“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution

On October 9, Pacific Gas & Electric began shutting down power to about 750,000 customers (affecting as many as 2 million people) in California. The company claims the shutdowns are necessary to reduce the risk that its power lines and other infrastructure will cause wildfires like last year’s Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and and caused $16.5 billion in damage.

The Camp Fire was an extreme , and the blackouts are an extreme response,  but they’re far from the only indicators that Americans should no longer trust aging “grid” distribution systems to reliably  and safely supply electricity to their homes and businesses.

Fortunately, just as the problems seem to be getting really bad, the solutions are coming online fast.

Unfortunately, states’ response to the problem are a strange mix of unneeded mandates and subsidies and unjustifiable barriers, driven by cronyism and hostility to free markets.

Solar panels, wind turbines, large batteries for power storage, and gasoline generators for short-term backup are getting cheaper and cheaper.  Unfettered, markets would proliferate these solutions to most Americans in a fairly short time.

But government can’t resist putting its finger on the scales.

The California Energy Commission has ordered the inclusion of solar panels on all new homes beginning in 2020, citing climate change rather than independence from the grid as justification. A nice subsidy to the solar industry, at the expense of homeowners for whom wind or other solutions might work better.

Nationwide, many localities require homeowners to attach their houses to the grid whether they want to or not — then require those homeowners’ solar systems to shut down during grid outages for utility worker safety, leaving them powerless too.

Extreme weather often results in power loss to large numbers of people. I’ve experienced multi-day outages from thunderstorms,  blizzards, and ice storms in the midwest and hurricanes in the southeast. Most Americans probably recall similar outages. That’s what happens when you string wires and transformers all over the place then pray nothing knocks them down or stresses them out.

The increasing sprawl and automation of grids, initially touted as a feature, turned out to be a bug. In 2003, a software failure in Ohio turned what should have been a local blackout into a two-day  outage in two Canadian provinces and eight US  states, shutting down more than 100 power plants and leaving 55 million without electricity. Lately the fear (thus far apparently unrealized) is that grids are vulnerable to hackers of both state and freelance varieties.

“The grid” needs to go. We’ve got the means to replace it. If politicians and bureaucrats just got out of the way, the market would do the rest. Instead, they’ll probably drag it out for decades, at a cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.

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Move Towards Your Resistance

Our minds have the tendency to turn away and move away from what we’re fearing and resisting the most. We naturally don’t like pain, frustration, difficulty. So turning away and avoiding and putting off are protective acts.

And yet, this keeps us in our comfort zone. The path of growth is in the parts we’re resisting.

Each day, find the thing you’re resisting the most and move towards it.

I don’t mean that you should do something that’s actually unsafe. Jumping off a cliff to your death is not a good example of moving towards your resistance. Putting yourself in physical danger isn’t what I’m suggesting.

I’m inviting you to find the thing in your business or personal life that you know would be powerful for you, but that you’re resisting doing. Move towards that.

Turn toward it and look it in the face.

Move closer to the fear and let yourself feel it completely. Open your heart to it.

Let your love melt the resistance a little. Stay in it even if it doesn’t evaporate. Be courageous and fearless with it.

Do the thing you’re resisting the most. Do it bolder and louder than you are comfortable with. Do it with love, from a place of love. Do it long enough that you are no longer held back by it, and your relationship to it is transformed.

Find the joy and beauty in the middle of the resistance. Find gratitude in the midst of your fear. Find play in the midst of your burden.

You only need to focus on one small moment of it at a time, instead of the whole huge burden of it. You only need to open your heart for a moment. And then another, and another, but you don’t need to worry about all those anothers right now. Just this one moment.

Move closer to your resistance, open your heart to it, do it repeatedly, and see what happens. That’s my invitation to you.

Join my Fearless Training Program and practice with me.

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Anatomy of a Frivolous Argument

While I’ve spoken about this many times, it keeps coming up so I figured I would do a formal analysis.  I’m well-aware this will have no impact on those who use this tactic to avoid discussion, such as lawyers and bureaucrats; this is for those who may be victims of this pernicious method of shouting down a valid argument.  Ironically, as will be shown, it’s those screeching “frivolous” that are usually raising a truly frivolous argument.  Yelling frivolous is a distraction technique, don’t be fooled by it.

Anyone who has ever challenged the legitimacy of government and the application of their sacred writ, called “laws,” will be familiar with this tactic.  When the accuser admittedly has no evidence, they just start shouting “frivolous argument” as if that magically creates facts to support their claim.

What is a frivolous argument?  There are usually two constants, it’s not just an argument lacking in merit or arbitrarily denied by a traffic court judge: “An appeal [argument] is not frivolous just because it has no merit” Applied Business Software, Inc. v. Pacific Mortgage Exchange, Inc., 164 Cal. App. 4th 1108, it must also be brought in bad faith:

frivolous.  So clearly and palpably bad and insufficient as to require no argument or illustration to show the character as indicative of bad faith upon a bare inspection…Strong v Sproul, 53 NY 497, 499.”  Ballentine’s Law Dictionary, 3rd Ed., page 503.

Black’s Law Dictionary adds to this (also quoting Strong v Sproul):

“…where it does not controvert the material points of the opposite pleading, and is presumably interposed for mere purposes of delay or to embarrass the opponent…”  4th Ed, page 796.

A frivolous argument has three elements:

  1. lacks merit;
  2.  doesn’t controvert the material points; and
  3.  is brought in bad faith.

Now let’s look at an argument I wrote that’s been labeled “frivolous” by an administrative law judge in California and see if it meets this criteria.

“…the legal claims made against me have no factual support, the FTB knows this, and is proceeding against me anyway.”  The legal claim referenced is the claim the laws apply because the target of the assessment is physically in California or has a California source of money.  The FTB argues their laws created an obligation, it’s a foundational claim.

We know this because several agents told us, this includes counsel for the FTB.  When asked for the facts they relied on, they admittedly had nothing, counsel admitted this was an assumption (video below).  Those are the facts my argument is based on, the argument follows directly from the facts.

1. Does the claim have merit?  Yes; the FTB and IRS operate under the same presumption, they admit it; they claim their laws apply, gives them jurisdiction and creates obligations.

My argument is based on their admissions they don’t have evidence and don’t need evidence to support their claim.  So with the FTB claim, where they admit they have no evidence and the foundation of their assessment is an assumption, there is solid factual support.  Therefore, the argument is valid, it has merit because the facts support it.

The FTB and IRS are required to have evidence to support their assessments; lacking a foundational basis is referred to as a “naked assessment” to wit:

The determination of tax due then may be one “without rational foundation and excessive,” and not properly subject to the usual rule with respect to the burden of proof in tax cases. Helvering v. Taylor, 293 US 507.” United States v. Janis, 428 U.S. 433.

The challenge is based on this principle, while my challenge is not spelled out in this or other cases I’m aware of, the legal principle is what’s relevant. The FTB’s assessment is “without rational foundation” by their own admissions.

The argument has merit because it is based on a sound legal principle, supported by the agents’ own admissions.

2.  Does it “controvert the material points” made by the FTB or IRS?  Yes; by their own admission they operate under the presumption the laws apply because you’re physically in California or have a California source of money; and by their own admission they have no evidence, it’s an assumption.  It’s logical and consistent with the facts.

3.  Is it brought in bad faith?  No; it’s based on facts, and a sound legal principle that “controverts the material points” raised by the FTB or IRS.  It’s a logically, legally, and factually consistent argument.

None of the three elements of a “frivolous argument” are present proving the argument is not frivolous; it may be wrong, but it’s not frivolous.  It’s possible the facts as alleged are not true, but that is what a hearing is for, to determine if the alleged facts are true.  In the above video you can hear the agent admit the assessment’s foundation, the applicability of the laws, is an assumption.  An assumption is not a “rational foundation.”

If it’s obvious it’s not a frivolous argument, then why do tax agents and their lawyers (with and without black robes) insist it is and threaten thousands in sanctions?   Because they have a vested interest in the system taking property by force (taxation).  They are the ones raising an argument that has no rational foundation and is brought in bad faith.  I’ve had tax agents claim they don’t need evidence.  That’s frivolous, not pointing out their claim lacks factual support.

What they are really saying is just challenging their foundational claim is somehow a frivolous argument or calling out their frivolous argument is itself frivolous.  That is proof of bad faith.

What they do is strawman the actual position claiming:

“Appellant’s inquiry is entirely nonsensical, and while we are unsure of the exact import of this statement, it appears to be based on the meritless contention that California does not have jurisdiction to impose a personal income tax on appellant.”

No, the contention is: the FTB admitted their foundational claim is the constitution applies because there was California source of money.  When asked for evidence, they admittedly had none and agreed it was an assumption.  We have never made the above claim, this is done to justify ignoring the actual issue. They know what the actual issue is because the “entirely nonsensical” argument is cited just before the above quote:

“Moreover, in her briefs, appellant states that she had previously contacted FTB staff and [FTB counsel] regarding the proposed assessments at issue, and that these individuals failed to provide evidence that the “constitution” applied to her.”

First, the claim is not “entirely nonsensical” it’s based on the FTB’s own admissions and used as an insult, they also use “legalistic gibberish.”  What this administrative law judge really thinks is frivolous, is challenging the FTB’s claim the laws apply to appellant.  Questioning the FTB’s legal claim is the frivolous argument to him.  This cow is so sacred to this bureaucrat he’s threatening a five-thousand dollar sanction for just questioning it and pointing out it’s admittedly an assumption.  Like the pope admitting he just assumes the gods are real and anyone quoting him is raising a frivolous argument.  By the way, this is the same bureaucrat allowing the FTB to lie with impunity in their pleadings.  No bias there I guess.

Some claim the courts have already ruled the argument frivolous for decades as if that changes anything, it doesn’t.  Because just as this ALJ is wrong, so are the courts for the reasons above.

It must also be noted they are not addressing this actual argument in those cases, just like the ALJ does here.  If you look at the cases, the frivolous arguments are all arguments of legal interpretation, not issues of fact.  This ALJ cites Appeals of Dauberger (82- SBE-082) 1982, as support; the type of arguments included are: wages not income without meaning of statute, not a taxpayer within meaning of statute, federal reserve notes are not legal tender, and the Fifth Amendment prohibits the requirement to file a tax return.  Not a single issue of fact cited as a frivolous argument.

If it’s truly frivolous to challenge this legal claim, then that’s proof the system is rigged.  Irrefutable presumptions are unfair and violate due process because they cannot be challenged, there is no defense, even against an assumption, Vlandis v. Kline, 412 US 441. Yes, this is about legislative presumptions, but the principle of fairness is what is relevant because due process requires notice and opportunity to defend at a meaningful hearing, Goldberg v Kelly, 397 US 254 (1970).

It’s not a so-called “frivolous argument” to point out someone’s foundational claim is admittedly an assumption, it’s a statement of fact.

So when they start chanting frivolous, call them on it, ask them what makes an argument frivolous and not just wrong.  Ask them to point out what part of the argument is false; because the underlying facts are not and since the conclusion is drawn directly from the facts, the conclusion is accurate.

The argument the FTB or IRS has failed to support their claim the constitution applies, has merit because 1) it is based on their own admissions, 2) it controverts material points because they admit to not having evidence, and 3) because it’s based on a sound legal principle and the FTB’s own admissions, there is no bad faith.

Regardless of the chants from lawyers and bureaucrats, the argument is not frivolous.

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Co-Working Meets Co-Learning

At first glance, Workspace looks like any other co-working environment. Nestled in a business park in Bethel, Connecticut, the entrance to the red, barn-like building opens into a bright lobby with offices, cubicle spaces, lounges, studios, and a kitchen. It’s not long before visitors realize that Workspace is used here as a verb, not a noun, and that this space is much more than a shared office. Workspacing is something families do, tailoring work and education in their own ways, while in community with others. Combining co-working and co-learning, with a prevailing spirit of entrepreneurship, Workspace Education is on the cutting-edge of innovative K-12 learning models.

For its founder, Cath Fraise, Workspace fills a void. When she launched the center in 2016, Fraise envisioned a dynamic space that would allow parents to work, children to learn, businesses to sprout, and community to flourish—all in a collaborative, multi-generational setting. “I started by wanting to make a school, but I wanted everyone to be able to afford it,” she says.

I also wanted to incubate social entrepreneurs and have a space where everyone is working and creating small businesses.

Trained as a Montessori educator who taught in public schools in Australia, Fraise spent the past decade doing project-based homeschooling with her two children, who are now 20 and 16. She wanted to create a space that would support learners with a wide assortment of educational resources, while also supporting their parents who are pursuing their own career goals and entrepreneurial endeavors.

A Concierge Model

Workspace acts on a concierge model of learning and working. In addition to a one-time $1,500 upfront fee for 10 hours of parent training and onboarding, parents pay $3,500 per year per child (with sibling discounts). This combined fee gives them access to six days a week of shared office space, WiFi, and business support, while working with Workspace staff and education specialists to tailor a learning plan for their child, who joins them at Workspace each day.

The affordable cost gives parents and their children unlimited support and access to all Workspace amenities and offerings, including the art studios, music room, research labs, gym, wood shop, and maker-space; “Families say that Workspace is just as good for the parents as the children,” says Fraise.but some of Workspace’s 80 families take advantage of additional services, such as private tutoring and weekly classes offered by outside educators.

For instance, some families use a popular Workspace math tutor, a former Morgan Stanley employee, who charges $50 per child for seven weeks of weekly, one-hour math instruction. Another popular lab class, taught by a Yale-trained Ph.D. scientist, costs families $1,200 per year for two hours of lab work and instruction each week. There is also an onsite Acton Academy ($6,800/year for full-time enrollment) if parents want a drop-off education option. According to Fraise, most parents don’t pay for additional drop-off programming and rely instead on the robust resources and supportive environment that Workspace offers each of its members. “Families say that Workspace is just as good for the parents as the children,” says Fraise. “We’re an interdependent community uniting to create the best education for the children in the building.”

Working and Learning Together

The supportive learning and working community is what attracted Melanie Ryan to Workspace. Her 11-year-old son, Justin, spent his early elementary years in a private Montessori school and then went to public school, where he struggled. “The teacher was amazing,” says Ryan, “but he does have some special needs such as attention deficits, as well as being a very physically active, athletic boy, so sitting for seven hours a day and not having a lot of options wasn’t a good fit for him.”

His mother says that Justin, who had previously been a happy, agreeable kid, experienced serious school-related trauma and self-loathing, saying things like, “I’m stupid.” Ryan, a psychotherapist who has been in private practice for over 15 years, knew she had to do something to address her child’s emotional distress. She pulled Justin out of public school in December 2018 and registered him as a homeschooler in their home state of New York. It was a big leap. “My husband and I own the largest holistic health center in the Hudson Valley where I see clients during the week and run classes on the weekends,” says Ryan, who was unsure how she was going to manage working full-time while overseeing her son’s education. “I had a lot on my plate,” she adds.

Then Ryan heard about Workspace from a friend and decided to make the 45-minute drive to Connecticut for a visit. “I knew right away this was it,” she says. “As soon as we arrived, Justin was greeted by a boy that he would shadow for the day, and then he was just off for hours. I couldn’t get him to leave!” Now, Ryan spends three days a week at Workspace, doing therapy calls via Skype with clients around the world, managing her team of practitioners and handling marketing and promotion of her business, while Justin takes classes in math, reading and creative writing, studio art and cartooning, woodworking, science, law and government. While Ryan sees clients offsite one day a week, her husband goes to Workspace, where he leads a football club for Justin and his peers in between his own meetings and client work. On Thursdays, Justin joins his mother and father at their clinic.

Workspace helps to cultivate personal and professional opportunities for parents while supporting their children. Ryan has begun to see some clients during the week in the private offices at Workspace, as well as offer classes to members and the larger community. She is also taking a digital photography class through Workspace, helping her to reconnect with a long-ignored passion. “It’s really a village,” she says of Workspace.

As a working parent and entrepreneur, I can really rely on my fellow parents that I am co-creating with here. If I need time to leave Workspace for a meeting, I can easily ask another parent to keep an eye on Justin and I do the same for them.

This is one feature that has encouraged single parents to join Workspace.

Incubating Young Entrepreneurs

Parents aren’t the only ones pursuing entrepreneurship at Workspace. Brady Knuff and Forrest Anderson both left their respective high schools after their junior year to dedicate their time to building a business. Now enrolled virtually in the North Atlantic Regional High School, a Maine-based private program for nontraditional students, the duo will earn an accredited high school diploma while spending what would be their senior year immersed in their entrepreneurial efforts.

“My experience with Workspace is a little bit different than others’ because I’m not taking classes here,” says Knuff. “I’m using it as an incubator for my business.” These young entrepreneurs use the technology and business support resources at Workspace, such as video editing equipment and access to ongoing mentorship, to expand their nascent real estate marketing company, Blukite.

Asked why he decided to leave his high school for Workspace, Knuff explains:

This year I wanted to work on the business more seriously. Really it was just a matter of time. I would have to be at school until at least 3 p.m., then sports, then homework. I never had the time or the resources to devote to it.

Anderson adds:

At first I was skeptical because I didn’t know if I wanted to leave my high school, but I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and I felt like this is the time.

Both boys are uncertain if they will attend college someday, but they admit it’s a possibility. “I’m going to work on this for a couple of years and see where I am financially to decide if I want to go to college,” says Anderson.

Under Fraise’s leadership, Workspace continues to add families and expand its square footage, but she is not content for it to be a stand-alone success story. “I see this as the future of education,” says Fraise, who views Workspace as the flagship model for co-working and co-learning spaces.

I want these to spontaneously erupt everywhere, and I want to give away what I’ve learned to help others to do it.

To that end, Fraise offers training programs and support to entrepreneurial educators who are interested in launching their own Workspace-like organizations.

She is also hopeful about bringing the Workspace model into low-income communities, expanding opportunity and encouraging entrepreneurship. “I have faith in families,” she says.

The key is professional development for the parents, helping them find income streams and role modeling for their children, as well as increasing opportunity through our network.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.

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City Shuts Downs Preschoolers’ Farm Stand Citing Zoning Violations

It’s like something out of The Onion: city manager shuts down preschool farm stand out of fear that, if allowed, “we could end up with one on every corner.”

Farm Stand Shut Down

Alas, this is not satire. It’s the current predicament facing the Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. In an area where access to fresh fruits and vegetables can be limited, this preschool has stepped up to prioritize growing and selling fresh produce from its school gardens. According to recent reporting in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Little Ones has often sold its produce with generous discounts to local food stamp recipients and other neighbors and has been acknowledged as a leader in the farm-to-school healthy food movement.

That is, until the city shut down the bi-monthly farm stand program last month for zoning violations.

Despite protests from community members, city officials are holding firm to their stance that allowing one farm stand could lead to an unruly proliferation of fresh produce.

“Anywhere you live, you’ve got to have rules and regulations,” Forest Park City Manager Angela Redding said. “Otherwise, you would just have whatever,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

That “whatever” is exactly the hope and promise that irks central planners. Whatever symbolizes what is possible when individuals and organizations spontaneously create new streams of value for their neighbors. Whatever are opportunities for mutual gain through voluntary exchange. Whatever are new inventions, new services, and new ways of living and being that augment our existence and improve our future. Whatever is freedom.

Central Planners Are Threatened by Freedom

Freedom is the threat. Central planners are uneasy with spontaneous order, or the decentralized, peaceful process of human action that occurs when individuals follow their diverse interests in an open marketplace of trade. A preschool finds it beneficial for their students, parents, employees, and neighbors when they emphasize immersive gardening, sustainably-grown produce, and farm stand commerce. Students enjoy it, parents value the experience for their children, teachers choose to work in this farm-focused environment, and neighbors are willing to pay for the garden bounty from a twice-per-month farm stand. It is a beautiful example of the beneficial gains achieved through free markets.

That is, until the city’s central planners intervened out of fears that allowing one neighborhood farm stand to operate could lead to many, un-zoned farm stands. This is particularly poignant given that this preschool is located in one of the most disadvantaged counties in Atlanta. Little Ones preschool director Wande Okunoren-Meadows told Mother Nature Network: “According to the United Way, Clayton County has the lowest child well-being index out of all the metro Atlanta counties…So if we’re trying to move the needle and figure out ways to improve well-being, I’m not saying the farm stand is the only way to do it, but Little Ones is trying to be part of the solution.”

Zoning is often considered to be a protection mechanism, ensuring that neighborhoods remain orderly and livable. Yet, zoning laws in this country have a long history of racist tendencies. Granting power to government officials to control housing, commerce, and neighborhood development has previously led to unfair practices and unfavorable results. Decentralizing that power by eliminating questionable zoning practices can ensure that power is more justly distributed among the individual citizens of a particular community. Sadly, children’s lemonade stands are also routinely shut down for similar reasons, often with the same outrage.In the case of the Little Ones preschool, power would shift from city planners to local neighbors and businesses.

The city has offered Little Ones an opportunity to hold their farm stand in another part of town, but it is far away from the preschool and its neighborhood. City officials also said that Little Ones could pay $50 for a “special event” permit for each day it hosts its farm stand—a fee that is prohibitively expensive for the school and its small produce stand. For now, the school is selling its fruits and vegetables inside the building, but the indoor location is leading to far fewer sales as passersby don’t realize it’s there. The Little Ones parent and educator community is hoping that the city rules can be changed to allow for occasional outdoor farm stands.

Cases like Little Ones preschool expose the deleterious effects of zoning regulations. “It’s like shutting down a kid’s lemonade stand,” Okunoren-Meadows says. “Nobody does this. It just shouldn’t happen,” the preschool director told Mother Nature Network.

Sadly, children’s lemonade stands are also routinely shut down for similar reasons, often with the same outrage.

We should be outraged when young entrepreneurs are prohibited from producing and selling something of value to their neighbors due to restrictive regulations that centralize power and weaken neighborhood dynamism. Some states, like Utah, are passing laws to protect young entrepreneurs from these zoning and licensing challenges. The key is to look beyond preschool farm stands and advocate for more freedom for all.

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Mike Munger: Fair Trade and Free Trade (58m)

This episode features an interview of economist Mike Munger from 2007 by Russ Roberts, host of EconTalk. Does the premium for fair trade coffee end up in the hands of the grower? What economic forces might stop that from happening? They discuss the business strategy of using higher wages as a marketing strategy to attract concerned consumers. They turn to the issue of free trade agreements. If the ideal situation is open borders to foreign products, is it still worthwhile to negotiate bilateral and multilateral agreements that requires delays, exemptions and a bureaucracy to enforce? What is the cost of including environmental and various labor market regulations in these agreements? Purchase books by Mike Munger on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (58m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “voluntaryist voices”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc or PayPal.me/everythingvoluntary.

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