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  • Food Recalls May Soon Be a Thing of the Past—Thanks to Blockchain

    Since January, the CDC has issued multiple warnings of E. colicontamination causing hundreds of people to become infected across the nation. Of course, countless bags and heads of lettuce have since been pulled off of shelves and destroyed. On November 20, the CDC spoke out but gave no answers to the public on what caused the outbreak: “At this time, no common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified.”

    But it’s been more than a month since the first E. coli cases were reported—and there is no culprit. As a result, thousands of grocers and growers are suffering from what might just be a contamination at a single farm. If the government would have utilized the power of blockchain, we might already have an answer.

    Blockchain is simply a new, technologically advanced database used for tracking resources and information as they exchange hands. A copy of the database is stored by everyone on the blockchain network, which allows every user to track each item on the network. Each blockchain network can have different parameters for who can join—some are open to anyone, while others require permission from a central authority to join.

    Anytime a change is made, every other user is notified and can make a copy of that change on their own computer. With a multitude of copies, no user can make a change to any information on the network that they don’t rightfully own.

    Tracking produce on a blockchain could dramatically reduce the time spent tracing contaminated produce back to the source and put a cap on how often industry-wide recalls are even required. If health officials and retailers can pinpoint the exact sources of contamination and pull only the product at risk off the shelves, the danger to the public and the costs to the guiltless producers would be significantly diminished.

    Say we use blockchain to track produce from farm to table. A grocer, truckers, distribution centers, packaging facilities, and the farmers could all have accounts on a blockchain network. Picked and packaged produce would be scanned, uploading a record of its location to the blockchain. From there, the lettuce might be trucked to the distribution center, and once it arrives, its location would again be uploaded to the blockchain. The same process would be followed until a grocery store cashier makes the final scan at the register. If a customer reports contamination from a single head of lettuce, they could trace it back to the source, identifying where it was at every step of the process.

    When it comes to agricultural products, there are so many parties involved in the growing, packaging, distributing, and selling of each piece. Blockchain offers tracking benefits that traditional databases don’t. The new technology allows multiple parties to be on the same database without risk of one party controlling all the information. The network is governed by the parameters are set up when it is established, and every user on the network must abide by those parameters. Small farmers and food-giants alike can participate in the network without one overshadowing the other.

    That’s why Walmart and other grocers have already put this technology to test—with much success. When Walmart tested the technology with the recall of a batch of mangos, the time it took to trace the produce back to its farm was reduced from seven days to just 2.2 seconds. And major food producers are getting wind of how well this could work. Dole and Nestle, for instance, are set to track their products on the blockchain network at the beginning of the new year.

    Moving food from the farm to the table is truly a miracle of the market. The vast majority of the time, the normal process works just fine. Yet, when contamination occurs, the process doesn’t lend itself well to pinpointing the source. It’s time for our food producers to realize that blockchain is the technology that will make sure the foods meant to keep us healthy aren’t the ones putting us at risk.

    Source: Food Recalls May Soon Be a Thing of the Past—Thanks to Blockchain – Foundation for Economic Education

  • The ACLU Is Quietly Abandoning Civil Liberties

    Since 1920, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has generally upheld its mission to “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

    Of all the protections guaranteed in the Constitution, the right to due process is among the most sacred. It is this right that protects each of us from being held legally accountable should we be arbitrarily accused of a crime.

    The ACLU has been a consistent advocate for our civil liberties for nearly 100 years, including the right to due process and, thus, the presumption of innocence. But recent statements made by the organization have many concerned that its consistent track record may soon be coming to an end.

    Just weeks ago, the Department of Education released its new set of proposed guidelines, instructing schools on how to comply with Title IX of the of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Title IX has received a lot of attention in the #Metoo era, as it informs colleges and universities how to deal with accusations of sexual assault. It states:

    No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

    While the text itself is rather straightforward, campuses are generally given guidelines that help them enforce the language in Title IX. The last time the guidelines were changed was in 2011 when the Obama Administration lowered the evidentiary standard that was to be used in legal proceedings regarding sexual assault allegations.

    In an advisory notice now known as the “Dear Colleague” letter, the standard was lowered to a “preponderance of evidence,” which is the counterpart to “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Where the latter stipulates that there can be no other reasonable explanation than to assume the guilt of the accused, the former sets a much looser standard.

    To prove someone’s guilt through a preponderance of evidence, the accuser must convince a judge or jury that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that their claims are true. From a legal perspective, this sets a much lower bar for convicting people accused of crimes and misconduct.

    The Obama-era guidelines also instructed campuses to prohibit any cross-examinations of the accuser in order to avoid causing any further trauma. However, while this gave stronger protections to the accuser, it downplayed the importance of due process for the accused—who stand to lose a great deal even if the allegations turn out to be false.

    Under the Department of Education’s new proposed guidelines, the preponderance of evidence standard can still be used. But if the new proposed guidelines are adopted, campuses are also free to use the stricter standard of “clear and convincing evidence,” which is one step below beyond a reasonable doubt. Clear and convincing proof means that the evidence provided by the accuser has a higher probability of being true than it does of being false. The new rules would also mandate that the accuser be subject to cross-examination.

    As The New York Times reports:

    Under the new rules, schools would be required to hold live hearings and would no longer rely on a so-called single-investigator model. Accusers and students accused of sexual assault must be allowed to cross-examine each other through an adviser or lawyer. The rules require that the live hearings be conducted by a neutral decision maker and conducted with a presumption of innocence. Both parties would have equal access to all the evidence that school investigators use to determine facts of the case, and a chance to appeal decisions.

    Historically, the ACLU has promoted legal protections that require the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused person is guilty of a crime. But when it comes to accusing someone of sexual assault on campus, the ACLU appears poised to abandon this principle.

    Shortly after the new guidelines were revealed, the ACLU tweeted:

    Today Secretary DeVos proposed a rule that would tip the scales against those who raise their voices. The proposed rule would make schools less safe for survivors of sexual assault and harassment when there is already alarmingly high rates of campus sexual assaults and harassment that go unreported. It promotes an unfair process, inappropriately favoring the accused and letting schools ignore their responsibility under Title IX to respond promptly and fairly to complaints of sexual violence. We will continue to support survivors.

    The tweet was later backed up with a blog post from the organization in which it avoided using the term “due process” and instead claimed to be defending “fair process”:

    The ACLU is equally committed to ensuring students can learn in environments free from sexual harassment and violence and to guaranteeing fair process for both respondents and complainants.

    Investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, a staunch civil liberties advocate, lambasted the ACLU for its tweet and suggested it might be time to look to other organizations to aid individuals in upholding cherished civil liberties.

    He tweeted:

    What has happened to ACLU is one of the saddest developments of the Trump era. But there are already groups – such as @TheFIREorg- emerging to replace it as an actual civil liberties group which defends rights regardless of partisan outcomes.

    Journalist, lawyer, and former president of FIRE, David French, commentedon the new guidelines, saying:

    “Not only will these rules restore basic due process and fairness to college tribunals, but they also—given how basic the changes are—highlight just how ridiculous university kangaroo courts have become.”

    French added:

    “The old-school ACLU knew there was no contradiction between defending due process and ‘supporting survivors.’ Indeed, it was through healthy processes that we not only determined whether a person had been victimized, but also prevented the accused from becoming a ‘survivor’ of a profound injustice.”

    Another problem, as Naomi Schaefer Riley writes in National Review, is that campus “kangaroo courts” were never supposed to deal with matters as serious as sexual assault in the first place. They were established in the 1960s and 70s to adjudicate more trivial matters such as student plagiarism and honor code violations. As such, these disciplinary panels are ill-equipped to deal with something as severe as sexual assault allegations.

    Unfortunately, this is not the first time the ACLU has backed away from upholding constitutional principles.

    Failing to give the ACLU credit for its phenomenal work in protecting individual rights over the years would be unfair. Yet there’s no denying the organization is deviating from its core mission.

    While the ACLU has typically been unwavering in its support for the First Amendment rights to free speech, recent comments made by the ACLU have led many to wonder if this may soon change, as well.

    In regards to First Amendment protections, the organization states:

    …the ACLU is committed to defending speech rights without regard to whether the views expressed are consistent with or opposed to the ACLU’s core values, priorities and goals.

    However, they have also stated that they reserve the right to deny taking cases if “the extent to which the speech may assist in advancing the goals of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values.”

    This summer, a leaked internal memo revealed that the organization had adopted the belief that hate speech did not qualify as free speech. The memo read, “Speech that denigrates such groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.”

    The ACLU later discounted the language used in the memo in a blog post rededicating itself to the issue of free speech. However, given its unwillingness to defend the right to due process, there are reasons to be concerned with the direction in which the organization is heading.

    And this is to say nothing of a part of the Bill of Rights that the organization has ignored entirely: the Second Amendment. By choosing to interpret the Second Amendment as a “collective right,” the ACLU has fallen woefully short when it comes to protecting each individual’s right to bear arms.

    Allegations of sexual assault and misconduct should most certainly be taken seriously. But not at the expense of the accused or the civil liberties that protect all Americans.

    The American legal system was founded on the premise that all accused individuals are innocent until they are proven guilty in a court of law. It is this maxim that sets our legal system apart from so many others. By removing this safeguard, we do a grave disservice to the pursuit of justice, even when it applies to those accused of the most heinous of crimes.

    Source: The ACLU Is Quietly Abandoning Civil Liberties – Foundation for Economic Education

  • Chicago’s New PlayStation Tax Shows How Greedy Politicians Can Be

    If it moves, tax it.” That’s government’s eternal motto, as Ronald Reagan quipped. To this, the city government of Chicago has added, “If it amuses, tax it.”

    A few weeks ago, PlayStation 4 users in Chicago were shocked when they turned on their consoles and saw a message from Sony. The message informed users that as of November 14, 2018, they would be required to pay a 9 percent “amusement tax” for PlayStation subscriptions such as PlayStation Now, PlayStation Plus, PlayStation Music, and others.

    The tax is specifically related to streaming services, so the PlayStation games themselves will not be subject to the 9 percent tax. But in today’s subscription-heavy economy, many users purchase these consoles as a medium to stream videos and music rather than using them solely to play games. Not to mention, the tax will still include subscription services that allow Playstation users to connect and play with other users around the globe. So if you own a PlayStation in Chicago, it is unlikely that you will be able to fully avoid this tax.

    PlayStation users, however, are not the only victims of this absurd tax.

    Chicago is one of the most heavily taxed cities in the country. In addition to holding the title for the highest sales tax nationwide, the city also levies additional taxes on bottled water and cell phones.

    The amusement tax was actually passed several years ago and included almost all forms of entertainment. Whether residents are looking to spend an evening at the theater, see a concert, cheer on their favorite sports team, go to a nightclub, or even catch a movie, they are on the hook for an additional 5 percent tax.

    In 2015, the amusement tax was expanded as city officials realized they could bring in additional revenue with the creation of a “cloud tax.” Capitalizing on the popularity of streaming services, the city began instituting a 9 percent tax for using platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and others. And thanks to the inclusion of the streaming services, the amusement tax now brings in about $12 million annually. It also applies to anyone whose billing address is within city limits.

    The city of Chicago is currently operating on a $400 million deficit. It’s no wonder, then, that the city has had to get creative when it comes to extorting money from its residents. The amusement tax was created as a means of decreasing the deficit and aiding the city in paying for additional expenditures, which essentially means that Chicago dwellers are once again on the hook for the government’s poor decisions.

    To make matters worse, Chicago is also a city with a horrible reputation for government corruption, and especially corruption within the local police force. When Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel approved the additional tax on streaming services, it was done so with the explicit purpose of helping to fund the $530 million increase given to Chicago’s police force. However, even with the increased funding, Chicago law enforcement has still been unable, or unwilling, to combat the city’s skyrocketing crime rates.

    Sony may have just recently announced that it would be enforcing this tax, but Xbox and Nintendo users have already been dealing with it for years. In fact, Sony actually refused to enforce the tax and did not finally capitulate to the city’s wishes until mid-November, when unsuspecting users were greeted with a warning message as soon as they logged on to their PlayStation accounts.

    While it is unclear why Sony decided to begin enforcing the tax at this time, it is likely that statements from government representatives scared the company into submission. A spokesman for the city’s Law Department, Bill McCaffrey, recently said,”If a business is not collecting the tax where we believe it applies, the city takes the necessary steps and works with the company to ensure compliance with the law.”

    But while some have bent to the whims of the city government, others have continued to challenge the city’s authority to tax anything and everything. Apple, for example, has held strong against the city of Chicago. The tech giant has even gone so far as to take the city to court rather than burden its users with additional fees. And thanks to a bill passed during the Clinton era, Apple has a legitimate case against the city.

    Right after the “cloud tax” was instituted, the Liberty Justice Center came forward to challenge the city’s new policy on behalf of the taxpayers in the case known as Labell vs. The City of Chicago.

    Unfortunately, the court ruled in favor of the city in May, upholding its authority to levy and collect the cloud tax. Since the amusement tax was passed prior to the inclusion of the cloud tax, the city argued that this was not a new tax and thus was merely a reinterpretation of the existing law.

    Senior attorney for the Liberty Justice Center, Jeffrey Schwab, commented on the court’s decision, saying:

    We plan to appeal this decision because it has far broader implications than this single attempt to tax online entertainment. Cloud-based entertainment isn’t unique to Chicago, and people take this entertainment in and out of city limits all the time. Therein lies one of the biggest problems with this tax: The city is taxing activity outside its borders because the tax applies regardless of whether a customer actually uses a service in Chicago. If today’s decision is allowed to stand, then local governments across Illinois could tax activity that occurs outside their borders. We will continue to fight for taxpayers against the city’s expansion of its taxing power.

    While the Liberty Justice Center waits to appeal this decision, Apple has continued the fight against this unjust tax. Just a few months after the same court ruled in favor of the city, Apple filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.

    The tech company’s complaint touches on four different violations it believes the city is guilty of committing. But the primary complaint rests on Chicago’s violation of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA).

    In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the ITFA into law, protecting Americans from illegal forms of taxation. Specifically, the bill prohibited “state and local governments from taxing Internet access, or imposing multiple or discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce.”

    The bill was supposed to help protect consumers against the possibility of discriminatory taxation on electronic commerce. For example, if internet users are already being taxed for their internet service, they should not be forced to then pay further taxes for using the internet to access streaming sites. By doing so, the cloud tax also discriminates against those who choose to purchase digital movies instead of physical DVDs, which are not subject to the cloud tax.

    In addition to violating federal law, Apple is also asserting that the new tax is a violation of the Illinois constitution. As explained by DigitalMusicNews.com’s Daniel Sanchez:

    Under Illinois law, all home-rule ordinances must fall within the limits of the unit. So, a “home-rule unit” – in this case, Chicago – “may exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs.

    There’s just one problem. Chicago city officials have imposed the Amusement Tax on citizens streaming music when outside the “home-rule unit.”

    Since the cloud tax is extended to everyone with a Chicago billing address, this means it is still being levied on those who enjoy streaming services outside city limits, making it a violation of state law.

    Sanchez continues:

    By creating an “extraterritorial effect,” the company argues, the city has “subjected Apple to collection requirements even for activities that take place primarily outside” Chicago. In addition, the city has extraterritorially expanded its taxing and regulatory jurisdiction to transaction and business activities outside of Chicago.

    Apple’s additional complaints involve violations of the federal commerce clause, as well as violations of the 14th Amendment right to due process. While the outcome of the case is unclear, Apple’s unwillingness to cooperate with the city’s ridiculous amusement tax is a testament to its integrity.

    Chicago is proof that there is almost nothing that government entities won’t try to tax. And if you’re a Chicago resident, you might want to think twice before asking Santa for a PlayStation 4 this year, lest you have to deal with the city’s amusement tax.

    Source: Chicago’s New PlayStation Tax Shows How Greedy Politicians Can Be – Foundation for Economic Education