Quotulatiousness

December 11, 2017

The FBI and the Michael Flynn case

Filed under: Government, Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Reason, Sheldon Richman explains why the FBI is nobody’s friend:

One of the unfortunate ironies of the manufactured “Russiagate” controversy is the perception of the FBI as a friend of liberty and justice. But the FBI has never been a friend of liberty and justice.

Rather, as James Bovard writes, it “has a long record of both deceit and incompetence. Five years ago, Americans learned that the FBI was teaching its agents that ‘the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.’ This has practically been the Bureau’s motif since its creation in 1908…. The FBI has always used its ‘good guy’ image to keep a lid on its crimes.” (Bovard has made a vocation of cataloging the FBI’s many offenses against liberty and justice, for which we are forever in his debt.)

Things are certainly not different today. Take the case of Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general who spent less than a month as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in connection with conversations he had with Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, between Trump’s election and inauguration. One need not be an admirer of Flynn — and for many reasons I certainly am not — to be disturbed by how the FBI has handled this case.

One ought to be immediately suspicious whenever someone is charged with or pleads guilty to lying to the FBI without any underlying crime being charged. Former assistant U.S. attorney Andrew C. McCarthy points out:

    When a prosecutor has a cooperator who was an accomplice in a major criminal scheme, the cooperator is made to plead guilty to the scheme. This is critical because it proves the existence of the scheme. In his guilty-plea allocution (the part of a plea proceeding in which the defendant admits what he did that makes him guilty), the accomplice explains the scheme and the actions taken by himself and his co-conspirators to carry it out. This goes a long way toward proving the case against all of the subjects of the investigation.

That is not happening in Flynn’s situation. Instead, like [former Trump foreign-policy “adviser” George] Papadopoulos, he is being permitted to plead guilty to a mere process crime.

When the FBI questioned Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, it already had the transcripts of those conversations—the government eavesdrops on the representatives of foreign governments, among others, and Flynn had been identified, or “unmasked,” as the ambassador’s conversation partner. The FBI could have simply told Flynn the transcripts contained evidence of a crime (assuming for the sake of argument they did) and charged him with violating the Logan Act or whatever else the FBI had in mind.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the FBI asked Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, apparently to test him. If he lied (which would mean he’s pretty stupid since he once ran the Defense Intelligence Agency and must have known about the transcripts!) or had a bad memory, he could have been charged with lying to the FBI.

QotD: Occupational licensing

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Law, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… occupational licensing laws and Competitor’s Veto laws exclude would-be entrepreneurs from the marketplace — with disproportionately negative consequences for members of minority groups — […] Congress could act today to protect the fundamental human right of economic liberty against unjust state interference.

Licensing laws tend to have particularly harsh consequences on members of minority groups for a couple reasons. First, if a law requires a person to have, say, a college degree to practice the trade of interior design (which is the law in Florida), people who have less money and time to spend in college will find that avenue of opportunity closed to them. Since black and Hispanic Floridians are about 30 percent less likely to have a college degree, they will suffer more from this absurd licensing requirement than others will. Competitor’s Veto laws that forbid a person from practicing a trade unless they get permission from the businesses already operating in that industry are also very likely to create a sort of Old Boys Network, and to exclude entrepreneurs who lack political connections. Second, in a more general sense, any law that restricts economic opportunity for some to benefit others — as licensing laws tend to do — are likely to benefit those who have more political influence and can therefore get the government to regulate in ways favorable to them. Since members of minority groups have less political influence, they tend to be the ones excluded.

Timothy Sandefur, “Testifying to the U.S. Senate Oversight Subcommittee Tuesday about economic liberty and minorities”, Freespace, 2015-09-30.

December 7, 2017

Lawrence Solomon makes his pitch for “most hated by the bike mafia”

Filed under: Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

This was published last week, but I didn’t see it until it was linked from Instapundit:

Today the bicycle is a mixed bag, usually with more negatives than positives. In many cities, bike lanes now consume more road space than they free up, they add to pollution as well as reducing it, they hurt neighbourhoods and business districts alike, and they have become a drain on the public purse. The bicycle today — or rather the infrastructure that now supports it — exemplifies “inappropriate technology,” a good idea gone wrong through unsustainable, willy-nilly top-down planning.

London, where former mayor Boris Johnston began a “cycling revolution,” shows where the road to ruin can lead. Although criticism of biking remains largely taboo among the city’s elite, a bike backlash is underway, with many blaming the city’s worsening congestion on the proliferation of bike lanes. While bikes have the luxury of zipping through traffic using dedicated lanes that are vastly underused most of the day — these include what Transport for London (TfL) calls “cycle superhighways” — cars have been squeezed into narrowed spaces that slow traffic to a crawl.

As a City of London report acknowledged last year, “The most significant impact on the City’s road network in the last 12 months has been the construction and subsequent operation of TfL’s cycle super highway … areas of traffic congestion can frequently be found on those roads.” As Lord Nigel Lawson put it in a parliamentary debate on bicycles, cycle lanes have done more damage to London than “almost anything since the Blitz.”

As a consequence of the idling traffic, pollution levels have risen, contributing to what is now deemed a toxic stew. Ironically, cyclists are especially harmed, and not just because the bike lanes they speed upon are adjacent to tailpipes. According to a study by the London School of Medicine, cyclists have 2.3 times more inhaled soot than walkers because “cyclists breathe more deeply and at a quicker rate than pedestrians while in closer proximity to exhaust fumes … Our data strongly suggest that personal exposure to black carbon should be considered when planning cycling routes.” Cyclists have begun wearing facemasks as a consequence. A recent headline in The Independent helpfully featured “5 best anti-pollution masks for cycling.” Neighbourhoods endure extra pollution, too, with frustrated autos cutting through residential districts to avoid bike-bred congestion.

Health and safety costs aside — per kilometre travelled, cyclist fatalities are eight times that of motorists — the direct economic burden associated with cycling megaprojects is staggering. Paris, which boasts of its plan to become the “cycling capital of the world,” is in the midst of a 150-million-euro cycling scheme. Melbourne has a $100-million plan. Amsterdam — a flat, compact city well suited to cycling — is spending 120 million euros on 9,000 new bicycle parking spots alone. Where cold weather reigns for much of the year, as is the case in many of Canada’s cities, the cost-benefit case for cycling infrastructure is eviscerated further.

An answer might be dedicated bicycle-only routes, but the usual problem arises: the cost of the land necessary to build and maintain the routes will almost always be far higher than municipalities can afford to pay, and the benefits accrue more to upper-income users while the costs fall on the whole population. That’s just what we need: another way to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich.

December 5, 2017

Happy Repeal Day!

Filed under: Government, History, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Eighty-four years ago today, the US repealed Prohibition. Baltimore’s own H.L. Mencken was among the first to publicly celebrate the demise of the hated legislation:

HL Mencken celebrates repeal of Prohibition, December 1933

Reason‘s Baylen Linnekin celebrates the federal anniversary, but points out that devolving powers to the various states hasn’t been quite a libertarian panacea:

[December 5th] will mark the 84th anniversary of the ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment, which repealed alcohol Prohibition. The repeal of Prohibition is worth celebrating, even if the amendment was (and remains) a deeply flawed vehicle.

The chief flaw with the Amendment is, as I wrote earlier this year, that it “simply shifted much of the power to prohibit and incessantly regulate alcohol from the federal government to the states.”

States have truly made the most of their teetotalitarian authority for decades, to the detriment of both alcohol producers and—much more so—consumers.

Much of the negative impacts of states’ approach to alcohol regulation can be tied to what’s known as the three-tier system, a Prohibition relic under which states generally prohibit direct alcohol sales from a brewer, vintner, or distiller to a consumer. The three-tier system mandates these alcohol producers first sell to a distributor or retailer — a mandatory middleman — who can then sell to actual drinkers.

Laws that require this approach create a host of problems, including, for one, that they drive up consumer costs dramatically and needlessly. States’ plenary control over alcohol has been controversial for decades, as this 1987 article in the Journal of Public Health Policy makes clear, noting that “the idea of a government monopoly of a consumer product seems odd and even bizarre[.]”

Great arguments in favor of scrapping the dreaded three-tier system are often countered by those who claim doing so will bring about the end of days, or worse.

Reposted from 2013:

ReasonTV
Published on 5 Dec 2012

In honor of Repeal Day, which celebrates the end of America’s “noble experiment” in banning alcoholic beverages, Reason TV is happy to introduce you to George Cassiday, a man whose life and work should be taught to every schoolkid — and to every member of Congress hell-bent on legislating the nation’s morals.

From 1920 through 1930 — the thick of the Prohibition era — Cassiday supplied illegal liquor throughout the halls of Congress. Known as “The Man in the Green Hat,” Cassiday was the Capitol’s highest-profile bootlegger, with a client list that included senior members of the Republican and Democratic Parties. How instrumental was he to the D.C. power elite? He even had his own office in the House and Senate office buildings.

Cassiday gave up the liquor trade after his arrest in 1930, but gained notoriety by penning a series of front-page articles for The Washington Post about his days as Congress’ top bottle man.

Though he never named names, Cassiday’s stories detailed every aspect of his former business — and the depths of hypocrisy in Washington. By his own estimation, “four out of five senators and congressmen consume liquor either at their offices or their homes.” Appearing days before the 1930 mid-term elections, Cassiday’s revelations caused a national stir and helped sweep pro-Prohibitionist — and ostensibly tee-totaling — congressmen and senators out of power.

Today, with the rise of cocktail culture and prohibition-vogue in full swing, Cassiday’s life and legacy are being re-discovered. Through books such as Garrett Peck’s Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t to New Columbia Distillery’s Green Hat Gin, the remarkable story of George Cassiday — “The Man in the Green Hat” — is again being told.

Reason TV spoke with Cassiday’s son, Fred, author Garrett Peck, and New Columbia Distillery’s John Uselton to discuss George Cassiday and the end of Prohibition.

November 28, 2017

Evergreen headline – “FCC bureaucrats don’t know what they’re talking about”

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Nick Gillespie on the heightening panic over the FCC’s reversal of the controversial Net Neutrality rules:

Current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai memorably told Reason that “net neutrality” rules were “a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Yet in 2015, despite a blessed lack of throttling of specific traffic streams, blocking of websites, and other feared behavior by internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile carriers, the FCC issued net neutrality rules that gave the federal government the right to punish business practices under Title II regulations designed for the old state-enabled Bell telephone monopoly.

Now that Pai, who became chairman earlier this year, has announced an FCC vote to repeal the Obama-era regulations, he is being pilloried by progressives, liberals, Democrats, and web giants ranging from Google to Netflix to Amazon to Facebook, often in the name of protecting an “open internet” that would let little companies and startups flourish like in the good old days before Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook dominated everything. Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which back in 2009 called FCC attempts to claim jurisdiction over the internet a “Trojan Horse” for government control, is squarely against the repeal.

[…]

Yet the panic over the repeal of net neutrality is misguided for any number of reasons.

First and foremost, the repeal simply returns the internet back to pre-2015 rules where there were absolutely no systematic issues related to throttling and blocking of sites (and no, ISPs weren’t to blame for Netflix quality issues in 2013). As Pai stressed in an exclusive interview with Reason last week, one major impact of net neutrality regs was a historic decline in investment in internet infrastructure, which would ultimately make things worse for all users. Why bother building out more capacity if there’s a strong likelihood that the government will effectively nationalize your pipes? Despite fears, the fact is that in the run-up to government regulation, both the average speed and number of internet connections (especially mobile) continued to climb and the percentage of Americans without “advanced telecommunications capability” dropped from 20 percent to 10 percent between 2012 and 2014, according to the FCC (see table 7 in full report). Nobody likes paying for the internet or for cell service, but the fact is that services have been getting better and options have been growing for most people.

Second, as Reason contributor Thomas W. Hazlett, a former chief economist for the FCC, writes in The New York Daily News, even FCC bureaucrats don’t know what they’re talking about.

Hazlett notes that in a recent debate former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who implemented the 2015 net neutrality rules after explicit lobbying by President Obama, said the rise of AOL to dominance during the late 1990s proved the need for the sort of government regulation he imposed. But “AOL’s foray only became possible when regulators in the 1980s peeled back ‘Title II’ mandates, the very regulations that Wheeler’s FCC imposed on broadband providers in 2015,” writes Hazlett. “AOL’s experiment started small and grew huge, discovering progressively better ways to serve consumers. Wheeler’s chosen example of innovation demonstrates how dangerous it is to impose one particular platform, freezing business models in place.”

November 23, 2017

If you think your taxes are too low, you can easily give the government more of your money

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

As discussed fairly recently, the government requires you to pay taxes up to a certain point, but there’s nothing stopping you from paying more than they ask. For Canadian federal taxes, Her Majesty in right of Canada would be delighted to accept any additional money you wish to donate. I’m sure your provincial or territorial government has a similar mechanism set up. Equivalent schemes are definitely available in the UK and probably other Commonwealth countries.

In the US, the tax rates are in the news again and the usual (ultra-wealthy) suspects are lining up to demand that the government not lower their taxes:

There’s an amusing ritual that takes place in Washington every time there’s a big debate about tax policy. A bunch of rich leftists will sign a letter or hold a press conference to announce that they should be paying higher taxes rather than lower taxes.

I’ve debated some of these people in the past, pointing out that they are “neurotic” and “guilt-ridden.”

But they apparently didn’t take my criticisms seriously and go into therapy, They’re now back and the Washington Post provides very favorable coverage to their latest exercise in masochism.

    More than 400 American millionaires and billionaires are sending a letter to Congress this week urging Republican lawmakers not to cut their taxes. The wealthy Americans — including doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and chief executive — say the GOP is making a mistake by reducing taxes on the richest families… Instead of petitioning tax cuts for the wealthy, the letter tells Congress to raises taxes on rich people like them. …The letter was put together by Responsible Wealth, a group that advocates progressive causes. Signers include Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, fashion designer Eileen Fisher, billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros… Most of the signers of the letter come from California, New York and Massachusetts.

Earlier in the month, I would have told these “limousine liberals” not to worry because I was pessimistic about the chances of a tax bill getting enacted. But then the Senate GOP unveiled a better-than-expected plan and I’m now semi-hopeful that something will make its way through the process.

That doesn’t mean, however, that these rich leftists should be despondent.

Because I’m a nice guy, today’s column is going to let them know that they don’t have to accept a tax cut. The Treasury Department has a website that they can use to voluntarily send extra money to Washington. It’s called “gifts to reduce the public debt,” and people like George Soros can have their accountants and lawyers calculate the value of any tax cut and then use this form to send that amount of money to D.C.

November 22, 2017

A damned odd canary in this particular coal mine

Filed under: Government, Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle on the imminent demise of the FCC’s “Net Neutrality”:

The internet will be filled today with denunciations of this move, threats of a dark future in which our access to content will be controlled by a few powerful companies. And sure, that may happen. But in fact, it may already have happened, led not by ISPs, but by the very companies that were fighting so hard for net neutrality.

Consider what happened to the Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi publication, after Charlottesville. One by one, hosting companies refused to permit its content on their servers. The group was forced to effectively flee the country, and then other countries, too, shut it down.

Now of course, these are not nice people. Their website espoused vile hate. But the fact remains that what they were publishing was not illegal, merely immoral, and their immoral speech was effectively shut down by a small number of private companies who decided to exercise their considerable control over what we’re allowed to read. And what is to stop them from expanding this decision to other categories, forcing the rest of us to conform to Silicon Valley’s idea of what it is moral and right for us to see?

Fifteen years ago, when I started blogging, it was common to hear that “the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” You don’t hear that so often anymore, because it’s not true. China has proven very effective at censoring the internet, and as market power has consolidated in the tech industry, so have private firms.

Meanwhile, our experience of the internet is increasingly controlled by a handful of firms, most especially Google and Facebook. The argument for regulating these companies as public utilities is arguably at least as strong as the argument for thus regulating ISPs, and very possibly much stronger; while cable monopolies may have local dominance, none of them has the ability that Google and Facebook have to unilaterally shape what Americans see, hear, and read.

In other words, we already live in the walled garden that activists worry about, and the walls are getting higher every day. Is this a problem? I think it is. But that doesn’t mean that the internet would get better if Google and Facebook and Apple and Amazon were required to make every decision with a regulator hanging over their shoulder to decide whether it was sufficiently “neutral.”

November 21, 2017

Scaling back the Imperial Presidency

Filed under: Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The US government was explicitly set up with clear separation of powers, to ensure that too many powers are not drawn together to create a potential tyranny. For over 100 years, the office of the President has been granted, or taken without challenge, more and more of the powers that the founders had intended to be kept separate. Many Democrats were horrified to discover just over a year ago that those powers could be inherited by a man they believed totally unfit for the job (and even some Republicans agreed). However, Donald Trump may be the first president in living memory to actually devolve power back to Congress:

Donald Trump did not campaign for president as the guy who would reverse the mostly unbroken, century-old trend of the executive power assuming more and more power in the face of an increasingly self-marginalizing Congress. If anything, the imperial presidency looked set to increase given Trump’s braggadocious personality and cavalier approach to constitutional restraints. “Nobody knows the system better than me,” he famously said during his worryingly authoritarian Republican National Convention speech, “which is why I alone can fix it.”

You wouldn’t know it from viewing policy through the prism of the president’s Twitter feed, which is filled with cajoling and insult toward the legislative branch, but Trump has on multiple occasions taken an executive-branch power-grab and kicked the issue back to Congress, where it belongs. As detailed here last month, the president has taken this approach on Iran sanctions, Obamacare subsidies, and the Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), at minimum. And notably, his one Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was most famous pre-appointment for rejecting the deference that courts have in recent decades given to executive-branch regulatory agencies interpreting the statutory language of legislators.

Are there any other examples? Sure — the 15 regulatory nullifications this year via the Congressional Review Act (14 more than all previous presidents combined) are definitionally power-transfers from the executive to legislative. And certainly, the sharp decreases in the enactment, proposal, and even page-count of regulations amount to the administration declining to exercise as much power as its predecessors.

Josh Blackman also looks at this unexpected phenomenon:

Our Constitution carefully separates the legislative, executive, and judicial powers into three separate branches of government: Congress enacts laws, which the president enforces and the courts review. However, when all of these powers are accumulated “in the same hands,” James Madison warned in Federalist No. 47, the government “may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” The rise of the administrative state over the last century has pushed us closer and closer to the brink. Today, Congress enacts vague laws, the executive branch aggrandizes unbounded discretion, and the courts defer to those dictates. For decades, presidents of both parties have celebrated this ongoing distortion of our constitutional order because it promotes their agenda. The Trump administration, however, is poised to disrupt this status quo.

In a series of significant speeches at the Federalist Society’s national convention, the president’s lawyers have begun to articulate a framework for restoring the separation of powers: First, Congress should cease delegating its legislative power to the executive branch; second, the executive branch will stop using informal “guidance documents” that deprive people of the due process of law without fair notice; and third, courts should stop rubber-stamping diktats that lack the force of law.

Executive power is often described as a one-way ratchet: Each president, Democrat or Republican, augments the authority his predecessor aggrandized. These three planks of the Trumpian Constitution — delegation, due process, and deference — are remarkable, because they do the exact opposite by ratcheting down the president’s authority. If Congress passes more precise statues, the president has less discretion. If federal agencies comply with the cumbersome regulatory process, the president has less latitude. If judges become more engaged and scrutinize federal regulations, the president receives less deference. Each of these actions would weaken the White House but strengthen the rule of law. To the extent that President Trump follows through with this platform, he can accomplish what few (myself included) thought possible: The inexorable creep of the administrative leviathan can be slowed down, if not forced into retreat.

November 18, 2017

QotD: A key drawback of a cashless society

Filed under: Economics, Government, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

When I was just starting out as a journalist, the State of New York swooped down and seized all the money out of one of my bank accounts. It turned out — much later, after a series of telephone calls — that they had lost my tax return for the year that I had resided in both Illinois and New York, discovered income on my federal tax return that had not appeared on my New York State tax return, sent some letters to that effect to an old address I hadn’t lived at for some time, and neatly lifted all the money out of my bank. It took months to get it back.

I didn’t starve, merely fretted. In our world of cash, friends and family can help out someone in a situation like that. In a cashless society, the government might intercept any transaction in which someone tried to lend money to the accused.

Unmonitored resources like cash create opportunities for criminals. But they also create a sort of cushion between ordinary people and a government with extraordinary powers. Removing that cushion leaves people who aren’t criminals vulnerable to intrusion into every remote corner of their lives.

We probably won’t notice how much this power grows every time we swipe a card instead of paying cash. The danger is that by the time we do notice, it will be too late. If we want to move toward a cashless society — and apparently we do — then we also need to think seriously about limiting the ability of the government to use the payments system as an instrument to control the behavior of its citizens.

Megan McArdle, “After Cash: All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses a Bank Account”, Bloomberg View, 2016-03-15.

November 12, 2017

QotD: Why politicians are all the same kind of people

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Why is it, then, that the virtues and decencies that we generally expect people to have in their private life are so manifestly absent in the people who succeed best in politics and government? The answer lies in the nature of government itself — at least, government as we currently know it all over the world, a system of imposed, involuntary, monopoly rule whereby the system’s kingpins use military and police power along with ideological enchantment to plunder and bully innocent people — and to get away with doing so year after year. Just as only physically tough, fearless, aggressive persons succeed as prize fighters, so only dishonest, slick, evasive, power-hungry, unscrupulous, and vicious persons have what it takes to succeed in a system whose very foundations — violence, aggression, extortion, and misrepresentation — are completely at odds with private standards of just and virtuous conduct.

If someone like me — elderly, small, weak, timid, and untrained — were put in the ring to fight for the heavyweight boxing championship, you would not expect me to survive more than a few seconds. Likewise, if someone like me — someone who respects other persons’ natural rights to life, liberty, and property and who abhors dishonesty, extortion, aggression, and unnecessary violence — were thrown into the political or governmental arena, I would scarcely last much longer. There’s a reason why today’s leading campaigners are such morally ugly individuals: they have a comparative advantage in taking the kinds of actions one must take in order to reach the pinnacle of government power.

Robert Higgs, “Why the Worst Get on Top: Comparative Advantage”, The Beacon, 2016-03-16.

November 8, 2017

Self-Driving Cars Will Make Most Auto Safety Regulations Unnecessary

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

ReasonTV
Published on 6 Nov 2017

Cars are becoming computers on wheels, meaning software, not hardware, will soon be paramount for safety. This will eliminate the need for most federal vehicular safety regulations.

Federal auto safety regulations fill nearly 900 pages with standards that determine everything from rear-view mirror and steering wheel placement to the shape of vehicles and the exact placement of seats. Many of the rules don’t make sense in the coming era of self-driving cars. Autonomous vehicles don’t need rear-view mirrors, or (eventually) steering wheels. Their ideal physical form is still a work in progress.

But an even bigger rethink is in order. As motor vehicles become essentially computers on wheels, software, not hardware, will soon be paramount for safety. This will make most government regulation unnecessary, and, to the extent that it slows innovation, could even cost lives on the highway.

“Basically, the entire vehicle code can be boiled down to be safe and don’t unfairly get in the way of other people,” says Brad Templeton, an entrepreneur and software architect, who has worked as a consultant with Google on its self-driving car project. (He also blogs regularly on the topic.)

One difference between self-driving cars and traditional automobiles is that companies will have every incentive to fix safety problems immediately. With today’s cars, that hasn’t always been the case. Templeton cites General Motors’ 2014 recall of 800,000 cars with faulty ignition switches. The company knew about the safety flaw over a decade prior, but didn’t act on the information because recalls are so costly. The companies actions had dire consequences: One-hundred-and-twenty-four deaths were linked to the ignition defect.

But the safety problems of the future will primarily be bugs in software not hardware, so they’ll be fixed by sending ones and zeros over the internet without the need for customers to return hundreds of thousands of vehicles to the manufacturer. “Replacing software is free,” Templeton says, “so there’s no reason to hold back on fixing something.”

Another difference is that when hardware was all that mattered for safety, regulators could inspect a car and determine if it met safety standards. With software, scrutiny of this sort may be impossible because the leading self-driving car companies (including Waymo and Tesla) are developing their systems through a process called machine learning that “doesn’t mesh in with traditional methods of regulation,” Templeton says.

Machine learning is developed organically, so humans have limited understanding of how the system actually works. And that makes governments nervous. Regulations passed by the European Union last year ban so-called unknowable artificial intelligence. Templeton fears that our desire to understand and control the underlying system could lead regulators to prohibit the use of machine learning technologies.

“If it turns out that [machine learning systems] do a better job [on safety] but we don’t know why,” says Templeton, “we’ll be in a situation of deliberately deploying the thing that’s worse because we feel a little more comfortable that we understand it.”

For full text and links, go to: https://reason.com/archives/2017/11/06/self-driving-autonomous-regulation

Shot, written, edited, and produced by Jim Epstein. Filmed at the 2017 Automated Vehicles Symposium.

November 7, 2017

“Paying for” tax cuts

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In the latest issue of the Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith explains why he isn’t a fan of the notion that tax cuts need to be “paid for”:

I am not an economist, nor do I play one on TV, but I know a hand-job when I see one. The mindless mutants who are mangling Donald Trump’s tax plans are dragging this nation and the world into a Da-Daesque vortex we may never get out of. (Only a “progressive” Democrat would stomp a man’s legs, break them in a dozen places, and then make fun of him because he can’t walk.) While lowering almost everybody’s taxes, they want a special bracket appended to the deal to punish people with a million dollars or more to “pay for” everybody else’s tax relief. My question, in an era when government takes too much away from us already, why the bloody hell should it be allowed to steal more?

Even from people who are supposedly hated by the “masses”? (I seriously doubt it. “The Democrat Party masses, more likely. Most right-wing masses — if there is such a thing — aspire to become millionaires, themselves.)

Half a century ago, when I was a shiny new Objectivist warrior, jousting with various statist orcs and trolls on the left, a major concern of theirs seemed to be the big, luxurious houses that rich people built for themselves or bought and lived in. Somehow, there was something evil or sinful in that — “conspicuous consumption” one famous comtard called it — and it needed to be stopped. It didn’t ever seem to have occurred to these feeble-minded pickpockets (who had likely never done an honest day’s work in their worthless lives) that the construction of a big, luxurious house (today, we call them McMansions) requires the skilled services of dozens, if not hundreds, of earth-movers, concrete-workers, framers, finish carpenters, glazers, roofers, plumbers, sheet-rock guys, landscapers, etc., most of whom have families to feed, clothe, and house, themselves.

They need rich people to build big, luxurious houses for.

In general, there are few, if any, ways the most malign “malefactor of great wealth” can spend his money without benefitting someone who needs a job. Even cocaine has to be cultivated and processed by somebody. This lesson was learned the hard way back in 1990 when Idiot-in-Chief George 41 Bush broke his “read my lips” promise and allowed a punitive “luxury tax” to be levied on yachts, big, expensive cars, and assorted other keen stuff like that. Hundreds of jobs were lost. Thousands suffered. One company went from 220 workers to 50 overnight. Within two years those who had stirred up class envy the most energetically were calling for repeal of this “hate the rich” tax. In the same way, millionaires’ money would fly overseas in an instant and vanish from our struggling economy.

November 6, 2017

Oregon sets new standard in authoritarian oversight over teens

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Amy Alkon reacts to a report about a new Oregon state law that goes a long way to remove agency and personal autonomy from teenagers in the state:

The latest is a story from Oregon, from The Daily Caller, where Eric Owen reports that public school teachers must now inform the government when they find out a teenager has had sex. No, we’re not talking about sex with some adult predator, but sex with another teen — consensual sex with another teen.

    Teachers in the Salem-Keizer school district face fines and can even lose their jobs if they fail to blow the whistle on teen students who are voluntarily having sex with each other, reports the Statesman Journal, the main newspaper in Salem.

    The draconian requirements also require teachers in the district to report teen students who might have had consensual sex.

    …The state law — ORS 163.315 — makes it illegal for anyone who is under 18 years of age to consent to a sex act.

The Statesman Journal story by Natalie Pate does say this:

    Another Oregon law, ORS 163.345, or the “three-year rule,” addresses when the individuals are similar in age and force and coercion are not present. This often is thought of as “consensual” activity.

    While this law can be applied in criminal proceedings, it does not apply to mandatory reporting.

The problem is that when laws are passed, laws can be used.

The government has no business telling people under 18 that they aren’t allowed autonomy over their own bodies.

So high school teachers are now legally required to report to state authorities even the suspicion that a teen in their classes has had sex. Police officers and social workers can then go to that school and investigate the student (one can easily imagine how traumatic that might be…). There’s no indication how long or under what conditions these “sex files” will be kept or accessed. Talk about fearing that something was going to go on your “permanent record”!

November 4, 2017

Desperate Mayors Compete for Amazon HQ2

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government, Humour, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

ReasonTV
Published on 3 Nov 2017

Local politicians clash as they try to lure Amazon’s new headquarters to their towns.
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Cities across the country want Amazon HQ2 and the 50,000 jobs promised to come with it. Some municipalities are offering big incentives. When New Jersey puts $7 billion in tax credits on the table, how can small-town mayors compete? By really screwing taxpayers.

Written and performed by Austin Bragg and Andrew Heaton. Produced and edited by Bragg.

October 31, 2017

How Sugar Subsidies Ruin Halloween

Filed under: Economics, Government, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

ReasonTV
Published on 30 Oct 2017

This Halloween while you’re getting pudgy from candy, crony capitalists are getting rich off of sugar subsidies. The system is rigged through price controls, subsidies, and tariffs, all designed to protect the sugar industry from competition – and basic math. In the latest “Mostly Weekly” Andrew Heaton tears into the Willy Wonkas gaming the system, and shows why an open market can more than handle your sugar craving.

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