Tag Archives: Politics

The Fall of Conservative Journalism?

For a good chunk of my life, Breitbart News was the only place to get an alternative angle on many controversial topics, such as immigration, mass shootings, climate change, and the litany of Obama Administration scandals over the past seven years (e.g., Pigford, Fast and Furious, IRS).

Unfortunately, for months I have suspected that Breitbart’s editors have been supporting Donald Trump using their positions as media gatekeepers. In doing so they have become the very thing decried by the late Andrew Breitbart. Like the mainstream media does with leftist candidates, Breitbart News reports favorably on Trump not because they are corrupt, but simply because they like him. This is no less deplorable, though.

The resignations of Breitbart journalists Ben Shapiro and Michelle Fields are troubling to me because they seem to confirm my suspicion.

Fields filed a criminal complaint against Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, alleging he strong-armed her at a rally. Fields’ account of the incident is corroborated by an eyewitness, audio, and video from multiple angles (here and here–ironically, the video that “debunks” Fields story looks even more damning of Lewandowski). The fact that someone, most likely Lewandowski, committed a battery against Fields is all but obvious.

Despite the evidence, Breitbart News hesitated to defend their reporter. Although the site eventually posted an official position condemning the offense against Fields, the previous 10 days saw senior editors stifling internal discussion of the incident. John Pollak justified suppressing the story in order to deny Hillary Clinton any “straight up ‘War on Women’ material” that could supposedly hurt Trump.

In his interview with the Independent Journal, Ben Shapiro indicated that Breitbart News’ fawning over Trump was key in his resignation:

“Nothing could grieve me more than having to take this step. But I cannot stand with the company founded by my mentor, Andrew Breitbart, when it abandons a reported in order to protect a political candidate.”

What Shapiro should have said–and this is the real tragedy of the situation–is that Breitbart News has done more than simply throw Michelle Fields under the bus. She is only a symbol. Reason, evidence, and honest, good-faith reporting are the real casualties in Breitbart News’ zealous campaign to protect Trump.

Breitbart News is not the only outlet enamored with Trump. Many of other prominent conservative blogs and sites have that fever. If there were ever a selfish reason for me to hope that Trump fails to become president, it would be that his loss might allow a return of quality conservative journalism. But today I have little confidence in that happening.

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Libertarians Choose “Marriage Equality” over Individualism

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage, Rebecca Traister at New York Magazine offers some important considerations on the ruling’s lesser-known implications, specifically with regard to single people. She paints a rosy picture of how legal same-sex marriage will relieve the stigma on those who choose not to marry in the first place:

“Gay marriage has presented a challenge to straight marriage in part because it resists the mandate that everyone be straight married. It also, ideally, takes the great things about partnership—love, companionship, commitment—and makes them the basis of the institution.

[…]

The freedom to marry someone of the same sex is the freedom to not have to marry someone of the opposite sex, which in an ideal universe should be tied to the freedom not to have to marry, period.”

The author raises some good points, but while I agree that the Supreme Court ruling underscores a new social order that more readily accepts abstention from marriage, the legal inequalities will persist into the foreseeable future. Further, libertarians, who are best positioned to spearhead this issue, are conspicuously absent from the debate.

The goal of marriage equality, as most understand it, is inherently a farce. Equality is a property enjoyed by individuals, not by socially-constructed associations between those individuals. Even if we achieve total marriage equality, extending the government-conferred benefits of marriage to those partaking in any conceivable union (polygamy, bigamy, human-animal marriages, etc.), single people will always be denied those benefits. Singles will remain, as Bella DePaulo laments, “second-class citizens.”

The social conservatives, despite their faults, are the only ones to voice a consistent answer—albeit an unsatisfactory one, for several reasons—to this inequity. They maintain that promoting marriage serves a public interest through its role in sanctioning and facilitating procreation. They would oppose extending government benefits to single people for the same reason, purportedly, that they oppose extending them to gays and lesbians.

The proponents of same-sex marriage, however, cannot consistently oppose equality for singles. If they truly believe that love, companionship, and commitment should form the basis of the institution, they should want to end government privileges for married individuals altogether. While modern liberals could claim that government privileges for marriage are consistent with democracy in that majorities can grant privileges for whomever, whenever, this too would be inconsistent with their calls for equality.

The truly perplexing case here, however, is the plight of libertarian same-sex marriage proponents. Libertarians generally do not see (or care about) a public interest in the government promoting marriage, nor are they pure majoritarians. Rather, they often assert that government has no business sanctioning marriage at all; but this makes their vacuous celebration of the Supreme Court’s ruling perplexing, since the ruling does not bring about libertarians’ ideal—it in fact reinforces the current government-marriage paradigm.

If libertarians truly wanted to achieve equality for all individuals, regardless of marriage status, why are they so fixated on the courts? A quick search of the libertarian Cato Institute’s website shows that it has filed amicus briefs in numerous high-profile cases like Hollingsworth v. Perry, Kitchen v. Herbert, Bishop v. Smith, and United States v. Windsor. But where was Cato in January of 2014, when Oklahoma legislators pushed to repeal government licensing of marriage altogether? Where were they when Oklahoma legislators tried this again in March of 2015? Where were they in April of 2015 when Alabama legislators made similar efforts? And where are they now that legislators in both Utah and Michigan have drafted bills to remove the government from marriage in those states?

Libertarians have called for “privatizing marriage” before, but their focus and tenacity in that regard has dulled, and these days the idea warrants only an afterthought. Some liberty-oriented groups, as well as several individual libertarians, grasp this challenge, but anyone who highlights these mistaken priorities, even merely implying that the courts are a counterproductive course, risks accusations of bigotry or homophobia, even from other libertarians. Why is there such hostility here?

My guess is that libertarians have for so long been relegated to the sidelines of American politics—nobody really cares about libertarians’ positions on boring ol’ fiscal policy, foreign policy, regulation, etc.—that when a popular social movement arises that (somewhat) comports with libertarian philosophy, they cannot resist latching on to it. Libertarians are so hungry for acceptance from mainstream voters, activists, and ideologues that they will follow this fad to the end of its rabbit hole, even if it takes them through the court system, and further ossifies the butchered notions of Due Process and Equal Protection that have so supplanted the original meaning of the Constitution, a document many libertarians claim is important.

Actions speak louder than words. Libertarians who yearn for true individual equality before the law should not celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision—at best, the decision is morally neutral. If they support true equality, they cannot ignore the plight of single people while remaining logically consistent. The only way to achieve true equality, for straights, gays, lesbians, singles, and everyone else, is to remove the government from marriage entirely. Any effort that does not do that is at best a waste of time.

On the Riots in Ferguson

Back in July of 2013, when the jury delivered its verdict on the trial of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, many pundits wailed in dismay and bewilderment: “What are we to teach our kids about this outcome?” “How can I sincerely tell my son or daughter that the criminal justice system will protect them as faithfully as their white counterparts?” “How can black children be safe when white murderers cannot be punished?” Now, in the Missouri town of Ferguson, a grand jury has decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the wrongful death of Michael Brown, and in the midst of the resultant protests, demonstrations, and riots, we hear similar refrains from activists and media alike.

I am not, nor have I ever been a parent; but I hope to be one someday, and I find myself asking the same questions, though for a different reason. Most critics of the criminal proceedings—or lack thereof—view these tragedies as harmfully reshaping social norms. They fear the resurgence of a world in which racial prejudices invade our social and legal institutions, tipping the scales of justice in favor of those who, all else being equal, would be punished or penalized.

While we should not ignore those concerns (I would caution, however, that the arbitrary and excessive use of police force is not strictly a racial issue), Ferguson’s reaction to the grand jury’s decision leaves me wondering if a different, yet equally insidious social standard is not being fashioned in the aftermath. What am I to tell my son when he sees the riots in the streets? When he sees the burning and looting, the abject disregard for persons and property, the hair-trigger uproar upon receiving the official decision, how should I explain it?

I would start by telling him that the social norms of our nation are, in fact, regressing to a more archaic state. But it is not in the manner that mainstream critics predict. I would respond to my son’s inquiry with some questions of my own.

If criminal justice proceedings that employ facts and evidence are met with such blatant, open hostilities as we see today, how can we claim to value those methods of adjudication? And if we do not value facts and evidence, what criteria will we choose instead to accurately judge these situations? By definition, the only alternative to judgment based on facts and evidence is judgment based on prejudice. How can we claim to be judging someone by the content of their character if this is the norm?

When all people, not just police officers, face the proposition that any use of deadly force for self-defense will invariably be met with a public outcry and racial controversy, regardless of the final verdict on the justifiability for that action, how will that engender feelings of safety and good will in racially diverse communities? How will neighbors come to regard each other when such occurrences foster the political-identity attitude that breeds racial and class antipathy?

How will the health and integrity of our public discourse fare when we automatically label as racists and oppressors those people who adhere to the principle of justified deadly force in self-defense, and express their support for those who exercise it? This abolishment of any possibility for active listening would seem only to neuter the freedom of speech.

As these new, changed norms spread and ossify, how long would we have before they start to permeate our legal institutions? How would the behavior of criminal justice officials change under the continual specter of riots and destruction? That change, for which the many loud activists clamor, may indeed produce outcomes that they find more agreeable, but would that be a testament to the triumph of some universal notion of justice, or would that be the result of acquiescing to those who most credibly threaten mass violence?

Even setting aside how I would teach my son, I wonder how his interpersonal relations should change as a result of us condoning riots. How can I advocate strict adherence to a principle of non-aggression when social or legal outcomes can be so easily and legitimately influenced by wanton violence? Is it wise to instruct my son only to use force in self-defense when I know that others will not hesitate to incite and partake in violence to achieve their political goals? And if he follows their example, by what criteria should he do so? What moral cause is great enough to warrant such action? In an act of disservice to the rest of us, the people now in the streets neglected to establish such a standard before commencing with their holy march, seemingly relegating the question of what constitutes a just cause to peoples’ fickle and subjective whims.

For some of these questions I can only speculate as to the answers; some of them are simply impossible for any intellectually honest libertarian to answer, as they invite only arbitrariness. Luckily for me, I am not yet in the position of having to confront these questions with an impressionable child, so I will focus on preventing such matters from becoming prevalent while I have the time. Granted, the issues of excessive force by police and civil asset forfeiture are being brought to the forefront right now, and we should refrain from pretending they do not exist; but of more immediate and fundamental concern should be a restoration of confidence in the use of facts, reason, and evidence to judge disputes. A justice system that operates by any other mode is really not a justice system at all—it perpetuates not a rule of law, but rule of man. That is not a world into which I would want to bring a child.

Public Education, and the Fight Against Indoctrination

Why do the supporters of public schools so abhor the idea of free choice and competition in the education industry? One of the more often-heard reasons is that allowing parents to send their children to alternative schools or to homeschool presents the unbearable risk of indoctrination. Indoctrinated children grow up to be dysfunctional members of society, so it is incumbent upon the rest of society to intervene and provide children with a standard, unbiased, and robust education, which the state is uniquely able to facilitate.

This concern by public school proponents about the risk of indoctrination seems oddly contrived, however, considering the ideology that informs public education policy prescriptions in the first place. The whole premise of public schooling is the instillation of knowledge not according to professional consensus, the scientific method, or the power of creative destruction, but according to ordained dogma of a political majority. This fact may sometimes be obscured by the implicit trust we have for our “professional” education bureaucracy, but remember that the bureaucrats are always appointed by the politicians.

That elections determine what we teach in school is an inherent volatility of public education which the system’s proponents are shockingly quick to tolerate. Does it not bother them, for example, that while evolution is currently the predominant theory of human origins taught in public science classrooms, it is possible—even likely, in certain localities—that a shift in the political winds could grant the power of crafting education policy to those who believe in the propriety of creationism as an alternative scientific theory? Having a free market in education would alleviate this volatility by allowing those who disagree to extricate their children from schools with such curricula and pursue alternative methods of schooling. Yet those who favor public schooling—a few on the right, but mostly on the left—abhor the idea of letting parents choose for themselves what kind of education their kids receive.

Why would people concerned with the education of their children expose themselves to such unnecessary risk? Why would they endlessly and restlessly struggle for control over education policy?

The explanation is simple: Public school proponents are not only concerned with the education of their own children—they are also concerned with the education of everyone else’s. As much as parents would love the freedom to teach their own children according to their own values and beliefs, having that freedom necessarily means granting it to others; but that means some parents could teach their children views which others find disagreeable. The only way for parents to have their cake and eat it too is the creation of compulsory public education, so that a majority of parents—busybodies—may teach their kids as they please while denying that same right to those without political power.

Paradoxically, their reliance on state power in the education sector displays both arrogance and diffidence simultaneously. So confident are they in the infallibility of their own ideas that they feel compelled to impress them upon all children in the pursuance of comprehensive and effective societal education, yet so insecure are they about the same ideas that they refuse to let their teaching methods and curricula stand alone in a free market without the aid of government force.

This paradox may be resolved, perhaps, by assuming that the individual consumers of education are too stupid to recognize infallible ideas, and that force is the only way to achieve proper education. If this is the case, however, then the ideas being forced upon people need not be valid or true, and consumers (voters) would have no way of holding education officials accountable for not providing true and valid curricula in the schools anyway.

Regardless of the particular rationale used to defend public schooling, we should ask ourselves—based on actions rather than words—who truly seems more worried about indoctrination? Those who believe in a competition of curricula and ideas, or those who seek to impose upon everyone else what they sincerely believe must always and forever be the correct worldview?

Border Crisis Highlights Lack of Effective Security Metrics

In the midst of the crisis on the southwest border involving the housing and free passage of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the White House continues to peddle the claim that President Obama has bolstered security of the U.S.-Mexico border, citing as evidence the increased number of apprehensions of illegal immigrants and the unprecedented number of border patrol agents employed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).[i]

Even disregarding the current crisis, the argument is laughable: 88 percent of the increase in border patrol agents took place even before Barack Obama took office.[ii] This blatant propagandizing provides a useful exposé into the (double) standards of the Obama administration: An economic anemia persisting five years after the transition of presidential power can be forever blamed on George W. Bush, yet enhancements to border security for which Bush was largely responsible are actually the accomplishments of his successor. As Pat Condell would say, “If not for double standards, they wouldn’t have any standards.”

Momentarily forgetting about the proper allocation of credit for border security enhancements, we can focus on a more pertinent problem: The southwest border is actually very unsecure.

This problem is obscured by the common floating of a few misleading statistics. In addition to the numbers on border patrol agents and border apprehensions, supporters of the President’s immigration policies often note the zero-to-negative growth rate in the population of illegal immigrants within the United States in 2011 and 2012 (though the growth rate has recently trended positive again).[iii]

Those who push these numbers commit a couple basic logical errors. First, they assume that because net growth of the illegal immigrant population is practically zero, the border is secure. But the number of people who illegally enter the country has no bearing on border security. The border is secure only when we have the capability to keep people out. The fact that people are choosing not to immigrate does not mean that, should they change their minds, they would be unable. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) attributes a considerable portion of the increased percentage of apprehensions to the decline in immigration which accompanied the 2007-2009 recession.

What is CBP’s actual capacity to apprehend illegal immigrants? Before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued changes to the methods for measuring border security in 2011, CBP used a gradient of security classifications to describe the security of the southwest border (see Table 1). The Border Patrol considered a particular stretch of the border to be under “operational control” if its security fell among the top two designations: “controlled” or “managed.” These designations were determined based upon the amount of resources and surveillance capabilities CBP has for a particular sector, and how useful those resources are in deterring or stopping illegal entries.

Table 1: Border Patrol Levels of Border Security 
Levels of Border Security Definition
Controlled Continuous detection and interdiction resources at the immediate border with high probability of apprehension upon entry.
Managed Multi-tiered detection and interdiction resources are in place to fully implement the border control strategy with high probability of apprehension after entry.
Monitored Substantial detection resources in place, but accessibility and resources continue to affect ability to respond.
Low-Level Monitored Some knowledge is available to develop a rudimentary border control strategy, but the area remains vulnerable because of inaccessibility or limited resource availability.
Remote/Low Activity Information is lacking to develop a meaningful border control strategy because of inaccessibility or lack of resources.

Source: GAO analysis of U.S. Border Patrol ORBBP documents.

A 2011 study by the Government Accountability Office, in examining the methods and results of the U.S. Border Patrol, found that of the 2000-mile southern U.S. border, only 873 miles were under “operational control,” and of those 873 miles, only 129 miles (15 percent of the border) were “controlled,” meaning that the Border Patrol has the ability to detect and apprehend all illegal immigrants upon entry. For the rest of the 873 miles, CBP was only able to apprehend illegal immigrants after entry (sometimes 100 miles or more away from the border). For most of the southern border, apprehensions upon entry range from difficult to impossible.[iv]

Since 2011, under direction of the DHS, CBP has abandoned the operational control metrics for assessing border security, and are currently in the process of developing new metrics. In the interim, CBP has used the number of border apprehensions as the standard of measurement for border security. As alluded to earlier, however, this method does not take into account our actual ability to repel entrants, and is too heavily influenced by other factors, such as the United States’ economic health, which partially determines how many potential immigrants attempt a crossing in the first place. In addition, CBP has not yet developed objective goals or targets that would indicate effective control on the border, and this lack of reliable measurements seriously “limits DHS and congressional oversight and accountability.”[v]

Aside from their relative obscurity and lack of accountability, however, the interim metrics’ main problem is that they are simply ineffectual: The GAO found that “studies commissioned by CBP have documented that the number of apprehensions bears little relationship to effectiveness because agency officials do not compare these numbers with the amount of cross-border illegal activity.”[vi] This is generally because, as apprehensions increase along one portion of the border, cross-border activities increase in other areas.[vii]

If the President and his DHS want to regain some semblance of credibility, they should reinstitute border security measurements for CBP based on well-defined goals, rather than sheer inputs or activities. Operational control was a good metric, but no matter what they ultimately choose, it should allow for congressional oversight and accountability to Congress and the DHS. Finally, despite the obfuscation on this issue, we should take this case of bureaucratic mishandling as a renewed impetus to secure the border.

[i] The Whitehouse. (2014). Border Security. Retrieved from: http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration/border-security

[ii] United States Border Patrol. (2013). Border Patrol Agent Staffing by Fiscal Year. Retrieved from: http://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/U.S.%20Border%20Patrol%20Fiscal%20Year%20Staffing%20Statistics%201992-2013.pdf

[iii] Pew Research Center. (2013). Population Decline of Unauthorized Immigrants Stalls, May Have Reversed. Retrieved from: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2013/09/23/population-decline-of-unauthorized-immigrants-stalls-may-have-reversed/

[iv] Securing Our Borders – Operational Control and the Path Forward: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security of the Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives, 111th Congress. (2011). (testimony of Richard M. Stana). Border Security: Preliminary Observations on Border Control Measures for the Southwest Border. Retrieved from: http://www.gao.gov/assets/130/125500.pdf

[v] What Does a Secure Border Look Like?: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security of the Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives, 113th Congress. (2013). (testimony of Rebecca Gambler). Goals and Measures Not Yet in Place to Inform Border Security Status and Resource Needs. Retrieved from: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM11/20130226/100300/HHRG-113-HM11-Wstate-GamblerR-20130226.pdf

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ordonez, K. (2008). Securing the United States Mexico Border: An On-Going Dilemma. Homeland Security Affairs. Retrieved from: http://www.hsaj.org/?special:fullarticle=0.2.5

Net Neutrality Politics: Moving Us Away from a Free, Open Internet

With the help of corporate sponsors like Netflix and Google, net neutrality has gone from being an unknown issue to garnering national attention. Like most fads, though, net neutrality’s popularity has grown far more rapidly than the public’s understanding of it, and people do not realize how unnecessary and destructive net neutrality policies actually are.

“Net neutrality” refers to a principle under which all types of information on the internet are delivered at equal speeds. In a neutral internet, an email from your grandmother will download to your computer at the same rate as a Netflix video. In a non-neutral internet, by contrast, some information could get prioritized, necessarily slowing the rest. Content producers (such as Netflix) and end-users tend to be in favor of net neutrality because they benefit from a vast diversity of content on the internet, and no one wants to run the risk of having their preferred content throttled (slowed).

Opponents of net neutrality tend to include internet service providers (ISPs), such as phone and cable companies, who believe that tailoring their networks to fast-track certain types of content could lead to better end-user experiences and cost savings.

The net-neutrality principle has been invoked in several pieces legislation and proposed administrative rules over the past eight years. Each of these acts would, to varying degrees, restrict the autonomy of ISPs. As a result, the term “net neutrality” now denotes a specific set of public policies, and not just a principle.

Like the proponents of many government regulations, net neutrality supporters will often invoke the public interest, the protection of some disadvantaged group, and/or the promotion of economic efficiency. Touchy-feely catchphrases like “keep the internet free and open” and “all bits are created equal” abound, along with the assertion that net neutrality will bolster marketplace competition by relieving the burden of bandwidth costs for startup tech companies. Proponents also assert that net neutrality will prevent ISPs from arbitrarily censoring (competitors’) content on their networks.

The proponents of such regulation seem to concede the benefit of market competition—a refreshing sign—but they fail to see the contradiction created by invoking it. Net neutrality is properly seen as a hindrance to competition, not a facilitator.

In order to compete in a market, companies must differentiate themselves in a way that satisfies the consumer. This is innovation. One method ISPs have to satisfy the wants and desires of their customers is to expedite the information their customers consume. The net neutrality regulations proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—recently struck down in January—would have prevented this, stifling innovation in the provision of internet services. As Larry Downes noted in November:

In all, the FCC’s Open Internet order itself cataloged a dozen major non-neutral technologies, protocols, and business arrangements that have long been necessary parts of the Internet. Sensibly and of necessity, the agency granted exceptions from the rules for each and every one of them, recognizing that the “open” Internet, at least from an engineering standpoint, was anything but. For the Internet to continue functioning at all, the rhetoric had to give way to reality.

But there was no way for the rules to preemptively grant similar permission to any future network optimization technologies, other than to caveat all of the rules with exemptions for “reasonable network management.” That term couldn’t be defined, however, meaning that any future innovations will require FCC approval before large-scale implementation.[i]

In other words, such an obstacle to innovation and experimentation in network management could spell higher costs and a far lesser quality of service for end-users and content providers alike. This seems like a terrible tradeoff, since even an absence of government net neutrality regulations would not prevent ISPs from adopting net-neutral practices; if consumers demanded such practices, they could simply switch from a non-neutral ISP to a neutral one. The same is true for content providers—not only the giant companies like Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon; smaller companies and (yet-to-exist) startups may also switch among ISPs if they believe that their content is being discriminated against. This would be a system of true market competition.

In response, net neutrality advocates quickly (and rightly) point out the monopolistic state of the broadband internet market. The FCC has reported that of the 132 million households in the United States, only 47 million (roughly 35%) have access to four or more video programming distributors (i.e., cable, satellite, and telephone companies); cable companies alone have a market share of 56% among these distributors, and of the roughly 1,100 cable companies in the United States, the top five of them (in market share) account for nearly 82% of all video programming subscribers.[ii] Given that all of these companies also provide broadband internet services to many of their customers, the ISP market looks incredibly uncompetitive.

The uncompetitive nature of the industry would seem to refute the argument that net neutrality stifles innovation—there’s no need for companies to innovate anyway if the market is cornered. Since Comcast and similar companies so effectively control their respective markets, there is virtually no recourse for a dissatisfied customer, which removes the normal incentives for companies to improve services and cut costs.

For most people, unfortunately, this is where the debate ends. Although many will concede the benefits of competition among ISPs, they dismiss those benefits as immaterial, since an effective monopoly exists in the largest markets. Now the only available option they see for ensuring fair or neutral business practices is for government to impose net neutrality upon the industry.

But this disregards the important question of how the industry became so uncompetitive in the first place. If the ISP market is naturally and inevitably monopolistic, it might lend support to net neutrality advocates. But if it is not, then net neutrality may unnecessarily stifle innovation and raise costs. Before we propose policies, we need to ask, “Why is there effectively a monopoly in internet service markets?”

Basic economic theory informs us that monopolies can only endure as long as no new companies enter the market to provide the same (or better) service at a lower price. So why haven’t more companies entered the market to upend the entrenched giants?

There are a number of up-front costs associated with starting a cable company and/or entering a cable market. Building the initial cable infrastructure is one of these costs, but another significant, yet often unmentioned cost is that of acquiring cable franchises. In most states, cable companies must obtain a cable franchise from each and every municipality in which they want to do business. Large companies can easily expand into new markets because they have lots of cash with which to pay licensing fees; but for smaller/startup companies, the licensing requirements present an insurmountable barrier to market entry. Encouragingly, 21 states have passed cable franchise reform bills, meaning that cable companies need only obtain one license to operate within the entire state. In the 29 remaining states, however, cable companies must still work through the old, inefficient system.

Evidence indicates that the entry of companies into previously uncompetitive ISP markets does reduce cable prices and provoke efforts from the incumbent cable companies to improve services. In response to entry by AT&T, which offers video services over telephone lines (and is thus not subject to cable franchise requirements), Comcast of Santa Rosa, CA, rushed to deliver “new features [video-on-demand, more channels] in Santa Rosa […]” In Houston, similarly, Comcast pledged to offer more “linear and high-definition channels, video-on-demand titles and digital phone features” following potential AT&T entry.[iii] A Bank of America study also observed basic cable price reductions of between 28% and 42% in areas of Virginia, Texas, and Florida where Verizon rolled out its FiOS video service.[iv]

The lesson from these stories is clear: Wherever ISPs are able to circumvent onerous cable franchise requirements and enter the market, services and pricing improve. The solution to the lack of market competition, therefore, is not to implement new government regulations, but to repeal the regulations we already have. Getting rid of cable franchising would abrogate the need for net neutrality while also improving consumer choice and quality of services. These reforms, not innovation-stifling net neutrality, will be a crucial step toward a truly free and open internet.

[i] Downes, L. (2002). What Verizon’s Net Neutrality Challenge Is Really About. Forbes. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrydownes/2013/09/11/what-verizons-net-neutrality-challenge-is-really-about/

[ii] Federal Communications Comission. (2013). Fifteenth Report. Retrieved from: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-13-99A1.pdf

[iii] Singer, H.J. (2007). The Consumer Benefits of Telco Entry in Video Markets. Retrieved from: http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/workshops/telecom2007/submissions/228100.htm

[iv] Bank of America Equity Research. (2006). Battle for the Bundle: Consumer Wireline Services Pricing.

Why Politics Isn’t “Cool” (and Never Will Be)

Politics is not cool—never was, never will be. This may be shocking to some, but allow me to explain:

“Coolness” is the province of the young, and young people do not like politics. Their attitudes toward it range from uninterested, to cynical, to hostile. They have repeatedly demonstrated their gross apathy and disdain for the political process through their well-documented, low voter turnouts. It would seem they view politics as, at best, a waste of time.

This is far from being a complaint—youngsters are right to hold this view! Politics is not fun, exciting, or exhilarating. The exuberance and dedication with which most people attend football, baseball, or hockey games will never be directed toward the reading of articles or studies; nor will most people ever find relaxation in the research/support of candidates, in writing letters to their representatives, or in the attendance of city council meetings.

Nevertheless, politicians across the political spectrum continually fetishize the youth vote. After the 2008 election, which saw a historically high voter turnout among the 18- to 24-year-old age group, some pundits and activists speculated on the rising political influence of youngsters. Rock the Vote, a progressive political grassroots organization, went so far as to proclaim, “No longer can pundits and politicians say we don’t vote. The face of our democracy is forever changed and young people have shown the world we are taking our country into our own hands.”

They conveniently neglect to mention that youth voter turnout still pales in comparison to that of other age groups, and that youngsters still comprise only 13 percent of the total voting-age population. What rationale is there for focusing a campaign exclusively on this miniscule subset of voters?

The politicians generally ignore this hurdle. Their rapaciousness for youth votes routinely manifests in memos and reports like the College Republicans’, “Grand Old Party for A Brand New Generation,” which abounds with proposals for attracting more young voters to the Republican Party. Unfortunately, these efforts miss the point: Youth vote obsession is ultimately a farce not because engaging youngsters requires impossible finesse or elevated technical/media prowess—though these factors may help or hamper outreach efforts on a superficial level—but because of a flaw in the youth campaign’s operating premises.

The conventional wisdom surrounding the prosecution of youth-centered campaigns has always been to “bridge the divide,” between young and old. The youth-savvy politician generally starts by asking youngsters “What issues are of interest to you?” with the intent of incorporating those issues into his campaign platform. Young people, however, being comfortable in their natural state of apathy and cynicism, are either unable or unwilling to acknowledge the influence of governmental policies on their lives. This does nothing to aid the politician in his aspirations—a disinterested youngster will neither vote nor campaign for him—so he must find some way to engage them.

Faced with this daunting task, most politicians will appeal to vanity. This is a tactic to which young people are disproportionately susceptible, as was painfully displayed during the purely juvenile response to the recent kidnapping of hundreds schoolchildren in Nigeria. As Kevin D. Williamson wrote in May:

Our politics, particularly among young people and those who interact with the world mainly through social media, is no longer about the world but about the self. It is mostly an exercise in what economists call ‘signaling,’ a way to communicate to friends, and to the world, that one is a certain superior kind of person.

This approach reinforces within youngsters the mentality that the highest virtue in politics is not the holding of true, moral, or consistent principles, but rather the maintaining of a political identity. In a world where self-worth is determined by one’s ability to attract the attention and praise of others, political preferences and positions will inevitably be shaped by adherence to consensus and conformity. The result is a rapidly changing basket of “important” issues—constantly being emptied and refilled by a never ending stream of fads and pop-culture movements—in which young people are only superficially engaged; and just as they do not assign importance to different issues based on principle, neither will they arrive at policy solutions based on principle.

Sadly, this is the state of politics among this country’s youth. However, there is a better way for youngsters to engage in politics:

They can grow up.

Politics is not meant for the young. The reason most 18-year-olds find politics repulsive is the same reason most 5-year-olds do. Like a career, financial stewardship and budgeting, home maintenance, and parenting, politics is an adult endeavor: Youngsters have not yet reached a point of mental maturation commensurate with the development of stable concepts of morality, diligence, and consequent notions of justice which are necessary for substantive political participation.

We can facilitate this maturation. Instead of coddling young people, pandering to their particular situations with promises of subsidized student loans, free birth control, or free health insurance until age 26, we can expect more from them. We can challenge their positions, we can scour their mental landscape for some semblance of principle and cultivate it, and we can encourage them to apply their principles across a host of issues which may, at most, bear only a tangential relationship to their lives.

Ironically, doing so will create for those individuals a far greater, more enduring identity than one which proceeds from constantly seeking acceptance and recognition through the charade of political involvement. It will also create an environment in which the youth outreach problem effectively solves itself, since adults, not children, inherently carry with them an urgency in addressing political issues.

If our goal is not to create a class of infantilized herd voters, but rather to cultivate independent and rational individuals, then we should end the practice of making politics cool, and champion the political process as something of intrinsic, productive appeal. If you wish to solve problems which reach beyond your own life, then politics may a viable avenue. If it is entertainment or acceptance that you seek, then politics is not for you, and we would ask that you please leave it to the grown-ups.