Monthly Archives: March 2012

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Mr. Stolyarov Quoted in Article on Verizon Spectrum Acquisition

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Categories: Economics, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 27, 2012
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I am pleased to have again been quoted in Heartlander Magazine, this time in the article “Verizon Spectrum/Cross-Marketing Deals Hit FCC Roadblock” by Kenneth Artz. The end of the article is devoted to my remarks regarding the advantages of the FCC allowing companies to harness currently unused wireless spectrum.

I have always strongly supported judging each issue on its own merits. The ability to focus on the impact of a particular transaction or measure – without letting it be clouded by surrounding tangential or even unrelated matters – is a major reason why, for instance, I support line-item veto power for the President and a legislative germaneness rule to prevent the packaging of any number of unrelated measures. The same principle should apply to the deliberations of the FCC.

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Eliminating Most Foreclosures: An Innovative and Just Approach to Mortgage Delinquencies

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Categories: Economics, Justice, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 25, 2012
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The economic and personal consequences of foreclosure are devastating. Foreclosures leave behind not only blighted neighborhoods, but ruined lives. Furthermore, during the past three years, immense abuses of the foreclosure process have come to light – with numerous banks being found to have improperly foreclosed on thousands of homeowners. The banks have either been unable to produce documentation that demonstrated their right to foreclose – or, worse, have foreclosed on individuals who were never even delinquent or did not have mortgages in the first place (see, for instance, here, here, and here). The violations of due process, private-property rights, and the rule of law have been astounding.

At this point, any solution that can reduce the number of foreclosures will be a welcome benefit to individual liberty, the US economy, and millions of Americans. Indeed, the concept of foreclosure – the expropriation of one’s home – resulting from a few late payments has always struck me as draconian. It disregards one fundamental fact: the homeowner has equity in his or home, even if he or she fails to make a few scheduled payments. So, suppose that a homeowner has a $150,000 outstanding mortgage loan on a home whose market value is $200,000. This means that the homeowner’s equity in the home is $50,000 – or one quarter of the home’s value. If the homeowner fails to make a $1000 hypothetical monthly payment on time, why is the bank entitled to appropriate the entire home and thereby deprive the homeowner of the entire $50,000 in equity? Suppose, as is often the case these days, that the foreclosure proceedings drag on for a year. A 5000% annual rate of interest for that one delinquent payment is quite steep indeed!

While delinquencies ought to be penalized, wholesale expropriation of a home is an unnecessary and disproportionate response in most cases. It would not have been possible on a truly free market, where roughly equal negotiating power would exist between lenders and borrowers. In today’s politicized financial environment, however, the large banks receive all of the privileges: bailouts, loan guarantees, access to “free money” from the Federal Reserve, barriers to entry for smaller competitors, the ability to “securitize” personal loans through means of dubious accountability, the ability to flout laws such as those pertaining to mortgage modifications, and a swiftly operating “revolving door” between bankers and politicians. Thus, homeowners are often left to acquiesce to terms that are far harsher than what they could have gotten for themselves in a truly free market.

A more equitable solution, that recognizes that the real value of the homeowner’s equity, is not to foreclose, but rather to reduce the homeowner’s equity for each delinquent payment. If the homeowner fails to make a scheduled payment, then the bank should be able to recoup its resulting losses – by seizing the portion of the homeowner’s equity corresponding to the amount of the delinquency, perhaps also incorporating an interest charge at the prevailing market rate. Only when all of the homeowner’s equity has been exhausted in this way should the bank have the right to foreclose. In today’s housing market, where many homes are “underwater” (i.e., the mortgage balance exceeds the market price, which has declined precipitously since the days of the housing bubble), this solution would still mean that some foreclosures would occur. But the number of foreclosures would be greatly reduced, and the majority of currently planned foreclosures would never occur. Furthermore, the “underwater” homeowners could still be helped by downward principal modifications that recognize the illusory and unsustainable nature of the inflated market prices that existed during the housing bubble and that were fueled by the expansionary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve. Homeowners should not be made to suffer for the Federal Reserve’s blunders.

Under my proposed approach, the mere involuntary loss of one’s job, or a catastrophic illness, would not put one’s place of shelter in immediate jeopardy. Rather, in the time that it takes for the homeowner’s equity to be exhausted, the homeowner would have the opportunity to attempt to regain his or her employment or health. Furthermore, with fewer foreclosures, the unsightly, wasteful, and dangerous effects of neighborhood blight would be greatly scaled back. A homeowner will still largely maintain his or her residence, even if he or she cannot make a regular mortgage payment. But once a home enters foreclosure, it suffers from deterioration and decrepitude at best – and outright vandalism and destruction at worst.

In rolling back the political privileges of the large banks, it is essential to compensate ordinary, law-abiding, innocent homeowners for the damage that these special privileges have wrought. The benefits of years of hard work and consistent mortgage payments should not be nullified overnight by a single delinquency. Over a year ago, in “Wrongful Foreclosures and the Free Market”, I advocated breaking up the bailed-out banks and declaring a temporary moratorium on foreclosures. Rewriting foreclosure law to require the exhaustion of the homeowner’s equity before a foreclosure can be initiated can be another step to wipe out most foreclosures at the stroke of a pen – while restoring an outcome more compatible with individual liberty, true market freedom, and natural justice.

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The Death Penalty: Its Limitations, Costs, and Proper Application

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Categories: Justice, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 24, 2012
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With regard to my recent advocacy of keeping the death-penalty option on the table when considering punishments for George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin, I was asked to clarify my views on the death penalty, about which I had previously expressed ambivalence in my video “Life Extension, Crime, and Criminal Justice”.

I am indeed wary of most applications of the death penalty, where the commission of the act of killing by the individual being sentenced is in doubt. But I can see legitimate uses for it in cases where the identity of that individual is clear, and the crime was particularly egregious. (Serial killings, rape-murders, killings of children where the murderer is known would qualify, for instance, as would executions of brutal dictators whose human-rights abuses are extensively documented.)

There is a cost aspect to the death penalty, in that it actually costs a lot more to execute a person today than it would to maintain that person in prison for life. Thus, it should be reserved for only the most egregious crimes.

In George Zimmerman’s case, I think a clear message needs to be sent that vigilante killing of unarmed, peaceful individuals who have given no provocation is completely unacceptable and needs to be dealt with harshly. Setting that example could be worth the cost – but ultimately, this is for the court to decide. I do think this case warrants at least considering the option.

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Mr. Stolyarov Quoted in Article on Austin Surveillance Cameras

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 23, 2012
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I am pleased to have been cited at length in the article “Austin Installs Outdoor Surveillance Cameras” by Kenneth Artz in Heartlander Magazine.

I commented for the article with regard to the negative implications of security cameras on civil liberties and the rights of innocent persons.

If transparency and easier detection of crime and collection of evidence are desired, then the filming should be done by private citizens using their own mobile devices – not by police through centrally controlled and monitored security cameras. But private filming – especially of police activities – oddly enough happens to elicit considerable resistance from many police departments.

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The Travesty of Trayvon Martin’s Murder – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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A young man has been murdered with absolutely no provocation – and, unless his killer is brought to justice, the same could happen to any one of us.

17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by self-styled “neighborhood watchman” (in truth, vigilante) George Zimmerman for no offense other than walking back to his home and “looking suspicious”. Mr. Stolyarov comments on this atrocity and considers it an outrage that George Zimmerman has not yet been arrested, charged, or removed from civilized society.

Resources:
– “Shooting of Trayvon Martin” – Wikipedia
– “Trayvon Martin case: No-confidence vote for Sanford police chief” – by Tina Susman – Los Angeles Times
Change.org Petition to Prosecute the Killer of Trayvon Martin

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Ronny Edry’s Heroic Outreach to Ordinary Iranians

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 20, 2012
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CNN has published an excellent article (“Peace-minded Israeli reaches out to everyday Iranians via Facebook“) on an Israeli graphic designer whose individual efforts may gather sufficient momentum to turn public opinion against an Israeli strike on Iran. This is an excellent example of individual hyper-empowerment, through technology, being able to overcome the machinations of cynical national politicians.

Ronny Edry may be able to prevent a bloodbath by getting enough people to recognize the obvious: that the Iranian population is fundamentally like the rest of us, and that these mostly decent people should not be made to suffer for the transgressions of their leaders.

Let technology and human decency overcome the callous, manipulative, life-sacrificing “world leaders” – like Netanyahu – who are ready to drag us all into a mass slaughter!

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Restoration of Free Study Guide on Public-Choice Economics

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Categories: Announcements, Economics, Tags: , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 17, 2012
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I am pleased to announce that The Rational Argumentator’s Free Study Guide on Public-Choice Economics has been restored. It is available from the index page of TRA’s Free Tools for Rational Education. After languishing for years on the unreliable and now non-existent site of BlogDog.com, this study guide shall now be permanently hosted on TRA’s own domain. There are 20 individual sections, each of which is still hosted on my Yahoo! Contributor Network (former Associated Content) pages. I cannot readily edit these pages, so they still link back to the old (now defunct) study-guide index. However, the current index at least offers a way to navigate to each section.

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The Real War — and Why Inter-Human Wars Are a Distraction – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Philosophy, Politics, Transhumanism

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 15, 2012
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Other than the unjust killing of innocents, there is a further reason to oppose wars among human beings: they distract us from the real war that we should all be fighting, against the real enemy that threatens us all.Mr. Stolyarov explains the urgent war on ruin that we should all be fighting.This video is based on Mr. Stolyarov’s essay “The Real War — and Why Inter-Human Wars Are a Distraction“.

Support these video-creation efforts by donating at The Rational Argumentator: http://rationalargumentator.com/index.html

References:

– “A Complete Denunciation of War” – Video series by G. Stolyarov II
Part 1
Part 2

– “Refuting Ayn Rand on War” – Video by G. Stolyarov II
– “Progress: Creation and Maintenance” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Spanish flu” – Wikipedia

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Is There a Moral Difference Between Innocent Deaths Caused by Military and Police?

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Categories: Philosophy, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 15, 2012
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It is an odd bit of cognitive dissonance among most people today that killings of innocent people by police are (rightly) treated as moral outrages, while killings of innocent civilians by militaries are often rationalized as “collateral damage” – unfortunate, perhaps, but such is war, and the greater cause of the war is said to justify them. Ayn Rand, for instance, made the argument that all of the civilian deaths in a war are the moral fault of the aggressor regime.

One need not look to the battlefield to see clear instances of unjustified initiation of force. There exist numerous acts of criminal aggression within a country’s borders, with regard to which the kind of arguments that are used to justify war would be readily seen as faulty. There is still a lot of murder in every country. Suppose there is a murderer on the loose. Would it be justified for a country’s domestic police force to send a missile into or plant a bomb in a large and inhabited apartment building, simply because the murderer is believed to be hiding there? Would the answer change if this murderer were a serial killer who has already had a string of victims and/or plans to kill more?

I think virtually everyone would agree that inflicting civilian casualties to eliminate this murderer would not be appropriate and would not be worth the moral cost. Virtually nobody would make the argument that it is the murderer, not the police force, who would be morally responsible for any civilian deaths – and therefore it would be acceptable for the police to act to bring about civilian deaths, and to plan for some civilian deaths in advance, and to simply describe these deaths as regrettable “collateral damage”. Virtually everybody in that situation would agree that the police who permit innocent civilians to die in the capture or destruction of the murderer would themselves bear the blame for the clearly preventable deaths of those civilians.

So why is the situation any different just because the word “war” is used to describe a particular instance of aggression – and just because the people involved are not all from the same country and may be acting outside the borders of their country? Aggression is aggression, and the leaders of an invading dictatorships are criminals just like serial killers, except on a larger scale. My view is that the same moral principles should apply to the proper response to all of them. The proper moral response is to neutralize the threat, but to leave the innocent people out of it entirely. No innocent death should ever be dismissed as mere “collateral damage” – and no plan should be pursued if it is known or expected to result in innocent deaths.

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A New Era for The Rational Argumentator

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Categories: Announcements, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 12, 2012
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Readers of The Rational Argumentator:

I write today to announce major changes to this publication – which are intended to enable it to flourish as never before, but which must thereby take it in a significantly different direction from its previous course.

For 9.5 years and 315 issues, The Rational Argumentator has evolved and expanded, regularly bringing a wealth of informative, thought-provoking, genuinely intellectual content that championed the principles of Reason, Rights, and Progress and worked for the arrival of a New Renaissance – and, in more recent years, an era that would transcend even that, along with our sufferings and current limitations. This work is far from complete, and it shall continue in earnest.

But the world has changed since August 31, 2002, when The Rational Argumentator inaugurated its first manifesto and issue (and yes, the issue link indeed points to an archive of TRA’s first page). While politically and economically, some of the change has been disturbing to say the least, the technological improvement has been astonishing. Nowhere has this been clearer than on the Internet.

TRA was not the first Internet publication, nor the first to espouse libertarian, classical liberal, Objectivist, or transhumanist thought. But it was certainly in a vanguard, back when the Internet was still young and fragmented. I remember what it was like in the first half of the last decade – when, to perform any serious research on a subject, one needed to dig through hours of content of marginal relevance at best, outright spam at worst – delivered by a suboptimal search engine – in order to uncover the gems of knowledge and insight. This was before the flowering of Wikipedia, before the market dominance of Google, before social networking, YouTube, or mobile devices. Back then, there were mostly just a few freedom-oriented think tanks and a few small-scale independent publishing enterprises – including the now defunct but still respected Quackgrass Press and HarryRoolaart.com.

When I founded The Rational Argumentator, I sought to emulate the few treasured sources of autonomous, rational, intellectual content I could find, while building something new upon the foundation available to me in the world of that time. Friends of reason and liberty on the Internet back then really did need an early-21st-century parallel to Diderot’s Encyclopédie – a compendium of resources in one convenient location, on which they could rely for quality discourse and genuine enlightenment. TRA has certainly grown in both its abundance of content and its readership, gathering close to 1.4 million visits during its ninth year and around 5 million visits for its entire existence to date.

But as TRA grew, the Internet grew with it, opening up in surprising ways that, eventually, led to a different model of publication now being preferable. TRA, while innovative in the ideas it published and the manner in which it approached its readers – without dumbing anything down or attempting to curry favors from established interests and ideologies – was modeled after a traditional publication, with the majority of the content packaged into issues that helped readers categorize the content chronologically for subsequent easy discovery. All of the systematization was performed manually, with great effort spent on even developing the unique page templates of each of the first 45 issues. Beginning in 2005 and especially since 2007, the issue and article formats were significantly standardized, but considerable manual effort was still devoted to compiling the index pages and updating references throughout the site when a new issue was posted. Up until this month, TRA remained a static website, where every link and every functionality was hard-coded into each individual page. While previous page templates could be used to jump-start new ones, this method implied that any changes to the appearance of TRA’s pages would generally apply only on a forward-going basis – or, on occasion, when an older page was updated.

In the meantime, accessing quality content online has become significantly easier. With the mostly high-quality search results from Google, basic information from Wikipedia, and the ability to readily share material through social networks, every individual can, in effect, create a custom repository of knowledge. Content aggregation in one central location is no longer a function of websites, but rather one of individuals. In order to contribute to and flourish in this kind of Internet, TRA will need to refine its structure and redirect its emphasis within a world where the objectives intended by its earlier structure have, in essence, been fulfilled.

Therefore, I am pleased to announce the following series of changes – the greatest and most transformative that this publication has undergone to date:

1. Conversion to a WordPress architecture. WordPress permits more convenient publication within a template that can be updated globally for the entire website, allowing all pages published in March 2012 or later to instantly receive updates whenever a new feature is added to the sidebar.  Furthermore, WordPress performs wonderful feats of  organization by category and content tag – such that one can locate content in a myriad ways instead of just a few.

2. Shift from an issue format to a free flow of publication. More radically, TRA’s issue structure is no longer necessary, since WordPress offers so many different and relevant ways to sort content by subject matter, contributor, and even specific keywords. Content will be easily discoverable from the front page (http://rationalargumentator.com/index/) and from the category-specific and monthly archives on the sidebar. New content will simply appear on the front page, with the most recent content at the top.

3. Advent of an RSS feed. Readers who wish to be regularly and automatically updated whenever new content is published do not need to wait for an e-mail from me. They can subscribe to TRA’s RSS feed and become aware of any newly posted work. The RSS feed can also be embedded on other pages and conveniently shared with others.

4. Greater ease of sharing content. Each subsequent post will come will embedded functionalities for sharing the content on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

5. Ability for public comment. Visitors to each post will have the ability to comment directly below the work. This openness to discussion on TRA’s own pages is unprecedented in the history of this publication, due to the previous technical difficulty in facilitating public comments using mostly pure HTML code. The intent is for the first several comments by a visitor to be moderated – not out of any desire to limit the discussion, but rather to keep out the spambots. Once a visitor has demonstrated his or her humanity through several approved comments, he or she will be able to post without restrictions.

6. Focus on original content. In the past, TRA has assembled works from hundreds of contributors. In the earliest stages, it was indeed hard work to locate individual works and to secure their authors’ permission to reprint it – without which the work might have disappeared from the Internet altogether within a few years. Now, the role of a human being as a compiler of extant Internet content is no longer needed. Most content can be readily shared via social networking tools and customizable feeds. For me to spread the work of others, formal reprints are seldom the most effective method anymore. Rather, a link and a discussion of my own will do just as well or better in giving the work more exposure. Most of the new content on TRA will be original creations either by me or by other contributors who have not been published elsewhere before. This does not mean that I will no longer reprint any content that already appears on the Internet. However, it does mean a shift in emphasis away from distribution of extant works by others and toward the development of a unique array of content for TRA.

7. Incorporation of shorter posts. Along with longer articles and essays, I will be more inclined from now on to share brief thoughts more frequently within a blog-post structure. My earlier experiment in this approach, The Progress of Liberty blog, failed because of the whims of the host, the ill-named and ill-fated BlogDog.com. Now that I own the website and the infrastructure, this will not happen again.

In TRA’s Ninth Anniversary Manifesto, I called on my readers to offer me technical suggestions for improving the site. Little did I know what dramatic changes would be forthcoming or possible with a modicum of thought about the purpose TRA ought to serve within a more mature, more open, and more expansive Internet. I would like especially to thank my wife, Wendy, for suggesting the WordPress approach as a way of easing the manual effort of publication. That suggestion motivated still further thoughts on my part about how to maximize the potential influence and effect of TRA while maintaining adherence to the principles by which it has always been guided.

The coming months and years shall surely see additional improvements in both the content and form of this publication. I encourage you to visit regularly, because what comes next will be worth it.

Sincerely,

Gennady Stolyarov II,

Founder and Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator

G. Stolyarov II is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on the Yahoo! Contributor Network to assist the spread of rational ideas. He holds the highest Clout Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and is one of its Page View Millionaires, with over 2 million views. 

Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), and Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE).

Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a non-fiction treatise, A Rational Cosmology, and a play, Implied Consent. You can watch his YouTube Videos. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

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