Government Tries to Shut Down Geneva’s Counterculture

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Subculture and counterculture are the backbone of the art world, challenging the established order and values, preventing the arts from falling into complacency and decadence. Much like a single party political system, a cultural scene devoid of counterculture is doomed to be stagnant, elitist, and ultimately counterproductive both to its own progress and to the fulfillment of its members. Yet, as valuable as this natural opposition to mainstream culture may be, local governments seem ever more intent on shutting it down for no better reason than conservative stubbornness and self aggrandizement.

A prime example of such egotistical government is the ongoing struggle that faces l’Usine (one of Geneva’s most notorious alternative haunts) and the Geneva city council. The abridged story goes as follows: about 20 years ago, a group of people took the initiative to make constructive use of an abandoned building that used to be part of a factory which has since fallen into disuse. They did it up at their own expense and developed it into an independent, non-profit cultural center with the sole aim of promoting the arts in all their forms. This, however, did not sit well with the city council, whose world view did not have place for such an organisation and they proceeded to pressure l’Usine to shut down over the years. This was neither the first nor the last clash that Geneva city council had with its local underground scene; over the past 10 years they have successfully shut down several comparable cultural venues, among which are Artamis and Rhino, but where others failed l’Usine triumphed in the face of adversity and has managed to stay open and active. Today, l’Usine serves an average of 5,000 persons per week (more than any other venue in the city) and provides a wide variety of social and cultural activities for the alternative community.

However, the venue’s future has now been put in question once more by Geneva’s city council; they have approved a new law that imposes numerous restrictions on the owners and operators of establishments dedicated to serving food, beverages, and hospitality. Among the many conditions it imposes on such establishments, it requires every bar within to have a separate alcohol vending license on grounds of public safety. They also require the owner, as well as every employee to be officially qualified to exercise their function (that is to say: be in possession of a certificate either granted or approved by the government). Furthermore those running the establishment must have the express authorization to do so from the owners of the premises to do so if they are not the owners. [Read more…]

The Coin Wars

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It’s on. The conflict of our generation has been sparked, and while the fire smoulders almost invisibly, this is going to be huge.

I’m talking about the recent Bitcoin seizure by the U.S. Federal Government.

Bitcoin is the world’s premier cryptocurrency, a completely online, private, decentralized store of value and medium of exchange that is notoriously difficult to track and hack. It rose to fame for its use on the Silk Road, an anonymous online black market of sorts. Bitcoin’s amazing surge in value, coupled with its ease of use as a replacement for the dollar and other traditional state-run currencies, gave rise to speculations that it could end up completely supplanting the global financial system. This would allow citizens of the world to completely avoid funding the government, either directly through taxation or indirectly through printing money.

It’s all more than just speculation now. The government is getting worried. First it was Government Accountability Office addressing taxing Bitcoin. Now, with the Bitcoin raid over the purchase of illegal substances, the cryptocurrency’s time in the spotlight has begun.

And it won’t end peacefully. Here’s why:

First, attempting to track and tax Bitcoin will prove extremely difficult. This means that widespread taxation just won’t happen. As such, in order to secure obedience, the government will have to use “shock and awe” to scare users either into voluntary tax compliance or into abandoning cryptocurrency altogether. Such methods will probably include confiscation or destruction of assets, arrest, and imprisonment for many.

Second, the government has no other alternative. The state is maintained not through voluntary funding, but rather through threat of violence. If cryptocurrency becomes widespread, governments will lose virtually all their funding, and will no longer be able to exist as they do now. Their very survival depends on stopping, or controlling, Bitcoin.

The future isn’t certain, and even though I always bet on human ingenuity and freedom, we can’t see how this situation is going to play out. But one thing’s for sure: a great conflict is upon us. Even though the couple of skirmishes so far remain below the public radar, the struggle has been set in motion.

Begun the Coin Wars have…

Recycling Interrupted

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This article originally appeared in Doublethink Magazine

Sometimes, when presented with a global problem, humanity comes together in a beautiful way to deal with the challenge while benefiting all. Other times, government regulation prevents the problem from being solved. This is a story of the latter.

Technology has advanced at a furious pace over the past several decades, rendering electronics obsolete after just a few years. The panicked frenzy to keep up with the latest technological advancements has produced a unique and challenging consideration: recycling. As electronic equipment that was once top-of-the line is discarded in favor of the latest and greatest, all that outdated hardware has to end up somewhere. Every environmentalist’s worst nightmare is gargantuan heaps of electronic waste ending up in landfills, sickening the planet as the piles grow higher everyday.

Enter the market. A scrappy group of eco-friendly entrepreneurs has risen to the challenge of handling discarded electronics without causing an ecological disaster. One such individual is Robin Ingenthron, whose Vermont-based company Good Point Recycling tackles the e-waste problem by collecting used electronics and ensuring that they are either refurbished or responsibly recycled. Ingenthron and his kind have found a way to simultaneously deal with this environmental problem and create jobs.

All this good, clean, environmentally-friendly fun does hit one small snag: Cathode Ray Tube, or CRT, monitors and televisions. This piece of technology has the nasty combination of being both outdated and notoriously difficult to recycle on account of the leaded glass it leaves behind. The difficulty of disposing of CRTs is only amplified by the popular demand to get rid of them, with flat-screen TVs and monitors taking their place. A few intrepid recyclers have developed means of removing the lead from CRT glass so that it may be recycled properly, but they are few and far between. [Read more…]

Do We Need Nanny?

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Are we as a people able to take care of ourselves, or do we need managing and planning in order to live happy, successful lives?

The question comes to the forefront as New York City’s mayor (and meddler-in-chief) Michael Bloomberg’s controversial ban on large soft drinks was smacked down. While New Yorkers everywhere (but mostly in New York) celebrated their newly rediscovered consumer freedom, news host and notorious gun control advocate Piers Morgan had to rain on the parade, suggesting that “people need the nanny state occasionally.” He was dead wrong… but also strangely right.

Wrong, because the government has no right to tell the people how to run their lives. Because certain people don’t have ownership over certain others. Because a bureaucrat is completely oblivious to the everyday needs, thoughts, and considerations of the average person, and can’t possibly make an accurate decision to further the citizen’s goals. Because a person will seek to fulfill his or her needs regardless of legal obstacles.

Right, because thinking is hard work. Because personal liberty also comes with personal responsibility. Because making our own best decisions, and standing by them, is a frightening prospect, and even the wrong decision by another is safer than having to make the right one ourselves. Because, even if we manage to secure liberty, right at this moment we don’t deserve it.

Photo credit: Dan Iggers

Man vs. State: Milk

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A Minnesota farmer arrested for selling milk. Raw milk. Such a horrible crime. But wait, he’s been acquitted. What just happened? Why should we even care?

As it turns out, a lot just happened. And we definitely should care, because this incident is a classic case of the struggle of Man vs. State, a struggle we’ll be seeing much more of in the coming years.

First, State accosts Man. Alvin Schlangen did nothing wrong, dangerous, or harmful to society. He did, however, cross the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, a government agency that exists under the presumption that it will keep the people safe through regulating agriculture. Unfortunately, it all boils down to a power struggle. Selling raw milk was criminalized using nonsense health concerns to conceal the real motivation: control. Government agencies exist to exert control and power over the people. The more control they are authorized to exercise, the more power and funding they get. For this very reason they criminalize innocent acts such as the selling of raw milk, the livelihoods and consumer choices of peaceful citizens be damned.

But then, in an inspirational new development, Man counters Sate. The traditional wisdom that laws are for the protection of society is beginning to crumble, and the people are wising up to the reality that nonsense laws like the raw milk ban are nothing more than jack-booted oppression. And now they’ve figured out a tool to defeat oppressive laws: jury nullification. The jury in charge of convicting Schlangen, knowing full well that he was guilty of the law of which he was accused, chose not to convict him. Not on the basis of the written law, as they were supposed to do, but rather on the basis of the moral law. Put another way, the people are finally realizing that the state isn’t on their side.

And really, when a government throws you in jail for fresh cow’s milk, something’s already gone terribly wrong.

(Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis)

How Can We Really Help the Poor?

No good deed goes unpunished.

The now-famous picture of a New York City policeman giving a pair of boots to a homeless person touched hearts all across America, bringing an onset of that warm, fuzzy, Christmastime elation. Everything was feel-good about it. A selfless act of pure, unadulterated charity for society’s weakest. An officer of the law proving to be an everyday hero, implicitly assuring us that the system works, and that public servants are really good people. Everything works out if we just care a little and give a little… right?

Wrong! As it turns out, the homeless man in the picture already sold the boots, and is barefoot once more. Not only that, he is seeking monetary compensation for appearing in such a popular picture (a “piece of the pie,” as he put it). Merry Christmas everyone!

Other than killing our collective joy with a harsh dose of reality, this unfortunate story illustrates a much bigger point: wealth redistribution doesn’t work. Simply giving to those who have less doesn’t solve poverty.

So what does work? How do we really help those less fortunate? Allowing the poorest of the poor a way to get out of poverty themselves.

Lower taxes, so even the smallest wage can be enough, and so businesses have more money to hire more workers. Deregulate business, so hiring workers is easier and less risky. Both of these actions will also lower the cost of doing business, and therefore lower the prices of goods and services, allowing even a meager income to prove sufficient. Finally, instill a culture of self-reliance and hard work, so that only those either categorically unable or completely unwilling to work won’t find employment.

No problem is easy to tackle, and poverty is certainly no exception. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who said that the poor will always be with us? However, that doesn’t mean we can’t reduce poverty until it’s basically a non-issue. Remember, thought, that it can’t be done without patiently building a business climate conducive to both hiring poor workers and providing them with cheap goods and services. As feel-good as simply throwing money at the problem may be, all in all it’s only good for a photo op. The poor deserve better.