Train Wreck – Conclusion

In this third installment, I intend to come to a close with commentary on the East Palestine train derailment and put it in context with some of the larger issues American society is dealing with today.  It is not without a sense of irony that I chose the title for this three-part series.  Train Wreck is an apt description for many different industries and institutions in our country.  

By way of review of the East Palestine incident, let me first state what I think can reasonably be considered as facts.  First of all, there seems to be no dispute that the original derailment was caused by a broken axle or wheel bearing failure as evidenced from fire seen from video footage recorded by a doorbell camera on a home about a mile and a half ahead of the derailment.  Secondly, some expert opinion suggests that the hazardous material clean up could have been handled differently, and better.  Third, this is no time to be complacent about railroad safety in general.   Statistically, it is not getting better.  Among other things, the number of derailments is unacceptably high.

The problems in the US railroad industry are not confined to safety.  To most people, US railroads seem stuck in the past.  The rest of the world seems to have no problem providing high speed passenger rail service.  While other nations are getting more service from its railroads, we are getting less.   As stated in the previous columns, American railroads are eliminating track, not building more except in extremely rare instances.  

The railroad industry is not alone.  

The American steamship industry is an industry that has suffered a permanent decline from 50 years ago.   There are less than 200 U.S. flag merchant ships out of the roughly 40,000 that serve the U.S. every year.  Most of these are operation within U.S. territory.  The shipyards that build merchant ships are all in other countries.  Some of these problems are self-inflicted.  Our maritime law has been outdated for generations, but Congress has been unable to act. 

While the safety record of regulated passenger airlines has not deteriorated, there are signs of cracks in the foundation of our air transport system: flight delays, cancellations, and near misses on runways.  The underlying cause appears to be a shortage of pilots and air traffic controllers.   The other often overlooked problem is regulatory inefficiency and capture.  The FAA has drug its feet on ADS-B, on a Remote Tower Pilot Program that is well advanced in Europe, the NOTAM infrastructure, and reform of the Passenger Facility Charge.  The money is available, but it is often awarded to contractors who want to build the old technology which is currently profitable instead of systems that will take us into the future.  Many of these programs have been pushed in Congress since the Clinton Presidency.

Our national highway system is straining under the weight of a growing, more mobile population.  Most Americans are familiar with stories of bridges collapsing.  New, more stringent hours of service regulations have been imposed on truck drivers while rest areas have become overcrowded leaving them with no place to get the required sleep.  Even water mains and natural gas pipelines are underbuilt and deteriorating.

There is no question that misallocation of resources is a major factor in this disfunction.  The Congressional infrastructure bill was more of the same problem that has occurred for decades.  We get less with more.  Originally, replacing the Brent Spence bridge over the Ohio River was supposed to cost 1.2 billion dollars.  Under the infrastructure bill it came in at 1.7 billion.  An extra $5 billion is a lot of money.   

Complex systems are fragile.  Our transportation system and infrastructure, even our whole economy that is based on purchasing goods manufactured overseas and being delivered to the door, is a very complex system.  Once one piece breaks down, the rest quickly falls apart.  

Do we have the intellectual capital in this country capable of running these complex systems?  I was speaking to some relatives on my wife’s side of the family this week. The oldest daughter, going to be a junior in high school, is getting multiple letters from colleges because of her 4.3 grade point average and high early SAT score.  She is also a fantastic athlete, but the rules don’t allow athletic departments to recruit her just yet.  She told me, “I don’t read books”.  Now, I understand, she and her parents are incredibly busy between attending school and her athletic pursuits, but I had to ask.  How do you get such a high-grade point without reading books?  The answer, of course, was the internet.  It makes me wonder though.  Do the teachers still read books, or is all their teaching from the internet or tik-tok? 

Do corporations have high standards anymore?  Diversity, equity and inclusion, DEI, is not just a talking point on social media.  It is real.  I have read dozens of annual reports from corporations that have sections devoted to DEI.  On the surface, DEI seems aimed at laudable goals, but as an alternative value system to measure corporate success, they fall short.  Understandably, merit itself can be subjective.  For the college educated entering the work for the first time, who determines what is the right college?  Is the grade point average really the best indicator of future success? DEI is even more subjective, and any measurement of DEI doesn’t necessarily correlate to the commercial success of a business.  In many corporations DEI has become an end to itself and on that basis, the corporation deserves to fail.  Has the movement for DEI gone too far in replacing corporate goals that have real social utility with goals that encourage employees concern with their own self-interest and not the interest of the company which pays their salary?  Ultimately, the success of the company is measured by its success with its customers.  Have we forgotten how to measure true merit within a company and in society at large?  Which approach does a better job encouraging customer satisfaction?  How can DEI better perform the function of success than financial measurements of income growth and profitability?

What about greed?  Certainly, it’s across all levels of society.  Corporations have merged, consolidating industries to the point that no competitive alternatives exist.  Greed exists in government, which will soon manifest in a push for increased taxation, but currently is showing itself by the creation of money out of thin air, which is driving costs up across the board, not to mention the entities with their hand out for more and more money, such as universities, defense industries and the medical establishment. The more subsidies they get, the more they raise their prices.  Greed manifests itself in government when bills are passed to spend more money on projects than is needed, not just enhance a project beyond simple utility, but to reward friends, donors and families of politicians. Greed manifests itself in corporations when they destroy their competition, and then oppress their customers and employees with high prices and poor service when they have no place left to turn.  We have to understand that our country depends on its railroad system for its prosperity and even survival.  If it becomes clear that Vanguard and Blackrock are destroying the infrastructure of the railroads they own for short term profit as opposed to long term viability, does the government step in? 

I am a minimalist Libertarian.  George Washington said, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”  It is clear from other writings that Washington thought government was necessary, but it also seems abundantly clear that he would prefer the least government possible, and that he would have agreed with Thomas Paine, who wrote, “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”.  What is the least government possible?  It depends on the citizens. We are at a time when we have to answer a question that America has had to answer numerous times throughout its history.  Can we govern ourselves?   Let’s hope we will be able to prove that we can, once again.  To do so will require the highest level of commitment and competence from its citizens.    

John Stewart – At-Large Member, FCLP

Train Wreck – Part 2

The opinion letter published last month covered the state of the current rail industry and the factors
which would lead to the East Palestine derailment and the “1000 derailments a year” mentioned by the
current DOT administrator. This month I’ll focus on the disaster response and then summarize what this
incident symbolizes for our nation as a whole and its economic health.

Was the East Palestine incident handled properly?

The fiery derailment occurred Friday, February 3rd . On Saturday, February 4th, East Palestine Mayor
Trent Conaway declared a state of emergency, citing a “train derailment with hazardous materials”, and
requested residents evacuate. Air quality was being monitored throughout a one-mile evacuation zone.
On Sunday, February 5th, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued an "urgent evacuation notice" to anyone
who had not yet evacuated within a mile of the train derailment. The warning was issued after a
dramatic temperature change was noticed in a rail car in the wreckage of the crash. 1.)

On Monday, February 6 th , fire impingement to the VCM tank car exterior caused the liquid temperature
to rise near the boiling point. To prevent a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion (BLEVE), crews
began a controlled release of the liquid VCM. VCM was released from five rail cars into a trough that was
then ignited, creating a large plume of black smoke over the village of East Palestine. After completing
the controlled release, crews began the "wrecking" process, in which the empty tank cars were moved
off the tracks and relocated to a safe area nearby.

A link to a podcast posted March 7 th with chemist and safety professional Stan Siranovich is included
here: Please take the time to listen
to it when you can. I will try to summarize.

As I understand it, Siranovich is saying that the drastic action taken by the response team could have
been avoided, specifically the act of burning the VCM in a trough next to the tracks, which released it
into the atmosphere and the water table. What should they have done?

The accident happened on Friday, February 3 rd . During that first day, they should have laid out
containment booms and absorbents around the cars to contain the liquids. If they could not get enough
absorbents, they could have used dirt to absorb spilled material and hauled the dirt away later. Then they
should have begun spraying cars with water to get the fire out and the temperature down.

The residents could have been evacuated on Saturday; not wait until Sunday. The one mile radius was
appropriate. They should have told the residents it would be for four or five days before the cleanup
was done. Clean up would have been nearly complete after those four or five days, as opposed to the
long drawn out process it has become now.

Stan Siranovich is implying that the approach taken by the NS and Ohio authorities was taken in haste
with a lack of planning and training in a bit of a panic. The VCM did not have to be released into the
atmosphere or water table because the containment measures and fire mitigation would have taken
place immediately. You do not have to panic from the threat of BLEVE if you understand the basic
characteristics of the chemicals involved and you take the right steps at the right time with a sense of
There should have been a method available to drain the tanks. The best cleanup for the VCM would
have been to haul it away, preferably in rail cars if possible, and either sent to be incinerated or sent
back to the manufacturer to have it processed for future use. Pouring on the ground and burned into
the atmosphere was not the best choice if the right steps taken early on Saturday, In order for that to
happen, a game plan would have had to be already in place, and there needed to be a person on site
who knew what to do. The hot bearing took an hour before anyone noticed, but the disaster happened
quickly. It is not obvious that there was someone on site immediately who had the experience to know
what to do and the authority to do it. The cleanup was more costly and less efficient than it could have
been. The chemicals are now disbursed in such a way that they will stick around in the environment for

Stan makes additional comments that go right to the heart of the matter. It tracks closely with the
actions taken on the ground during the entire East Palestine debacle. He has noticed a degradation of
expertise in the industry as a whole; a lack of quality in professional education, a lack of experience from
the ground up in the leaders of today’s industry.

There is misallocation of resources throughout the American economy today. If we were truly a wealthy
country and we didn’t waste it, infrastructure would be at the top of the list. We do not have logistics
and supply chain operating at 21 st century worthy excellence. VCM is a material of ordinary commerce.
Millions of pounds are shipped every year Unless we want to go back to the stone age, we need to learn
how to handle it and live with it. We also need to train and properly compensate those who will carry
out the mission. We need faith and trust in the men and women who operate the businesses every day,
whether they are union or middle management.

Is corporate greed at play here? It would certainly look like it could be a factor, but let’s not leave
government greed out of the equation. Too often, our government representatives are not public
servants as much as extortionists extracting money from industry and constituents that they spend on
pet projects elsewhere. There is a great deal of simple, sometimes ordinary but sometimes
sophisticated, corruption. Let’s also not forgot that the worst corruption and disasters occur when
corporate greed and government creed feed off of and support each other. This is termed fascism, and
it's not the way we want to describe our country.

I sit here today composing this opinion piece one month after the East Palestine derailment. The story
has stayed in the news. On March 2 nd , it was reported that rail workers involved in the East Palestine
clean up are coming down sick from the toxic environment. This news came after several days of
political stunts designed to ensure people that the water and air is safe. Last night, another Norfolk
Southern train derailed in Springfield, Ohio, in Clark County, less than a four hour drive from East
Palestine. News reports were aired on Columbus television news of a derailment in Delaware County
that happened months ago but which still hasn’t been cleaned up. Norfolk Southern derailments in
Michigan and Alabama have also just been reported. Yes, this story does not seem like it wants to go
away. I don’t think it should. This story should stay in the news and our consciousness as long as it
takes to fix the problems it represents. We need to demand better.

Some references for this article:… Train Basics
ABCs Of Railroading The people who work on trains

John StewartAt-Large Member, FCLPO

Three Books on Health Care Policy

Medical Apocalypse – the dramatic climax of a very bad horror movie.

The United States has massive problems to solve.  I believe the collapse or corruption of our health care system, our financial system and our election system are the most important to us as libertarians.  Any one of these three issues could destroy the country.  At the very least, our economy and our ability to compete on the world stage have been severely compromised. These issues feed directly into an unsustainably high cost of production which is in turn caused by an unsustainably high cost of living.  America’s costly and inefficient medical system is a major factor.  The result of a high cost of production is a reduced standard of living.  Our health care system is destroying us.Some would make the argument that the failure of our health care system is a failure of the market.   To them, the government must step in to solve the crisis. This is just flat out wrong.  Our health care system is anything but a free market.  What it represents is the failure of government intervention.  Health Care system reform must be a priority for our communication and our candidates.  We must insist that our candidates are educated about the problems and solutions and can explain them well.    We should be communicating as a political party to get this message out and calling out other party candidates and office holders for not providing leadership.  I think the three books I’m about to highlight can provide a foundation for this knowledge and drive home to all of us why this issue is so critically important.    

Priced Out by Uwe Reinhardt was published in 2019, two years after his death.  Reinhardt was the James Madison Professor of Political Economy and Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton.  He was highly regarded by mainstream participants in the health care discussion. His life’s work, including this book, made a clear case that the U.S. Health Care system is a chaotic mess.  Hospitals have pricing and economics that very few people understand, and that includes administrators, doctors and patients.  Reinhardt is a master at breaking down the key metrics to explain the American system and “why it costs so much more and delivers so much less than the systems of every other advanced country.” If you have a desire to wonk out on the economics of health care in the U.S., Priced Out is an excellent choice.A forward for the book was written by William Frist, MD., a Republican from Tennessee who served in the Senate from 1995 to 2007 and as Senate Majority Leader from 2003 to 2007.  Being a heart and lung transplant surgeon by occupation, and a student of Reinhardt, Frist understood the financial complexities and the ethical considerations discussed by Reinhardt.  In the forward, his respect and admiration for Reinhardt is obvious.  

Reinhardt’s analysis of our health care system made him the darling of Congress and mainstream stakeholders.  His grasp of detail and complexity was impressive, but it gave perfect cover for politicians and members of the health care establishment to avoid changing the system.  There are many that benefit from a needlessly complex and dysfunctional system.  This grasp of detail is actually a central flaw in his analysis.  He made it too easy to for politicians and medical professionals to say, “you know, it’s complicated”, or “we did the best we could” or “you can’t change it over night” and “you can only do so much”.  

The second flaw is a central organizing philosophy of Reinhardt’s life’s work, which he considers the fundamental question: “As a matter of national policy, and to the extent that a nation’s health system can make it possible, should the child of a poor American family have the same chance of avoiding preventable illness or of being cured from a preventable illness as does the child of a rich American family?”

William Frist certainly thought the answer was yes.  It is clear he was a fan of George Bush’s compassionate conservatism philosophy and proud of his role in it.  In his forward, he claims credit for writing and passing PEPFAR, The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a framework by which the U.S. government provides money for medical programs, mostly in Africa.  It was launched in 2003.  Since its inception, the United States government has funneled roughly 100 billion dollars into various programs using the authorizing legislation of PEPFAR.  This vast expenditure has mostly had the effect of enriching pharmaceutical company executives and others at the top of the world health food chain while leaving death and destruction behind it.  In my opinion, the record of experimentation and blatant exploitation on the people of Africa is well documented in Robert F. Kennedy’s book which I will mention last in this piece.  Frist should be more ashamed of the PEPFAR program than proud of it.  He seems like a good man.  I wonder if he would concur. 

Frist and Reinhardt are both misled by the central organizing question.  It’s the wrong question phrased in the wrong way leading to the wrong outcome.  It allows politicians to make themselves feel good about themselves by imposing their moral compass on other people.  The question uses phrases like “national policy”, “nation’s health system”, “poor” and “rich”.  The question is a shaming device and implies force to make some people pay for other people’s health care.  The question does not raise any consideration regarding individual responsibility for health of themselves and their children.  The question of cost of the “nation’s” health care is only vaguely referenced and left open ended to an unlimited expense.  What is included in a “nation’s health system”?  Does it include agricultural policy and the incentives for more healthy food as opposed to less healthy food choices?  Does it include food as medicine as opposed to only relying on pharmaceutical drugs?  When American political leaders authorize vast expenditures of money for a continent thousands of miles away, does it ever occur to them to follow up to ensure that money has been put to a good use, not to an evil one?

The problem I see in Reinhardt’s book is not intended as a criticism of the whole work.  He does give an unbiased and tremendously insightful look at the data.  It is a great book to study regarding the problems in our health care system. 

The Price We Pay by Marty Makary, MD, is another great work, also published in 2019 (with an update in 2021).  This book is probably more accessible to the average person than Reinhardt’s book.  Makary is a great story teller.  He is not trying to address every aspect of health care.  His primary focus is hospital system billing practices and the shocking abuse of the low-income wage earner.  Many hospitals systems, and especially the not for profits, sue patients for non-payment of invoices and have the courts garnish their wages.   The patients have no way to know in advance what the cost of the service will be and little they could do to avoid them.  Almost no one understands any particular hospital’s price structure.  Makary mentions one hospital that has over 3,000 contracts, each with a specified discount.  That’s 3,000 different prices for the same medical procedure!  

Makary’s mission has been to lobby Congress over the last couple of years to force hospitals to display their prices in a similar way that food labels are required to include nutritional content. He has achieved some success with this initiative, but unfortunately this success is little known due to being drowned out by the tsunami of Covid information.  Marty Makary’s book is relevant today, and maybe more relevant today after the revelations presented in the third book and last book I’m reviewing.      

The Real Anthony Fauci by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was published and released to the public in late 2021.  This is a highly controversial book. It blows the lid off the many individuals using science and medicine for their own selfish or evil purposes.  It pulls no punches in accusing Big Pharma and its supporters in government run Public Health agencies of conspiracy, probably criminal, but at minimum worthy of termination of employment and public disgrace.  The conspiracy described is the push for vaccination at the expense of all other public health measures.  The motive for the conspiracy is simply greed and power.  The amount of wealth gained by the perpetrators is immense. The damage to the world’s health is immeasurable.  Kennedy’s book is comprehensive, detailed and exceptionally well referenced, but whether or not the accusations are true, there is no doubt that the leaders of the CDC, NIH, NIAIA, FDA and the majority of the health care establishment will push back. They cannot allow this attack on their actions, motives and reputation to stand.

However, this opinion piece is not about the conspiracy.  It’s about the reform that was discussed in the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations but never got resolved.  It never got resolved because liberals have made nationalized, government run health care one of their signature goals, while conservatives and libertarians have been adamantly opposed.  It never got resolved because the criminal conspirators are masters at covering their tracks and concealing the true problems.  It never got resolved because the military industrial complex and the medical industrial complex came together as a nearly unstoppable force in public policy.  The mess we are in today might have been avoided if the right discussions had taken place and we had come to the right conclusions.  Unfortunately, a better solution has not been advocated strongly enough.  We have an opportunity to make a difference because at this point it is painfully obvious to many Americans that government involved health care is dangerous and doesn’t work.  

This system deserves a radical destruction/restructure, but it isn’t always productive to be viewed as too radical.  Fortunately, we can play the Jinga game as well.  There are blocks that can be removed which can dramatically bring down the whole system.  

My favorite goal advocating a small change with big potential to upset the system is to remove any tax advantage for insurance provided by an employer.  This hoary chestnut of a health care policy has been around since right after World War II.  It was promoted by employers to counter union organizers who were advocating health care benefits for union workers.  It has become a Frankenstein monster.  It has enabled insurers to reduce cost by marketing primarily to businesses while only offering crappy, expensive products to individuals.  Over time, this system has created a barrier between the individual and the health care system while HIPPA laws have created a barrier between the health care system and the employer to hide the true cost of the medical from the employer and the employee.  While allowing the insurance fox to guard the medical establishment hen house was in their best interest for a while, it has even begun to work against them.  The medical insurance industry has eaten all the chickens.  Costs have gotten so out of control that insurance companies have nearly destroyed themselves.  Removing the tax advantage for the employer provided insurance over insurance provided to individual will over time put the individual back in charge of his or her health care.  Medical providers will not be able to hide the cost of their services and patients will be enabled to negotiate the price of the services they receive before the service is provided.

The health insurance industry will need to be deregulated in an additional way. Private enterprise would normally elect to offer insurance against events over whose outcome the insured possesses no control. One cannot buy insurance against suicide or bankruptcy, for example, because it is in one’s own hands to bring these events about.

Because a person’s health, or lack of it, lies increasingly within his own control, many, if not most health risks, are actually uninsurable. “Insurance” against risks whose likelihood an individual can systematically influence falls within that person’s own responsibility.

All insurance, moreover, involves the pooling of individual risks. It implies that insurers pay more to some and less to others. But no one knows in advance, and with certainty, who the “winners” and “losers” will be. “Winners” and “losers” are distributed randomly, and the resulting income redistribution is unsystematic. If “winners” or “losers” could be systematically predicted, “losers” would not want to pool their risk with “winners,” but with other “losers,” because this would lower their insurance costs. I would not want to pool my personal accident risks with those of professional football players, for instance, but exclusively with those of people in circumstances similar to my own, at lower costs.

The current laws take none of this into account.  Laws, mostly state but some federal, place legal restrictions on the health insurers’ right of refusal — to exclude any individual risk as uninsurable — so the present health-insurance system is only partly concerned with insurance. The industry cannot discriminate freely among different groups’ risks.

As a result, health insurers cover a multitude of uninsurable risks, alongside, and pooled with, genuine insurance risks. They do not discriminate among various groups of people which pose significantly different insurance risks. The industry thus runs a system of income redistribution — benefiting irresponsible actors and high-risk groups at the expense of responsible individuals and low-risk groups. 

To deregulate the industry means to restore it to unrestricted freedom of contract: to allow a health insurer to offer any contract whatsoever, to include or exclude any risk, and to discriminate among any groups of individuals. Uninsurable risks would lose coverage, the variety of insurance policies for the remaining coverage would increase, and price differentials would reflect genuine insurance risks. On average, prices would drastically fall. And the reform would restore individual responsibility in health care. 

It is good news for libertarians that this initiative is primarily a state issue, an arena in which libertarians can compete on more equal footing.  It is state legislatures that have succumbed to pressure from special interest groups to force insurance carriers to provide coverage for the special risks of their constituency.  This is precisely the reason most conservatives want to remove laws that prevent companies from buying insurance across state lines.  If individuals or companies could buy out of state insurance, it would make the legislators pay attention to what anti-competitive restrictions they are proposing that hurts the insurance companies in their own state.  Not a bad idea.  As our contribution, we can provide the platform upon which state legislators are evaluated.

All licensing requirements for medical schools, hospitals, pharmacies, and medical doctors and other health care personnel must be eliminated. Their supply would almost instantly increase, prices would fall, and a greater variety of health care services would appear on the market.

Competing voluntary accreditation agencies would take the place of compulsory government licensing — if health care providers believe that such accreditation would enhance their own reputation, and that their consumers care about reputation, and are willing to pay for it.

Because consumers would no longer be duped into believing that there is such a thing as a “national standard” of health care, they will increase their search costs and make more discriminating health care choices.

Government restrictions on the production and sale of pharmaceutical products and medical devices must be eliminated. This means no more Food and Drug Administration, which presently hinders innovation and increases costs.

Costs and prices would fall, and a wider variety of better products would reach the market sooner. The market would force consumers to act in accordance with their own — rather than the government’s — risk assessment. And competing drug and device manufacturers and sellers, to safeguard against product liability suits as much as to attract customers, would provide increasingly better product descriptions and guarantees.

Eliminate all subsidies and special privileges to pharmaceutical companies and hospital systems.  Without a doubt, this means eliminating all liability protection laws currently in place for the pharmaceutical companies.  This liability protection and subsidies from Congress given to the NIH, CDC and others seems to only have encouraged them to make people more sick than to try and cure them, if Robert Kennedy’s book has any truth within it.  Subsidies create more of whatever is being subsidized. If you subsidize ill health you encourage ill health.  Subsidizing ill health promotes carelessness, indigence, and dependency. If we eliminate them, we would strengthen the will to live healthy lives and to work for a living.    

We will have to take a hard look at Medicare and Medicaid and highlight any provisions that seem to encourage carelessness with one’s health.  Money should be spent on programs which educate people on healthy living, such as providing it to social service agencies to help the poor navigate the new insurance and health care landscape.  However, force should never be used to make individuals do things which they do not believe is in their own best interest.  We need to take a hard look at agricultural regulations to be ensure that individuals have the information and freedom to make healthy food choices.

The solutions section of this article borrowed heavily from one that originally appeared on Mises.org

John Stewart – FCLPO At-Large Member


For last month’s newsletter, I submitted the first of a two part series.  The first part featured two trending concerns: the death of personal liberty and the death of money.  This second part of the series focuses on the third trending concern, the death of democracy.   To be blunt, the topic could just be called election fraud, because that’s what this article is about.  Without honest and reliable voting, democracy does not exist. 
Election fraud has been a concern of all political parties for quite some time.  Democrats complained bitterly about the results of the 2000 election.  Legislation called the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, was passed in 2002 in response to their complaints, most of which fell under the rubric of voter suppression.  This legislation offered Federal aid and guidelines to states to encourage them to upgrade to electronic voting systems.  A key provision was that a permanent paper record of all elections would be produced by the machines to ensure the votes could be audited. 
Democrats were back complaining after the 2004 elections.  In the 2005 joint session of Congress to certify the electors, Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Stephanie Tubbs, D-Ohio, objected to Bush’s Ohio votes.  That caused the chambers to leave their joint session and debate separately for two hours. Neither chamber voted against certification [1], but House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) praised Boxer and Tubbs for bringing up the objection.  She said, “Today we are witnessing Democracy at work.”  John Conyers, the Democrat Congressman from Detroit, was one of 31 members of the House who voted not to count the 20 Electoral College votes from Ohio. Conyers wrote a book citing his Party’s claims of election fraud called ”What Went Wrong in Ohio: The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election.”  I read the book in 2005.  I believe a copy is still somewhere in my house. 
The conversion of America’s voting system from paper to electronic did not go well, like most federal programs.  Critics complained that the funds were misappropriated, giving contractors too much money for building handicap accessibility and leaving too little for upgrades to electronic systems.  The electronic systems purchased were foreign produced or cobbled together from off the shelf software.  Many counties did not meet the deadlines for conversion specified in HAVA.  As states scrambled to comply, security was not the highest priority.
During the Obama years, Democrats were sufficiently satisfied with election results.  The Federal government did not make voting systems a priority as states quietly went about changing over their systems and refining their procedures to comply with HAVA mandates and guidelines.  The U.S. Constitution, after all, gave state legislators the right to determine the time, manner and place for federal elections.  Republicans seemed to be satisfied working at the state level.  However, after Trump was elected in 2016, the Democrat criticisms began again.  The Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, asked for recounts in several states.  Republicans complained that Stein was secretly acting on behalf of the Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton.  In early 2017, at least six House Democrats objected to the Electoral College: McGovern, Raskin, Jayapal, Barbara Lee, Jackson Lee and Maxine Waters.[2] 
During the Trump administration, enough time had passed since HAVA for the technology of some of the voting systems to become outdated, and for enough data to be collected to take a serious look at the systems on a national basis. There was growing concern.  It became apparent to many observers that machines had been purchased by various county boards of election whose officials for the most part lacked the expertise needed for the analysis and selection of modern data collection systems.  Numerous articles and studies were published indicating that the machines were insecure and could be hacked physically or remotely. 
In 2020, both Democrats and Republicans were concerned about the integrity of the upcoming election. It is well known that Donald Trump sounded the alarm on numerous occasions, primarily about the ad hoc procedures being developed for mail in ballots due to the coronavirus “crisis”.  In August of 2020, Hillary Clinton stated, “it is imperative that Biden does not concede the election no matter what the vote tallies are” [3].   The election did not go well. This was not a surprise.
The Republican objections to the 2020 election encompass six issues:

  1. insecure voting machines
  2. restrictions on the ability of poll watchers to do their job.
  3. alleged illegal acts by election officials and poll workers who closed the polls in the early morning hours of November 4th around 3:00am on false pretexts, sending the poll observers home.  When official counting resumed during normal business hours on November 4th, large leads for Trump had become leads had suddenly become leads for Biden.  
  4. Data analysis showing statistical impossibility for the vote tallies to occur as they did when they did.
  5. Error and fraud inherent in the new procedures for mail in ballots that were created because of the Coronavirus epidemic.
  6. Violations of law in creating these new procedures, specifically Article II of the U.S. Constitution.

On November 4th, I was called by a friend of mine, a graduate from the University of Chicago with a degree in economics and a successful hedge fund manager.  Highly agitated, he gave me a convincing case for the 4th objection listed above.  Sophisticated statistical analysis convinced him that the vote count in Philadelphia was fraudulent.  I had already been reading about other mathematicians who were making the same case, so it didn’t take much for me to believe him.  Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito had already issued Philadelphia an order to segregate ballots which had been handled in violation of the law.  This order was ignored. 
Eager for answers, I started looking for any information available.  I knew there was a group in Ohio whose members were strong supporters of Trump, so I went to their website, and I’ve been following it since early November.  I am not going to attempt to explain the six issues of doubt I listed above, but I am going to provide the two sources where you can read the explanations for yourself.  The Trump supporter’s website is  Day after day, week after week, they have been laying out a case that the election had been stolen.  There is a massive archive of videos and articles archives on this website just about the 2020 election.  The evolution of thought from late fall to now of these people is also interesting. 
The best summary of the events before, during and after the election from someone who was on the inside of Trump’s team is at This blog, written by self styled libertarian Patrick Byrne, lists the posts necessary to read on the opening page.  It is important you read all of them, and soon, because it may be soon taken down.   One of the posts incorporates a New York Times video and editorial which illustrates the non-partisan concern over voting machines just after 2017.  Patrick Byrne makes it a point to tell his readers to watch the video in its entirety. 
I know it is hard to swallow the idea that some massive conspiracy could pull something like this off.  Articles have been written about how ridiculously hard this would be.  These articles are false.  In one of his blogs, Patrick Byrne says something like, “go to any college and ask a political science professor how you can steal an election and he will tell you, ‘all you have to do is capture the votes of six metropolitan counties in six key swing states’”.  According to the Trump team narrative, this is in fact what happened. 
One of the strongest influences towards me believing that this fraud occurred is the massive gaslighting by the conventional media outlets and the Democrat Party.  Many times they mention “false claims”, “without evidence”, etc.  This can’t be true by any stretch of the English language.  In the first place, there are dozens of affidavits sworn by people under penalty of perjury who allege to have seen election fraud.  There are computer experts who have offered to show how to unequivocally prove or disprove whether ballots were fraudulent.  There are many data experts and mathematics PHDs who can show certain patterns of vote totals in this election which are impossible.  The media could use terms like “alleged fraud” or “without credible evidence”, which would be somewhat more truthful, but they don’t.  They just claim the evidence was never provided, which is on its face a lie.  They could say it is bad evidence, but not that there is no evidence.  They simply don’t want the people to hear the case for a fraudulent election.  The Democrats call the Republicans traitors and insurrectionists for using the same Constitutional procedures to certify the electors in a joint session of Congress that they themselves utilized many times before.  As usual, the hypocrisy of both political parties is appalling and almost laughable.
Let me repeat what I said in my article last month.  This is not about Trump.  Trump did one thing right in his last year in office.  He let the laboratory of states devise their own plans to combat the Coronavirus pandemic instead of trying to impose a federal dictatorship as Biden is prepared to do.  Other than that, many of Trump’s decisions in 2020 were abysmal.  He was disorganized and unprepared for another term.  I believe he would been a lesser evil than Biden, but there is no way to know for sure. 
This is about the one essential thing needed to preserving self-government, which is arguably the finest achievement of humans, and that is the right to vote in a representative form of government.  We need to learn everything we can about the current process and make our voices heard.  Right now, the Democrats are ready to push another bill through Congress that will fundamentally change the character of our Republic.  It is a disastrous bill, but it is so important to Joe Biden it is House Bill 1.  It is not an easy thing to do, but Libertarians have got to be serious and active in preserving the integrity of the vote.    We know that Republicans and Democrats can’t be entrusted with any thing of value.   

John Stewart, Member At-Large, Franklin County Libertarian Party


It’s time for Libertarians to be serious.  While libertarian philosophy has had some success, such as more realistic and rational drug laws and enforcement, there are three macro trends converging in 2021 that can take us far in the wrong direction.  It may take decades, or even lifetimes, to fix the damage.

On the surface, personal liberty in the United States seems reasonably healthy, but there are termites in the foundation.  2021 is the year that foundation could crumble.  The problems have been going on for 20 years.  Most older libertarians are very aware of the damage to liberty that occurred after September 11th, 2001.  We remember the Patriot Act, thousands of pages appearing before Congress within days of the attacks, which had already been written and sitting in a vault before being brought to Congress for a vote.  It was passed overwhelmingly on short notice with no time available for it to even be read, let alone discussed, by members of Congress.  The citizens ability to travel was severely curtailed.  Vestiges of the policies implemented remain to this day, and none of the policy infrastructure has been reversed.  There are financial controls associated with the Patriot Act that are available to severely restrict the ability of the American citizen to transfer wealth outside the country.  Medical tyranny has replaced common sense health care and threatens to restrict our freedom to a much greater extent.  Vaccinations are not being forced on grown adults at the moment, but it is easy to envision a turn of events to that result.  Few people are asking hard questions about vaccines that were developed in less than a year for a virus that has never been isolated.  We have never created vaccines for Ebola, SARS or HIV, viruses that have also never been isolated (and in the case of HIV, there is serious controversy over where such a virus even exists).  The push toward vaccination can also severely curtail our freedom of movement.  The recently amended quarantine act of Canada states that anyone coming into Canada will have to be examined/tested by quarantine officers and also must accept any proposed treatment from them.  If anyone refuses to be screened they can be arrested and detained without warrant.    The rise of socialist sentiment in this country has been attacking another foundation of personal liberty, private property.  A recent article in the socialist magazine, The Jacobin, called for an end to all inherited wealth.  Articles such as these are wildly popular.  Subscriptions to The Jacobin have been one of the fastest growing of any publication.  Small business has been severely damaged by Covid lockdown policies.  Small business is another foundation of personal freedom being destroyed, yet barely a tear is being shed for the destruction of life savings for these small business owners. It is not just the liberty of the business owners at stake.  The jobs they provide are also the foundation of financial freedom for the individuals that work for them.

There are many more attacks on personal liberty any one of us could list.  Each of these attacks could be the subject of an article all by itself.  But, let me move on to the next trend coming to a head in 2021, the death of money.

The national debt is around $80 Trillion Dollars, with other worldwide sovereign debt approaching $300 Trillion.  None of the figures for the debt mentioned above include promises not on the books, such as social security and other government financed retirement programs.  These figures do not include personal debt or corporate debt.  The reason the U.S. government and other sovereign nations have a debt is because they spend more every year than they receive in tax revenue.  So, when the Trump administration signs off on a corona virus relief bill, it is not sending the taxpayer’s money back to them.  That money has already been committed.  Some people like to say that it is money borrowed from China.  That’s not exactly true either.  The Chinese government stopped investing in U.S. treasuries over the last couple of years.   So, where does the money come from?  Well, some of it is debt owed to real people who have loaned their savings to governments in order to protect their retirement and inheritance for their children in what they thought was a safe place.  The Chinese government still owns bonds that it purchased years ago.  It is still hoping its investment is safe and will be returned.  It is still receiving interest on this debt.  However, most experts realize all this debt can never be repaid.  There will have to be a default or a restructuring.  It is difficult for the U.S. Government to find people to borrow from these days.  So where does the new money for things such as Corona Virus relief come from?  We all know.  It is simply created by entries in a computer.  So, what is the real value of this money that has nothing behind it and doesn’t represent the accumulated savings from the real labor of real people?  That’s a good question.

This is one of the reasons so many millennials and the generations after them have turned so to socialism, whether they are consciously aware of it or not.   They have been told social security will not be there for them.  They are vaguely aware that hyper-inflation is a distinct possibility.  The only option to pay back this debt is by devaluing the dollar by creating more of them out of “thin air”.  If money is that easy to create, why not just create enough to give everyone a universal basic income and a living wage?  That’s another good question.

The problem with this line of thinking, as I see it, is that money is a measure of value.  Up to now, we have had 7.5 billion people determining every day the value of goods and services.  This is the fundamental basis of a free market economy: price discovery.  If the government gives you money, it will determine what is the value of your labor and the goods and services you produce. It will be a tyranny of a few elites, not the independent and free choice of the masses.  The death of money is the death of freedom.

The final macro trend, the death of democracy, is being played out as we speak.  If the recent Presidential election does not make you doubt whether elections are free and honest, you haven’t been paying attention.  You haven’t been doing your homework.  This is something maybe I will be allowed to write about next month, but just understand this.  If the will of the few can manipulate the vote to over ride the will of the majority, there is no democracy.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just about Trump.  It isn’t.  There is more at stake in the events unfolding this month than you can possibly  imagine.

John StewartMember At-Large, FCLP

Moving from “It’s Complicated” to “It’s Manageable” on 2A

“We have to do something”, “There ought to be a law” and “It’s complicated”; these are clichés that by their actions people are applying to the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As far as the first one goes, we have far too many instances of applying the wrong solution to a problem and making it worse instead of better. As far as the second, you don’t hear that cliché much anymore; probably for the same reason. “It’s complicated” – now there is a statement that is certainly true in this case, but if you listen to enough ideas (there are plenty of them out there), and think logically about how to apply them while still respecting the 2nd Amendment and our civil liberties, the path becomes clear and the complicated becomes manageable.

The first time I ever shot a rifle, I was about ten or eleven years old. I wasn’t a Boy Scout, at least not literally. This was at church camp! No thought about killing anything crossed my mind. It was all about target practice. It was a lot of fun, just getting better at it. I’ve shot more bullets as ten and eleven year old than I have as an adult.

So why not ban assault weapons? Most of you know the answer to this, so I won’t spend much time on it. The bottom line is, you ask anyone who advocates banning assault weapons to define an assault weapon, and the answer will generally be that it’s a gun that looks mean and scary. The A in AR-15 doesn’t even stand for assault. It stands for Armalite, the original designer of the AR-15. Basically, the AR-15, now manufactured by Colt, is a rifle that is lightweight because it uses lighter alloys. The legal version of the Semi-Automatic AR-15 shoots one bullet for each pull of the trigger. The main reason it has become the most popular rifle is because it is light weight and accurate. Banning the AR-15 would be banning a weapon that most people would find effective, and is pretty much like banning the modern rifle.

Let’s talk first about the 2nd Amendment. One talk show host pointed out the irony that many of his liberal friends who consider Donald Trump an autocrat who could easily become a tyrant, yet they want a gun ban. That is precisely when someone should NOT want a gun ban. The primary reason for the 2nd Amendment is a check on government. If you only look at the second half of the 2nd Amendment, and take it literally, you would think that there is no reasonable regulation on weapons. However, the first part of the 2nd Amendment makes it clear that the purpose behind the Amendment is a check on tyrannical government. “Well-Regulated” implies that the Amendment is not meant for violent anarchists that want to destroy all government. It implies responsibility in gun ownership, and the ability to replace a bad government with a good government. However, you can’t infringe on the right of gun ownership to the point where a tyrannical government can preserve itself at the expense of life and liberty of its opponents. We have a scary government right now. We should be very concerned about preserving this freedom because of that fact.

We live in scary times as well. That is the reason we have gun violence; the guns aren’t the reason. If you take away the means of self-protection, you leave a vulnerable population defenseless. This is not the time for emotional and illogical regulations on gun ownership. “Those calling for gun control have little interest in taking real steps to promote public safety and well-being”, said Dean Rieck, Executive Director of the Buckeye Firearms Association, “Instead, they use gun control as a political hammer to … organizations like ours. It’s a disingenuous tactic to do fundraising, but they are doing nothing at all to address real-world problems.”

One “real-world problem” is that “Gun Free Zones” simply invite killers to attack. Killers tend to avoid locations where it is made known that armed personnel are present. Are there any reasonable steps that can be created to protect our children in school? There has been a lot of talk centered on big, expensive government programs that involve police officers, security guards and physical barriers similar to public airports. We may not have any choice but to go this route if we don’t change some of the fundamental issues in our society, but there are a lot of problems with it. For one, it definitely does not seem like a good environment to educate children about civil liberty and a free society. However, Florida has already announced a $500 Million program. We will see this approach tested. Maybe we’ll get used to it.

The second problem is worse: debt. Our state governments are generally in precarious financial position. Our public schools are in worse position. The Federal government is in debt more than at any time in history. This has to be funded at the local level, which means additional property taxes or a drastic cut back in educational opportunities and extracurricular activities. What we are faced with in our very large public school systems is just becoming day care prison for children that provides very weak educational opportunities.

There is another way if a school district and state are willing to embrace self-reliance and individual responsibility. A second talk show host educated us on the fact that First Responder, a term first used by Jimmy Carter, is a misnomer. The real First Responders are those who are already on the scene. Studies have shown that it takes a minimum of four minutes for law enforcement to arrive on the scene of a crime. One of the students of Stoneman Douglas said that his coach, who died in the shooting, would have confronted the gunman had he been able to carry his firearm to school. It has been shown that harm is greatly mitigated when permit holders are allowed to carry concealed firearms in schools.

Many states have been very successful taking this approach. Argyle School Independent School District in Texas decided in 2014 to allow highly trained members of their teachers and staff to carry guns on campus to prevent mass shootings. Sheriff Paul Cairney described the process on MSNBC after the Stoneman shootings. “At Argyle, everyone is a volunteer; no one is forced to carry a weapon. The volunteer has to be approved by the principle. Next, the sheriff conducts a one on one interview with the applicant to determine their mental ability and motivation to carry out the task. Finally, the volunteer gets a psychological evaluation, the same one given to sheriff’s deputies. After passing those checks, the volunteer moves on to 3-5 days of very intense formal weapons training.” The Tom Woods podcast episode 1101 interviews novelist and former firearms instructor Larry Correia, who does a great job explaining the success of similar programs in his home state of Utah.

Ohio also has regulations which allow a school district to authorize teachers to carry weapons. Again, from Dean Reick, “the fact is, gun owners ARE doing something. We’ve been doing something for years.” One program featured on their website, “FASTER Saves Lives” is the obvious example. FASTER provides educators with intensive violence response and trauma first aid training. Classes are provided at no cost to schools, funded through private donations. To date, more than 1,300 teachers and staff from 225 districts across 12 states have received this training, including educators in 76 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Up to 400 additional educators are set to go through training in 2018.” At one point it looked like Governor Kasich was leaning in this direction. It might be a ruse. A politician who thinks they are the only adult in the room is a pretty scary person.

Maybe Washington can do a few things to placate the anti-gun proponents, but it is not promising. Trump asked a logical question. Why are handguns restricted to 21-year-olds but an 18-year-old can buy a rifle like the one that was used in Parkland? Unfortunately, I think he probably has the logic backwards. I believe Trump is implying that any weapon should be restricted for purchase only to 21-year-olds. Someone should ask him right back, why should someone’s 18-year-old daughter, trained in firearm use, who has a restraining order against an abusive ex-boyfriend, not be able to defend herself with a handgun? If Washington passes a law that makes room for younger people to use and train with a weapon, even if they don’t own it, with ability of the parent or guardian to allow them to borrow their weapon, and with shooting ranges allowing weapons to be rented, it may be OK. I’m not sure you should hold your breath. It would be better to get on the phone and call your representatives.

As much as possible, we should leave Washington and the state capitol out of it. This is a problem that should be dealt with on a local basis. If the security of the school where your kids go is not satisfactory, you must find another school or gather parents together who will insist that the current one changes its policies. Find a smaller school where teachers know the students better. Lobby to break up the big school districts. Stoneman Douglas High School has over 3,100 students, a massive school where it would be easy for a disturbed youth to fall through the cracks and go off the deep end. Private schools and home schools where there the teachers and administrators know their students should be much more available. These mass shootings never seem to happen in a private school, and they obviously don’t happen in an on-line school. We need to lobby for a change in the tax laws so that parents can deduct the money spent on private schooling from their local taxes, thereby encouraging the growth and development of small private schools. Private schools are not restricted by separation of church and state. Religious instruction seems to be sorely needed in our country.

This conversation needs to go beyond guns to answer the question of what we are about as a nation and how we lost our way. The same questions need to be asked and answered about our educational system. Another talk show host mentioned the fact that all the first day news coverage of the Parkland shooting spoke about how Nikolas Jacob Cruz was probably the victim of bullying, and grew up in a very troubled young life. Then, that description was dropped because it didn’t fit the media narrative. Why can’t we make changes in curriculum that would encourage and develop understanding and compassion? There is a terrible shortage of trained social workers in this country. Classes in Social Work could pave the way for a job and career, and have the added benefit of teaching the students the scientific causes and cures of destructive behavior. How about other classes that encourage self-respect and actualization in students? Why do we as a nation believe in self-defense? The actor Richard Dreyfus is deeply disturbed by the elimination of civics curriculum in schools. He has formed a non-profit organization called The Dreyfuss Initiative to push for change, and he makes a tremendous case for why this should be done. (See his Ted Talk here: ).

Fixing this problem is complicated. There is no easy solution, no one size fits all solution, but there are several good ones. You probably won’t find many of them in Washington. The federal government is one institution that has not earned the right to interfere in this issue. That is also true for our state government, but, unfortunately, state laws can interfere with doing the right thing at the local level so some laws may have to be changed. The educational system needs to be transformed. An industrial age bureaucratic educational system does not work today. At the same time, some curriculum, such as civics, were abandoned and need to be restored. Let’s roll up our sleeves and start the change from the ground up.

More at

John Stewart, Member At-Large
Franklin County Libertarian Executive Committee