Quotulatiousness

April 23, 2014

Happy Meal toys as human rights violations

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

Amy Otto on the attempt to sue McDonald’s because they were handing out “gendered” toys with their Happy Meals:

A recent article in Slate by Antonia Ayres-Brown, a junior in high school, details the valiant feminist struggle she ultimately brought to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against McDonald’s for … discriminating on the basis of sex in the distribution of Happy Meal toys. “Despite our evidence showing that, in our test, McDonald’s employees described the toys in gendered terms more than 79 percent of the time, the commission dismissed our allegations as ‘absurd’ and solely for the purposes of ‘titilation [sic] and sociological experimentation,’” she wrote.

Let’s leave aside the fact that Connecticut has a Commission on Human Rights and note that this girl sincerely believes McDonald’s offering toys described, at times, as being for a girl or for a boy is a human rights violation.

While I admire the girl’s plucky disposition and effort, I do hope one day she learns to channel her energy into productive uses that will advance her cause in positive ways. This could have all been solved by her parents simply encouraging her to ask for the toy she wants. If girls are continually taught that they as individuals have no power to negotiate a situation as simple as “I’d like that toy” without the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights getting involved, I submit that these women are proving the case that they should not be put in positions of leadership or power.

By the author’s own admission,“McDonald’s is estimated to sell more than 1 billion Happy Meals each year.” Yet it does not occur to her that the fast food worker giving a “girl’s” toy to a girl is simply trying to give the customer what she wants in the most expeditious manner possible. This is a company that sells a billion of these things a year and gets them in the hands of their customers as fast as possible.

People do not eat at McDonald’s to get into a gender studies discussion with the teenage kid at the register; they go there to get food fast, hence the term “fast food.” If the author had worked in fast food for any nominal period of time, she might realize that the employee’s main motivation is not to spend any time persecuting women but to make it through his or her shift as painlessly as possible.

Secret laws and democracy

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:24

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf says that a new court ruling may actually force President Obama to disclose the secret law under which he ordered the killing of at least one American citizen:

The Obama Administration has fought for years to hide its legal rationale for killing an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, after putting him on a secret kill list. Citizens have an interest in knowing whether the White House follows the law, especially when the stakes are as high as ending a life without due process. President Obama has fought to ensure his legal reasoning would never be revealed, a precedent that would help future presidents to kill without accountability.

His shortsightedness is breathtaking.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon expressed frustration that, according to her legal analysis, the Freedom of Information Act couldn’t force a disclosure. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws,” she wrote, “while keeping the reasons for their conclusions a secret.”

Americans ought to have been alarmed that, according to a federal judge, we’re living in an “Alice in Wonderland” reality where leaders use the law to put themselves beyond the law. But no one paid much attention as The New York Times and the ACLU appealed the decision. On Monday, they won an important victory:

    A federal appeals panel in Manhattan ordered the release… of key portions of a classified Justice Department memorandum that provided the legal justification for the targeted killing of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who intelligence officials contend had joined Al Qaeda and died in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

    The unanimous three-judge panel, reversing a lower court decision, said the government had waived its right to keep the analysis secret in light of numerous public statements by administration officials and the Justice Department’s release of a “white paper” offering a detailed analysis of why targeted killings were legal.

April 19, 2014

Transaction costs, takedown notices, and the DMCA

Filed under: Economics, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:59

Mike Masnick reports on an inadvertent natural experiment that just came to light:

We’ve written a few times in the past about research done by Paul Heald on copyright and its impact on the availability of certain content. He’s recently published an interesting new study on how the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown regime facilitates making content available by decreasing transaction costs among parties. As we’ve discussed at length, the entertainment industry’s main focus in the next round of copyright reform is to wipe out the notice-and-takedown provisions of the DMCA. The legacy recording and movie industries want everyone else to act as copyright cops, and hate the idea that notice-and-takedown puts the initial burden on themselves as copyright holders.

However, Heald’s research looks at music on YouTube and concludes that the notice-and-takedown system has actually enabled much greater authorized availability of music, by reducing transaction costs. The idea is pretty straightforward. Without a notice-and-takedown provision, someone who wants to post music to YouTube needs to go out and seek a license. Of course, getting permission from all the various rightsholders is frequently impossible. The transaction costs of getting permission make it such that it’s way too high. Yet, with notice-and-takedown, the person can upload the content without permission, and then the copyright holder is given the option of what to do with it. On YouTube, that includes the option of monetizing it, thus “authorizing” the use. That creates a natural experiment for Heald to explore, in which he can see how much content is “authorized” thanks to such a setup. And the result, not surprisingly, is that this system has enabled much greater authorized (and monetized) access to music than an alternative, high transaction cost system, under which uploaders must first seek out permission to upload everything.

April 17, 2014

Think carefully before clicking “Like” for a branded product

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

Did you know that if you’ve “Liked” a product’s page on Facebook, you may have given up your right to sue the company?

Might downloading a 50-cent coupon for Cheerios cost you legal rights?

General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.

Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.

In language added on Tuesday after The New York Times contacted it about the changes, General Mills seemed to go even further, suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms.

“We’ve updated our Privacy Policy,” the company wrote in a thin, gray bar across the top of its home page. “Please note we also have new Legal Terms which require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.”

The change in legal terms, which occurred shortly after a judge refused to dismiss a case brought against the company by consumers in California, made General Mills one of the first, if not the first, major food companies to seek to impose what legal experts call “forced arbitration” on consumers.

Online illegal drug sales persist because they’re safer than other channels

Filed under: Britain, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:34

At the Adam Smith Institute blog, Daniel Pryor discusses the reasons for “Silk Road” continuing despite police crackdowns:

Growing up in Essex has made me appreciate why purchasing illegal drugs online is a far more attractive option. I have experienced the catastrophic effects of drug prohibition first-hand, and it is part of the reason that the issue means a great deal to me. Friends and acquaintances have had terrible experiences due to contamination from unscrupulous dealers with little incentive to raise their drugs’ quality, and every reason to lace their products with harmful additives. The violence associated with buying and selling drugs in person has affected the lives of people close to me.

As a current university student, I now live in an environment populated by many people who use Silk Road regularly, and for a variety of purchases. From prescription-only ‘study drugs’ like modafinil to recreational marijuana and cocaine, fellow students’ experiences with drugs ordered from Silk Road have reinforced my beliefs in the benefits of legalisation. They have no need to worry about aggressive dealers and are more likely to receive safer drugs: meaning chances of an overdose and other health risks are substantially reduced.

Their motivations for using Silk Road rather than street dealers correlate with the Global Drug Survey’s findings. Over 60% of participants cited the quality of Silk Road’s drugs as being a reason for ordering, whilst a significant proportion also used the site as a way to avoid the potential violence of purchasing from the street. Given that payments are made in the highly volatile Bitcoin, it was also surprising to learn that lower prices were a motivation for more than a third of respondents.

Nevada standoff and the rule of law

Filed under: Environment, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:25

I haven’t been following the situation in Nevada between the armed forces of the Bureau of Land Management and the armed citizenry in support of rancher Cliven Bundy, but while my sympathies normally go toward the individual rather than the state, this case doesn’t appear to be clear-cut (and Bundy is clearly in violation of the law to some degree). Kevin Williamson seems to be in the same general state of mind:

Deserts always feel like my natural habitat, and I am very fond of them. That being said, I have, for my sins, spent a fair amount of time in Clark County, Nev., and it is not the loveliest stretch of desert in these United States, or even in the top twelve. Protecting the pristine beauty of the sun-baked and dust-caked outskirts of Las Vegas and its charismatic fauna from grazing cattle — which the Bureau of Land Management seems to regard as an Old Testament plague — seems to me to be something less than a critical national priority. At the same time, the federal government’s fundamental responsibility, which is defending the physical security of the country, is handled with remarkable nonchalance: Millions upon millions upon millions of people have crossed our borders illegally and continue to reside within them. Cliven Bundy’s cattle are treated as trespassers, and federal agents have been dispatched to rectify that trespass; at the same time, millions of illegal aliens present within our borders are treated as an inevitability that must be accommodated. In practice, our national borders are a joke, but the borders of that arid haven upon which ambles the merry Mojave desert tortoise are sacrosanct.

[...]

The relevant facts are these: 1) Very powerful political interests in Washington insist upon the scrupulous enforcement of environmental laws, and if that diminishes the interests of private property owners, so much the better, in their view. 2) Very powerful political interests in Washington do not wish to see the scrupulous enforcement of immigration laws, and if that undercuts the bottom end of the labor market or boosts Democrats’ long-term chances in Texas, so much the better, in their view.

This isn’t the rule of law. This is the rule of narrow, parochial, self-interested political factions masquerading as the rule of law.

If we are to have the rule of law, then, by all means, let’s have the rule of law: Shut down those federal subsidies and IRS penalties in states that did not create their own exchanges under the Affordable Care Act — the law plainly does not empower the federal government to treat federal exchanges identically to state exchanges. And let’s enforce the ACA’s deadlines with the same scrupulosity with which the IRS enforces its deadlines. Let’s see Lois Lerner and a few hundred IRS employees thrown in the hole for their misappropriation of federal resources, lying to Congress, etc. — and let’s at least look into prosecuting some elected Democrats for suborning those actions. And if you want to get to the real problem with illegal immigration, let’s frog-march a few CEOs, restaurateurs, and small-time contractors off to prison for violating our immigration laws — and they can carry a GM product-safety manager and a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration executive under each arm. Let’s talk about enumerated powers.

H/T to Jon, my former virtual landlord, for the link.

April 15, 2014

Are breast implants tax-deductable? Only if they’re “extraordinarily large”

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 07:10

For some reason, the following report at the Tax Foundation website does not have any images to accompany the story:

In filing one’s taxes, it may be necessary to distinguish between breast implants that are merely “large,” and breast implants that are “extraordinarily large.”

The relevant ruling on this subject came in 1994 in a case known as Hess v. Commissioner. The plaintiff, a self-employed exotic dancer, had implants that expanded her bust size to the size 56FF. For tax purposes, she treated these as a deductible business expense on her schedule C. The IRS contested her deduction.

[...]

The relevant issue in Hess was whether breast implants – traditionally thought of as a luxury good bought for personal benefit – could be considered a legitimate business expense. Given that the plaintiff was an exotic dancer, she had a fair argument. But in general, taxpayers aren’t allowed to treat personal appearance expenditures as business expenses unless they aren’t suitable for personal use. Hess, arguing pro se, convincingly established that her implants were inconvenient in everyday life due to the sheer enormity of her breasts. The courts ruled in her favor:

    Because petitioner’s implants were so extraordinarily large, we find that they were useful only in her business. Accordingly, we hold that the cost of petitioner’s implant surgery is depreciable.

H/T to Walter Olson, who assures us that this inquiry is strictly business.

April 14, 2014

In defence of limited corporate liability

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:47

The RSS feed that used to track Megan McArdle’s posts at Bloomberg View has been on the fritz for a couple of weeks, so I missed this article when it was posted earlier this month:

The argument for unlimited liability isn’t just a libertarian evergreen; it’s also something you occasionally hear from the far left, because it would basically make the corporate form untenable. Imagine, if you would, that by buying and holding the share of a firm for 10 minutes, you thereby subjected yourself to seizure of all your goods to satisfy potential lawsuit judgments — even if those judgments involved behavior that involved no legal liability at the time of the acts.

Not possible? That’s basically what happened with asbestos liability. Firms that had had no legal liability under the doctrines of the times in which the asbestos was sold or used suddenly found themselves driven into bankruptcy by massive settlements. Moreover, after the first wave of lawsuits exhausted the funds available to pay asbestos claims, plaintiffs’ lawyers started pushing to expand the number of pockets that could be dipped into.

A company that had never manufactured asbestos could be sued and have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lawsuits and settlements because it had once bought a company with an insulation division that had formerly manufactured asbestos — even though it had immediately sold off that division in the process of completing the merger. Insurers could be forced to pay out for the whole of a company’s liability if they had sold a company insurance for even a year between the time a company started making or using asbestos and the time that the plaintiff discovered the harm. And “harm” wasn’t limited to getting sick; you could sue for the emotional distress of worrying that you might get sick.

Kind of hard to imagine becoming a shareholder under those circumstances, isn’t it? Maybe you’d better put your money in the bank — a small, privately held bank, of course. Commerce would look something like it did in medieval Italy, where all economic activity was basically organized by the family or the partnership.

Growth would have to be financed by debt or by retained earnings. That’s how British firms financed expansion in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. It’s how small businesses tend to finance expansion now.

The traditional libertarian answer is “insurance”, but that’s a non-starter as well.

To which I answer: What insurance company?

Insurers are also corporations, and their owners get the same valuable shield from liability that everyone else gets from the corporate form. They may have shareholders, or they may be mutually held by their policy holders, but either way, someone is getting protection from lawsuit by the same laws that protect General Motors Co. This sort of liability shield is vital for any large aggregation of capital requiring lots of contributors — which is basically the definition of an insurance company.

April 10, 2014

Policing the language, German style

Filed under: Europe, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:24

Matthias Heitmann on the odd things that happen to avoid any hint of Nazi contamination in allowable letter combinations on license plates and to mandate equal gender presence in job titles and place names:

In Germany today, you see, there is a palpable desire to cleanse society of views officially deemed unacceptable or politically incorrect. This is most obvious when it comes to words or views associated with fascism or the far right. It’s likely that even the most liberal of Germans would oppose the right of members of the right-wing National Democratic Party to voice their strange views in public. Indeed, having embarrassingly failed to ban the party in 2003, the federal government is currently trying to outlaw the party once again. Anyone attempting to defend free speech or freedom of association in this context will find themselves accused of being a fascist sympathiser, an apologist or, even worse, disrespecting victims of the Holocaust and their descendants.

The popular fear of being accused of being a Nazi sympathiser has resulted in some strange regulations. Since the 1980s, for instance, the letter combinations ‘NS’, ‘KZ’, ‘SS’, ‘SA’ or ‘HJ’, which all potentially allude to fascist symbols or institutions, have been banned from use on car licence plates. In the past few months, there has been a heated debate about whether letter or number combinations like ‘HH’ or ‘88’ (which both allude to ‘Heil Hitler’), ‘18’ (meaning ‘Adolf Hitler’), 204 (meaning Hitler’s birthday) or even ‘GV’ (which is short for sexual intercourse) should be banned from licence plates, too. This poses something of a problem for Hamburg car owners, whose licence plates all start with ‘HH’.

[...]

It’s not only on the traditional minefield of racism and fascism that free speech has suffered in Germany. Free speech has also been knocked about by feminists, too, with their determination to impose new language and behaviour regulations. Last summer, for instance, the University of Leipzig announced plans to address its staff using only the feminine forms of words. ‘Professorin’ is due to replace older formulations like ‘Professorinnen und Professoren’ or ‘Professor/innen’. Schröder, meanwhile, admitted during a recent interview that not even the Bible is immune from linguistic tinkering. When talking to girls, for instance, the masculine ‘der Gott’ could simply become the neutral ‘das Gott’.

Interestingly, when feminist language control clashes with anti-fascist dogma, feminism seems to prevail. In the German capital, Berlin, a local parliament, heavily dominated by green and left-wing politicians, voted against naming a square in front of the Jewish Museum after the Enlightenment philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. This decision was made on the grounds that as Mendelssohn was a man, he would break the rule established in 2005 to only name streets and squares after women. This was deemed necessary in order to achieve sexual equality on the city map. As a compromise, the local parliament used Mendelssohn wife’s name alongside his own, creating ‘Moses-und-Fromet-Mendelssohn-Platz’. Although Fromet wasn’t a historic figure, she at least was a woman.

April 7, 2014

The Non-Libertarian Police Department

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

I linked to Tom O’Donnell’s “Libertarian Police Department” article last week. This week, Conor Friedersdorf presents the Non-Libertarian Police Department. The difference is that O’Donnell’s department doesn’t exist, while Friedersdorf is describing far too many actual police departments:

I can laugh along with parodies of libertarian ideology. But shouldn’t a reductio ad absurdum start with a belief that the target of the satire actually holds? Tom O’Donnell proceeds as if libertarians object to the state enforcing property rights – that is to say, one of the very few state actions that virtually all libertarians find legitimate! If America’s sheriffs were all summarily replaced by Libertarian Party officials selected at random, I’m sure some ridiculous things would happen. Just not any of the particular things that were described. That isn’t to say that there weren’t parts of the article that made me laugh. It got me thinking too. If the non-libertarian approach to policing* was the target instead, would you need hyperbole or reductio ad absurdum? Or could you just write down what actually happens under the officials elected by non-libertarians? It is, of course, hard to make it funny when all the horrific examples are true:

I was just finishing up my shift by having sex with a prostitute when I got a call about an opportunity for overtime. A no-knock raid was going down across town.

“You’re trying to have your salary spike this year to game the pension system, right?” my buddy told me. “Well, we’re raiding a house where an informant says there’s marijuana, and it’s going to be awesome – we’ve got a $283,000 military grade armored SWAT truck and the kind of flash grenades that literally scared that one guy to death.”

“Don’t start without me,” I told him. “I just have to stop by this pawn shop. It’s run by some friends of mine from ATF. They paid this mentally disabled teenager $150 dollars to get a neck tattoo of a giant squid smoking a joint. Those guys are hilarious.”

The post-legalization hellhole that is Denver

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:54

Well, we can’t say they didn’t warn us that if Denver allowed the sale of legal marijuana, it would descend into a lawless vortex of violence:

“There will be many harmful consequences,” Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver warned in a September 2012 statement. “Expect more crime, more kids using marijuana, and pot for sale everywhere.”

One California sheriff went on Denver television to warn that, as a result of marijuana in his county, “thugs put on masks, they come to your house, they kick in your door. They point guns at you and say, ‘Give me your marijuana, give me your money.’”

Three months into its legalization experiment, Denver isn’t seeing a widespread rise in crime. Violent and property crimes actually decreased slightly, and some cities are taking a second look at allowing marijuana sales.

“We had folks, kind of doomsayers, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have riots in the streets the day they open,’” Denver City Council President Mary Beth Susman, a supporter of legal marijuana, says. “But it was so quiet.”

[...]

Prior to legalization, opponents warned property crime would rise. Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey argued robbers would prey on marijuana businesses and their customers, because they’re more likely to carry cash (and, of course, the drug).

So far, city data shows no increase in property crime. Compared to the first two months of 2013, property crime in January and February actually dropped by 12.1 percent. Reports of robberies and stolen property dropped by 6.2 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Burglaries and criminal mischief to property rose by only 0.5 percent.

Denver residents don’t seem especially concerned with the issue, either. Susman recalls a recent community meeting she held with senior citizens: when she asked if the crowd wanted her to talk about marijuana, people told her they were tired of hearing about the issue.

“Based on my general understanding in my district, it is becoming ho-hum,” Susman says.


A sign is displayed outside the 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary on January 1, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Legalization of recreational marijuana sales in the state went into effect at 8am this morning. (Photo by Theo Stroomer/Getty Images)

April 4, 2014

Welcome to the church of SSM militant

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:20

A National Review editorial on the Mozilla CEO’s short tenure after being outed as a supporter of a Californian anti-SSM ballot initiative:

In 2008, Barack Obama and Brendan Eich both were against gay marriage. Senator Obama averred his support for the one-man/one-woman view of marriage, while Mr. Eich, a cofounder of the Mozilla web-browser company, donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8 — a California ballot initiative that had the effect of making Senator Obama’s avowed marriage policy the law in California, at least until a federal court overturned it on the theory that California’s constitution is unconstitutional. Barack Obama inexplicably remains, as of this writing, president of the United States of America, but Mr. Eich has just been forced out as CEO of Mozilla because of his political views.

The various tendencies that operate under the general heading of “gay rights” have had an extraordinary run of it in the past several years, in both the political and the cultural theaters. We now have a constitutional right to commit homosexual acts (Lawrence v. Texas), while Facebook offers at last count 56 different gender options to its users (trans with or without asterisk, genderqueer, neutrois, and two-spirit among them). Having won the battle in California, the sore winners are roaming the battlefield with bayonets and taking no prisoners. Mr. Eich’s donation had been a matter of public record for some years, but Eros is a jealous god, and he will have blood from time to time. Mr. Eich’s elevation to the chief executive’s position provided occasion for critics within his firm and without to make an example of him.

[...]

Again, it is in this case a matter of culture. The nation’s full-time gay-rights professionals simply will not rest until a homogeneous and stultifying monoculture is settled upon the land, and if that means deploying a ridiculous lynch mob to pronounce anathema upon a California technology executive for private views acted on in his private life, then so be it. The gay agenda of the moment is, ironically enough, to force nonconformists into the metaphorical closet. If through the miracle of modern medicine you end up with five sets of mixed genitals, you’ll get your own section in the California civil-rights statutes; cling to nearly universal views about marriage for a few months after it’s become unfashionable, and you’re an untouchable.

Unless, that is, you’re the anti-gay-marriage candidate that all the pro-gay-marriage people voted for in 2008, in which case you get a pass, apparently on the theory that everybody assumed you were being willfully dishonest for political reasons. (That assumption provides a relatively rare point of agreement between homosexual activists and the editors of this magazine.) There simply is to be no disagreement, no dissent, and no tolerance for other points of view.

Update: In Time, Nick Gillespie says there’s both good and bad aspects of this event.

Welcome to the brave new world of socially conscious… web-browsing. In the past, consumers might patronize certain businesses (Whole Foods, say, or Ben & Jerry’s) whose stated missions extended beyond increasing shareholder value and avoided others that might have politically objectionable CEOs or reputations for being anti-abortion (Domino’s Pizza, say) or public positions opposed to certain forms of birth control (Hobby Lobby, for instance). Now we’re boycotting free products such as Firefox and demanding companies dance to the tune called by customers. I think that’s a good thing overall — but it may end up being just as difficult for consumers to live with as it will be for corporations.

Whether you care about gay marriage or politically correct web experiences, Eich’s resignation shows how businesses respond to market signals. “Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech,” writes Mitchell Baker, the organization’s executive chairwoman, in announcing Eich’s stepping down. “And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.”

Just as the Internet has empowered consumers to find cheaper prices, more-extensive reviews, and a wider variety of goods than ever before, it’s also made it easier for them to call out companies for all sorts of dastardly actions, screw-ups, and problems. I like that OKCupid’s intervention wasn’t a call for government action to limit people’s choices or ban something. Indeed, OKCupid didn’t even block Firefox users from its site — rather, it politely asked them to consider getting to the site via a different browser.

March 30, 2014

In which Tim Worstall admits that Karl Marx was right

Filed under: Business, Economics, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:37

Well, right in this particular analysis, anyway:

Which is where we can bring Karl Marx into the discussion. Wrong as he was on many points he was at times a perceptive analyst. And he noted that what determined the wages of the workers wasn’t some calculation of a “fair wage”, nor some true value of their production (although he had much to say on both points), but in a market economy the wages that were paid were a reflection of what other people were willing to pay for access to that labour.

If, for example, there were a large number of unemployed (that “reserve army of the unemployed”) then a capitalist didn’t have to raise the wages of his workers however far productivity grew. If anyone tried to capture a bit more of the value being created, say through a strike or other activity, then the capitalist could simply fire them and bring in some of those unemployed. No profits needed to be shared with the workers. However, when we get to a situation of full employment then the dynamic changes. It’s not possible to simply hire and fire to keep wages low. For the other capitalists are competing for access to that labour that makes those profits. The higher profits go the higher all capitalists will be willing to bid up wages to continue making some profit at all.

The obverse of this is if the employers collude in order to artificially suppress the wages of the workers which is why that case involving Apple, Google and so on is going to trial. That’s monopoly capitalism that is and we really don’t like it at all.

But in this case with Yahoo trying to challenge Google’s YouTube, it will be the workers who benefit. For the two companies are vying with each other for access to the content being made and thus the profits that can be made. Of whatever revenue can be made a larger portion will go to the producers of the content and a smaller one to the owners of the platforms. Which is excellent, this is exactly what we want to happen.

March 29, 2014

Surveillance of Canadian telecommunications channels

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs looks at how the Canadian security establishment operates:

The issue of lawful access has repeatedly arisen on the Canadian federal agenda. Every time that the legislation has been introduced Canadians have opposed the notion of authorities gaining warrantless access to subscriber data, to the point where the most recent version of the lawful access legislation dropped this provision. It would seem, however, that the real motivation for dropping the provision may follow from the facts on the ground: Canadian authorities already routinely and massively collect subscriber data without significant pushback by Canada’s service providers. And whereas the prior iteration of the lawful access legislation (i.e. C–30) would have required authorities to report on their access to this data the current iteration of the legislation (i.e. C–13) lacks this accountability safeguard.

In March 2014, MP Charmaine Borg received responses from federal agencies (.pdf) concerning the agencies’ requests for subscriber-related information from telecommunications service providers (TSPs). Those responses demonstrate extensive and unaccountable federal government surveillance of Canadians. I begin this post by discussing the political significance of MP Borg’s questions and then proceed to granularly identify major findings from the federal agencies’ respective responses. After providing these empirical details and discussing their significance, I conclude by arguing that the ‘subscriber information loophole’ urgently needs to be closed and that federal agencies must be made accountable to their masters, the Canadian public.

[...]

The government’s responses to MP Borg’s questions were returned on March 24, 2014. In what follows I identify the major findings from these responses. I first discuss the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA). These agencies provided particularly valuable information in response to MP Borg’s questions. I then move to discuss some of the ‘minor findings’ related to the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), Competition Bureau, Statistics Canada, and the Transportation Safety Board (TSB).

March 28, 2014

Opinions, statistics, and sex work

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:04

Maggie McNeill explains why the “sex trafficking” meme has been so relentlessly pushed in the media for the last few years:

Imagine a study of the alcohol industry which interviewed not a single brewer, wine expert, liquor store owner or drinker, but instead relied solely on the statements of ATF agents, dry-county politicians and members of Alcoholics Anonymous and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Or how about a report on restaurants which treated the opinions of failed hot dog stand operators as the basis for broad statements about every kind of food business from convenience stores to food trucks to McDonald’s to five-star restaurants?

You’d probably surmise that this sort of research would be biased and one-sided to the point of unreliable. And you’d be correct. But change the topic to sex work, and such methods are not only the norm, they’re accepted uncritically by the media and the majority of those who the resulting studies. In fact, many of those who represent themselves as sex work researchers don’t even try to get good data. They simply present their opinions as fact, occasionally bolstered by pseudo-studies designed to produce pre-determined results. Well-known and easily-contacted sex workers are rarely consulted. There’s no peer review. And when sex workers are consulted at all, they’re recruited from jails and substance abuse programs, resulting in a sample skewed heavily toward the desperate, the disadvantaged and the marginalized.

This sort of statistical malpractice has always been typical of prostitution research. But the incentive to produce it has dramatically increased in the past decade, thanks to a media-fueled moral panic over sex trafficking. Sex-work prohibitionists have long seen trafficking and sex slavery as a useful Trojan horse. In its 2010 “national action plan,” for example, the activist group Demand Abolition writes,“Framing the Campaign’s key target as sexual slavery might garner more support and less resistance, while framing the Campaign as combating prostitution may be less likely to mobilize similar levels of support and to stimulate stronger opposition.”

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