When Government Offers You Lemons, Grow Avocados

In North Carolina there has been a surge in home schooling that is attributed, in this article by EAGnews.org, to parents’ rejection of the Common Core curriculum. According to the article, there has been a 27-percent increase in the number of home schools since 2011-12, and the number of children attending home schools now exceeds the number attending private schools. The best news is that over 180,000 children in North Carolina are attending either private schools or home schools, and therefore are not being indoctrinated by government schools.

I hope that, even when North Carolina makes the changes to the curriculum discussed in the article, parents keep their kids out of the government schools. One reason they’d be likely to do this is that they have already overcome the anxieties and obstacles associated with starting the homeschooling process, so they’re already more comfortable with it. Parents everywhere need to realize that Common Core is just the latest step in the government takeover of education; what existed before Common Core likely wasn’t much better in terms of content or pedagogy. More importantly the government school system, founded upon compulsory taxation and other forms of government force, was just as immoral before Common Core. For more on this topic, read “The New Abolitionism” by C. Bradley Thompson.

If only there were an analogous alternative for those of us wishing to escape the effects of Obamacare! (Unless you are a doctor who can afford his own hospital equipment and hire a private nursing staff, home medicine is not a realistic alternative.)

Fox News reports that a (slim) majority of Americans continue to oppose Obamacare. But this is little comfort to those companies who want to continue to offer quality health insurance to their employees while avoiding the so-called “Cadillac Tax.” In order to avoid the tax, employers are “shifting workers into plans with higher deductibles,” and “increas[ing] premiums for spouses who have access to other plans.”

From the article:

Robert Laszewski of Health Policy and Strategy Associates said he doubted many will end up paying the tax.

“What we’re finding is almost no employers are going to be hit by this ‘Cadillac tax.’ You’d be stupid to get hit by this ‘Cadillac tax,’” he said. “They’re all cutting their benefits right now.”

Already the “Cadillac tax” has been delayed, due to pressure from unions and other groups with political pull. Between the delay, and the fact that employers are cutting plans to avoid the tax, government won’t be getting the revenue it projected, which means Obamacare will cost a lot more than we were told it would. Nothing new for government, unfortunately.

A bit of good news from China: an entrepreneur there has modeled the solution to the problem of minimum wage hikes: cute robots that cook and deliver food in restaurants, each costing only $6,500. In China, that’s “roughly equal to the salary of a human employee.” Here, the salary of an employee is over twice that. Moreover, according to the robots’ inventor, restaurant owner Song Yugang, “The robots can understand 40 everyday sentences. They can’t get sick or ask for vacation. After charging up for two hours they can work for five hours.”

So, while I completely support the option some restaurants are choosing–adding a “minimum wage surcharge” to their tabs to show customers the effect of minimum wage increases–these cute robots make the same point in a way that avoids confrontation, and saves the employer a lot of money and headaches.

Bonus: you don’t have to buy a healthcare plan, “Cadillac” or otherwise, for a robot :)

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Because You Need It: A Foreign Policy News Sandwich

As I start writing this post this evening, I have only one good foreign policy news story: in a short story posted on the Wall Street Journal’s web page, we are told that, “Egypt’s administrative court on Saturday dissolved the political party of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and ordered its assets liquidated….” Yes, despite our government’s attempt to put the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt, the better people in that country continue to marginalize their “Freedom and Justice Party,” whose leaders, we are told, “had already been accused, and in some cases convicted, of murder and inciting violence.”

Apparently, while our former President, Jimmy Carter, is calling for the recognition of a terrorist organization, Hamas, as a legitimate political entity, Egypt is declaring their former president, Mohammad Morsi, to have been himself part of a terrorist organization. And while their former President sits in a jail cell facing charges that include “conspiring with foreign groups to destabilize Egypt,” our former President, who has done quite a bit to destabilize–in fact, destroy–our country, goes around getting free air time and, no doubt, large speaking fees, to spread utter bile and help finish the job.

Egypt is pretty much a news oasis in the Middle East at the moment. In Iraq, a group of savages known as “Islamic State” (also ISIS or ISIL) “has captured large swaths of Iraqi territory” in just a couple of months, engaging in brutal executions of innocents and, according to reports, threatening to bring death and destruction all the way to the White House. President Obama, who this week authorized air strikes and other aid to Iraqis in the fight against ISIS, has indicated a “likelihood of an enduring U.S. military involvement in Iraq.” Because it worked out so well the last time we had an enduring military involvement there. The combination of Bush’s and Obama’s policies in Iraq have helped produce ISIS. I can only imagine what a purely Obama orchestrated military involvement will produce there.

I was hoping that I’d read something in Israeli Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest interview, or in news reports about his visit to the United States, that amounts to good news. But unfortunately Netanyahu–whose main concern should be the defense of his country–is apparently having to spend time pleading with U.S. lawmakers to help make sure Israel is not hauled before an international body for “war crimes.” As I’ve said many times, I agree with Yaron Brook, who reiterated the point on my show last night: insofar as there are deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza, those deaths are the fault of Hamas, the aggressor in this conflict. I wish Netanyahu, who is defending his military operation as “proportionate,” would speak more like Joan Rivers.

For more good news this evening, we must leave foreign policy. My usual go-to subject for good news is the world of technology and innovation, but tonight this story from Copenhagen caught my eye. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with pedestrian bridges and the like. In Copenhagen, according to Wired, they have just made it easier for those who commute on bicycle–over half the population!–to traverse a portion of their route near a waterfront shopping area. The “Cycle Snake,” as it is being called, is an attractive, spacious, elevated cyclist roadway. In terms of functionality, safety and aesthetics, it would be enough to get even me, a lover of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, to try commuting by bicycle.

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A Facebook News Sandwich

Wired UK reports that Facebook has created a “Connectivity Lab” dedicated to bringing the internet to remote areas via a network of “flying drones, satellites, and infrared lasers capable of beaming internet connections to people down here on earth.” As Wired notes, the news comes within days of Facebook’s acquisition of gaming headset manufacturer Oculus, which Facebook plans to use to develop virtual reality enhancements for its social network.

A recurring theme on News Sandwich is the celebration of innovation, particularly in an economy struggling to survive after the lashings it has received from the last few presidents. But I find Facebook’s investments especially heartening because they are explicitly aimed at the long term: “[W]hile discussing the Oculus buy, Zuckerberg painted both projects as platforms that represent not the near future of Facebook, but the distant future.”

Innovative tech industry leaders are even more important today, because we are depending on them to figure out ways to protect our privacy until we can either elect the right politicians and win the right court cases needed to achieve major changes in the law.

Remember when Obama promised to end the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program “as we know it”? Well, as I suspected, so far it’s just a bunch of hot air. If you dig down into this New York Times story, entitled “Obama to Call for End to N.S.A.’s Bulk Data Collection,” you will learn, first, that “the administration has decided to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the program as it exists for at least one more 90-day cycle”—i.e., at least another three months of the program as it is. Then, the plan is apparently to do exactly what Obama previously admitted was not a real solution: require the phone companies to retain the metadata. The only difference, apparently, is that the data will be retained for only 18 months, whereas the NSA is currently collecting and retaining data for five years.

Hmmm, 18 months. Just enough time for Obama to finish up his term, leave office, and even help the next democrat get elected.

Conspiracy theories aside, it is wrong for the government to force companies to retain this data even if, as the New York Times reports, “federal regulations already generally require [it].” Moreover, even assuming (as I do) that phone companies have a legitimate business reason to retain some metadata for some period of time, it is wrong for government to be able to obtain that data without probable cause and particularized suspicion.

What was perhaps most disappointing to me about Obama’s announcement of, essentially, nothing, was the news that Edward Snowden hailed Obama’s proposals as a “turning point.” Am I missing something? I just don’t see that requiring phone companies to do the government’s dirty work makes a bit of difference. Is Snowden trying to negotiate a plea bargain with Obama?

With Obama seemingly determined to keep his toys, and Snowden dropping the ball, I turn to the tech industry innovators and leaders to develop ways to protect our privacy in the current legal context. And I am hopeful that Mark Zuckerberg will do his part. In a recent post on Facebook, Zuckerberg wrote:

The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.

I’ve called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future. Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.

So it’s up to us — all of us — to build the internet we want. Together, we can build a space that is greater and a more important part of the world than anything we have today, but is also safe and secure. I’m committed to seeing this happen, and you can count on Facebook to do our part.

Whatever complaints I have about Facebook—the ads, the default settings or notifications I don’t always like, the confusing changes in news feed and profile layouts—I commend Mark Zuckerberg for continuing to innovate for the long term, and for committing to protect our privacy, despite governments that seem intent on violating it.

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