Monthly Archives: February 2012

Gessler Addresses Anonymous, Verifiable Voting

Secretary of State Scott Gessler discussed the standards of anonymous, verifiable voting when I interviewed him at the Independence Institute’s annual banquet. He said that, while current practices are “solid,” potential improvements in technology might further improve the system.

For additional videos from the II’s banquet, see also:

Kopel: ObamaCare Mandates Unconstitutional

Independence Institute Banquet

With ‘Cake Bill,’ Have Your Freedom and Eat It, Too

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong was originally published February 3 by Grand Junction Free Press.

“Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man. Bake me a cake just as fast as you can!” But if you’re a Colorado cottage baker: “They’ll stop you and they’ll fine you, and if you don’t pay, they’ll throw you in the pokey, that’s the bureaucrats’ way.”

Thankfully local State Representative Laura Bradford sponsored a bill (1027) to legalize cottage bakeries. By the time you read this, the fate of the bill may have already been decided, so see Ari’s web page FreeColorado.com for updates. (You an also find a video there of Ari performing the opening rhyme.)

We called Mande Gabelson of Ava Sweet Cakes to ask her why she supports the bill. (Ari released most of the interview early online.) She said that working out of a professional kitchen works great for large-scale caterers, but it isn’t cost effective for smaller operations.

Gabelson said that, under current law, you “can’t bake a cake and sell it to your neighbor.” If you’re running a bake sale and “the money goes to a school, that’s okay,” but bakers “can’t put the money in their back pocket.”

“I couldn’t even sell a cake to my mom,” she added; “That would be against the law.”

And why shouldn’t she be able to sell her gorgeous cakes? Gabelson said, “You have to think about the man hours that go into something like that. I’m an artist. The typical wedding cake takes between 15 and 20 hours, and I should be paid for my skills. People come to me because of my abilities, and they want to pay me… and I should be able to take that.”

We asked her how she settled on a name for her business. She replied, “That’s my daughter. When I was 7 months pregnant with her my husband got laid off from Halliburton.” She took baking classes, and “that’s when I discovered I have this talent. When Ava was six months old I decided to name it after her.”

We first learned of the “Cake Bill” from a Republican release, which summarizes: “House Bill 1027 allows cottage industry food producers to directly sell nonpotentially hazardous foods to consumers at off-premise sites—like farmers markets and roadside stands—without being commercially licensed.

“Under the bill’s guidelines, cottage food producers would still need to register with a county or district public health agency for a fee up to $100 and carry home baker liability insurance. Their products would also need to be labeled and include specific information, like the producer’s name, ingredients and a disclaimer.”

We agree with what Bradford said in the release: “This is a common sense bill. Freeing the cottage industry from regulatory burdens intended for large-scale producers helps them grow their businesses and helps their local economy.”

This bill isn’t perfect. People should be able to sell baked goods without registering with the county or paying fees. But on the whole this bill moves us closer to economic liberty and legal sanity.

We suspect that different groups might oppose the reform. Larger-scale bakers who want to forcibly limit their competition may try to keep the law in place. Frankly, we wouldn’t trust any baker who needs to use political force to wipe out the competition. Any baker worth his salt will have enough pride to bake goods that people want to buy voluntarily in a free market.

David K. Williams, Jr., a liberty lobbyist with the Gadsden Society, said, “I think the opposition is going to come from the baker industry that wants to minimize their competition. They want to keep the consumer from buying from somebody else. From a liberty position, if someone bakes a cake, and someone else wants to buy it from them, they should be able to. A regulation preventing that kind of option is harmful to the consumer and the economy.”

Some of the professional kitchens might oppose the reform, as the law would no longer compel small-scale bakers to use their facilities. Again, the law should protect people’s rights, not give some businesses an unfair advantage.

Finally, the Nanny State whiners hate liberty and want to shackle everyone with bureaucratic controls.

Gabelson offered the appropriate answer to them: “If you don’t want to eat cottage food, you don’t have to.”

Williams pointed out that consumers direct the market: “Obviously anybody selling bad cake isn’t going to be in business anymore.”

Today, far too many stupid laws impede entrepreneurs and give politically-connected businesses unfair advantages. Such laws squash economic progress and kill jobs.

The “cake bill” is a bit of welcomed yeast to help leaven the spirit of liberty here in Colorado.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits FreeColorado.com from the Denver area.

Update: See also my February 2 note, as well as today’s article on the topic by the Independence Institute’s Krista Kafer.

Also check out my sweet video:

Kopel: ObamaCare Mandates Unconstitutional

I caught up with Constitutional scholar Dave Kopel at the Independence Institute’s annual banquet February 16. In these two short videos, he explains why the Medicaid mandate as the individual mandate (to purchase health insurance) under ObamaCare are unconstitutional.

First Kopel argues that the Medicaid mandate violates the principles of federalism:

Next he argues that the Constitution never granted Congress the power to compel people to purchase products.

See also the complete briefs against the Medicaid mandate and the individual mandate.

Gessler Announces Reasonable Campaign Rule Changes

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has done to best he can to make the rules surrounding the state’s campaign-finance laws more comprehensible and less oppressive. For daring to stand up for the free-speech rights of Coloradans to the degree his office permits, Gessler has earned the scorn of the pro-censorship left.

Contrary to the complaints of some of Gessler’s critics, Gessler is required by the Colorado Constitution to “promulgate such rules… as may be necessary to administer and enforce any provision of” the campaign finance laws (see Article XXVIII, Section 9(1)(b)).

Given that federal courts have struck down some aspects of those laws, Gessler must therefore promulgate rules that take the relevant court decisions into account.

As the Denver Post reports, yesterday Gessler implemented rules based on those considered at a December 15 hearing.

I attended that hearing, and I spoke out in favor of Gessler’s proposed rules. (I also harshly condemned the campaign laws as a violation of free speech, though obviously that broader issue lies outside of Gessler’s administrative capacities.)

Today I release another video of that hearing in which three people—Allen Dickerson, Regina Thompson, and Natelie Menten—also voice their concerns about the campaign-finance laws but (at least mostly) support Gessler’s efforts to clarify the rules and make them as unburdensome as possible. (Some of the meaning of their comments is fully clear only in light of the particular laws and rule changes under consideration at the hearing.) For more details about the campaign finance laws and about the rules Gessler helped to rewrite, please see the links below.

See also:

Campaign Finance Rules: Collected Testimony

Braunlich: CO Campaign Laws Chill Speech of New Activists, Small Groups

Gessler Emerges as the Free Speech Secretary of State

SOS Looks to Mitigate Burden of Campaign Censorship Laws

Denver Post Publishes Two Misleading Headlines

The headline is part of the story. A misleading or factually incorrect headline is just as bad as an error in the text (if not worse, as it’s more visible). Today, the Denver Post published one ridiculously misleading headline and another arguably misleading one.

The following headline, “Colorado hospitals warn legislators that push for pricing transparency would ruin finances,” flatly contradicts the reporting by Michael Booth.

Booth explicitly writes that the fundamental concern is not “transparency,” but rather price controls. He writes, “Hospital officials from across the state said that they agree with more transparency in their charges and charity policies but that Aguilar’s bill amounts to price fixing that will ruin many facilities.”

Booth confirmed in an email that he did not recommend the title.

I contacted John Ealy, an editor with the Post, to get a better sense of how headlines are produced. “Reporters don’t have anything to do with it,” he confirmed. He said that, after a reporter files a story, that story moves to a copy editor, who writes a “web headline,” ideally “search-engine optimized.” Then the same editor or possibly a different one writes a headline for print. (It’s unclear to me how often a print headline varies from a web headline.)

In addition, Ealy said, “We have a copy chief. After the copy editor writes the headline and edits the story… it moves to another status, and a copy desk chiefs comes in and vets that headline, looks at it for accuracy.” Then “another copy editor” looks at page proofs.

So it does seem to me that considerable oversight goes into a headline. I wonder, though, whether it might make sense for the Post to bring the writers back into the process at some point, say, by allowing reporters to authorize or flag headlines. After all, the reporter is most familiar with the facts and nuances of the story. My guess is, that had he been asked, Booth would have recommended something more accurate.

The second misleading headline is the following: “Anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce handcuffed, sent to jail.” My complaint is about the description, “anti-tax.” To my knowledge, Bruce has never voiced support for the abolition of taxation. As an activist, he has worked for lower taxes, not no taxes.

In this case, though, the headline corresponds to the reporter’s text. The reporter, Jordan Steffen, describes Bruce as a “tax opponent.”

It is true that Bruce has tried to eliminate certain types of minor taxes, and it is true that generally his goal is to cut taxes. Yet still I think the headline and the copy offer readers a distorted view of Bruce’s activism. Ideologically, there is a huge difference between advocating lower taxes and advocating no taxes. I know true “anti-tax activists”—people who advocate the complete abolition of taxation (and I myself am interested in radical, long-term alternatives to financing government)—and their views ought not be confused with the views and activism of Bruce.

Certainly the Post should make every effort to avoid publishing blatantly misleading headlines, as in the case of Booth’s article, but I think the Postshould make the extra effort to avoid publishing headlines that are even arguably misleading. The fact is that Bruce is a “tax-cut activists,” not an “anti-tax activist.” I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the Post make the extra effort to achieve accuracy and clarity in its reporting.

Perhaps some consider my complaints trivial; after all, don’t the two headlines “sort of” get to the gist of what’s going on? Indeed. But I think we should strive to clarify our thinking as much as possible, not rely on approximate “truths” and vague understanding. In fact, there’s a difference between transparency and price controls. In fact, there’s a difference between somebody who advocates lower taxes and somebody who advocates no taxes. No doubt I too have slipped on comparable matters, but I think it’s worth stepping back sometimes and recommitting ourselves to pristine accuracy. (For example, for the headline of this piece, I added the word “Two” to clarify my meaning.)

One question I neglected to ask Ealy is whether the Post ever runs corrections for faulty headlines. Perhaps he will let me know.

Integrating Aerial Photography in Search and Rescue

During the search and rescue effort in which I played a (very small) role, it occurred to me that it would have been nice to use aerial photography in the search.

Our group had aircraft available, but in the end ground teams found the vehicle. There are several obvious limitations to searching by eye out of an aircraft window. You can look away. You can fail to see something subtle. You can sneeze at just the wrong moment.

Far better would be to borrow a plan (or a drone) with aerial photography capabilities. Then the idea is to fly quickly in a grid pattern, snapping detailed photos of the ground as you go.

Once these photos are taken, they could be uploaded to the internet (as a friend of mine suggested), where dozens (or thousands) of eyes could pour over them. (Alternately, they could be subject to digital processing.) What one person working alone might miss, one of a hundred might spot.

Our landscape was perfect for such aerial photography. The land was relatively barren, with stumpy desert trees. The weather was mostly perfect, with clear skies. Obviously in a dense forest or in fog the idea wouldn’t work.

My understanding is that there are quite a number of planes throughout the country already equipped with aerial photography. It would be fantastic if one of these planes could be easily rented (or borrowed) in search and rescue efforts.

In our case, it turned out, the delay didn’t matter (to the missing persons). But in other cases, rapid discovery could mean the difference between life and death.

A Few Thoughts about Volunteer Search and Rescue

Recently I helped (a little) with a search and rescue effort in Utah. The upshot is that two Colorado men—including a family friend—crashed their vehicle off the side of a cliff northeast of Price, resulting in fatality on impact. Yet, because the vehicle was so hard to see and locate, it was not found until more than a week after the crash and several days after the men were reported missing, even though more than 100 friends and family members had traveled to Price to help with the search.

Here my goal is to offer a few reflections on the search in the hopes that, should others find themselves in a missing persons or search and rescue situation, they might have a little better idea of what to expect.

It has never been so clear to me the living hell created by not knowing what happened. We didn’t know what happened to the men or whether they were still alive. That uncertainty leads to high emotions, hard feelings, exhaustion, and continuous speculation. In such a situation, one must make a special effort to remain civil and productive and not do anything that gets in the way of the search.

There are four basic scenarios for any missing persons case: either the person is lost, injured in an accident, the victim of foul play, or trying hard not to be found. In this case, the second scenario was most likely, but we could definitely rule out only the first scenario. But within each remaining scenario, there are a thousand, a million, possibilities.

The key is to add plausible scenarios to the list of possibilities, while not losing focus on the most obvious explanations. In this case, the most likely explanation was the correct one: the men drove their car off the road in rugged country on the way to their base camp.

One mistake I made was to assume that, since the area had been searched so thoroughly after a few days, both by air and by ground, there was little chance the vehicle was actually in that area off of a road. But the country was so rugged (check out the satellite imagery of the map) that the vehicle was impossible to see from the road. Because the vehicle was so mangled (see the video from KSL Salt Lake), it was nearly impossible to identify from the air; it blended in with the surrounding rock features. (Finally the vehicle was found when a volunteer hiked down a rough incline to look down a cliff.)

Carbon County Deputy Sheriff Wally Hendricks told some members of the team that, during a search, you may need to look behind the same tree (or down the same cliff) six times before you see what’s there. So don’t assume that, just because an area has been searched once, it shouldn’t be searched again. Focus on the most likely routes and devote multiple searches to those.

That said, keep the search as organized as possible to limit unnecessary passes of less-likely areas. The man who stepped up to organize the search kept a large map on the wall and copied more-detailed sections of that map for the searchers. His single-page maps contained several square miles and showed all the dirt roads; typically an assigned search grid was two miles square. (It took my team an unexpectedly long time to cover a grid, but then there were multiple roads, some of which we had to walk.)

One advantage to staying organized and searching by grids is that you minimize the number of tracks over an area. This increases the chances of seeing tracks that may be related to the missing persons.

Take plenty of time to cover a search grid. Be thorough. Get out, walk around, look off the side of drop offs. As the search’s organizer pointed out, you may need to cut your engine and listen for the sound of a car’s horn. Try to mark a particular grid off the list as definitively as possible.

Also, take detailed notes of the search grid. This will help the organizer determine whether to send additional teams through that grid. For example, while walking a rough road I saw a small pond, and somebody had cut a hole in that pond. It turns out the pond was irrelevant to our search, but the fact that I saw the hole caused me to spend more time there and report it to the organizer. Then another team returned the next day to check out the pond more thoroughly. I still don’t know why somebody cut the hole in the pond. But it occurred to me that perhaps another searcher did it to check the pond; if that’s the case, that’s the sort of information that would have been useful in a search report.

All that said, people are going to make some mistakes. So don’t accuse, and don’t feel bad if you miss something. Recognize that tensions are high, people are extremely tired, and emotions are raw. Keep focused on the goal: find the missing people. Take what you have and work with that in a constructive way.

Be careful! You are not helping the situation by becoming lost or injured yourself. Stay rested, fed, and hydrated. Don’t push your vehicle beyond its capacities. Make sure the search organizer knows where you are, who is in your party, and how to get ahold of you. As in medicine, first do no harm. (Again, if somebody does make a mistake, don’t accuse, and don’t feel bad; return to constructive action as quickly a possible.)

Recognize the leaders of the group, and support them. There will be (or should be) two key leaders. One is the organizer of the volunteer search. This person should be responsible for organizing the search pattern, handing out search assignments, collecting search reports, and processing that information. In our case, this person had a second-in-command, and that was vital to keeping the assignments going out and the reports coming in. That organizer (and only that organizer) should interact with the local authorities to coordinate the broader search effort.

The second key leader is the person who facilitates the flow of information. This person (or, in our case, two people) should make contact with the authorities, with the volunteer search organizer, with the family and searchers, and with the media. The media accounts regarding this search were basically accurate and thorough because somebody was assigned to send out official media releases. Obviously this person should have some familiarity with the media (or at least be a decent writer). In our case, a Facebook page facilitated the distribution of these releases and related information.

Thankfully, we had a very organized search. I could see how a disorganized search could result in a great deal of tension and counterproductive action. Do what you reasonably can to identify and assist the leaders (or to become one of the key leaders if you have the experience and demeanor for it).

It was a terrible time with a tragic outcome. The silver lining, as several pointed out, was seeing so many friends and family members stepping up so valiantly during this difficult time.

Be careful out there. Take every reasonable precaution not to become a missing person yourself and to keep loved ones safe. But if the worst happens, and you find yourself in a search for missing persons, get an idea of what to expect and focus on productive action toward finding your loved ones.

See also “Integrating Aerial Photography in Search and Rescue.”

Cake Bill Advances

Update: Read the Grand Junction Free Press column by my dad and me!

Westword‘s Melanie Asmar reports that the Colorado “Cake Bill” (the “Cottage Food Bill”) passed the House yesterday on an anonymous vote. (This was despite the troubles of the bill’s sponsor, Laura Bradford.)

I wrote about the story a few days ago.

The bill was amended, but none of those seem to seriously compromise the bill. Now the bill heads to the Senate.

Asmar even embedded my short video on the matter: