Category: Individual & Economic Liberty

2016: Take charge and #BeResponsible

fotolia_98074017It’s always a mind-numbing task to review the year that just passed, trying to piece together the puzzle of events – and 2015 was no different. From the investment side, precious metals had a slow and low year. Technology took some massive steps forward with the release of driverless car prototypes, ubiquitous Uber, a wide variety of drone applications, robots, 3D printers… the list goes on.

While technology has been punching away at the world’s troubles, ‘government’ has provided the endless background hum as we approach the 2016 elections. I won’t bore you with the details but amid heated talk of the war against ISIS, it is regulations and taxation that have continued their insidious influence, growing in reach akin to the way the money supply grows in such a speedy and unethical fashion. No, we aren’t here to remind you of the grim realities of the world; just to send some motivation and energy into your day-to-day life, and to ensure you are seizing each day and making it count!

We bring you the #BeResponsible campaign for 2016!

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Responsible Resolutions

New-Year_Resolutions_listAs New Year’s Eve looms, people scramble to fit a few more events into the remainder of the dying year and begin making plans for next year. It is the season of New Year’s resolutions. If I’m honest, I’ve never been much for New Year’s resolutions. It seems that most people never end up keeping them anyway, and they often consist of wishful thinking and empty promises. But it doesn’t really have to be that way.

There’s nothing actually wrong with making a New Year’s resolution, and in many cases it could actually be a good thing. My cynicism comes from the past failures I have witnessed, but failure to keep resolutions does not make them illegitimate. So maybe instead of being cynical and pessimistic, or just plain lazy, this is the year to set realistic and responsible goals and then stick to them. Here are a few goals for being more responsible with your money for the coming year.

Save More Money

This is definitely not a very exciting resolution. Saving money takes restraint, patience, willpower and commitment. It can be hard not to touch your money when you know it’s sitting there just waiting to be used. Thinking too much in the present can make it hard to look towards the future.

Spending money comes naturally to most of us. We love things, and what is money for if not to buy stuff? There is a certain amount of truth to that statement, but saving money is about planning for tomorrow instead of blindly thinking only of today. It is perfectly fine to buy things, but it should be done with restraint. Having some wealth stored up for later on can make your life easier and more comfortable in the future. It can provide safety for unforeseen accidents or maybe even help you retire early.

Make Wise Investments

Making investments can also be seen as a way of saving money. One way to save in this way is to invest in gold or silver. Buying precious metals is a way to save money for the future that can offer a better store of value than just stashing your cash under the bed. Keeping your money stored in gold or silver will also keep you from recklessly spending it. It’s not like you can just get up and go to Walmart to purchase some toilet paper with a silver round.

Of course, there are many other ways to invest that actually offer you the chance to make a decent amount of money. That said, investing for profit is not for everybody. It takes a lot of know-how and can be big risk. If you are going to get into investing, you should do lots of research and make sure you really know what you are doing before making any decisions. As you know, many companies will offer their employees 401K or stock options. These are more accessible ways via which the average person can get a foot into the investing door.

These points are all pretty general, but I guess in the end it’s up to you to come up with the specifics. These may not be sexy resolutions, like losing ten pounds. And in fact, you might need to commit to these things for more than just a single year to see a real payoff, but they are goals worth setting. Making a commitment to wisely save money and make good investments should be at the top of everyone’s list with the start of each year.

Can Free Markets Repair a Broken Healthcare System?

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As a health services administration graduate student at the University of San Francisco in 2006, I felt like a lone voice among my colleagues in championing a free market healthcare system. Despite the release that same year of  Redefining Health Care: Creating Value-Based Competition On Results - a book by noted Harvard professor Michael Porter – the overall tenor and conversation around a competitive healthcare marketplace resembled the noise of crickets in the countryside.

Four years later, the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, was signed into law by President Barack Obama. Unsurprisingly since that landmark legislation, the U.S. healthcare system has continued to spiral out of control. And as of this writing, amid recent news of crumbling state healthcare exchanges and word of the largest insurer’s anticipated exit from the program, Obamacare is arguably on life support. This has led to calls on the part of a small but vocal lobby to discard this failing model and pursue instead a fresh set of free market healthcare strategies.

A friend of mine who was frustrated by the lack of affordable options, turned me on to TruPrice, a startup firm seeking to develop a real alternative to the current healthcare crisis. Founder and President Mark Gantner believes that the current ACA model is unsustainable and that without alternatives, it will result in louder calls for a single payer system. In his view, this represents a significant constitutional threat; one that has the potential to erode the basis of personal freedoms upon which this country was founded.

A More Fair Approach to Fair Use

2000px-US-CopyrightOffice-Seal.svgIntellectual property law in the U.S. has not aged so gracefully with the development of internet content publishing. Obviously, this development could not have been foreseen until the very recent past, so it comes as no surprise. As usual though, the law is slow to adapt to the fast-paced changes that society at large is facing today.

Fair use is an aspect of IP law that has particularly caused issues in our modern ‘cut-and-paste culture. The confusion is detrimental to most of the important parts of U.S. copyright law, which is not always clearly defined anyway, and is often misunderstood. Fair use compliance is by nature something that can’t be quantitatively measured, which has turned out to be both an asset and a liability for those seeking protection under its wing. I believe the lawmakers behind IP laws recognized that a simplistic rubric for defining fair use could not ably address the nuances and complexities inherent in the issue, and that it must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. This gives those appealing for fair use designation the opportunity to defend themselves and their work. The downside is that it gives full discretion to the court.

In this internet age, there is so much content being produced and distributed that it’s not at all feasible to deal with intellectual property disputes on a case-by-case basis anymore. Copyright infringement is handled by computers running algorithms which alleviate people from having to do the grunt work, but are incapable of handling the nuanced and flexible nature of fair use laws. Copyright has always been ‘opt out’ by default, but until now the drawbacks of such a system have not been completely evident.

So in response to the problem, Youtube is announcing that they will provide legal services for select videos which fall victim to indiscriminate removal over copyright charges. Youtube has become a platform that is especially plagued by these issues. Hundreds of videos are uploaded to Youtube every minute by everyday internet users, many of whom will make use of copyrighted materials such as music, pictures or movie scenes. I’m sure most of us have clicked on a Youtube link only to receive a ‘content unavailable’ message, at least several times in our lives.

The number of small insignificant cases vastly outnumbers the large critical cases since now anyone (including many who have limited knowledge of copyright law and fair use) can upload content through platforms like Youtube. It’s safe to assume that most of the videos removed are not important enough to warrant legal action by the parties whose IP is potentially being infringed upon. Those same videos, therefore, are probably also the products of people who don’t have the means to take countermeasures. Making a case for fair use can be complicated and costly. The ‘opt out’ nature of copyright as it stands means that the cases not worth looking into will always be ruled in favor of the copyright holder unless an appeal to fair use is made, which discourages the legitimate use of copyrighted material for creative or educational purposes. This is antithetical to the original intent of copyright law, which was to encourage the production of new intellectual property.

This policy of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ is also damaging to sites like Youtube, for whom it is in the best interest to encourage content creation and to make users feel free to upload videos.

In the best case scenario, Youtube would be able to provide legal service for all users, but this is clearly not possible, considering the scale of such an undertaking. An undisclosed Youtube publisher, quoted in the ZDNet article linked above, noted that it’s a step in the right direction, but implementing an ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mandate would go much further towards finding a solution, since it is not possible for Youtube to offer protection for all users.

Youtube’s move to defend fair use content illustrates that they are aware of the value it contributes to the platform they operate. Thankfully, they are willing to do what they can to even the score. The real solution will not be to simply bandage the hole. Musicians and artists have begun to call for a more fundamental change in the archaic copyright law being applied to internet age IP disputes. For the time being, we may have to settle with band-aids.

Encryption and Terrorism in the Post-Snowden Era

9609572241_d02bd5cbf2_oIn the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris last weekend, the question hanging in the air is whether or not there is anything that can be done to prevent such tragedies. Foreign policy and attitudes towards refugees have taken center stage, eclipsing what could become a very serious issue: encryption.

Ever since the Snowden revelations, it seems that regulators are desperately grasping for justifications for snooping into data, even as companies have sought to demonstrate their commitment to providing security for consumers. I wrote an article last month which tackled Apple’s policy on encrypting data. The recent attacks look like fertile ground in which to sow the seeds of such a justification. But even the truly awful nature of the terrorism occurring overseas does not convince me to relax my stance on what I see as one of the most important policy issues of our day.

Policy makers have sought to blame the effectiveness of the terrorist attacks on the use of encrypted communication, causing Russia to push for a ban on encrypted services like Telegram. In the U.S., Silicon Valley is beset by politicians from all sides. Pavel Durov of Telegram skillfully set forth his opposition with an incisive and sarcastic quip for the Moscow Times ‘I propose banning words. There’s evidence [to suggest] that they’re being used by terrorists to communicate.’

I would hope that government officials’ arguments in support of creating backdoors are due to ignorance. The worst thing that could come of tragedies like the Paris attacks would be that they be used manipulatively. In the words of Chris Riley of Mozilla to International Business Times, ‘creating policy from a reactive posture is inherently problematic.’ I couldn’t agree more. The same IBT article mentions a letter signed by several leaders in the tech industry, including Mozilla, asking Obama to reject any proposals requiring backdoors to encrypted data. Such a proposal could set dangerous precedents, not only in the U.S., but worldwide. This includes countries with governments that have a history of gross violations of the trust and rights of their citizens. Once a backdoor exists, there is no way of controlling how or when it is used or by whom.

The idea that Durov so insightfully set forth in the above quote is an essential part of the debate that is obscured by the reactionary sensationalism prone to set in after such events as these attacks. If encryption is banned or companies are forced to provide backdoor keys to the government, terrorists and criminals will find other means of executing their goals.

Encryption is a technique, and it is not something that can be fully legislated against. It’s impossible for any government to prevent everyone from using encryption. It can be banned and made illegal, but that does not stop people from using it or putting it in place. After all, bombing cities and killing innocent people is also illegal, but terrorists continue to perform such acts. Only those already willing to cooperate with regulation would comply with providing backdoors to encrypted data. The government would be no closer to hamstringing terrorists.

Even if the government was somehow able to successfully breach all encryption, terrorists would only find other means of communicating, just like they did before encryption was accessible. By making encryption essentially useless – and just as easy for hackers, criminals, and oppressive regimes to break as it is for whoever it is that’s supposed to be protecting us from terrorism – policies that require backdoors wouldn’t hurt anybody as much as they would hurt average citizens.

We can only hope that the tech companies defending data encryption, and those aware of the dangers inherent in allowing for backdoors, can convince politicians to reconsider the matter. We should not let more corruption and injustice come of the evil that we currently mourn.

Three Cheers For Craft Beer!

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A flight of red ales from craft brewery, Black Shirt Brewing Company

I’ll admit it. I’m a complete sucker for craft beer and all the hype surrounding it. Beer has been a mainstay beverage in global civilizations for centuries. Everybody knows that there’s no better way to spend a friday night than enjoying an amber pint at your favorite pub with a couple of friends, relaxing after a grueling week of work. So what’s the big deal with craft beer, and why are so many willing to pay more for it than the Big Beer brands? The answer to those questions depends upon whom you ask. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can detail a few of the commonly given answers and explain why I enjoy drinking craft beer.

Some see it as a moral battleground. A theme commonly discussed among craft beer nerds (but little talked about by anyone else) is the fact that most of the beer consumed in the world is produced by a handful of giant corporations. Anheuser-Busch (AB inBev), one of these titan brewers, has recently been bidding on a merger with one of their biggest rivals, MillerCoors (SABMiller). The merger would purportedly make AB inBev the brewer of a third of the world’s beer.