

The terror that permeated Paris on Friday night was gut wrenching. Civilians – and disproportionately young ones at that – were ruthlessly executed by militants who harbor no fear of death. Like many Americans, I was glued to the live news, scrolling through updates on Twitter as the death toll increased, tears in my eyes. Given that France is America’s oldest ally and a Western nation, it makes perfect sense that we feel a strong bond of solidarity with our Parisian brothers and sisters. We seem to harbor an innate feeling that if these types of attacks can happen in France, what’s to say an American city isn’t next? Culturally, it hits close to home.

In the midst of our emotion, however, it’s important to remember what the entire world is dealing with in a group like ISIS. These terrorists are a scourge on all of humanity, period. Say what you want about Middle Eastern refugees and what the West’s policy should be toward them, but there’s a reason so many exist, even if there may be militants hidden among them. ISIS has demonstrated, time and again, that they are just as willing to kill their fellow Muslims as they are Westerners, insofar as they don’t subscribe to the group’s extreme viewpoints. This is doubly true if the Muslims in question are on the opposite side of a conflict, as has been the case in Lebanon. Like clockwork, the morning after the Paris siege, ISIS suicide bombers killed 43 people in Beirut. So it goes.

It’s easy to look at this endlessly bloody situation and feel helpless. The only thing I’m sure of is that ISIS is evil in its purest form. Their militants deserve to be killed, be it by drone, airstrike or the bare hands of a just avenger. Yet in my view, libertarians, of which I am one, are as ideologically blinded as the neoconservatives we criticize if we think full disengagement is a reasonable solution in the face of this unspeakable evil. These acts of terror cannot go unanswered for. At the same time, while emotions are running high, we have to pause and consider our next steps soberly. Perhaps in a way we failed to as Americans after the horrors of September 11th.

While I fully share a “kill the bastards” instinct – it’s impossible not to when you read the desperate Facebook post penned by a young hostage as his peers are executed in front of him – strategic thinking cannot be thrown out the window. Terror begets terror, whether we’re comfortable admitting that or not. Execute the leaders of ISIS with impunity. The recent vanquishing of “Jihadi John” was a good thing. But also understand that we have a hydra on our hands. More people will become radicalized as a result of Western acts. Morally clarifying as it would be if true, the terrorists don’t just “hate us for our freedom.” That’s part of it – ISIS leaders released a statement after the attacks saying that Paris was targeted because it’s “the capital of prostitution and vice” – sorry, libertarians. But military actions have consequences, too. The Bataclan Theatre shooters, upon opening fire, screamed “this is for Syria” – sorry, neoconservatives.

This goes to show just how ideologically complicated the situation really is. If Western powers, particularly France which has been very engaged, pull out of Syria (or even the Middle East at large), Islamic militants won’t suddenly think Western civilization is perfectly fine and stop trying to massacre innocent citizens. Remember, the last terror attack Paris endured prior to Friday was over satirical portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad. Saïd and Chérif Kouachi didn’t murder Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists because of grievances related to Western colonialism, poverty or – sorry, Bernie Sanders – climate change. They were driven by an extreme interpretation of the Islamic faith – one that the vast majority of Muslims, including French police officer Ahmed Merabet who died at the hands of the Kouachi brothers, reject.

The fact is, there’s nothing close to an easy answer here. As I read through my largely libertarian-conservative network’s responses to this tragedy on social media, I came across a friend’s take that completely captured the inner-conflict I face when considering ISIS. As W Tucker Keene wrote:

“I’ve been struggling to process my thoughts on the atrocities in Paris, and one unsettling thought in particular has continued to come up again and again: How does this end? What does winning the ‘War on Terror’ look like? Is there a future in which Paris, in which 9/11, in which Beirut, no longer happen?

We’re going to bomb some ISIS bases, but ISIS doesn’t fear death, they welcome it. They want to be martyred. Even if we nuke the entire Middle East, there are plenty of sympathizers spread throughout the world, who would want to retaliate. There is no simple way to wipe out this enemy.

My first instinct is that if the Middle East were better off economically, they wouldn’t be so eager to martyr themselves, but the citizens of Qatar are quite well off and they’re no less radical. And it’s hardly satisfying to say that all we need is for American companies to invest capital in Syria.

But what does a win look like? This isn’t a war on terror. It’s a war on those who hold an ideology which uses terrorism as its main tactic in a war on the West. War used to be simple. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, there was a clear way to respond: Attack Japan and fight for regime change. But in a war against non-state actors, against an ideology, it just isn’t that clear cut.

And I so wish it still was. I so wish there was someone in a position of power who could put together a clear plan to put an end to these atrocities. I’m praying for Paris, but I’m also praying that that leader is out there, somewhere.”

Like Keene, I don’t know what to do. We’ve learned the hard way in a post 9/11 world that invading sovereign nations and pursuing regime change doesn’t root out non-state actors. In fact, you could argue that resulting power vacuums inadvertently fuel more radicalism. But at the same time, disengagement won’t stop groups like ISIS, who are arguably driven by primarily ideology but also by policy grievances as well. I don’t have the solution. If I did, I’d like to think the government would be paying me big bucks. What I do know is that no single ideology has all of the answers. It never does.

Republicans need to have the foreign policy debate that Rand Paul and Marco Rubio started

Originally published at Every Joe

It’s well known that there are different factions within the Republican Party. While there have been various divides throughout the years, the most recent has been the obvious establishment versus tea party tension. In 2010, both Rand Paul and Marco Rubio cruised to victory on the tea party wave, beating their handpicked establishment opponents with the help of an electorate frustrated by Republicans all too eager to help Democrats grow government. While at first glance this makes it seem as though Paul and Rubio are from the same faction of the GOP, five years in the Senate and a presidential campaign prove that they’re not particularly similar.

In fact, Paul and Rubio are essentially the acting spokesmen for two different strains of Republicanism: libertarianism and neoconservatism. This was on full display in a way that casual political observers aren’t typically exposed to during the last Republican debate hosted by Fox Business. The debate, billed as an opportunity for candidates to talk about their plans for the economy, focused primarily on that topic. The contenders finally got wonkish; talking tax rates, balanced budgets, Fed policy, and trade deals.

Rand Paul, searching for the breakout opportunity he simply hadn’t found in previous debates, interjected as Rubio finished answering a question about whether his proposed child tax credit increases, which are estimated to cost up to $170 billion per year, were economically viable. “We’re not talking about giving people back their tax money,” said Paul of Rubio’s plan. “He’s talking about giving people money they didn’t pay. It’s a welfare transfer payment.” Then came the kicker, “Add that to Marco’s plan for a trillion dollars in new military spending, and you get something that looks to me not very conservative.” When Paul went with that attack, the floodgates opened.

Rubio demanded time to respond, defending his tax plan, but more so taking the opportunity to criticize Paul on defense issues. “I want to rebuild the American military,” said Rubio. “I know Rand is a committed isolationist; I’m not,” he added, as Paul laughed at the admittedly absurd mischaracterization of his views. “We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe,” said Rubio as he went through a laundry list of atrocities groups like ISIS are committing. Rubio then added a few token comments about the importance of America’s role in the world, attempting to contrast his rival, even though Paul has never actually advocated that America withdraw from a position of international leadership.

This led to Paul’s retort, in which he explained that we aren’t safe as a country if we end up in bankruptcy court. “As we go further and further into debt, we become less and less safe,” said Paul. “We need a safe country. We spend more on our military than the next ten countries combined. I want a strong national defense. But I don’t want us to be bankrupt.” This exchange, while it was telling, barely scratches the surface of an underlying tension that the Republican Party desperately needs to work out.

As someone who is unequivocally on Paul’s side of the foreign policy debate, I’m glad he forced this discussion and hope he conveyed to the average observer that he is in fact for a very strong national defense, as his record in the Senate reflects. But I do wish this exchange had been part of a broader foreign policy debate, because there are many aspects that need further explanation. First and foremost, the notion that Rand Paul is a “committed isolationist” is nothing short of ridiculous. In fact, it’s embarrassing that someone with the level of foreign policy knowledge Rubio possesses would lower himself to such vapid sloganeering.

It’s not “isolationist” to echo Ronald Reagan, who kept lines of diplomatic communication open with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and prevented escalation. Nor is it, despite Rubio’s claim – echoed by Fiorina and Bush – “isolationist” to oppose the institution of a no-fly zone in Syria, which is a de facto commitment to shooting down planes – potentially Russian ones – and to reasonably conclude that doing so could lead to an otherwise avoidable war. In fact, David French, a National Review commentator who is far more hawkish than Paul, happens to agree with him here.

As far as foreign policy strains go, Paul is in the realist camp. This makes him more moderate than Rubio, who’s about as ideologically hawkish as they come. But that moderation in no way makes Paul, who has called for airstrikes to combat ISIS and believes in diplomatic American leadership, an “isolationist.” Rubio should, and I suspect does, know better. But that’s the issue with a format in which soundbites matter more than policy details. Rubio may have “won” the micro-debate if viewers believe his platitudes about American leadership stand in contrast to what Paul believes – which in reality, they don’t.

Anyone familiar with Paul’s record in the Senate knows that he’s for a strong defense. In fact, this past spring, Paul introduced an amendment to increase military spending by the $696 billion Rubio supported within the legislation in question. Paul offered his amendment, which included offsets elsewhere in the budget, as a message to his colleagues that there are ways to increase military spending in a fiscally responsible manner, but it requires cutting other areas. Rubio rejected the amendment, but voted to increase spending by that much anyway. And therein lies the problem with Rubio, and frankly most of the Republican Party.

There’s a strong “I’ll increase your spending if you increase mine” mentality that permeates Washington. Republicans are far too quick to pile on to our $18.5 trillion debt, without even looking for cuts elsewhere, as long as they can file the bill under “Pentagon spending” – which contains its fair share of non-military waste. And like Rubio, they’ll often resort to the deployment of nonsensical insults like “ISOLATIONIST!” when the manner in which they conduct themselves fiscally is questioned. It’s the Republican version of Democrats who invoke grandmothers being pushed off of cliffs whenever conservatives try to reform entitlements.

As someone who agrees with Rand Paul on the virtues of a strong defense tempered with fiscal restraint, I hope the small exchange he and Rubio were able to have during the last debate revealed to viewers that there are two distinct schools of thought in this area. It’s my sincere wish that Paul sufficiently conveyed that fiscal conservatism and a strong military aren’t mutually exclusive.

In the limited time he had, Paul wasn’t able to deliver a lecture on the virtues of a foreign policy realism unmoored by the ideological constraints of a neoconservatism that, in my view naively, assumes our government is capable of centrally planning on an international scale. Rubio may have won the emotional soundbite battle, but Paul sounded like the responsible adult asking how we’re going to pay for the fantasy world Rubio rhetorically occupies. The Republican Party would undoubtedly benefit from a longer debate on these two foreign policy worldviews moving forward. Hopefully, conservatives will be given the opportunity within the context of this presidential election. We’re lucky, as a movement, to have able defenders of both strains in Paul and Rubio.

Former U.S. comptroller says national debt is three times higher than we’re told

Originally published at Rare

Dave Walker, who served as the U.S. comptroller general under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, explained recently that our national debt is actually three times higher than the generally cited $18 trillion figure.

As reported by The Hill, Walker joined “The Cats Roundtable,” a radio show hosted by John Catsimatidis on New York’s AM-970, for an interview that touched on the outrageous nature of our government’s spending problem.

“If you end up adding to that $18.5 trillion the unfunded civilian and military pensions and retiree healthcare, the additional underfunding for Social Security, the additional underfunding for Medicare, various commitments and contingencies that the federal government has, the real number is about $65 trillion rather than $18 trillion,” said Walker.

“And it’s growing automatically absent reforms,” he added.

Walker’s comments were made in the wake of a controversial budget deal that was squeezed through Congress in the early morning hours of October 30th. The deal, which received little congressional opposition absent an attempt to block it by Rand Paul, ultimately passed the Senate 63-35. It had previously passed the House 114-74.

The bill, called The Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2015, busted through the spending caps known as the sequester, which were put in place as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling in 2011. According to an analysis of the legislation conducted by the Heritage Foundation, the BBA’s repeal of sequestration leads to an increase of $50 billion in the 2016 fiscal year and $30 billion in 2017.

The BBA, which also raised the debt ceiling until March of 2017, alleges that it will offset $75 billion to pay for the new spending, but 44 percent of that will not occur until the 2025 fiscal year. This essentially means, given Congress’s record, that most of the increases will not in fact be offset by cuts elsewhere. After all, we’ve already abandoned ship on the 2011 sequester a mere four years later.

It’s this very insanity that led Rand Paul to the senate floor several times, including as late as 2 AM before the deal was about to pass, to express his dismay. “The establishment in Washington is completely and utterly tone deaf to the way America feels about this,” said a visibly fired-up Paul. Paul’s speech, which was shared on Facebook by Senator Mike Lee, has been viewed by over 25 million people.

“I defy you to drive outside the Beltway, stop at a gas station, stop at a supermarket, and ask the first person you see, ‘Do you think we should increase the debt and increase spending at the same time? Do you think we should increase the debt and increase the debt ceiling with an unspecified amount?’” Paul of course, concluded that any average person, regardless of party affiliation, would find the proposition absurd.

Paul admonished his colleagues saying, “Right and left, you’re all guilty of it. You’re going to take money out of the Social Security fund and you’re going to spend it on an immediate fix. And by fix I mean not fixing the program, I mean what a junkie does. A junkie that’s addicted to spending. That’s the problem here, we’re addicted to spending.”

John Boehner, who has since resigned from Congress, referred to the BBA as a “barn clearing,” leaving his successor House Speaker Paul Ryan to run the ship in a way he sees fit moving forward. A big first test for Ryan will be how he deals with the ongoing appropriations process, with yet another deadline to avoid a government shutdown coming up on December 11th.

The craziness of jumping from one bungled “continuing resolution” to the next, constantly inviting a government shutdown, is another congressional spending process Rand Paul has taken to the Senate floor to criticize. Last month, surrounding controversy over whether Republicans would try to defund Planned Parenthood, Paul said:

“All spending is set to expire automatically. This is the perfect time to turn the tables; to tell the other side that they will need sixty votes to affirmatively spend any money. It doesn’t have to be sixty votes to stop things; all spending will expire. And only those programs for which we can get sixty votes should go forward.”

Whether Paul Ryan will push to normalize the process in the House and Mitch McConnell will follow in the Senate remains to be seen. Fiscal conservatives such as Senators Paul and Lee however, will undoubtedly continue to clamor for change in both the appropriations and spending control processes.

Thoughts post Fox Business Republican Debate

My biggest takeaway from tonight’s ‪#‎GOPDebate‬ is that Rand Paul did what he should’ve done months ago: Go full liberty and shore up his base.

I understand that you have to play the game and get along within the GOP when you’re working in Congress. I’ve always said that I think his conciliatory approach is more effective legislatively than his father’s radical burn it down invective. Rand has done well as a Senator in this regard.

But when it comes to presidential debates, if you’re going to call yourself a “different kind of Republican,” you need to prove it. And Rand proved it tonight, possibly for the first time.

Love him or hate him, particularly on foreign policy, you’ve got to admit that he made himself abundantly clear. I think Rand’s performance tonight will help to rally his lethargic base, giving them a reason to really battle it out until the end.

Rand made it to this debate without falling into undercard territory, and he finally displayed the energy and fight that his supporters know he possesses. He has to capitalize on this and bring the new voters he needs into the fold to win in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Victory is possible for Rand if he’s able to grow the base, as he’s always said he wants to. Frankly, the only way he can create the new GOP voters he needs to win is by standing out, not blending in. I’m glad he’s seems to get that, finally. There’s a big difference between being a Senator and a presidential candidate.

This victory in San Francisco marks a big step forward for the sharing economy

Originally published at Rare

On Tuesday, voters in San Francisco went to the polls to decide the fate of Proposition F, which would have restricted the ability of homeowners in the city to rent their property out through the popular Airbnb platform.

Airbnb, part of the growing “sharing economy” that includes services such as the ridesharing app Uber and peer-to-peer car rental platform Turo, allows users to rent out unoccupied homes or rooms. What these services have in common is that they take out the middleman, harnessing technology to connect suppliers to demand in a way that undercuts the traditional retail model of companies such as taxis and hotels.

The San Francisco Airbnb proposition would have limited the time an owner could rent his property to 75 days per year, and would have forced him to register with the city. The current regulatory environment allows for unlimited rentals if the owner occupies the premises during the time his guests are present, and limits short-term rentals of unoccupied properties to 90 days per year.

Fortunately, Propostion F was rejected by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.

The fact that voters in the city where Airbnb is headquartered turned down more government regulation speaks to several factors. One is the simple fact that the sharing economy has proven to be quite popular among consumers. And in San Francisco, where median rent payments are an astonishing $4,390 per month, offering extra space through Airbnb is the only way some people can make ends meet.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that the hotel industry did not invest heavily in lobbying for the proposition. This contrasts with New York City, where angry hoteliers waged aggressive campaigns against Airbnb that resulted in severe use restrictions. In San Francisco, it was Airbnb itself, which is worth $25.5 billion, that spent $8.4 million to defeat the measure.

Ultimately, the proposition’s failure is a good sign for those who believe in the positive disruptive power of the sharing economy. With the advent of technology that makes it easier for strangers to connect with one another and exchange goods and services, many city and state licensing schemes seem increasingly outdated.

What regulators have to ask themselves is whether they’ll act to stifle these new technologies or accommodate them. There are countless examples of both reactions around the country. In the end, consumer demand often tilts the scales towards accommodation, but not always. Hell hath no fury like a giant corporation that lobbies the government for protection against competition.

One of the reasons the sharing economy has been able to flourish despite the fact that many governments and their corporate benefactors would like it banned is because bureaucrats simply don’t have the bandwidth to stop peer-to-peer transactions, particularly when they first become popular under the radar.

Still, don’t expect the strong alliance between big government and big corporations to fall apart any time soon. There will, inevitably, be many battles ahead.

If Uber can beat the Las Vegas taxi cartel, there’s no stopping them now

Originally published at Rare

Consumers like Uber. It’s cheaper, cleaner, and more convenient than traditional government-controlled taxis – which is precisely why cab companies, dependent upon being granted legal monopolies, want it banned. While the ridesharing company has faced intense opposition from many city governments across the country, nothing has been quite like the all-out-warfare defining Uber’s entry into the intensely regimented Las Vegas transportation market.

Given the fact that Vegas’s economy is highly dependent on tourism (41.1 million people visit annually), the taxi industry has done everything in its power to protect its lucrative slice of the pie. As Johana Bhuiyan, who reports on transportation and the sharing economy for Buzzfeed News explained in a lengthy expose entitled “Sex, Drugs, and Transportation,” the Las Vegas taxi industry has long operated like a government-sanctioned gang.

“What made Vegas unique — what made it Uber’s biggest challenge yet — was the extent to which local governments were willing to protect the incumbents,” wrote Bhuiyan. “In Las Vegas, Uber and its pugnacious CEO Travis Kalanick really did run into the corrupt taxi cartel bogeymen that they had long claimed to be saving us from. And this cartel would prove to be their most formidable opponent.”

So formidable an opponent in fact, that when the ridesharing company engaged in a bit of permissionless innovation and entered the Vegas market last year, two unmarked vehicles rushed to Caesar’s Palace and cut-off the first Uber attempting to make a pickup in the city. The driver and passengers were then ordered out of the car by two masked officers donning bulletproof vests.

As Bhuiyan explained, these over-the-top government agents were from the Taxicab Authority and the Nevada Transportation Authority. So incensed were they by the prospect of a free market alternative to their government monopoly, they behaved as if an Uber ride ought to be dealt with like a counterterror operation. Yet when actual crimes – namely extortion, prostitution, fraud, and drug trafficking – were being facilitated by powerful members of the taxi cartel, authorities often looked the other way.

In fact, even after Charles Horkey, CEO of limousine company CLS Nevada, was charged with and eventually plead guilty to the aforementioned crimes in 2012, the Nevada Transportation Authority allowed him to keep his job – so long as he was monitored by a court-appointed lawyer. CLS did eventually have its operating license revoked, but that didn’t occur until last year.

Essentially, Horky was caught managing a massive criminal enterprise – a human and drug trafficking operation with a limo company as a front to facilitate the activity – yet an Uber picking passengers up at Caesar’s Palace is what warrants an armed raid? The corrupt double standard was glaringly obvious. Uber carried on however, undeterred by the taxi cartel’s government-sanctioned gangsterism. Thus begun the hard fought legislative battle. And Uber was up against a lot of big money that had been used by taxi companies to buy off the political support they had long used to keep competitors out of their highly regulated market.

In Vegas, there are only 16 cab fleets, and just three companies, Frias, Whittlesea-Bell, and Yellow Checker, own 11 of them. Worse, each operator with a state-sanctioned license is afforded a “competitor veto,” with which they’re allowed to challenge applications submitted for new medallions by smaller companies. Talk about corporatism! This is a classic example of big companies joining with big government to shield themselves from market forces. It’s corrupt, and consumers – who are all too familiar with Vegas’s snaking cab lines – are the ones that suffer.

This regime is what Uber was up against when Nevada’s state assembly – a part time legislature that only meets for 120 days every other year – convened in February of 2015. Lobbyists for the big taxi companies initially went into the session confident that Senate Majority Leader Mike Roberson, a Republican, was on their side. As bills meant to regulate “transportation network companies,” the designation Uber and Lyft are classified under, gained steam during session however, taxi advocates got worried.

According to Bhuiyan, the taxi industry attempted to come to what they considered a compromise: Let the ridesharing companies operate in outlying parts of the city, where cabs had notoriously underserved residents, but give taxis a monopoly on the touristy Vegas strip. This turning point marked the beginning of the end for the cabs, as interest in allowing the “TNCs” full and legal access to the Vegas market increased.

Sources explained to Bhuiyan that State Senate Majority Leader Roberson changing his mind on TNCs was a big part of why Uber and Lyft emerged from Nevada’s legislative session victorious. According to reports, the “thuggish” behavior of the taxi cartels, which had been on full display in Vegas for decades, backfired. These companies and their lobbyists were accustomed to a longstanding quid pro quo where, if they provided enough in donations, they’d get the kickbacks they were used to. When that regime was threatened, the fangs came out.

A good example of the amount of money that’s regularly thrown around in the industry comes from Mark James, the CEO of Integrity Vehicle Solutions Company, who was formerly with one of the Big Three, Frias Transportation. According to data dug up by Bhuiyan, James personally donated a total of $64,750 to candidates between 2010 and 2015 – including Roberson and Nevada’s Governor Brian Sandoval. And during his time at Frias, the company gave $152,741.66 between 2006 and 2013 to influential county and state officials.

This speaks to why transportation lobbyists were incensed when the politicians they thought they’d bought – namely Roberson and Sandoval – “betrayed” them. Instead of working toward a peaceful solution, industry lobbyists and leaders turned to the gangsterism they’d long lived by. One alleged exchange between Roberson and an industry big-wig devolved into a company owner getting in the Senator’s face, demanding to know why he had betrayed him. It was ultimately this sort of behavior from the cab companies that helped pave the way for the competitors they’d long held at bay. By October of this year, Uber and Lyft were on the road.

While the ridesharing companies have improved the overall transportation enterprise in a relatively short period of time, the industry remains far from operating in a free market. After losing in the legislative session, the taxi companies turned to local government to ensure some degrees of protectionism, such as banning rides to and from the airport since Uber doesn’t have the additional licensing the county requires for such activity. Uber drivers of course, still do airport rides, and they’re cited and fined every once in awhile by the authorities still doing what they can to protect taxis.

The reason Uber has been so successful at beating these well-heeled taxi cartels and their political advocates is because they’ve amassed enough consumer demand to, for the most part, overcome the chains of corporatism. This is no small feat, and it requires power most small would-be competitors simply don’t have. The efficacy of Uber’s brand, and the service it offers compared to what’s provided by the government-taxi monopoly, is unparalleled. Uber is a small but persuasive testament to the power of markets over politics.

As Clint Townsend, the marketing and outreach manager at the Cato Institute recently wrote, “Markets compel us to help others in order to help ourselves. That’s why we get up everyday to provide the service of our labor in exchange for wages. The political system turns these incentives on its head, where we enter into a dog-eat-dog, win-lose game where we can pursue our own interest only at the expense of others. In politics, when one policy prescription wins, we must all accept it, without recourse to other options.”

When the only option for consumers in Vegas was the politically protected taxi cartel, everyone lost but the people getting rich off of the monopolistic arrangement. With even the slightest bit of competition, the industry has improved for all consumers. If only this kind of freedom were allowed by default, without having to petition politicians for permission, innovation in transportation could grow to heights even Uber’s most creative thinkers have yet to envision.

The number of college students that want to restrict this important freedom is disturbing

Originally published at Rare

Higher education has always, at least in theory, hinged upon the free exchange of ideas. While young adults are at college, exposing them to viewpoints that differ from their own is not just intellectually healthy, but necessary for the development of strong critical thinking skills. As a recent survey commissioned by The William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale found, 87 percent of students agree that there is value in listening to ideas that differ from one’s own.

But when you drill down further, there seems to be a limit on how much students actually support intellectual diversity.

After all, we’ve been regaled with recent tales of rescinded speaking invitations – Pulitzer Prize winning columnist George Will is apparently beyond the pale – and have heard about the advent of campus “safe spaces,” recently satirized in brilliant fashion by South Park as utopian escapes from reality. These trends follow the concerningly authoritarian doctrine, popular in some corners of the left, where offensive speech is conflated with physical violence.

According to the Yale poll of approximately 800 college students across the country, 51 percent support speech codes to regulate what can be said by both their peers and faculty alike. Only 36 percent outright oppose such bans on allegedly improper speech.

Of course, who would regulate what is and isn’t “proper” remains unresolved. One can imagine the students in favor of these restrictions might just change their mind if a President Ben Carson used the Department of Education to monitor “extreme liberal bias”–an actual campaign promise from the candidate.

Furthermore, a whopping 63 percent of students believe professors ought to be required to issue “trigger warnings” when coursework could be considered offensive or upsetting. This again begs the question, by what definition? Given today’s internet mob standards, virtually everything is a microaggression of some kind. It makes one wonder what kind of material wouldn’t require a so-called “trigger warning.”

Perhaps most concerning of all is the fact that one-third of survey respondents didn’t know the 1st Amendment to the Constitution is the portion of our governing document that deals with free speech, explicitly stating that it “shall not be abridged.” Remember, we’re talking about college students, so by definition, nearly 35 percent of people who managed to graduate from high school are unfamiliar with our Bill of Rights’ most foundational protection.

35 percent of students said that despite the First Amendment’s unambiguous wording, it doesn’t protect “hate speech.” Should we assume that to mean anything with which the respondent disagrees? Because it would get extremely messy policing that in practice. As UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh wrote at the Washington Post:

“Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal aliens, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or Socialism or Democrats or Republicans.”

Here’s hoping that the 36 percent of students who say they believe giving ideas they disagree with a hearing, but also support campus speech codes, rethink their contradictory position.

While it may seem pleasant to be shielded from ideas one finds offensive, college campuses should be a place of growth. If students aren’t prepared to contend with reality, which will inevitably include a whole lot of intellectual diversity, they’re going to have a hard time functioning as productive members of society upon graduation.

Kentucky Democrat who attacked Rand Paul over “Aqua Buddha” loses again

Originally published at Rare

Jack Conway, Kentucky’s attorney general, lost to businessman Matt Bevin in the state’s gubernatorial race by a margin of 53 to 44 percent on Tuesday. This is Conway’s second high profile loss in recent years. In 2010, he was defeated by none now-presidential candidate and Senator Rand Paul. In fact, it was Conway who gained fifteen minutes of fame on a national scale for his infamous “Aqua Buddha” attack ad against Paul.

In his below-the-belt commercial, Conway conflated an inside joke between Paul and his friends about “bowing down to Aqua Buddha,” a clearly made-up character, with Paul being offensive to Christianity when Paul is in fact, a devout Christian. This led to Paul, who since becoming a Senator has been known for positive relationships with across-the-aisle colleagues, to refuse a handshake with Conway at the end of a senatorial debate.

Said Paul, “When this debate ends, you’ll notice I will not be shaking his hand tonight. I will not shake hands with someone who attacks my religion and attacks my Christian beliefs. These are very personal to me. My wife, my kids, we take this very personally. I will not be associated with someone who attacks my religion.”

Conway’s loss was one of many blows to Kentucky’s Democratic Party, which included the defeat of Adam Edelen, their state auditor. Edelen was the man Democrats expected to field against Rand Paul in the wake of critics claiming his presidential campaign could make him vulnerable to a Senate challenge.

Now, it appears as though Democrats will have to scramble to find a suitable challenger; a boon to Paul’s already safe reelection prospects. As Rare’s Jack Hunter reported:

National Journal published a story Tuesday titled, “Rand Paul’s Political Stock Dipping Back Home” citing the potential threat posed by Edelen,” yet despite this, as Hunter noted, “Harmon’s win was part of a GOP surge, with Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin defeating Democrat Jack Conway. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Harmon defeated Edelen 52 to 48 percent.”

President Obama follows the Koch brothers’ lead on criminal justice reform

Originally published at Rare

In liberal circles, the libertarian Koch Brothers are often demonized as capitalist boogeymen out to increase their profit margin at the expense of the poor. Their defenders respond that free markets do more to alleviate aggregate poverty than redistributionary government schemes. This economic disagreement is likely to continue indefinitely, but there’s a strong area of common ground between liberals and libertarians on one key issue: criminal justice reform.

In fact, Charles and David Koch have been major players in promoting reforms to our penal system, not just by pushing for policy changes legislatively, but by living their values through Koch Industries. In April of this year, Koch Industries decided to “ban the box,” which means they got rid of the checkbox on job applications that force prospective employees to disclose their criminal records. This practice has made it extremely difficult for individuals who are no longer incarcerated to find work—particularly if they happen to be a person of color.

Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries, explained that, “As a large United States-based manufacturing company that employs 60,000 American workers we shouldn’t be rejecting people at the very start of the hiring process who may otherwise be capable and qualified, and want an opportunity to work hard.” As data from the Department of Criminal Justice shows, up to 75 percent of inmates have difficulty finding work during their first year of reentry into society.

When a company chooses to “ban the box,” as Koch has done, the employer won’t know about a prospective hire’s criminal record by simply looking at their application. If a manager expresses interest in a résumé and interviewing begins, they’ll find out about the felony record as the process goes on. The key difference is that the interviewee has already gotten his foot in the door, and the employer is more likely to give him a chance.

This week, President Obama decided to follow suit, announcing on Monday that he signed an executive order that begins eliminating bias against those with criminal records in the federal hiring process. This comes in the wake of Obama’s recent focus on criminal justice reform, which included a summer visit with inmates at a federal prison, something no other president has done before. As Ari Melber of MSNBC reported of his decision this week:

Obama unveiled the plan on a visit to a treatment center in New Jersey, a state where Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a ban the box bill into law last year. Hillary Clinton endorsed ban the box last week, while Republican Sen. Rand Paul also introduced similar federal legislation, with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, to seal criminal records for non-violent offenders.

This speaks to the increasingly bipartisan nature of criminal justice reform, which is a surprising but good sign in a government divided by a fractious Republican Congress and Democratic executive branch. People from all walks of life are beginning to recognize that preventing individuals from effectively re-entering society after serving time in prison further inflames the cycle of poverty that in many cases drove criminals to use or sell drugs in the first place. And “ban the box” is just one of the many changes on the table. Focusing on treatment rather than incarceration has also gained steam, and reforms to largely arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences have gotten major hearings in Congress.

As President Obama said this week:

A lot of time, that record disqualifies you from being a full participant in our society — even if you’ve already paid your debt to society. It means millions of Americans have difficulty even getting their foot in the door to try to get a job much less actually hang on to that job. That’s bad for not only those individuals, it’s bad for our economy.

This echoes what Charles Koch wrote about overcriminalization earlier this year:

After a sentence is served, we should restore all rights to youthful and non-violent offenders, such as those involved in personal drug use violations. If ex-offenders can’t get a job, education or housing, how can we possibly expect them to have a productive life? And why should we be surprised when more than half of the people released from prison are again incarcerated within three years of their release?

With agreement like this between two warring camps, there’s hope for more meaningful and desperately needed criminal justice reforms in the near future.