Water Power

No I’m not talking about damming rivers to produce electricity. In the home of Big Oil, Houston, TX, a man claims to have invented a technology that will cripple the oil and gas industry forever. Sound too good to be true?



Granted, I’m not chemist, but as far as I know, the process of electrolysis is nothing new; but like any other renewable energy source, the amount of energy needed to produce the fuel is so large it makes the whole thing impractical. Has Mr. Klein invented a new technology or super efficient way of doing electrolysis? I wish I could believe Mr. Klein has discovered a clean, renewable way of producing energy. Of course, with everything else that seems to good to be true… it probably is.

War on Christmas

Christmas is a time for family, friends, and me to write about how much i dislike the concept of gift-giving. I do it every year... but it has always the same mumbo jumbo about commercializing a Christian holiday and so forth. So this year I decided to change things a bit. I got my inspiration for the blog from an article that Johnathan Chait wrote in The New Republic. I'm sure all of you free market lovers will appreciate this rare step away from my traditional socialist blogs. So without further ado... I declare what Bill O'Reiley likes to call "War on Christmas."

Gift giving is economically inefficient. The concept of gift giving brings our society back to the primitive system of bartering. Of course, we did away with that economic system long ago because it’s so stupid! Can you imaging trying to buy something under the barter system? I’ll trade you my donkey if you fix my roof… yeah right. The problem lies in the fact that for a barter system to work there always has to be a “double coincidence of wants.” In other words, you always have to be willing to pay exactly what I want. Eventually society realized that transactions would be so much easier by trading bricks of gold, then paper currency, and now magical credit that appears on computer screens.

The second inefficiency lies in the fact that Christmas gifts are “in-kind” benefits, rather than “in-cash” benefits. Lets take a quick example. I tell Mom I’m hungry so she buys me McDonalds. Sure, I got to eat, but if she would have given me 5 bucks I would have been much better off because I would have spent it on Taco Bell, which I prefer to McDonalds. Now lets apply this theory to Christmas gifts. Lets say I want chocolate for Christmas, so you go out and buy me a $50 box of Godiva chocolates. You got me what I wanted, right? Not exactly. You would have been better off giving me $50 in cash, because I would have bought a pack of M&Ms, a sub sandwich, a DVD and a hat. I’m happy with the Godiva chocolates, but with cash I get chocolate (M&Ms) plus a whole bunch of other stuff I want. The Godiva chocolates are OK… but they don’t maximize my welfare.

So I know what your thinking… what if the only thing I want for Christmas is a Nintendo Wii, and that’s what Grandma and Grandpa get me. Then sure, that is efficient, but how often does this actually happen? According to the New York Department of Stores, 15% of all retail gifts are returned in the month after Christmas; and this doesn’t account for the fact that children have no ability to return gifts they don’t want and the fact that some people are just too busy or lazy to return crummy gifts. The high return rate means one thing: gift giving is horribly inefficient.

Now you’re probably saying… if it weren’t for Christmas retail stores would be doomed; they need Christmas to boost sales. Not so. Economists are baffled by Americans’ inability to responsibly save or invest money as it is; they certainly would have no problem with less mindless consumption. Plus, without Christmas, we would consume goods and services we actually want. Perhaps I wasn’t able to buy the cool new bike I wanted this year because I needed money to buy my relatives Christmas sweaters (which they wouldn’t have bought otherwise, by the way). Not only would consumer welfare be maximized, but our economic system would be much more efficient. And don’t worry, those extra people that KB Toys hires around the holidays would be working to produce goods and services that we actually want.

But so what, gift giving makes us feel good, gives us a nice warm feeling inside, and that benefit trumps any economic inefficiency, right? If gift giving is so wonderful we should be doing it all the time, not once a year on a date arbitrarily chosen hundreds of years ago (and yes, nobody knows what day Jesus was actually born). If Christmas brings out the best in people, then that just means we’re acting like jerks the other 11 months out of the year. Why are we more likely to donate to a soup kitchen around the holidays?.. we should be doing it all the time. Not to mention the fact that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year for many of us. I sure wasn’t feeling too great about myself sitting in a huge traffic jam of cars trying to get to stores to buy! buy! buy!

Is Christmas good for society? I don’t believe it is. Call me Scrooge, the Grinch, or whatever else you want. Christmas season changes people; some for the better, but many for the worse. Images of Christmas that come to my mind are animal like stampedes inside Wal-marts and SWAT being called in to break up a Playstation 3 riot at a Best Buy. It’s so much easier to find stories about people doing stupid things like this than it is to find a story about people acting in the image of Jesus. Christmas was once a great celebration, but now… ruined.
25% of the population smokes… and they sure are pissed off about the new Smoke Free Ohio legislation. As a result they are throwing around all kinds of arguments trying to convince us that the smoking ban will ruin our lives and our wonderful state.

I’m not buying it.

The common argument is that the smoking ban will devastate local businesses. Sports bars and bowling alleys will have to board up their windows and move to Pennsylvania where smoking is still allowed. The way they spin it makes it sound like smokers are the only people in the whole state who go out and eat/drink/bowl. Keep in mind that 75% of us don’t smoke, and more than 50% of us don’t want to inhale it. Is it not possible that non-smokers will be more willing to visit these places now that they are smoke free? I know I will certainly be more likely to eat at a Buffalo Wild Wings or Dennys now that these places have clean air. Smokers aren’t the only people who these places do business with.

Additionally, overwhelming empirical evidence supports the fact that smoking bans do not hurt businesses. In Toledo, the citywide smoking ban showed no negative impact on bars and restaurants, and business in surrounding suburbs like Sylvania and Perrysburg, where smoking was allowed, did not change. A University of Florida report shows that since the smoking ban in Florida too effect restaurant sales are up 7%. A study done on the one-year anniversary of the smoking ban in New York City found that restaurant sales were up 8.7% compared to the previous year and employment in bars and restaurants increased by the largest proportion in a decade. In California, Paul McIntyre, former PR rep for the California Restaurant Association, was adamantly convinced that a state wide smoking ban would doom the restaurant business in California. Later, he made the following statement:

“My concerns about the success of the smoke-free law, however, quickly vanished soon after it was enacted. While there was an adjustment period— for restaurants it was four to six weeks, and for bars a little longer, the public still accepted it. California was in the depths of the greatest recession since World War II, but restaurant sales did not slump as the tobacco industry threatened they would. Rather, they continued to climb at rates of four to eleven percent annually. No jobs were lost. Tourists continued to come to California from all over the world. Even when the bar portion kicked in in 1998, liquor sales continued growing in restaurants and bars without interruption.”

Smokers also want you to believe that the smoking ban will lead to a slippery slope where the government will take away all of our civil liberties. I admit, this is a tough issue, but I think the smokers are wrong for a few reasons. First, it is important to remember that Smoke Free Ohio is not straight up government regulation; voters decided the outcome of this issue. Second, the right to smoke is not a clear/cut, black and white issue. When I am sitting in the “non-smoking” section at Dennys, I should have the right NOT to inhale your second hand smoke. But that’s not something that I have control over. Compare this to, say, the right to chew gum in a restaurant. Your gum chewing has no impact on me, whether or not I think gum chewing is good or bad. Finally, remember that Smoke Free Ohio does not make cigarettes illegal. Smoking outside, on the street is still allowed. Regardless of which way the issue goes, someone will always claim their rights are being taken away.

Most (if not all) smokers know that cigarettes are bad for your health; and for the most part, they simply don’t care. It sucks that your right to smoke indoors infringes on my right to eat dinner and not have to come home smelling like an ashtray. Don’t buy the hype - Smoke Free Ohio will be beneficial to our state in the long term.

Edited: November 23, 2006 | 2:50 PM

Save the Internet

While watching Home Alone on TBS this weekend I saw the following anti-net-neutrality commercial air a couple of times.



Did anyone catch the small print at the end of the advertisement? The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) produced this commercial; I’ll get to the significance of that in a minute.

So what is net-neutrality? Right now, the user decides what is on the internet. If I want to run a search on Google, I use Google; if I want to run a search on Yahoo; I use Yahoo. The ability I have to choose is thanks to net-neutrality. So why is the NCTA concerned? Keep in mind that this is the same lobbying group that wants you to buy cable packages rather than individual channels and wants to ban VOIP services like Vonage and Skype… Getting rid of net-neutrality is a scheme by “the multi-billion dollar cable and telecom companies” to take away your freedom to surf freely on the internet.

How can they possibly do this you ask? Consider the following hypothetical scenario: I pay the Concast Cable Company every month and they supply me with TV and internet service. One day Concast signs a million dollar deal with Yahoo and guarantees to increase Yahoo’s traffic. I log on to the internet and find I can no longer use my favorite search engine, Google, because it is in the best interest of Concast for me to use Yahoo. The freedom to choose that I used to have is now gone.

Consider scenario two: I log onto YouTube every day because I find amateur videos entertaining. One day, Concast Cable Company decides that it is going to launch its own video sharing service. So in order to get people to use their service, Concast blocks access to YouTube for all of their subscribers. They Concast video service might be the crappiest software on the web, but what choice do I have?

Now scenario three: I pay HellSouth every month and they supply me with phone and DSL service. I think HellSouth ‘s long distance rates are highway robbery, but stick with it because I don’t have much other choice. One day I discover a program called Skype, which allows me to call anywhere in the United States for free. So I cancel my long-distance service from HellSouth and save a ton of money. In a world without net-neutrality, HellSouth can block access to Skype for all of their users. And now I’m back to paying outrageous monthly rates for long-distance. This is already happening in some cities, so don’t think this some sort of conspiracy.

I don’t care if you are liberal, conservative, libertarian, communist, or whatever… net-neutrality is absolutely necessary for anyone who values freedom on the internet. The debate over net-neutrality is more than a question of who should control the internet. It is a question of whether our “democracy” is controlled by The People or by The Corporation. Having said all that, check out this advertisement in favor of net-neutrality:



Edit: December 19: This video was first posted on the day after I wrote this blog, but it is possibly the best 3 minute summary of the situation at hand and what we can do about it.



Senator Ted Stevens proposed a bill in congress at the end of last year in favor of net-neutrality. Sadly, the bill died by the time congress ended. Of course, the NCTA spent nearly $150 million lobbying conservatives to pass a bill doing exactly the opposite. The government will ultimately decide who wins and who loses. In a country where we promote freedom and democracy as the greatest thing since sliced bread, it would be a shame if even we couldn’t make it work.

It's Satire Stupid

In September the Tonight Show with Jay Lenno did a spoof interview with Bill Clinton. I'll admit, the interview is pretty funny and anyone watching it on the Tonight Show knew the nature of the show and that it was obviously a fake. I became concerned when I saw the clip on Special Report with Brit Hume. Has Fox News become so desperate to make liberals look bad that they're running satire pieces on a their popular primetime news program? As if TV news in America wasn't already bad enough...

War on Blogs

The following is an open letter to John McCain regarding legislation he recently introduced which would force bloggers to censor material posted on their blogs or face criminal penalties.

Dear Senator McCain,

I am disturbed by the language of the Stop the Online Exploitation of Our Children Act of 2006, which you recently introduced in the Senate. Certainly I support protecting children from predators on the Internet; but your bill takes an entirely incorrect approach to the situation. According to your bill, I must watch the comments posted on my blog like a hawk, and if I don’t report illegal videos or photos posted by my readers I would have to pay a fine of up to $300,000… And if a sex offender signs up to post comments on my website I must delete his account… And if one of my readers posts a link to a website associated with a sex offender I must delete the post and his account. I ask why I am being held to a higher standard than Time Warner, my internet service provider, who must comply with the same regulations?

Granted, my blog has relatively small readership, and I might be able to effectively police all of my readers; but what about some of the popular blogs with millions of readers? These blogs offer one of the last remaining channels for open expression and discussion. Blogs increased civic activism and discussion during the 2004 presidential election. Thousands of young people, who wouldn’t have otherwise been interested in politics got involved in the Democratic primary thanks to discussions on political blogs. Civic participation among young people is already at an embarrassingly low level, and your bill would certainly do nothing to remedy that situation. Your bill goes too far and restricts one of the last forms of free speech we Americans have. Your party loves to talk about bringing freedom and liberty to Iraq; so why don’t you live up to your word in the US? For the sake of free expression and open discussion, please reconsider your new bill.

Sincerely,
Rob Pitingolo

Convenient Consumption

Most of us are accustomed to buying Pepsi or potato chips from a vending machine. Sometimes vending machines have useful products like laundry detergent and batteries; but whatever the machine is selling, it’s usually something you can get for less than five bucks. This weekend on a trip to the University of Kentucky, I made an interesting find in the lobby of the student center: an iPod vending machine. Yes, that’s right, an iPod vending machine.

machine

You can buy everything from a 1 GB shuffle to a 60 GB video. Plus, you can pick up extra accessories like headphones, plastic cases and portable travel speakers right at the machine. You can pay with cash or any major credit/debit card. Once you make your selection on the computerized touch screen, the machine dispenses your item similarly to the modern Coker and Pepsi machines.

machine

Its amazing that the iPod has become such a norm in society that it’s now something we are willing to “pick up” from a vending machine in a lobby. Why does everyone have iPods anyway? I have one… and I’m not even sure why. Have consumers been tricked into thinking iPods are now a necessity rather than a luxury good? For most of us, the only difference that an iPod makes in our lives is that we have some tunes to listen to while walking to class or driving to work. Sure, it’s a cool gizmo, there are plenty of those out there. The iPod is definitely the first (and probably only, right now) “cool gizmo” sold in vending machines. What are we going to buy from vending machines next?

Holiday Hypocrisy

I write about this topic every year, so I’ll keep this short and let the video I posted tell the story. I find it amazing that on Thanksgiving Day we (society) sit around a table with twice as much food as we can eat and talk about all the things we are thankful for. I’m thankful for my friends, my family, blah blah blah. Now, I’m not saying that everyone in the world is faking it, but I truly believe many are. The day after Thanksgiving, commonly known as “Black Friday” is the perfect example of how much society cares about consuming as much as we possibly can. Just remember, Christmas is a holiday to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ.



Is this how Jesus wants us to celebrate?

Killer Video Games

In Connecticut, a man was shot outside of a Wal-Mart and rushed to the hospital. In California and Wisconsin, retail customers were trampled in a riot outside Wal-Mart doors. At a Wal-Mart in Kentucky, several customers were shot with a BB gun. And in Pennsylvania a man was robbed at gunpoint immediately after he walked out of the store. What do all of these scenarios have in common? Other than that lots of shady stuff happens at Wal-Mart… all of this violence was over a toy, Sony’s Playstation 3. When CNN and Fox News picked up these stories, Americans were led to believe that this was going to be the hottest holiday item in history and demand for the PS3 was through the roof. In reality, PS3 demand is not high, it is not the hottest gift of all time, and all of the violence was committed for virtually nothing.

So you’re probably wondering how I can possibly say that demand for the PS3 is not high… so let me explain the context of the Playstation 3 launch. When economists refer to supply and demand, the term “demand” refers to how badly consumers want to consume a good. For example, I could say that demand for gasoline is high because people really want to buy it to run their cars or the demand for Pepsi is up because people want to drink it. The problem with applying this interpretation of demand to the Playstation 3 scenario is that consumers weren’t buying the game because they wanted to play the thing; they were buying it because they wanted to resell it for a profit.

I’m going to distinguish two types of demand. I’ll call “gamer demand” the demand by consumers who want Playstation 3 to play it; and I’ll call “seller demand” the demand by consumers who want to resell it. What everyone was seeing on TV and reading about in the newspaper was seller demand. How do I know?.. because I was there. I stood in line to buy these super hot holiday items so I could make a buck on eBay, and I know that many of my fellow line-standers were resellers as well. Additionally, the night before the PS3 launch, Action 19 News visited a suburban Best Buy to interview the people who had stood in line for up to 72 hours. This particular Best Buy was selling 8 PS3s at launch and 7 out of 8 of the customers who were buying one planned to resell it on eBay. Seller demand may have been through the roof, but gamer demand was still unknown.

Sales on eBay over the next few days proved that gamer demand was actually low. Many resellers expected to turn around and sell their system for $2500 or more; they were lucky if they got $1200. I suppose their expectations were fair, especially after the XBOX 360 launch last November, when consoles were selling at 300%-400% of their retail cost on eBay.

There are a few key differences that fooled many good intentioned entrepreneurs, and these distinctions have to do with what economists call the “substitution effect.” When XBOX 360 launched last year, it was in a league of its own; none of the other video game systems of the time could live up to its glory. The Playstation 3, on the other hand, has two perfect substitutes, the 360 and Nintendo’s Wii. Consumers who can’t get their hands on a PS3 will simply switch to one of the other systems and be just as happy. In fact, I’ll contend that right now the other two systems are not only perfect substitutes… they are superior products. The PS3 has very few games and definitely no blockbusters. Nintendo Wii is launching with quite a few more games including the extremely popular Zelda; and XBOX 360 already has tons of games available including the famous Halo. And not only do the substitutes have more too offer, they are a better value. Wii is selling for $250 in retail stores and $350 on eBay; and the 360 runs for $300-$400. It is no surprise that gamers don’t want to pay 600 bucks for a video game system with less to offer.

I’ll be the first to admit I was sucked into the hype. I didn’t lose any money and will probably come out a few hundred dollars ahead; but was it worth the effort on my part? Probably not. And was it worth starting a riot or killing someone over? Definitely not.

Blood For Oil

First they told us we were going to get rid of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. When they couldn’t find any, they told us we were there to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. When it became clear how miserably that was failing, President Bush has finally admitted the real reason we’re in Iraq: oil. Now that Americans have decided that single-party rule isn’t working in Washington and we need to change course in Iraq, Bush is desperate for ammunition, arguing that leaving Iraq would severely disrupt our oil markets. According to Bush, if we don’t use our military to protect Middle-Eastern oil, we would be handing over our oil to terrorist insurgents, who would use that valuable resource as a weapon against the US and other countries.

Speaking in Colorado on last week, Bush lectured, "You can imagine a world in which these extremists and radicals got control of energy resources, and then you can imagine them saying, 'We're going to pull a bunch of oil off the market to run your price of oil up unless you do the following. And the following would be along the lines of, well, 'Retreat and let us continue to expand our dark vision.' " In Misouri, Bush told Americans that handing Iraqi oil over to terrorists would drive the price up to $300 or $400 per barrel.

Anti-war activists adamantly accused the Bush administration of using our soldiers and our military to secure oil reserves overseas, and all along they were right. Moderates who once supported the war (under the assumption Saddam had WMDs) are now furious about the huge cost the war has imposed on our great country. But Bush’s concession that the war in Iraq is about oil is most upsetting to people like me, who are disgusted by the fact that we can spend so much money, and give so many lives for something like oil. Can you imagine what we could have done if we would have invested the cost of the war (350 billion dollars) in alternative energy in this country? Government continues cutting taxes and spending like crazy, but are cheap as hell when it comes to subsidizing alternative energy. And let’s not forget that America has given almost 3000 young lives to this war, and Iraq has given approximately 50,000 lives. If you don’t think this war was worth it for the oil, just remember what Donald Rumsfeld told us before the start of the war, "It has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil."

Black Box Voting

When I wrote about libertarians a few weeks ago I didn't expect to receive so much criticism from self-proclaimed libertarians. But if there is one thing I think we can both agree on is this: the election system in our country is completely jacked up and is violating our most basic liberty. The problem is complex and will be even more complicated to correct; here is a bried overview of the problem… many states have switched to Diebold electronic voting machines in time for the 2006 election. Computer experts unanimously agree that there are serious security holes; in fact, one even said that the Diebold election software is easier to hack than a 1996 version of America Online. But our government isn’t exactly helping either. Giving contracts to Diebold and dodging vote recounts in close elections is definitely not helping to ensure that every vote gets counted.

Aside from the issues relating to electronic voting machines, the election infrastructure in the country is seriously flawed. I am able to walk into my voting precinct in an east-side suburb of Cleveland and walk right up to one of five machines to vote. On the other hand, many voters in urban Cleveland are forced to stand in line for hours before getting a chance to vote on their precinct’s single voting machine. And lets not forget about the new ID requirements in a lot of states… you now have to present a drivers license, passport or utility bill in order to vote. Can anyone say poll tax? I thought we made those illegal a long time ago.

The implication to all of this goes well beyond skewed voting results. When people learn about the problems with our system, ask their leaders to fix them, and nothing happens (or it gets worse) they start to lose faith in the democratic system. Even I, who has and will vote in every major election, am seriously concerned that my vote won’t even get counted this year. Our government is supposed to be by the people for the people, but that’s becoming less and less true. I might not agree with Libertarians on a lot of issues, but when it comes to this issue, they’re my best friends.

Danger Polls

If you think Bush's approval ratings among Americans are low... you'll be interested to know what our friends around the world think about The United States. Of course, those bastards in France all hate America, but they're idiots and don't know anything about world security... or so the saying goes. But thank God for Britain, Isreal, and Canada for supporting us in the Iraq war, they know whats good for the world. Well... notsomuch. These statistics, based on research conducted by the British newspaper The Guardian, will definately make you think twice.

Those who think US policy has made the world less safe than 2001:
Britain: 69%
Canada: 62%
Mexico: 57%
Israel: 36%

Those who think the invasion of Iraq was unjustified:
Britain: 71%
Canada: 73%
Mexico: 79%
Israel: 34%

So our friends aren't exactly our biggest fans. But the most outrageous thing about how bad our image has gotten internationally is based on who the British think is the biggest threat to world peace. When asked the question: does this leader pose a threat to world peace?.. here is how the numbers came out:
Osama Bin Laden: 87%
George W. Bush: 75%
Kim Jong-Il: 69%
Hassan Nasrallah: 65%
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 62%

Although he might not be quite as dangerous as Osama, President Bush outranks the leader of North Korea, leader of Hizbullah, and president of Iran. I thought those guys were supposed to be the bad guys! When you really think about it, the United States is probably the only western state where a nut like George Bush can get elected leader of a nation. Sad, very sad.
Censorship, blanket racism, persecution, cracking down on freedom of speech… sounds like Iran, China, and Venezuela, right? Wrong. According to the BBC, 67% of Americans believe the English Al-Jezeera television station should be banned in the United States, and 53% believe it shouldn’t even be launched at all. True, Al-Jezeera is very critical of US policy… but why is that so bad? What happened to freedom of speech and freedom to make decisions based on the information presented? What is so difficult about changing the channel or turning off the TV if you don’t like what you’re seeing? It’s one thing for Americans to look the other way while our government shits on the constitution and the Geneva convention; but its entirely another to ask the government to censor our news and control our information.

Freedom of speech in this country has turned into the freedom to hear what we like to hear. Watching Fox News makes me laugh because of how ridiculous most of the “news coverage” is, but it would be even more ridiculous for me to ask my government to yank it off the air. Does anyone remember the controversy earlier this year when Google agreed to cooperate with the Chinese Communist Party to sensor internet access in the PRC? “How dare those filthy commies tell the Chinese people what to read and what to think!?” screamed angry Fox News anchors. Now, those same ideological clowns are begging our government to stop English Al-Jezeera from infesting the minds of Americans. God forbid the proletariat find out that the United States may not be the savior to the world; after all, we’re the freest country on the globe!

Tyranny Addiction

“The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom.” ~George W. Bush

Is it George? Just last week three events occurred that led me to believe America is actually not concerned with advancing freedom. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez walked into New York and made a very hostile comment about you to the United Nations. "The devil came here yesterday,” he said, “right here. It smells of sulfur still today." And then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the guy you don’t like too much, went around lecturing the UN about the evils of American power and proclaiming that the Holocaust never happened. And finally, China, our favorite communist trading partner, managed to block UN efforts to establish a peacekeeping in Sudan to stop the nasty genocide that has been going on there.

Should we use our American strength to bully around these freedom haters, George? Probably not. These three events paint a pretty clear picture of the world’s dangerous oil addiction. The Chinese National Petroleum Corporation currently controls 40% of Sudanese oil wells and pumps about 300,000 barrels of crude per day. Forget that genocide in Darfur is occurring and bloodshed is everywhere, because we need China’s economy to prosper so we can get more cheap crap from them. And forget that Hugo Chavez uses the money we give him for our oil to undermine democratic elections in Latin America and crush freedom in the region, because we need fuel for our Hummers, dammit! And while we’re at it, we better whine and cry about Ahmadinejad developing nuclear weapons and running his theocratic regime with the money we hand him for oil.

Instead of bitching about how evil these leaders are and threatening to use force against them, why don’t we take away their main source of income, George? If Ahmadinejad wasn’t getting our oil money he would barely be able to run his country, let alone pursue nuclear weaponry. And he definitely wouldn’t be strolling around New York spouting off about the Holocaust being a myth. Without his main source of income Chavez would be powerless to stop democratic elections in Latin America. They may not be the best leaders in the world, but they aren’t stupid. Ahmadinejad and Chavez know that the United States is weak, the military is overstretched, and you’re extremely unpopular in your own country.

Why are you so against weaning ourselves off of oil, George? Think of how much money we could have invested in alternative fuel research and infrastructure with the money we’re wasting in Iraq. Think of how much revenue the government could generate if you taxed the hell out of gasoline and forced consumers to look for an alternative. Think of how much better the world would be without these wackos causing so much trouble. You said it yourself George, “Everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear.” How about sticking to your word?.. is it really so much to ask?
Classic libertarian thought is fairly straightforward: the government is an evil institution bent on crushing individual civil liberties and using violence for perpetual expansion. Classic Libertarians fear big government and believe that the more the government grows, the more it crushes liberties and personal space. These classic libertarians are especially afraid of expanding military and state policing powers, believing the state is only going to use force against its citizens. Fair enough… if the government is the biggest threat to personal liberty, then it’s reasonable for a classic libertarian to oppose it.

But what if the government isn’t the biggest threat to freedom and liberty?

In the past, libertarians believed in free markets because under traditional theories of economics, what is good for business is good for the consumer. Today, this isn’t quite so true. Libertarians are now rethinking their view of the government for one simple reason: corporations are becoming more powerful than governments. Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest corporation, for example, has annual revenue larger than the GDP of Peru. Those libertarians who once believed that government was a necessary evil, may begin thinking of government as a force for good.

Consider the following: defense corporations now have a huge say in the weapons systems that the US military invests in; private hedge funds hold a substantial portion of the US debt; the energy industry dominates the executive branch of the government; and oil companies have become so powerful that they can dictate when and why the United States goes to war. Regardless of whether you believe all of the above is true, it’s impossible to deny that corporations wield enormous political power in the United States. And a corporation, unlike the US government, is a hierarchical institution resembling a tyrannical regime more than a democracy.

Libertarians are justified in fearing the increasing rise of corporate power. How they re-act is still to be determined. Ultimately, it is possible that libertarians may turn to the state for help. Recognizing that the government may not be the biggest threat to personal liberty will become the beginning of a new wave of libertarianism.

Congressional Bingo

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to deliver that message to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist last week, when he tacked an online gambling prohibition bill onto a much larger port security bill up for vote in the Senate. Mr. Frist, along with other congressional Republicans, believe that online gambling is immoral; that it ruins families; that is sends young people into huge debt before they graduate from college; and that big brother needs to lead them on a path to a healthy, gambling free life. Of course, gambling is OK as long as its bingo in a Catholic Church, the Ohio Lottery, or horses running around a track. Sound a bit hypocritical?

Mr. Frist and his Republican buddies have been pushing free trade for years. The Central American Free Trade Agreement, for example, was a huge win for these free-trade Republicans. In the gambling world, it was big news when the small island nation of Antigua sued the United States in the World Trade Organization, arguing that prohibiting financial transfers to online casinos headquartered in Antigua (or any other country) was a violation of free trade. The WTO ruled in favor of Antigua. The US was unhappy, so they appealed the case. The WTO ruled in favor of Antigua again. Not only has the US failed to uphold this WTO ruling, but they have blatantly acted out against it. In the past year, US officials have arrested online gambling executives from the Caribbean and Western Europe who set foot inside US territory on the charge of soliciting illegal gambling. And now Mr. Frist is trying to push his morals on America again, despite how protectionist it may be.

The United States has recently gone to the WTO for help with a dispute over Chinese protectionism. The US is arguing that Chinese government policies that restrict importing auto parts from the US are unfair and a violation of free trade. Sound familiar? The US cries to the WTO when China starts acting like a bully; but when the WTO gives the US a slap on the hand in regards to online gambling, America sees no reason to comply. How can the US even begin to justify ignoring a WTO ruling and then expecting China to comply with a similar one?

Maybe Mr. Frist doesn’t know, but the online gambling industry is an extremely savvy one. Everyone in the United States who was gambling online before the prohibition bill passed is still gambling today. Passing the prohibition bill is not going to help Republicans at all in the midterm elections, since Christian voters are much more likely to be turned off by the Foley scandal than impressed by the online gambling ban. If anything, the bill is more likely to alienate moderates and libertarians who might have otherwise supported Republicans. But really, the only thing that this bill really does is make the US look like a clown in the eyes of the rest of the world. Picking and choosing when to respect the global community and the WTO isn’t something that the greatest country in the world should do. Maybe Mr. Frist should retake American History 101, anyone with half a brain knows how poorly prohibition works.

Go Google!

Anyone who knows me well enough can tell you that I am by no means a fan of what I like to call “the corporation.” Every day when I pick up the newspaper it seems like big business is involved in more corruption scandals and engaging in more questionable behavior. Supporters of “the corporation” tell me that these companies are acting in their best interest by focusing exclusively on their bottom line; and these people tell me that companies have no responsibility to anyone but their shareholders. Whether or not it is acceptable that big business exploits its employees, pollutes the environment and hurts communities is debatable. But when a company goes above and beyond its bottom line, it usually catches my eye. As of yesterday, I am really excited about one company in particular: GOOGLE.

Google recently announced plans to start a for-profit philanthropic company called google.org. The fact that google.org is not a non-profit like the vast majority of charitable organizations, makes it unique and potentially very powerful. Google’s mission is to tackle three of the world’s biggest problems: poverty, disease and global warming. Although most corporations give large sums of money to charity and then spend about ten times as much on a PR campaign telling people about it, Google appears incredibly legitimate. Google’s philanthropic company will have the ability to start new firms, form partnerships with entrepreneurs and even lobby congress.

So why does this so much matter to me..? because of one product that I find to be truly amazing, the electric car. Google’s founders have already given millions to California-based Tesla Motors (see previous post) who will introduce the first electric car since Detroit pulled all of them from the market and shredded them into a billion pieces. But the Google guys aren’t content with just letting one new firm develop the new means of technology that we need so desperately, and have announced development of their own electric hybrid engine. The Google Car, as it has been coined, will be a plug in hybrid vehicle that runs on both gasoline and e85 and get potentially over a hundred miles per gallon.

What I love so much about Google is that they have never ceased to amaze me with the quality and reliability of their products, whether it be their search engine, webmail, or word processing software. Whenever there is something you think is impossible, Google can do it. Think about it… remember the days of getting 10 megabytes of storage space with your Yahoo mail account? Out of nowhere, Google offered its customers 1 gigabyte (1000 megabytes) of email storage. Remember when you had to shell out hundreds of dollars for buggy and unreliable Microsoft Office software? Google offered better software for free!

Building a car engine may not be what Google has focused on in the past; but one thing I know about Google is that they have the magic to make the unthinkable happen. Google could very well give electric cars the boost they need to make it into the mainstream marketplace. Now that it is clear that Detroit refuses to believe that there is demand for hybrid vehicles (Toyota Prius sales increase about 50% per year and For F-series pickups are losing customers like crazy) California based companies like Google and Tesla Motors can step in and give us the cars that our environment and society urgently need.

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Update: September, 21, 2006...
I saw this quote from Google.org's executive director Larry Brilliant. I am once again amazed with this company. Its extremely rare for me to see a big corporate executive make comments like this. In an interview with The New York Times, Brilliant said he would like to see ventures such as the hybrid car make a profit, but wouldn’t really care if they didn’t. "We're not doing it for the profit,” he said. “And if we didn't get our capital back, so what? The emphasis is on social returns, not economic returns."

Dead or Alive?

Is the electric car really dead? Chris Paine’s new movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?” makes the case that the electric car was born in the early 1990s and died nearly a decade later. But is that really the whole story of the electric car? Is there no hope for the future electric vehicles? I think not…

Electric cars have been around as long as the internal combustion engine. In the early days of the automobile, gasoline powered cars proved more convenient and more reliable than their electric counterparts. The electric cars worked some of the time, but most of the time they didn’t. Consumers had a practical reason to drive gasoline powered cars.

Fast forward to 1990. The California Air Resources Board passed legislation requiring that 2% of all new cars sold in California by 1998 had to be zero emission vehicles. General Motors led the way by introducing the EV1 in 1996. A very select group of consumers were leased the EV1, and for the most part, they loved them. The EV1 was powerful, fast, fun to drive, and required no gasoline. Most importantly, since the EV1 didn’t have an internal combustion engine, it required virtually no costly servicing. While great for the EV1 drivers, GM saw a potential for disaster with the new genre of automobile.

Eventually Detroit sued the California Air Resources Board and won. By 2001, nearly all GM EV1s and other electric vehicles had been removed from the road – most have since been destroyed. At the time, consumers saw little benefit to driving an electric vehicle. Gasoline was still hovering around one dollar a gallon, and global warming was still a highly disputed theory. There was really no economic reason or ethical reason for consumers to drive an electric vehicle.

Times have changed since the late nineties. With gasoline hovering around three dollars per gallon and the indication that prices will only continue to increase; and with overwhelming evidence that human produced CO2 is warming the earth and causing environmental disasters in the status quo, there is more incentive than ever for consumers to drive electric vehicles. The question, however, is who is going to produce these cars? Obviously Detroit does not want the eclectic car to threaten its fleet of modern gas-guzzlers.

So I bring you the Tesla Roadster. Born in Northern California’s Silicon Valley, the Tesla Roadster takes the electric car to a new level. The sporty little car has an engine more powerful than most high-end sports cars. In fact, the Roadster can go from zero to 60 mph in 4 seconds, without even having to shift out of first gear. Putting the car into second gear can bring the car quickly up to a top speed of 130 mph. But the most impressive part about the Roadster is that it requires absolutely no gasoline… It runs exclusively on batteries that can be charged anywhere. In fact, the Roadster can go up to 250 miles on a single charge. And since the Roadster doesn’t have an internal combustion engine, predictions are that the car will rarely have to undergo costly sports car servicing.

Electric vehicle technology exists. Consumers finally have an incentive to drive electric. If companies like Tesla Motors succeed, Northern California could become home to a new high tech auto industry. The electric car is alive. The technology exists. Consumers need to demand cars that run on electricity – which is the only way such vehicles will ultimately thrive.

Automotive Woes

Americans are obsessed with cars. I recently encountered severe rush hour traffic outside of Cleveland, and couldn’t help but observe the behavior of other drivers trying to make their way down the busy interstate. There were as many different types of people out there as you could imagine: white, black, Asian, male, female, etc. The only thing that most drivers had in common was that they were the only person sitting in the car. Even with gas prices now flirting with $3 per gallon, the American ego is too big to stop people from giving up their very own car. What won’t be changed anytime in the future is America’s fixation with cars; what can be changed is the type of cars that we drive.

For many years, liberals followed the simple axiom: buy American. Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler manufactured their cars in American cities like Detroit, Flint and Pontiac and employed unionized labor. American auto employees earned high wages and received good benefits. Choosing a new car was a no-brainer for a liberal who cared about the well being of autoworkers and economic progress of Midwestern manufacturing cities. Unfortunately, this logic is stuck in the past. Now, buy American can’t be considered as much of a truism. Companies like Honda and Toyota are opening manufacturing plants all over America. Soon, the state of Ohio could become home to more auto manufacturing jobs than any other state in the union, thanks to foreign car companies. In rust belt states struggling from the recent loss of manufacturing jobs, these companies might be the savior unemployed skilled workers are looking for.

Liberals don’t only care about American jobs, they’re seriously concerned with the environment. As global warming becomes more and more of a concern and widely accepted as a problem facing society, liberals are pushing auto companies to develop cars that use less fuel and even alternate fuels. American car companies have fallen far behind in this regard. Liberals want to see more hybrid and compact vehicles on the road. Currently, Honda and Toyota offer numerous models of compact hybrid vehicles. Ford and GM offer none. Toyota focuses on fuel efficient cars like Corolla and Echo/Yaris while GM focuses on monsters like the Hummer. Many of the financial problems facing Ford and Toyota can be attributed to their inability to produce anything other than gas guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks that once brought them great profits.

Ultimately, liberals now face a difficult decision when it comes to selecting which car to take to the road. Why buy an Ford or GM vehicle when you can get a Toyota Prius or a Honda Civic hybrid? Both the Honda and Toyota are manufactured right here in the Midwest and are more environmentally sound than a comparable Ford or GM sedan. Ford and GM need to give liberals and Americans in general a better reason to purchase their vehicles. We can’t eliminate cars from the road, but we can make the cars we drive more environmentally sound, and right now it looks like foreign car companies are the only ones concerned with making that happen.