Quotulatiousness

August 17, 2017

Safe injection sites go rogue … to save lives

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the National Post, Chris Selley wonders why the federal government has been so slow to come around to accepting the overall harm reduction offered by legal safe injection sites:

I suspect this generation of policymakers, and the previous one especially, will struggle to explain to their grandchildren just what on earth they thought they were doing about opioid addiction. I don’t mean the likes of Donald Trump, who seems to think a get-tough policing approach — a “war on drugs,” perhaps — might get the job done. I mean smart, reasonably compassionate Canadians, by no means all conservatives, whose worries about safe injection sites in particular look bizarre even today, when people are still using them.

“It’ll attract rubadubs” — as if Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside was a middle-class utopia before Insite set up shop. “There’ll be needles in the streets” — more than if the safe injection site weren’t there, you mean? And, of course: “Addicts should go to treatment instead” — as if people haven’t been trying and failing to get and stay clean this whole time; as if the alternative, on a day to day basis, might be not waking up the next morning to go get treatment.

To its credit, the Liberal government in Ottawa has loosened the regulatory reins. There are nine approved “supervised consumption sites” up and running across the country: five on the Lower Mainland, one in Kamloops, and three in Montreal. Six more, in Victoria, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, are approved and awaiting inspections. An additional 10 are in the approval process; four in Edmonton applied more than three months ago; one in Ottawa has been in the works, officially, since February.

This looks like progress, and to a great extent it is. But on Sunday, a group of activists in Toronto implicitly asked another trenchant question: why does it take so bloody long to set up a supervised injection site? Why are we waiting? It’s just clean needles, chairs and tables, overdose treatment medication, a nurse and a phone.

August 12, 2017

Troll the Patent Trolls

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

Published on 11 Aug 2017

Patent trolls are on the run. Let’s finish them off.
———
It’s been a bad year for patent trolls, from a Supreme Court decision squelching their ability to funnel lawsuits to East Texas, to this week’s ruling that Personal Audio LLC can’t claim it owns a patent on the entirety of podcasting. In the latest Mostly Weekly, Reason’s Andrew Heaton explores what patent trolls are, the damage they do, and the next step in driving them out of courtrooms and back into dank caves.

Trolls camp out on piles of weak and frivolous patents, hoping to one day sue inventors and businesses. Many of the patents they register or buy are vague, representing novel ideas only insofar as trolls are innovative at finding things they didn’t invent to claim legal ownership of. It doesn’t matter that these patents wouldn’t hold up in court, because a business is more likely to pay off a troll than to hire an expensive attorney to fight them. Trolls suck more than twenty billion dollars out of the economy each year.

The parasitical nature of “non-practicing entities” (the PC term for trolls) has raised questions about whether the modern patent system helps or hinders innovation, and if the best solution is for comprehensive reform or just to burn the whole thing down.

Heaton has an idea to hinder patent trolls. It may not be a silver bullet, but it will definitely piss them off.

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind.
Script by Andrew Heaton with writing assistant from Sarah Siskind
Edited by Austin Bragg and Sarah Rose Siskind.
Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.
Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

Why The Government Shouldn’t Break WhatsApp

Filed under: Britain, Government, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Jul 2017

Encryption backdoors – breaking WhatsApp and iMessage’s security to let the government stop Bad Things – sounds like a reasonable idea. Here’s why it isn’t.

A transcript of this video’s available here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/tom-scott/why-the-government-shouldnt-break-whatsapp/1378434365572557/

August 8, 2017

Civil asset forfeiture in Las Vegas – kick’em while they’re down

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

C.J. Ciaramella summarizes the findings of a new report on civil asset forfeiture in Nevada, where the Las Vegas police have been profiting nicely by confiscating even from the poorest members of society:

Photo by Thomas Wolf, via Wikimedia.

When Las Vegas police seized property through civil asset forfeiture laws last year, they were mostly likely to strike in poor and minority neighborhoods.

A report [PDF] released last week by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), a conservative think tank, found the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department raked in $1.9 million in asset forfeiture revenue in 2016. Two-thirds of those seizures occurred in zip codes with higher-than-average rates of poverty and large minority populations.

The 12 Las Vegas zip codes most targeted by asset forfeiture have an average poverty rate of 27 percent, compared to 12 percent in the remaining 36 zip codes. Clark County, Nevada, has an average poverty rate of 16 percent.

The 12 most targeted zip codes also have an average nonwhite population of 42 percent, compared to 36 percent in the other remaining zip codes.

Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police may seize property they suspect of being connected to criminal activity. The owner then bears the burden of challenging the seizure in court and disproving the government’s claims. Law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture is a vital tool to disrupt drug trafficking and other organized crime by cutting off the flow of illicit proceeds.

But a bipartisan coalition of civil liberties groups and lawmakers have been calling for the laws to be reformed, saying asset forfeiture’s perverse profit incentives and lack of safeguards leads police to shake down everyday citizens, who often lack the resources to fight the seizure of their property in court.

August 3, 2017

I’d name this Ontario county, but apparently it’s been trademarked so others couldn’t “tarnish” the name

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:57

Trademarks. Is there nothing they can’t make worse?

It’s stunning how often trademarks that never should have been granted get granted — leading to all sorts of bad outcomes. One area that sees far too many bad trademarks involves trademarking geographic areas, with the holder of the mark often then trying to lock out local businesses from using the name of the locations in which they reside. If ever there were a trademark type that everyone ought to agree should be rejected, it’s one based purely on geography.

Entirely too many of these slip through. For example, one Canadian man managed to get a trademark on the name of the county in which he resides, with the stated aim not of using it in commerce, but rather protecting that name’s reputation.

    Michael Stinson caused a stir among government officials in Haliburton County last week when they learned he had successfully trademarked the name Haliburton. Stinson says he never intended to deceive or harm anyone, and explains that he trademarked the name so others couldn’t “tarnish” the name of the community.

Now, the Canadian government’s site is pretty clear in stating that this sort of geographic trademark is flatly not allowed, but somehow Stinson got it through anyway. Way to go, Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. As for Stinson, his claim for why he applied for the trademark is neither the purpose of trademarks generally nor is it apparently the actual reason why he got this specific trademark.

    Haliburton County’s chief administrative officer, Mike Rutter, says he’s not sure how the trademark could have been allowed. Rutter says he first became aware of the issue when the county’s chamber of commerce started receiving complaints.

    “We received a call from our local chamber of commerce that Mr. Stinson was attending businesses and advising people that they would owe him money if they were using the name Haliburton,” Rutter says.

If true, this would seem to me that Stinson is a bully, attempting to extort local businesses with a trademark that never should have been approved by the Canadian government. This is the damage that can be done by trademark offices not following their own damned rules and not adhering to the purpose of trademark laws to begin with. Stinson appears to be rather slimy, but it’s worth focusing on the fact that he couldn’t be doing any of this is had the Canadian trademark office bothered to do its damned job.

July 30, 2017

The Greenback cases

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

At Samizdata, Paul Marks discusses why it is so difficult to prevent governments from expanding their powers far beyond what the constitution may allow:

… a Constitution is only as good as the enforcement mechanisms to make sure it is obeyed – and as Luther Martin warned at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, trusting government appointed judges to limit the powers of the very government that appointed them is a fatally flawed idea.

This is not a recent problem. Even in the 19th century the Supreme Court often ruled that the Federal Government has powers that the Constitution does NOT give it. For example the infamous “Second Greenback Case” where the Supreme Court, with newly appointed “justices” (appointed, in part, for this corrupt purpose) overturned the “First Greenback Case” where the court had declared, quite correctly, that the Federal Government has no power to print (or have printed) money – only to “coin money” (Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution of the United States) and that only gold or silver coin (not paper money) may be “legal tender” in any State (Article One, Section Ten of the Constitution of the United States). Nothing could be plainer than that paper money is unconstitutional – indeed the very reason the United States Constitution was written in the first place was to prevent the “not worth a Continental” paper money issued by the Continental Congress to finance its government – those who support the Articles of Confederation system forget that one of its fundamental flaws was that it allowed the government to print money, as it gave no reliable source of taxation to finance the United States Armed Forces. Without a large scale and professional armed forces there is no point in having a United States of America at all – and each State might as well go its own way till conquered by European powers in the 18th century or by the People’s Republic of China in the 21st century.

[…]

To return to the Greenback Cases… – Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase (the former “slaves lawyer” famous for his anti slavery legal work before the Civil War) de facto ruled that the Treasury Secretary during the Civil War had acted unconstitutionally in having money printed, even though the the Treasury Secretary of the time was Salmon P. Chase (himself). It is not necessary to recuse yourself if you intend, de facto, to find yourself guilty. However, more “justices” were added to the court – and the judgement (and the Constitution) was overturned. The argument being that no more paper money was being printed – it would gradually go over time, so there was no need to make a fuss… still less to declare that the “United States Dollars” in the pockets of people were just bits of paper with ink on them (not “money”).

In 1935 the Supreme Court de facto ruled (by five votes to four) that the Federal Government could steal all monetary gold and void all private and public contracts that had gold (or silver) clauses in the contracts. There was no Constitutional basis for this decision (none whatever – just “lawyer’s cant”) and the Federal Reserve notes declared valid money came from an organisation (the Federal Reserve system created in 1913) that the Congress had no Constitutional power to create. The Supreme Court, led by the Chief Justice, might as well have chanted “Death to America!” and “Hail Satan!” as they announced their judgement – as some of the dissenting judges pointed out. Thus the unconstitutional Credit Bubble financial system was pushed forward. The doubts of Luther Martin at the Constitutional Convention were vindicated – government appointed judges sitting without a jury can not be trusted.

July 26, 2017

Sure-fire way to reduce the number of bugs reported – arrest the reporters

Filed under: Europe, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Budapest public transit authority has come up with a new technique to handle bug reports:

The tale started last week when an unnamed 18-year-old found that he was able to, when purchasing a ticket online, poke the BKK website in a particular way to modify the ticket’s price and buy it at that new price.

Rather than take advantage of virtually free travel in the country’s capital, however, he did the right thing and reported the security hole to the BKK, complete with a demo in which he was able to buy a $35 ticket for just 20 cents.

The response was not what he expected. Four detectives turned up at his door at 7:00am on Friday, photographed him and questioned him extensively over his actions. The BKK then held a press conference at which its CEO Kálmán Dabóczi proudly announced they had caught a hacker and had filed an official complaint against him. Dabóczi assured everyone that the website was now perfectly safe.

That version of events was immediately questioned by the teenager himself however, in a Facebook post.

“I am an 18-year-old, now middle school graduate,” he wrote in a message that has since been posted hundreds of times to the BKK’s Facebook page. “I trust that I can help solve a mistake.”

In the message, he says he informed the BKK “about two minutes” after he discovered the flaw. “I did not use the ticket, I do not even live near Budapest, I never traveled on a BKK route. My goal was just to signal the error to the BKK in order to solve it, and not to use it.”

He continued: “The BKK has not been able to answer me for four days, but in their press conference today they said it was a cyber attack and was reported. I found an amateur bug that could be exploited by many people – no one seriously thinks an 18-year-old kid would have played a serious security system and wanted to commit a crime by promptly telling the authorities.”

He then asks others to help out: “I ask you to help by sharing this entry with your acquaintances so that the BKK will come to a better understanding and see if my purpose is merely a helper intention, I have not harmed or wanted to harm them in any way. I hope that in this case the BKK will consider withdrawing the report.”

And so they have shared the entry – in their thousands – putting the BKK on the back foot.

July 25, 2017

“‘Legal fiction’ sounds better than ‘lie’, but in this case the two terms are near synonyms”

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

The Instapundit Glenn Reynolds in USA Today on US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ passion for civil asset forfeiture:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to steal from you.

Oh, he doesn’t call it that. He calls it “civil forfeiture.” But what it is, is theft by law enforcement. Sessions should be ashamed. If I were president, he’d be fired.

Under “civil forfeiture,” law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. (“Legal fiction” sounds better than “lie,” but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It’s also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny.

As Drug Enforcement Agency agent Sean Waite told the Albuquerque Journal, “We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty. … It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.”

“Presumed to be guilty.” Once in America, we had a presumption of innocence. But that was inconvenient to the powers that be.

As Tamara Keel said “Appointing Sessions was the opposite of ‘draining the swamp’; it was basically pumping in a whole bunch of vintage swamp water”

July 22, 2017

Civil asset forfeiture is “an unconstitutional abuse of government power”

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

At the Hit & Run blog, Damon Root reports on at least one US Supreme Court justice’s strong views on civil asset forfeiture:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week that the Justice Department will increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, the practice that allows law enforcement officials to seize property from persons who have been neither charged with nor convicted of any crime. “Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool,” Sessions declared. “President Trump has directed this Department of Justice to reduce crime in this country, and we will use every lawful tool that we have to do that.”

But civil asset forfeiture is not a “lawful tool.” It is an unconstitutional abuse of government power. The Fifth Amendment forbids the government from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Civil asset forfeiture turns that venerable principle on its head, allowing government agents to take what they want without the bother of bringing charges, presenting clear and convincing evidence, and obtaining a conviction in a court of law. It is the antithesis of due process.

By ordering the expansion of this unconstitutional practice, Sessions has placed himself on a collision course with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As Thomas recently explained in a statement respecting the denial of certiorari in the case of Leonard v. Texas, not only has civil asset forfeiture “led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses” by law enforcement agencies around the country, but the practice is fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution.

As I described Sessions’ attitude in a post on Gab: “Asset forfeiture now, asset forfeiture tomorrow, asset forfeiture forever!” http://minx.cc:1080/?post=370736. The victims of asset forfeiture tend not to be the druglords or property tycoons … the majority are relatively poor and the asset being taken from them is often their primary financial possession. Druglords and tycoons can easily afford high-powered lawyers … poor people whose life savings have just been seized have no recourse at all in most states. As Senator Rand Paul said: “People who are victims of civil forfeiture are often poor, African American or Hispanic, and people who can’t afford an attorney to try to get the money that’s taken from them by the government”.

Megan McArdle points out that “civil asset forfeiture is […] almost the literal embodiment of that hoary old socialist proverb: ‘Property is theft’:”

Now, this may not seem unreasonable to you. Why should criminals be allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains? And fair enough, except for one small thing: They can take your stuff without charging or convicting you.

Law enforcement agencies have often been able to keep the seized assets for their own use, which has given them a keen interest in generating new civil asset forfeiture cases. As Justice Clarence Thomas remarked, while rebuking his colleagues for failing to hear a case on this topic, “this system — where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use — has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.” (And indeed, abuse is rampant.)

Because of those well-chronicled abuses, the Obama administration in 2015 ended what was known as the Equitable Sharing program, which allowed local law enforcement to seize assets and then transfer them to the federal government, with the federal government passing back part of the proceeds to the local department. This proved an excellent way to get around state laws, including those intended to funnel seized assets into state coffers. The Obama administration very sensibly decided that it didn’t want to help law enforcement become a sort of freelance tax authority, and shut this practice down.

Now Sessions has revived it. “How is this conservative?” demanded an earnest liberal of my acquaintance. And all I could reply was that that is a very good question.

July 15, 2017

The Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee

Filed under: History, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

As a long-time admirer of H.L. Mencken (since discovering Prejudices: A Selection in a used book store on Queen Street in the mid-1980s), I’ve always had an interest in the skullduggery around the “Scopes Monkey Trial” … and apparently so has Colby Cosh:

H.L Mencken celebrates the repeal of Prohibition, December 1933.

In a merely procedural sense, the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, ended on July 21, 1925 with the conviction of biology teacher John T. Scopes on the charge of instructing students that “man has descended from a lower order of animals.” But of course the real Monkey Trial is eternal, winding its way anew through American life, decade after decade. The carefully staged publicity stunt in Tennessee was merely one occasion in a longer struggle over the nature of man and the limits of his knowledge. I know this is an old-fashioned romantic ACLU-liberal view of the matter, but I hold to it.

As I write this column, county officials in Dayton are unveiling a statute of Clarence Darrow, the garrulous, crooked lawyer who represented Team Enlightenment in the original 1925 contest between Darwinian evolution and the Scriptures. In 2005, the citizens of Dayton, where Monkey Trial tourism is now a crucial industry, erected a statue of William Jennings Bryan on the grounds of the immortal Rhea County courthouse. Bryan had been the chosen hero of evangelical Christianity in the trial, dying less than a week after its conclusion, and is the namesake of a local bible college, which paid for the statue.

[…]

I became a serious student of the Scopes Trial as an undergraduate. Like anybody else, I had seen the 1960 Hollywood rendering of the play about the trial, Inherit The Wind, which represents Bryan as an ignorant windbag, Darrow as a tired, patient figure of ostentatious nobility, and a thinly disguised H.L. Mencken as a cruel nihilist newspaperman. Today, I suppose I would regard Mencken as the real hero of the show. He was privy to the ACLU’s engineering of the trial as a publicity stunt, but he also always said that Tennessee was within its constitutional rights to forbid the teaching of evolution — to be, in his view, just as backward as its people wished.

Inherit The Wind makes its pseudo-Mencken a heartless guttersnipe mostly as a device for elevating a sympathetic Darrow even further. This is part of the movie’s major liberty with the events of the trial: it has Bryan drop dead in mid-rant at the moment of its culmination, instead of waiting a few days. What I discovered as a student was that, aside from this excusable concession to theatrical unity, the film probably deserves some kind of prize for general fidelity to historical events.

July 12, 2017

Someone at the NRA finally speaks out on the shooting death of Philando Castile

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

Radley Balko on the problems the NRA creates for itself by its reflexive support of the police, which weakens its efforts on upholding gun rights for ordinary Americans:

At long last, someone from the National Rifle Association has spoken up about Philando Castile. Sort of. During a CNN segment, NRA spokeswoman and pundit Dana Loesch said this:

    I think it’s absolutely awful. It’s a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided. I don’t agree with every single decision that comes out from courtrooms of America. There are a lot of variables in this particular case, and there were a lot of things that I wish would have been done differently. Do I believe that Philando Castile deserved to lose his life over his [traffic] stop? I absolutely do not. I also think that this is why we have things like NRA Carry Guard, not only to reach out to the citizens to go over what to do during stops like this, but also to work with law enforcement so that they understand what citizens are experiencing when they go through stops like this.

As Jacob Sullum points out at Reason, this is pretty weak stuff. A law-abiding gun owner was shot and killed by a cop after doing everything he was supposed to do. It then took more than a year for anyone from the nation’s largest gun rights organization to comment, and when she did, she offered a vague, heavily qualified, quasi-criticism of the cop while implying not only that Castile contributed to his death but also that he might be alive if only he were carrying an NRA Carry Guard card.

This is about par for the course for the NRA. This is the group that claims to be the only thing preventing the government from obliterating the Second Amendment, yet they’re noticeably quiet about the people doing the most violence to the Second Amendment — the armed, badge-wearing government employees we call law enforcement officers. For all the NRA’s dire warnings about government gun confiscation, the real, tangible threat to gun-owning Americans today comes not from gun-grabbing bureaucrats but from door-bashing law enforcement officers who think they’re at war — who are too often trained to view the people they serve not as citizens with rights but as potential threats. Here, the NRA just doesn’t want to get involved.

[…]

In short, the NRA seems to think we’re at risk of creeping tyranny and abuse of power from all sectors of government except from the men and women armed, badged and entrusted with the power to kill. That’s a problem, because if armed agents who enforce the laws on the ground aren’t required to respect our rights, our rights don’t really exist.

The Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way on the Castle Doctrine for the next 25 years, but if the police continue to kick down doors with impunity, law-abiding gun owners will be at risk, and the Second Amendment will be more of an empty gesture than a constitutional protection. The Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way on conceal carry for the next 25 years, but if the organization keeps pushing the line that cops are at war, that the populace is dangerous, and that every citizen is a possible threat, the right to carry a gun in public will always be constrained by cops conditioned to see every weapon as a threat to their existence.

Finally, the Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way and abolish all the state laws like those that ensnared Shaneen Allen, but as long as the NRA and its allies push rhetoric that makes white people (and white cops) see all crime with a black face, the right to bear arms for people who look like her — or who look like Philando Castile — exist only in theory.

The real newspaper problem is not Facebook and Google … it’s their monopolistic heritage

Filed under: Business, History, Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tim Worstall argues against allowing US newspapers to have an anti-trust exemption to fight Facebook and Google:

The first thing to note is the influence of geography and transport. By definition a newspaper needs to arrive daily — in physical format least — meaning that there’s a useful radius around a printing plant which can be served. What then happened is exactly what is happening with Google and Facebook, network effects come into play. Each urban area effectively became the monopoly of just the one newspaper. Sure, there were more than that in New York City for example, SF supported two majors later than many other places. But even in such large and rich places we did really only ever end up with one “serious” newspaper.

The network effects stem from the revenue sources. Roughly speaking, you understand, one third came from subscription revenues, one third from display advertising and one third from classifieds. Classifieds are a classic case of said network effects. Everyone advertises where they know everyone reads. Everyone reads the ads where they know everyone advertises those used baby bassinets. Whoever can get ahead in the collection of either then almost always wins the race. Classifieds are also hugely, vastly, profitable.

The way that American newspapers are sold, on subscriptions with a local paper boy, also contains elements of such network effects.

The effect of this economic structure was that each major urban area really had the one monopolist newspaper. This is where that famed “objectivity” comes from too. If there’s going to be the one newspaper then it’s going to try to make sure there’s no room for another by steadily occupying the middle ground on anything and everything. This is just the Hotelling problem all over again. Swing too viciously left or right (on any issue, political, social, whatever) and there might be room for someone to sneak in from the borderlands. Thus the very milquetoast indeed political views at most of these newspapers.

[…]

And that, I insist, is what is really happening to US newspapers. Most certainly, their problems stem from the internet. for the internet broke that monopoly imposed by economic geography and all else stems from that. They got fat and happy within those monopolistic areas and their pain is coming from the adjustments necessary to deal with that. The likely outcome I would expect to be many fewer first line newspapers staffed by many fewer people in much the way that the UK market has worked for near a century now. I would also expect to see them using political stance as a differentiator just as in Britain.

June 29, 2017

Words & Numbers – Just Say No to the War on Drugs

Published on 28 Jun 2017

Ted Cruz recently asserted that the United States military needs to be sent to Mexico to attack the drug cartels head-on.

This is a bad idea. But so is the drug war itself, both constitutionally and logically.

Forty-six years and one trillion dollars after its start, President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs is still going, with 300,000 people currently in jail on drug charges. Meanwhile, 26 times as many people suffer from alcoholism as do heroin abuse, and eight times as many die from alcohol abuse as do heroin.

Many who support the war do so with the best of intentions, but has it really helped? Or has it done more harm than good, like the Prohibition of the 1920s? Is this war even legal in the first place?

James Harrigan and Antony Davies discuss these questions in this week’s Words and Numbers. Watch the conversation below or on our YouTube channel, or listen to it on SoundCloud.

June 28, 2017

Concert-goers rejoice, for the government is here to help you!

Filed under: Business, Economics, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Of course, if you have any experience of the utility of “government help”, you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high, as Chris Selley explains:

The results of an online public consultation were clear, said Naqvi. “One: the current system clearly is not working for fans; and two: Ontarians expect the government to take action.” We should have expected nothing less: ticket rage is a real thing among concertgoers in particular — a mind-boggling 35,000 people completed the online consultation — and besides, the survey didn’t include an option to suggest the government do nothing.

Among other things, Naqvi said, it will be illegal to resell tickets for more than 150 per cent of face value, and it will be illegal to use bots. Soon, he promised, “everyone (will have) a fair shot at getting the tickets they want.” Ontario, he said, will become “a world leader in ticket sales regulation.”

You’re supposed to think that’s both plausible and desirable. You should instead be very, very skeptical. So long as U2, the Tragically Hip and other artists insist on pricing their tickets vastly below what people are willing to pay for them, there will be an enormous incentive to circumvent whatever laws are in place to prevent third parties from reaping those foregone profits. A 150-per-cent cap would reduce the incentive, as Naqvi says — but only if the entire scalping community decided to respect it.

It won’t. It doesn’t. Scalping is illegal in Arkansas. Tickets for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks’ Nov. 24 game against Missouri are going on Stubhub for well over twice face value. Scalping is illegal in Quebec. Stubhub will put you in the third row for Bob Dylan’s show at the Montreal Jazz Festival next month for US$275; face value is $137.50 Canadian. The experiment works in every scalping-restrictive North American jurisdiction I tried. Heck, scalping used to be illegal in Ontario. That sure didn’t deter the gentlemen who prowled around outside Maple Leaf Gardens and SkyDome.

Many Stubhub users aren’t even in Ontario — that’s even more true for the people with the bots. Is the Attorney General really going to prosecute people for the crime of selling tickets at prices people are perfectly willing to pay? People in other countries? That would get awfully old in an awful hurry.

As he points out in the article, this is yet another instance of the Ontario government pandering to the demands of economic illiterates (recent examples include slapping on new rent controls in the middle of a housing crunch and significant increases in the minimum wage as new workforce entrants are already finding it tough to get hired). It’s as though the government is reading the economic textbook upside down … bringing in exactly the wrong “solutions” to every problem they see.

June 25, 2017

South Africa’s new hate speech laws may carry Apartheid-era legacies

Filed under: Africa, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Martin van Staden reports on post-Apartheid South Africa’s drift back toward repressive rules, veiled by political correctness:

After the end of Apartheid in 1994, nobody would have guessed that South Africa would be making many of the same mistakes as the Apartheid regime only two decades later, from censoring speech to violating agricultural property rights.

In our process of transformation, we were supposed to move away from the Apartheid mentality. Instead, we have doubled down on many of the same policies: the so-called Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill of 2016 is perhaps the gravest threat to freedom of expression which South Africans have ever faced; at least since the Suppression of Communism Act was repealed.

The Hate Speech Bill of 2016

The bill, which is still being debated in Parliament, provides that someone guilty of hate speech can be imprisoned for up to three years, and, if they are convicted of it again, up to 10 years. Given the serious punitive nature of this sanction, you would imagine the bill has a strict definition of “hate speech.” But you would be wrong.

Hate speech is defined as any communication which is insulting toward any person or group, and which demonstrates a clear intention to bring contempt or ridicule based on 17 protected grounds. Such grounds include race, gender, sex, belief, culture, language, gender identity, and occupation or trade. But insult is an extremely low threshold of offense, especially if it is considered with protected characteristics like belief and occupation. In other words, someone can theoretically be imprisoned for saying, “Politicians are thieving liars!”

Recently, the former leader of the opposition tweeted that “not all” of the legacies of colonialism have had detrimental results in South Africa. The ruling party subsequently called on Parliament to fast-track the Hate Speech Bill so instances like that can be dealt with. This signifies that political persecution is not off the table, and that the ruling party has shown its interest in using the proposed law against opponents.

[…]

Apartheid was fundamentally an anti-property rights system masquerading as a Western democracy fighting against Soviet communism. American economist Walter Williams wrote in 1990 that “South Africa’s history has been a centuries-long war on capitalism, private property, and individual rights.”

Duncan Reekie of the University of the Witwatersrand agreed that “Protestations from Pretoria notwithstanding, the South African regime has been one of national socialism.” Indeed, wage boards, price control boards, and spatial planning boards were commonplace in the effort to suppress black South Africans’ desire to engage in the economy on the same terms as whites.

The Suppression of Communism Act was used exclusively for political persecution by the previous regime. Anyone of significance who opposed racist policies in public could be branded as “communists” who wanted to overthrow the government. The Hate Speech Bill will have the same effect, but it will be shielded by the veneer of political correctness. With the new Bill, the government claims to give effect to a democratic mandate – a privilege the Apartheid regime did not enjoy – but the consequences will be substantially the same: a chilling effect throughout the country for anyone who dares to oppose the political class.

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