Colombian Travel vs. American TSA
March 22nd, 2012 | View Post

As I wind down my eight day voyage to Colombia, I can't help but dwell upon the non-sensible, invasive, and criminal sham that the United States' travel policies have turned into. Colombia, perceived by Americans as a third world land of drug cartels, kidnappings, and guerrilla mercenaries (none of which is really accurate), has absolutely superior air travel service compared to the United States. This is true both of the government policies surrounding travel and the actual service provided by at least one private domestic carrier.

Domestically, a group of us flew from Bogotá to Cartagena on Avianca Airlines. The experience could not have been more positive. After quickly checking in with a friendly staff we proceeded to security. The line was short. We didn't remove our computers from our bag, nor take off our shoes, nor throw away our bottles of water. Nobody intended to make us assume the position of a criminal and examine our naked body. Nobody intended to feel our genitals, nor to have us remove articles of clothing. We put our carry-on bags on a conveyor belt and comfortably walked through a metal detector. Those of us who tripped it were not harassed, but rather quickly wanded down and sent on our ways.

A simple chart comparing the security protocols I experienced between the United States TSA and the Colombian airport security

It was everything a country like America should be capable of.

The only additional (though arguably positive) layer of security is that they check bag tickets after you pick up your bag on the conveyer. Although this does slow the process down by a few minutes, I can appreciate wanting to protect against private theft.

The airline itself was also phenomenal. Avianca has a brand new Airbus fleet, each seat fully loaded with televisions, gaming devices, and USB mounts. All of the in-flight services were completely free of charge despite the flight only being an hour. As a strong proponent of allowing foreign carries into the US domestic fleets (one of the US' many anti-competitive laws), I would definitely welcome Avianca with open arms and in all likeliness become a frequent flyer.

Internationally, the departure process has been almost as easy, albeit with a few more steps. After receiving our tax vouchers at one window and then checking in with United, we proceeded through to immigration and had our passports stamped. Security was almost identical to the domestic flight only they did ask us to remove our computers from carry-on and place them in a bucket (much like the TSA does). There was no removal of shoes, no trashing of water and food, no groping, no naked body scanning. Rather just a simple metal detector with a follow-up wand.

The only annoyance came after waiting at the gate for about an hour. Evidently a secondary screening process was being setup and we had to leave the room, and re-enter through the secondary metal detector. There was one bit of stupidity here. I was allowed to bring my metal water bottle full of water through, but I was not allowed to bring my half-full plastic water through. Curiously though, I was allowed to pour the contents of the plastic bottle into my metal bottle and continue without further incident. Go figure.

All in all though, it was a pretty positive experience.

I spoke with a couple of Colombians about these processes and they agree that traveling around Colombia is a very pleasant experience. They also said that they hated travel procedures of the United States citing that they're treated very badly, generally as if they're terrorists.

I will continue to strongly oppose the TSA and all levels of government that use fear and American ignorance to strip individuals of Constitutional rights. I strongly encourage others to do the same.

March 23, 2012 5:13pm CST Edit: After chatting with members of the Reddit community about this post, I'm told that my experience may have been unique. Further discussion seems to suggest that the lighter security I experienced was due to my traveling during the low season. Others have reported significantly more invasive scans, albeit body scanning technologies are still not present.

Homeless WiFi - The Kony of SXSW
March 13th, 2012 | View Post

If you're not familiar with this project yet, an ad agency called BBH has equipped 14 homeless people in Austin with 4G data-enabled devices. They've asked their participants to roam the South by Southwest festival offering free WiFi to people.

The stunt has attracted a host of negative publicity. People have been suggesting it is unethical, immoral, and exploitative. I even read one article claiming that the agency is essentially commoditizing (generally read as enslaving) the homeless. Unfortunately, these claims couldn't be further from the truth. In fact the only unethical component of this whole matter is how quick the media has been to present a new bandwagon for the uninformed to jump on.

A few points to consider:

Firstly, this is not a bad financial deal. All of the individuals are being paid a minimum stipend of $50 per day, $20 of which is up-front. If that number seems low, keep in mind that they're not exactly doing work, rather they're just instructed to go about their day; people will find them. The company is also suggesting that people provide donations for the service; the suggested rate seems to be about $2.00 for 15 minutes of access. In addition to their stipend, the homeless keep all of the donations that they're given. That adds up pretty quickly at a festival like SXSW.

Secondly, they're entrusted and invited to participate in a worldwide event. I'm not a social worker, but I have to assume that when you entrust somebody with an expensive piece of hardware (one they could easily run off with), provide them with a festival t-shirt bearing their name, and give them a legitimate reason to interact with the general population, this is possibly the greatest offer many have seen in some time. It provides a presumably disparaging person with opportunity, something we all hope for.

Thirdly, I also have to assume that the fourteen people selected for this project are fairly competent individuals. That is to say, there is a certain level of communication and responsibility necessary for this project to be successful, even if it is minimal. It seems that the ad agency would be somewhat selective in their process of choosing who was eligible to participate. This would suggest that the participants are of pretty sound mind.

Which brings me to my only real problem with the outcries. Where is the consistency with the argument? I see homeless individuals working all sorts of jobs around Austin and I've never read of people being lambasted for hiring them. I've watched them distribute leaflets, hold business signs, sell papers, work parking lots, and on, and on. So I'm curious where the outcries are for homeless people being paid to hold "Liquidation Sale" signs on street corners. Is there some sort of line in the sand that we cross once the job takes on a more technical nature?

Unfortunately we're seeing these sorts of baseless, and even counter-productive outcries occur all of the time through the internet. In my opinion, they're exactly what turn legitimate problems into fashionable blips. There are no doubt cases whereby homeless people have been exploited for their "services". For example, about a decade ago Indecline Films started putting out a series called 'Bumfights'. The clear difference is that they sought drunken and probably mentally unstable individuals and paid them to incite violence against one another. There is a clear common sense distinction between these types of cases, and it's just sad that people are so willing to rally against anything, even when there are numerous and obvious benefits.

If people really wanted to help the homeless, they could trivially forgo spending $1,395 on their SXSW badges and instead donate that directly to a homeless person or any number of local shelters. But of course we all know that's never going to happen.

My take of these matters is simple. If people are unwilling to put real action ahead of empty talk, then perhaps they should at very least stop speaking for others. Especially when those others are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves.

A Letter to my Republican Friends
March 5th, 2012 | View Post

To my friends who intend to support the Republican party with Romney at the helm, I feel bad for you, truly I do. You have to know by now that if Governor Romney wins the nomination (which appears likely), President Obama is going to sweep the 2012 election. Don't get me wrong, I loathe President Obama as much as I loathed President Bush. I just wish I could understand why those of you who vote party-line are so blind to this reality.

It's a simple, two-fold problem. Firstly, the Republican party obviously has no clear favorite. This is probably because the three media-favored candidates are hardly distinguishable from the Democrats when it comes to most issues. Or on occasion, are so openly vile and off-topic that even many conservatives are dismissing their rhetoric. And secondly, the party has to contend with the reality that Ron Paul has an army of well-organized supporters. The latter of those is what I would like to address.

There's one thing that you need to know about the current primary process, and this is really important: the overwhelming majority of those voting for Ron Paul have NO INTEREST in supporting the Republican party outside of his nomination. I am certainly included in that subgroup. In fact, varying statistical analyses put the number around 1 in 4 right now. In other words, if it's Romney vs. Obama in November, then about 75% of those votes currently coming from Ron Paul Republicans will result in write-ins, independent 3rd party votes, or abstentions. They will NOT go to Romney. This is a huge problem for you. Not even the media knows quite how to spin it.

Let's be clear about this. Most Ron Paul supporters aren't so stubborn that they would never vote for another candidate. Rather, they're just not going to vote for a candidate who intends to wander down the same path of destructive policies that we've seen for almost 15 years. Unfortunately, most of you seem to be completely ignoring these much needed policy changes. Here's three off the top of my head.

  1. The majority of us couldn't care less about homosexuality and the myriad of subtopics you've created around it. The whole idea of small government is that the government doesn't get to run people's lives. We take this credo very seriously, whereas you only purport to take it seriously. If your personal beliefs encourage you to act in a selfish and bigoted manner, that's perfectly acceptable. But at least be objective enough to support legislation that embodies the diversity of our country, not the homogeneity of your personal faith.

  2. None of the other candidates have shown ANY interest whatsoever in addressing the severe financial mess this country is in. Occasionally one will offer some insignificant cut to a future budget proposal. This is meaningless to our current problems. Since some of you evidently don't fully grasp this concept, it means that if a department was intending to **expand** by say $100 billion in 2013, your candidate might be willing to cut that **expansion** down to $90 billion. Of course this completely ignores the fact that many departments need not exist in the first place and merely reducing their expansion does nothing to reverse our current level of debt. It's like going shopping because you received a coupon in the mail. You're still spending money you didn't need to spend in the first place!

    We're interested in someone who wants to legitimately cut spending, who wants to substantially reform the tax system, and who doesn't support playing favorites with American corporations. And as a parallel to that, just because you don't like the Occupy Wall Street people, doesn't make them wrong. Stop acting like corporate lobbyists and financial bailouts are somehow to your benefit, they clearly are not.

  3. Stop trying to take over the world. It shouldn't be done, and more importantly, it can't be done. Nobody on our side of the table is suggesting war isn't sometimes necessary. However, the entire Muslim world is NOT your enemy, and certainly not our enemy. Even if they were, there are over 1.5 billion of them! The attack on Osama Bin Laden's compound was a small, covert, and successful mission. That single mission was more useful than years of occupation. We have ruined literally decades of progress and permanently scarred our nation's reputation, all on the quest to protect American corporate interests.

    Ron Paul Republicans will not tolerate, much less support a candidate interested in waging these kinds of open militaristic conquests around the world. We have a Congress to make declarations of war so that the people can control the war. The President of the United States is not a military dictator contrary to what President Bush and President Obama may have led you to believe.

The recent Romney victory in Washington State pretty much showcased the general mentality of the party. Romney was hated by the Washington Caucus in 2008, placing last in almost every county. Now four years later he is miraculously the top pick by a substantial margin? It's pretty obvious that the majority of you are only interested in voting for the predicted nominee rather than who you believe is a good candidate. That's a pretty sad state for a democracy, especially considering it's only the primary process.

So having written all of that, and knowing how much I'd love to see a change in D.C. next year, I truly wish you'd wake up to the reality of this election. If you forcibly continue to exclude and ignore these people and ideas, you cannot win this election, period. Every one of the so-called swing states is going to be gift-wrapped and handed to the Democrats. If your only goal this November is to unseat Barack Obama, then it would seem that ignoring this population does your cause a grand disservice.

Please feel free to email me anytime with your questions on the topic; I'd be more than happy to respond. In the meantime, keep looking for that birth certificate, because that's sure to fix our problems.

A Case for the 10th
March 2nd, 2012 | View Post

The 10th Amendment:
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the states, are reserved to the states, respectfully, or to the people."
The other day I came across an online rant ripping on presidential hopeful Ron Paul for his support of the 10th amendment. The post was essentially emphasizing that if we actually followed the 10th amendment of the Constitution, the country would be riddled with bigotry. It went on to discuss how a number of states have anti-homosexual laws, anti-sodomy laws, anti-civil rights laws, and other seemingly archaic and anti-intellectual concepts, many of which have been invalidated by federal laws.

I come across these sorts of posts from time to time and am always disappointed at the short-sightedness of the analysis provided. I'm not sure if people are unable to wrap their heads around the scope of the 10th amendment, or are just unwilling to, but there are huge upsides embedded in our Constitutional fabric.

Firstly, let me concede that there would no doubt exist various social and fiscal injustices across the country if the federal government stopped usurping states rights. But in the absence of this, over 300 million people are essentially forced to accept homogenized points of view of whatever party happens to have congressional and executive control. That was certainly not the vision of the United States. Even more unfortunate is that in the long run, it essentially guarantees all walks of the political spectrum will endure measures they do not agree with, and may never agree with.

One of the reasons for this is that ignoring the 10th amendment generally requires that force be used in order to get most agendas passed. Keep in mind that the use of force is not limited to guns and bombs. A combination of divisive politics, fear tactics, and far-leaning partisan mandates tend to be the weapon of choice for American politicians. It's pretty easy to stir up fear in a country as large as the United States, especially in a time when politicians are no longer held to media scrutiny. Circumventing our most fundamental rule of law with lavish, empty promises of political solutions offers nothing but a dangerous and highly volatile band-aid to a potentially very serious issue.

The drive of a progressive, intellectual, and advancing society should be to win the hearts and minds of people through diplomacy and discussion, not through scare-tactics and force. Since it is the alleged plight of liberals, progressives, sensible conservatives, and libertarians to specifically not engage in forceful tactics in order to promote an agenda, opposing the 10th amendment seems to be counterproductive to ones own core belief system, provided one falls into that category. The 10th amendment provides the United States with an excellent method for developing and exploring varying ideologies without needing to forcibly impose those values on the entire country.

If you've ever entertained the idea of leaving the United States because you disagree with so many modern policies (perhaps global imperialism), you've no doubt pondered how difficult this would be to see through. The idea of permanently moving your entire life to a different culture, with a different government, with a different monetary system, where you would have to completely re-assimilate yourself seems overwhelming (and should incidentally give you some pause over what immigrants in our own country might endure). But this is one of the many reasons that the United States was designed with such an interesting and ingenious framework. It is well within most people's practical means to relocate to another city or state for any number of reasons, differences of political ideology certainly being one reason. This is what the model for a small government has to offer, many vastly differing opinions respected and housed within a national framework.

I know for a fact that I have no desire to become a resident of a state that collects a state income tax. I'm not opposed to taxation as a practical means, I just believe it's better to tax people on consumption, not on their output. The State of Texas provides me with a way to accomplish this by not taxing my income, and rather by taxing my property. If I live in a mansion, I will pay the state [through the county] dearly for it; if I live in a humble home, I will save. It's far from perfect, but this seems like a more reasonable approach to me. However, my personal preference is far from the point. The important distinction is that I am able to make a choice about this philosophical ideal and live my life accordingly. If the State of Texas were to impose a state income tax, I would naturally weigh my options, but would very likely move out of the state.

If we accepted that the Federal Government did not have the authority to control state actions (outside of the limited scope of the Constitution), and actually protected this liberty, it would be perfectly acceptable for a state to legalize marijuana, to openly develop stem-cell technologies, and to provide state healthcare benefits to all residents, even homosexual couples. This is a good thing! And if it turned out that same state required a 40% state income tax to meet those goals, I would probably still avoid that state, despite supporting the many progressive ideals the state had to offer. This is the trivial ideal of letting localities determine their own fates so that citizens (aka: "the people") can decide what works and what does not.

On the rare occasion that a philosophical shift occurs in the country and presents an issue requiring national attention, the Constitution was designed with a clear amendment process. This process has been used many times in the past to address wide-sweeping changes to the federal government. It should not be casually ignored simply because the modern generation is too impatient and intolerant of one another to seek compromise.

Yes, the process takes longer. But when fellow states adopt the ideals of one another as a result of this methodology, it is because they genuinely support whatever measure they're adopting, not because they're being forced to do so by a federal executive order. This is a hugely positive concept for creating a progressive society because it promotes change instead of dictating it.

Unfortunately, it is a sad state of affairs when self-proclaimed progressives are able to justify their use of force in the same way neo-conservatives have done for over a decade. As a country, I strongly believe we should strive to be more tolerant and accepting of our fellow citizens fears, bigotries, and levels of ignorance, not force them to see our own ways, even if history does prove those ways 'right'. This notion was well understood 236 years ago and is specifically why the 10th amendment was written. I hope we are someday able to remember that.

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