Quotulatiousness

August 1, 2015

Ayn Rand’s Ideal

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

In Vice, Milo Yiannopoulos discusses the long-lost-then-found early Ayn Rand novella Ideal, which Rand reworked into a play:

According to Michael Paxton, who directed the world premiere of the play in 1989, Ideal gives readers an insight into Rand’s state of mind in the early 1930s: Her first novel, We The Living, had been rejected by publishers for being “too intellectual,” and the writer was struggling with odd jobs, having recently moved to the United States.

“It examines the artist’s process,” Paxton told me from his hotel room in North Carolina, where he was set to give a talk at the Ayn Rand Institute’s Objectivist Summer Conference. “How do you be an artist and live in the world at the same time? It’s amazing how, once you’ve lived a little in the world, you can really understand these characters and the issues they’re dealing with — not being understood, thinking the world doesn’t care whether you live or die.”

His assessment is not universal. Perhaps predictably, the New York Times hated the play when it premiered off-Broadway in 2010, concluding that, “the show’s clumsy mix of long bursts of theory and a laborious plot would test the endurance of even Alan Greenspan, a famous Rand admirer and veteran of long, boring meetings.”

As a play, Ideal went unperformed for 60 years after its writing, and was never seen on stage in Rand’s lifetime, though Paxton says that may have something to do with its practical demands: The play has 37 characters and tons of set changes. But he thinks it’s worth the effort: “What’s surprising about the play is that it has a lot of humour, and a lot of satire in how it makes fun of organized religion. It’s subtle, and very funny.”

The good news is the new edition also includes the entire play script. So you can gather 37 of your closest right-wing nutcase allies — or lefty culture jammers, as you prefer — and stage it yourself to find out.

Ideal the novel, which Rand herself set aside as unsatisfactory, is less polished than the stage version, and, despite flashes of Randian flair, there is evidence that the author was still struggling to find her voice. Readers familiar with The Fountainhead will recognize the seeds of that work in this early effort. Thankfully, though, Ideal is not one of those works of juvenilia that ought to have remained lost.

Rand’s critics, often humourless literalists, will find plenty in Ideal to gnaw on: There’s the classically Randian was-it-rape-or-wasn’t-it sex scene and a blisteringly heartless remark after a death that will have fans sniggering and detractors drumming up all the manufactured fury they can muster. And, yes, Rand’s writing can be a bit… much.

But profound, existential loneliness, coupled with a Buffy the Vampire Slayer–esque sense of ordained personal greatness is why so many cheerleaders for capitalism relate to Rand’s lead characters, from Gonda to The Fountainhead‘s Dominique Francon.

July 26, 2015

The problems when you try to resolve complicated discrimination problems with laws

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

Warren Meyer explains why he — who organized and lead an effort to legalize gay marriage in Arizona — is not reflexively in favour of using the blunt force of the law to “solve” problems of discrimination:

There are multiple problems with non-discrimination law as currently implemented and enforced in the US. Larger companies, for example, struggle with disparate impact lawsuits from the EEOC, where statistical metrics that may have nothing to do with past discrimination are never-the-less used to justify discrimination penalties.

Smaller companies like mine tend to have a different problem. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the employees who do the worst job and/or break the rules the most frequently tend to be the same ones with the least self-awareness. As a result, no one wants to believe their termination is “fair”, no matter how well documented or justified (I wrote yesterday that I have personally struggled with the same thing in my past employment).

Most folks grumble and walk away. But what if one is in a “protected group” under discrimination law? Now, not only is this person personally convinced that their firing was unfair, but there is a whole body of law geared to the assumption that their group may be treated unfairly. There are also many lawyers and activists who will tell them that they were almost certainly treated unfairly.

So a fair percentage of people in protected groups whom we fire for cause will file complaints with the government or outright sue us for discrimination. I will begin by saying that we have never lost a single one of these cases. In one or two we paid someone a nominal amount just to save legal costs of pursuing the case to the bitter end, but none of these cases were even close.

[…]

To make all this worse, many employees have discovered a legal dodge to enhance their post-employment lawsuits (I know that several advocacy groups in California recommend this tactic). If the employee suspects he or she is about to be fired, they will, before getting fired, claim all sorts of past discrimination. Now, when terminated, they can claim they where a whistle blower that that their termination was not for cause but really was retaliation against them for being a whistle-blower.

I remember one employee in California taking just this tactic, claiming discrimination just ahead of his termination, though he never presented any evidence beyond the vague claim. We wasted weeks with an outside investigator checking into his claims, all while customer complaints about the employee continued to come in. Eventually, we found nothing and fired him. And got sued. The case was so weak it was eventually dropped but it cost us — you guessed it — about $20,000 to defend. Given that this was more than the entire amount this operation had made over five years, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to us walking about from that particular operation and over half of our other California business.

July 25, 2015

A new biography of Václav Havel

Filed under: Europe,History,Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Daniel J. Mahoney reviews Havel: A Life, by Michael Zantovsky:

Michael Zantovsky has written a remarkable book about a complex and genuinely admirable human being. Zantovsky, a long-time friend and sometime press secretary to Václav Havel, went on to become Czech ambassador to Washington and to the Court of St. James in London. He has intimate knowledge of Havel and writes with verve and clarity. He freely admits to “loving” Havel, even as he maintains his critical distance and avoids anything resembling hagiography. Zantovsky is aided in this seemingly impossible task by his experience as a clinical psychologist, which allows him to combine admiration with detachment and remarkable descriptive powers. Unlike so many other critical accounts inspired by suspicion and anti-elitism, his “loving” but measured account leaves Havel’s greatness undiminished.

As Zantovsky shows, Havel was “one of the more fascinating politicians of the last century” even as he was much more than a politician. He ably explores Havel’s multiple roles as writer, dramatist, moralist, dissident, and anti-totalitarian theoretician. The book also captures Havel’s myriad “contradictions,” which were never too far from the surface. A born leader who was kind, polite, humorous, and self-effacing, he was also a “bundle of nerves,” prone to depression and self-medication, and to “sometimes ill-considered sexual adventures.” Havel’s admirers are obliged to confront that latter point. This moralist did not readily apply moral criteria to affairs of the heart and was sometimes promiscuous in ways that belie conventional morality and religious principles. He seems to have at least partly bought into the radically “individualist” ethos of the 1960s, at least as regards “personal” morality. Zantovsky provides an insightful analysis of the dissident culture of the sixties and seventies, which was in most respects admirable, even as it defended sexual “freedom” as a venue for individual autonomy in an order dominated by totalitarian repression and the erosion of individuality.

Sexual indiscretions aside, Havel was an intensely spiritual man who didn’t adhere to any religion. Despite his admiration for Pope John Paul II and his prison friendship with the future cardinal archbishop of Prague, Dominik Duka, he “did not die a Roman Catholic.” But he respected religion and even attended secret masses in prison. In his voluminous writings and speeches, he upheld a quasi-theistic “conception of being” and an understanding of “responsibility rooted in the memory of Being.” In Havel’s philosophical conception, everything we do is remembered, “recorded,” by “being” itself. This was Havel’s equivalent of immortality; it provided cosmic grounds or support for moral responsibility. These spiritual convictions, bordering on New Age philosophy, were a staple of Havel’s speeches at home and abroad during his years as president first of Czechoslovakia and then of the Czech Republic.

July 21, 2015

Would Reddit even be Reddit without the trolls?

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

Megan McArdle warns that “cleaning up” Reddit might end up killing the patient:

On Monday, when I wrote about the travails of Ellen Pao at Reddit, I noted that cleaning up the troll-infested caves of its vast ecosystem will not be an easy task for anyone. Its freewheeling, “anything goes” culture is a big part of its appeal to users, and the large number of users is a big part of Reddit‘s appeal to investors. It’s also worth noting that this approach is substantially cheaper than trying to keep a close eye on Reddit‘s ever-expanding universe of subreddits.

But Reddit really seems to want to tidy things up a bit, or at least force the trolls down to the basement where they won’t frighten the visitors. Steve Huffman, a Reddit co-founder who is returning as Pao’s successor, has announced that the company will continue to take steps to curtail undesirable content. Potentially offensive forums will require users to opt in, and anything that “harasses, bullies, or abuses” will be entirely off limits. So a forum whose title is a vile racist slur will be reclassified for opt-in status. But the “Raping Women” forum will be banned outright.

Huffman is laying out some much clearer guidelines than Pao did, which is a good first step (and exactly what I said Pao should have done). On the other hand, that’s no guarantee that this will prevent users from staging a mass exodus.

Dave Chappelle’s re-launch

Filed under: Humour,Liberty,Media,Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At sp!ked, Tom Slater looks at Dave Chapelle’s new comedy routines:

In his own words, Dave Chappelle is the Bigfoot of comedy; a rarely seen legend whose long absence from the stage has only secured his status. The stand-up, actor and writer, who found global success in the mid-2000s for his Comedy Central hit Chappelle’s Show, walked away from a $50 million deal for a third season in 2006, after fame and showbiz politics began to weigh heavy on his shoulders. For the past nine years, he’s been a borderline recluse – living on a farm in Ohio, raising his children and doing the odd, unannounced stand-up gig in mobbed comedy clubs.

Now, he’s making his comeback. Touring across America and, this past week, doing a sold-out seven-night run at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, it’s as if he was never gone. And yet, he has returned to a circuit that is not what it was.

‘Are you a Muslim?’, an affable doorman asked my mate, as we handed over our tickets for Monday night’s Apollo show. He wasn’t on counterterror duty. There’d been a few incidents, you see, during the run so far, as Chappelle’s caustic jibes had ruffled some feathers. ‘He’s got a joke in there about transgenders, and one guy the other night just got up, started shouting and then ran out.’ It seemed our doorman had taken it upon himself to trigger-warn any potential targets of Chappelle’s punchlines.

It was a strange question. Not least because Chappelle is a Muslim, and anyone who comes to one of his shows should know what they’re getting. Like his hero Richard Pryor before him, Chappelle has a unique ability to craft edgy, racially charged and often scatological humour and serve it up to a mainstream audience. Chappelle’s Show, which broke all records at the time for DVD sales, ended its first episode with an extended skit about a blind white-supremacist author who is unaware he is black. It was one hell of a mission statement.

QotD: The feminist movement

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

As entertaining as these little vignettes may be, they’re also indicative of a more dispiriting and concerning philosophy that has overtaken a great many young people, both men and women, at the beginning of the 21st century. The early Western feminist movements generally possessed a nobility and righteousness that rendered the ideology both powerful and admirable. It is no small feat, after all, to reverse several millennia’s worth of systematic oppression and discrimination, and the women’s rights campaigns of the 19th and 20th centuries are some of the crown jewels of Western civilization. Emmeline Pankhurst may have been a bit radical here and there, but at least she was right. Nowadays among the ranks of feminism you’re less likely to find a principled zealot like Pankhurst and more likely to find a repellant, theory-drenched curmudgeon like Andrea Dworkin.

There is a word that embodies the kind of single-minded fanaticism of modern feminism: a cult. […]

It’s fashionable these days for feminists to try and convince others of their own latent feminism; “You’re a feminist,” they claim, “if you believe in equality between the sexes.” Political and social equality between the sexes is one of the most worthwhile and noble goals to which a society can aspire, but as we’ve seen, modern feminism is about so much more than that: it’s a neurotic, insular, self-aggrandizing, and paranoid ideology that aims to spread fear, small-mindedness and agonistic self-criticism and self-doubt over even an uncomplicated and enjoyable idea such as the bouquet toss. Is it any surprise that many prominent young women are rejecting the label altogether?

Daniel Payne, “The Many Fabricated Enemies of Feminists”, The Federalist, 2014-07-22.

July 17, 2015

The case for encryption – “Encryption should be enabled for everything by default”

Filed under: Liberty,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Bruce Schneier explains why you should care (a lot) about having your data encrypted:

Encryption protects our data. It protects our data when it’s sitting on our computers and in data centers, and it protects it when it’s being transmitted around the Internet. It protects our conversations, whether video, voice, or text. It protects our privacy. It protects our anonymity. And sometimes, it protects our lives.

This protection is important for everyone. It’s easy to see how encryption protects journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists in authoritarian countries. But encryption protects the rest of us as well. It protects our data from criminals. It protects it from competitors, neighbors, and family members. It protects it from malicious attackers, and it protects it from accidents.

Encryption works best if it’s ubiquitous and automatic. The two forms of encryption you use most often — https URLs on your browser, and the handset-to-tower link for your cell phone calls — work so well because you don’t even know they’re there.

Encryption should be enabled for everything by default, not a feature you turn on only if you’re doing something you consider worth protecting.

This is important. If we only use encryption when we’re working with important data, then encryption signals that data’s importance. If only dissidents use encryption in a country, that country’s authorities have an easy way of identifying them. But if everyone uses it all of the time, encryption ceases to be a signal. No one can distinguish simple chatting from deeply private conversation. The government can’t tell the dissidents from the rest of the population. Every time you use encryption, you’re protecting someone who needs to use it to stay alive.

India’s wavering devotion to tolerance

Filed under: India,Liberty,Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Shikha Dalmia looks at India’s changing views on other religions:

If there were ever a religion readymade for liberal democracy — and its commitment to religious freedom — Hinduism would be it. Unlike Christianity (and other monotheistic faiths), Hinduism has no one true doctrine handed down by the one true God to be spread and enforced through the one true Church. It’s a loose, amorphous, and ecumenical faith that accepts that all religions are valid and it doesn’t matter which one you follow, as long as you are going to the same place. Hence, it made sense when Hindu-dominated India, after gaining independence from the British in 1947, enshrined secularism and religious pluralism in its constitution ­— rather than going through a three-century-long process from the Reformation through the Enlightenment that the West did to pry open space for religious tolerance in Christianity.

However, India’s commitment to religious freedom and toleration has been under serious challenge for a couple of decades with the rise of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism. This ideology, that boasts Prime Minister Narendra Modi among its adherents, has always resented the special space that India’s constitution extends its minority religions — like letting Muslims use sharia in their civil matters. But now it has started openly attacking even their right to exist in India because, it maintains, India belongs only to those that can claim it as their fatherland and holy land — a rather hypocritical requirement given that the rapidly spreading Hindu diaspora enjoys strong religious protections in countries such as America and England that aren’t its “holy land and fatherland.”

That a historically tolerant faith could take such an intolerant turn suggests that a religion’s relationship to liberal values might have less to do with its own inner character and more to do with the existential insecurities of its adherents in a given time.

July 16, 2015

QotD: The proper role of government

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

Good government is a constable — it keeps the peace and protects property. Parasitic government — which is, sad to say, practically the only form known in the modern world — is at its best a middleman that takes a cut of every transaction by positioning itself as a nuisance separating you from your goals. At its worst, it is functionally identical to a goon running a protection racket.

[…]

The desire to be left alone is a powerful one, and an American one. It is not, contrary to the rhetoric proffered by the off-brand Cherokee princess currently representing the masochistic masses of Massachusetts in the Senate, an anti-social sentiment. It is not that we necessarily desire to be left alone full stop — it is that we desire to be left alone by people who intend to forcibly seize our assets for their own use. You need not be a radical to desire to live in your own home, to drive your own car, and to perform your own work without having to beg the permission of a politician — and pay them 40 percent for the privilege.

Principles are dangerous things — whiskey is for drinking, water and principles are for fighting over. The anti-ideological current in conservative thinking appreciates this: If we all seek complete and comprehensive satisfaction of our principles, then there will never be peace. This is why scale matters and why priorities matter. In a world in which the public sector consumes 5 percent of my income and uses it for such legitimate public goods as law enforcement and border security, I do not much care whether the tax system is fair or just on a theoretical level; and while I may resent it as a matter of principle, the cost of my consent is relatively low, and I have other things to think about. But in a world in which the parasites take half, and use it mainly to buy political support from an increasingly ovine and dependent electorate, then I care intensely.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Property and Peace”, National Review, 2014-07-20.

July 15, 2015

The media and free speech coverage

Filed under: Liberty,Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Popehat, Ken White explains what to look for in how the media subtly (or not-so-subtly) introduce pro-censorship memes when it covers free speech issues:

American journalists and pundits rely upon vigorous free speech, but are not reliable supporters of it. They both instruct and reflect their fickle audience.

It’s easy to spot overt calls for censorship from the commentariat. Those have become more common in the wake of both tumultuous events (like the violence questionably attributed to the “Innocence of Muslims” video, or Pamela Geller’s “Draw Muhammad” contest) and mundane ones (like fraternity brothers recorded indulging in racist chants).

But it’s harder to detect the subtle pro-censorship assumptions and rhetorical devices that permeate media coverage of free speech controversies. In discussing our First Amendment rights, the media routinely begs the question — it adopts stock phrases and concepts that presume that censorship is desirable or constitutional, and then tries to pass the result off as neutral analysis. This promotes civic ignorance and empowers deliberate censors.

Fortunately, this ain’t rocket science. Americans can train themselves to detect and question the media’s pro-censorship tropes. I’ve collected some of the most pervasive and familiar ones. This post is designed as a resource, and I’ll add to it as people point out more examples and more tropes.

July 14, 2015

QotD: Lenin’s moment of clarity

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

There is not very much good to say about the life and career of Vladimir Lenin, but give the pickled old monster this much: He cut through more than two centuries’ worth of bull and straight to the heart of all politics with his simple question: “Who? Whom?” Which is to say: Who acts? Who is acted upon? Even here in the land of the free, meditating upon that question can be an uncomfortable exercise.

The foundation of classical liberalism, and of the American order, is not the rule of law, a written constitution, freedom of speech and worship, one-man/one-vote democracy, or the Christian moral tradition — necessary as those things are. The irreplaceable basis for a prosperous, decent, liberal, stable society is property. Forget Thomas Jefferson’s epicurean flourish — John Locke and the First Continental Congress had it right on the first go-round: “Life, liberty, and property.” Despite the presence of the serial commas in that formulation, these are not really three different things: Perhaps we should render the concept “lifelibertyproperty” the way the physicists write about “spacetime.”

Kevin D. Williamson, “Property and Peace”, National Review, 2014-07-20.

July 13, 2015

Do photographers have any rights left?

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

I no longer do much in the way of “serious” photography (my digital SLR has been out of service for a couple of years now), but I still occasionally do a bit of cellphone photography when the occasion arises. On the byThom blog, Thom Hogan provides a long (yet not exhaustive) list of things, places, and people who are legally protected from being photographed in various jurisdictions … and it gets worse:

Funny thing is, smartphones are so ubiquitous and so small, many of those bans just aren’t enforceable against them in their natural state (e.g., without selfie stick), especially if they’re used discriminatingly.

I’m all for privacy, but privacy doesn’t exist in public spaces as far as I’m concerned. Indeed, I’d argue that even in private spaces (malls, for example), that if you’re open for and soliciting business to the public, you’re a public space. As for Copyright, placing artwork in open public spaces (e.g. Architecture) probably ought to convey some sort of Fair Use right to the public, though in Europe we’re seeing just the opposite start to happen. FWIW, I no longer visit and thus don’t photograph in two countries because of national laws regarding photography. Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Bureaucracy; laws often have unintended consequences. As in reducing my interest in visiting your country.

About half of this site’s readers actively practice some form of travel photography, either during vacations or while traveling for business. Note how many of the restrictions on photography start to apply against those that are traveling (locally or farther afield). It’s always easy to impose laws on people who don’t vote for you. it’s why rental car and hotel room taxes are so high, after all.

What prompted this article, though, wasn’t any of the latest photography ban talk, though. Here in Pennsylvania we have fairly restrictive regulations on “recording” another person (e.g. conversations, phone calls, meetings, etc.). In some states, it only takes one party to consent for a recording to be legal. Here in Pennsylvania it takes all parties to consent to being recorded.

H/T to Clive for the link.

July 11, 2015

Reason.tv – How the Feds’ Subpoena of Reason and Gag Order Went Public

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

Published on 7 Jul 2015

You may have already heard about how the government tried to stifle Reason‘s free speech.

Federal prosecutors based in New York sent a grand jury subpoena and letter to Reason, commanding editors to hand over the records of six commenters who wrote hyperbolic statements about federal judge Katherine Forrest below a blog post at Reason.com. Forrest sentenced Ross Ulbricht to life in prison without parole for creating the Silk Road website.

Then came a gag order from U.S. District Court, meaning Reason could not write or speak publicly about the subpoena or gag order — even to acknowledge either existed. But between the subpoena being issued and the gag order being issued, one legal blogger managed to figure out what was going on.

“I got an email and I looked at it and I thought wow, this is a federal grand jury subpoena to Reason magazine,” says Ken White, a writer at the legal blog Popehat who is himself a former federal prosecutor. White sat down with Reason TV to talk about how he broke the story and what he thinks it means for press freedom and open expression online.

“What’s upsetting is that there is no indication whatsoever either that the prosecutor or the judge gave any consideration to the fact that this was being aimed at a reporting organization about a First Amendment issue,” says White. What’s more, White stresses that the comments named in the subpoena are commonplace for the internet and especially at Reason.com, a site, he notes, “whose clever writing is eclipsed only by the blowhard stupidity of its commenting peanut gallery.”

The scrutinized comments ranged from taunts such as “I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman” to “Its (sic) judges like these that should be taken out back and shot,” but none, say White, come close to qualifying as “true” threats or anything other idle chatter. It remains unclear why the U.S. Attorney’s Office was interested in such internet fodder, how often these sorts of subpoenas get sent out to news organizations, and how often they comply. Nevertheless, White points out that federal prosecutors hold an enormous amount of power over human lives and rarely reflect on how they use — and abuse — their position.

“A fish doesn’t know that it’s in water,” says White. “A federal prosecutor doesn’t know that they are swimming in power. They could do it, so they did.”

Produced by Paul Detrick. Shot by Zach Weissmueller and Justin Monticello.

July 10, 2015

A new and exciting (if you’re a lawyer) aspect of photography

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

As a casual photographer, I think very little about taking a photo of a building or landscape visible from the sidewalk or other public place. This casual attitude may become a relic of the past if EU regulators have their way, as Brian Micklethwait explains:

Basically, some EU-ers are talking about making it illegal to profit without permission by taking a photo, in public, of a publicly visible building or work of art, and then posting it on any “profitable” blog or website. The nasty small print being to the effect that the definition of “profitable” is very inclusive. For the time being, it would exclude my personal blog, because my blog has no income of any kind. But does Samizdata get any cash, however dribblesome, from any adverts, “sponsorships”, and so forth? If so, then me placing the above photo of the Shard at Samizdata might, any year now, become illegal, unless Samizdata has filled in a thousand forms begging the owners of the Shard, and for that matter of all the buildings that surround it, to allow this otherwise terrible violation of their property rights, or something.

“Might” because you never really know with the EU. At present this restriction applies in parts of the EU. It seems that a rather careless MEP tried to harmonise things by making the whole of the EU as relaxed about this sort of things as parts of it are now, parts that now include the UK. But, the EU being the EU, other EU-ers immediately responded by saying, no, the way to harmonise things is to make the entire EU more restrictive. Now the MEP who kicked all this off is fighting a defensive battle against the very restriction she provoked. Or, she is grandstanding about nothing, which is very possible.

Being pessimistic about all this, what if the restriction does spread? And how long, then, before the definition of “for profit” is expanded to include everything you do, because if it wasn’t profitable for you, why would you do it? At that point, even my little hobby blog would be in the cross hairs, if I ever dared to take and post further pictures of London’s big buildings.

Some better news for me is that if this scheme proceeds as far as it eventually might, my enormous archive of photographs of people taking photographs will maybe acquire a particular poignancy. It will become a record of a moment in social history, which arrived rather suddenly, and then vanished. Like smoking in public.

July 7, 2015

QotD: Laws as blunt instruments

Filed under: Business,Law,Liberty,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

On June 25th, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation seized the venerable San Francisco escort website, MyRedbook, under the usual vague and evidence-free charges the US government always uses when it wants to destroy peaceful businesses who have hurt no one. This time […] the pretenses are “money laundering” and “racketeering”, but others cases include “conspiracy”, “mail fraud” and “tax evasion”. You may believe that these are actual crimes, but the truth is they aren’t (except on paper); they’re simply blunt instruments defined so vaguely that any competent prosecutor can jam nearly any business into one or more of them. Here’s how it works: “racketeering” can mean criminals operating a legitimate business, like when a mobster owns a restaurant. So a “racketeering” charge usually means “we think you committed crimes but can’t prove them, so we’re just going to assume you’re a criminal and prosecute you for owning a regular business.” Any money you’ve deposited is then called “money laundering” on the grounds that you deposited “criminal proceeds” from your imaginary crimes into your legitimate account; “tax evasion” is based on the pretense that you have failed to pay taxes on imaginary income they can’t prove you actually made; “conspiracy” means merely talking about committing the imaginary crimes, and so on. And if you believe that the targeted business is protected by the presumption of innocence, think again.

Maggie McNeill, “Bread and Circuses”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-07-11.

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