Quotulatiousness

January 13, 2018

Everyone You Love Did Drugs

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

ReasonTV
Published on 12 Jan 2018

It turns out that a lot of accomplished, well-respected historical figures did drugs. From Winston Churchill taking amphetamines to Thomas Edison lacing his wine with cocaine, not everyone who uses narcotics is a hopeless basket case living in a dumpster. While some drug users spiral into addiction and crime, others go on to become president. It’s time to debunk the age old stereotypes of the back alley dangerous dealer or the lazy stoner when, according to the National Survey on Drug Use, roughly half of all Americans have tried an illegal drug.

In the latest “Mostly Weekly” host Andrew Heaton breaks down the cartoonish Drug Warrior portrayal of drugs by showing some of the beloved historical figures who used them.

January 7, 2018

QotD: The Whiskey Rebellion

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

Ninescore and fifteen years ago, with the ink only just sanded on the United States Constitution, President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton decided it was time to try out their shiny brand-new powers of taxation.

Their first victims would be certain western Pennsylvania agricultural types long accustomed to converting their crops into a less perishable, more profitable high-octane liquid form. Unfortunately for the President and the Secretary, many of these rustics, especially near the frontier municipality of Pittsburgh, placed a slightly different emphasis than high school teachers do today on the Revolutionary slogan regarding “taxation without representation”. In their view, they’d fought the British in 1776 to abolish taxes and they weren’t interested in having representation imposed on them by that gaggle of fops in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital. They made this manifestly clear by tarring-and-feathering tax collectors, burning their homes to the ground, and filling the stills of those who willingly paid the hated tribute with large-caliber bullet holes.

Feeling their authority challenged, George and Alex dispatched westward a body of armed conscripts equal to half the population of America’s largest city (Philadelphia once again, later famous for air-dropping explosives on miscreants charged with disturbing the peace). Four hundred whiskey rebels, duly impressed by this army of fifteen thousand, subsided. The miraculous process by which the private act of thievery is transubstantiated into public virtue was firmly established in history. The results — chronic poverty and unemployment, endless foreign wars, and reruns on television — are with us even today.

L. Neil Smith, “Introduction: A Brief History of the North American Confederacy”, The Spirit of Exmas Sideways: a “novelito” by L. Neil Smith.

December 28, 2017

QotD: The 1960s cultural revolution

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

The entire political and cultural trajectory of the decades following World War II in the U.S. was a movement away from the repressions of the Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union, when the House Un-American Activities Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives searched for signs of Communist subversion in every area of American life. A conspicuous target was the Hollywood film industry, where many liberals had indeed been drawn to the Communist Party in the 1930s, before the atrocities of the Stalinist regime were known. To fend off further federal investigation, the major studios blacklisted many actors, screenwriters, and directors, some of whom, like a favorite director of mine, Joseph Losey, fled the country to find work in Europe. Pete Seeger, the leader of the politicized folk music movement whose roots were in the social activism of Appalachian coal-miners in the 1930s, was banned from performing on network TV in the U.S. in the 1950s and ‘60s.

There were sporadic landmark victories for free speech in the literary realm. In 1957, local police raided the City Lights Bookshop in San Francisco and arrested the manager and owner, Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, for selling an obscene book, Allen Ginsberg’s epic protest poem, Howl. After a long, highly publicized trial, Howl was declared not obscene, and the charges were dropped. The Grove Press publishing house, owned by Barney Rosset, played a heroic role in the battle against censorship in the U.S. In 1953, Grove Press began publishing affordable, accessible paperbacks of the voluminous banned works of the Marquis de Sade, a major thinker about sex and society at the close of the Enlightenment. In 1959, the Grove Press edition of D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, then banned in the U.S., was confiscated as obscene by the U.S. Postal Service. Rosset sued and won the case on federal appeal. In 1961, the publication by Grove Press of another banned book, Henry Miller’s 1934 novel, Tropic of Cancer, led to 60 obscenity trials in the U.S. until in 1964 it was declared not obscene and its publication permitted.

One of the supreme symbols of newly militant free speech was Lenny Bruce, who with Mort Sahl transformed stand-up comedy from its innocuous vaudevillian roots into a medium of biting social and political commentary. Bruce’s flaunting of profanity and scatology in his improvisational onstage act led to his arrest for obscenity in San Francisco in 1961, in Chicago in 1962, and in New York in 1964, where he and Howard Solomon, owner of the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, were found guilty of obscenity and sentenced to jail. Two years later, while his conviction was still under appeal, Bruce died of a drug overdose at age 40.

This steady liberalizing trend was given huge impetus by the sexual revolution, which was launched in 1959 by the marketing of the first birth control pill. In Hollywood, the puritanical studio production code, which had been adopted in the early 1930s under pressure from conservative groups like the Legion of Decency and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was gradually breaking down and was finally abandoned by the late 1960s. The new standard of sexual expression was defined by European art films, with their sophisticated scripts and frank nudity. Pop music pushed against community norms: in 1956, Elvis Presley’s hip-swiveling gyrations were cut off by the TV camera as too sexual for the Ed Sullivan Show, which was then a national institution. As late as 1967, the Ed Sullivan Show was trying to censor the song lyrics of major bands like the Doors and the Rolling Stones, who were imitating the sexual explicitness of rural and urban African-American blues. (The Stones capitulated to Sullivan, but the Doors fought back — and were never invited on his show again.) Middle-class college students in the 1960s, including women, began freely using four-letter words that had rarely been heard in polite company, except briefly during the flapper fad of the 1920s. In the early 1970s, women for the first time boldly entered theaters showing pornography and helped make huge hits out of X-rated films like Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and The Devil in Miss Jones.

In short, free speech and free expression, no matter how offensive or shocking, were at the heart of the 1960s cultural revolution. Free speech was a primary weapon of the Left against the moralism and conformism of the Right.

Camille Paglia, “The Modern Campus Has Declared War on Free Speech”, Heat Street, 2016-05-09.

December 11, 2017

QotD: Occupational licensing

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

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

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

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

December 5, 2017

Happy Repeal Day!

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

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

HL Mencken celebrates repeal of Prohibition, December 1933

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reposted from 2013:

ReasonTV
Published on 5 Dec 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 3, 2017

Alberta debates marijuana legalization … oddly

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

Colby Cosh’s most recent column is a real-life illustration of the old Bastiat saying that “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended”:

I will leave better informed people to discuss Mr. Orr’s creative interpretation of the Cultural Revolution as being a proto-Reaganite anti-drug crusade. Actually, I am just informed enough to discuss it, briefly. Here’s the discussion: it’s bananas.

And yet! — the nonsense about China might not even have been the silliest part of the speech. Orr has concerns that legalized marijuana might not serve to suppress illegal production. This could, in itself, be a legitimate point. There is a genuine fear that the licensed vendors will set the price too high to compete with existing dealers. But it is not quite the point Orr chose to make. He seems to be convinced that licensed growers cannot compete with the black market at any price.

Why is it that criminals grow pot? Orr’s answer is not “because growing pot has, until now, been a crime.” That would be too easy. “Let’s look at it from a business point of view,” he suggests…

“The black market doesn’t have to pay taxes. They don’t have to pay (worker’s compensation). In most cases they don’t have to pay for any capital expenditures on land or buildings. They don’t have to buy business licences. In many cases they don’t pay for power… Anybody who tries to do this legally is going to have to pay all of these expenses, and you think you can compete financially on that level with them?”

This, of course, explains why, when we want furniture or shoes or chicken, we all invariably buy them in back alleys from underground businesses. But if Orr were to actually look around Alberta — even his own part of Alberta — he would see that lawful businesses do have some advantages.

Legal growers can raise hundreds of millions of dollars in capital markets not run by guys named Lefty or Snake. They can recruit scientists, professional marketers, and horticultural experts without having to hope Walter White shows up. They can exploit economies of scale. They can buy or rent acres of land without having to hide from helicopters. They can do business in broad daylight: they can rent billboards.

And meanwhile, it is not really as though illegal pot growers don’t have labour costs, or overhead, or capital and land requirements. Underground businesses that don’t pay “tax” still have to spend money, often more money, on the basic protective services that taxes buy the rest of us. Any economist could have told Mr. Orr as much. But I am afraid he got his economics out of the same Cracker Jack box his Chinese history came from.

December 1, 2017

Censorship on the web

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

At City Journal, Aaron Renn explains why some of the concerns about censorship on the Internet are not so much wrong as misdirected:

The basic idea of net neutrality makes sense. When I get a phone, the phone company can’t decide whom I can call, or how good the call quality should be depending on who is on the other end of the line. Similarly, when I pay for my cable modem, I should be able to use the bandwidth I paid for to surf any website, not get a better or worse connection depending on whether my cable company cut some side deal to make Netflix perform better than Hulu.

The problem for net neutrality advocates is that the ISPs aren’t actually doing any of this; they really are providing an open Internet, as promised. The same is not true of the companies pushing net neutrality, however. As Pai suggests, the real threat to an open Internet doesn’t come from your cable company but from Google/YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and others. All these firms have aggressively censored.

For example, Google recently kicked would-be Twitter competitor Gab out of its app store, not for anything Gab did but for what it refused to do — censor content. Twitter is famous for censoring, as Pai observes. “I love Twitter, and I use it all the time,” he said. “But let’s not kid ourselves; when it comes to an open Internet, Twitter is part of the problem. The company has a viewpoint and uses that viewpoint to discriminate.” (Twitter’s censors have not gotten around to removing the abuse, some of it racist, being hurled at Pai, including messages like “Die faggot die” and “Hey go fuck yourself you Taliban-looking fuck.”)

Google’s YouTube unit also censors, setting the channel for Prager University to restricted mode, which limits access; Prager U. is suing Google and YouTube. YouTube has also “demonetized” videos from independent content creators, making these videos ineligible for advertising, their main source of revenue. Much of the complaining about censorship has come from political conservatives, but they’re not the only victims. The problem is broad-based.

Yet sometimes Silicon Valley giants have adopted a see-no-evil approach to certain kinds of content. Facebook, for instance, has banned legitimate content but failed to stop Russian bots from going wild during last year’s presidential election, planting voluminous fake news stories. Advertisers recently started fleeing YouTube when reports surfaced that large numbers of child-exploitation videos were showing up on supposedly kid-friendly channels. One account, ToyFreaks, had 8 million subscribers — making it the 68th most-viewed YouTube channel — before the company shut it down. It’s not credible that YouTube didn’t know what was happening on a channel with millions of viewers. Other channels and videos featured content from pedophiles. More problems turned up within the last week. A search for “How do I …” on YouTube returned numerous auto-complete suggestions involving sex with children. Others have found a whole genre of “guess her age” videos, with preview images, printed in giant fonts, saying things like, “She’s only 9!” The videos may or may not have involved minors — I didn’t watch them—but at minimum, they trade on pedophilic language to generate views.

November 29, 2017

Self-driving cars

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

Michael Walsh isn’t a fan of self-driving cars, no sirree:

A “self-driving” car is an oxymoron, in the same way that “paying for a tax cut” is. Someone or something is going to be driving that car, and the whole point here is that it ain’t going to be you, brother.

For while you may at first think you are directing the destination of the vehicle, the fact is you’re a passenger in a computer-controlled mobile living-room whose every move is dictated by Big Brother, whether directly or remotely. It’s bad enough now, when the computers in your car can rat you out to highway checkpoints, and your Bluetooth-connected cell phone broadcasts your whereabouts to every law enforcement officer in the county.

But once the “self-driving” car juts its snout into the marketplace, and tries to drive out the you-driving cars, whom do you think is going to be calling the shots? In quick succession, say hello to the road-mileage tax and ever more vehicles on the roads, given that no one will have to qualify for a vision-tested or skills-tested drivers’ licenses anymore.

Be also prepared for restrictions on where and when you can be chauffeured around in robot-propelled comfort; which kinds of gasoline you may purchase, and when; and with whom you may someday be forced to share your vehicle as the cars are pre-programmed at the factory to respond to commands from elsewhere, including checking IDs. We used to want God to be our co-pilot; instead, we’re going to get Google.

So buy that car you’ve been fancying — you know, the one with a functioning steering wheel, accelerator, and brakes; the one that goes where you want it to, more or less — while you still can, because an unholy alliance of national-security TSA types, social justice warriors, and tech nerds are bound and determined to take it away from you. We can’t have folks mucking about inside of Fortress America, free to go when and where they please, without so much as a by-your-leave. From King of the Road to a sack of spuds, suitable for carting, in just a few postwar generations: welcome to the world of the Emasculated American Male.

H/T to Small Dead Animals for the link.

November 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

November 22, 2017

QotD: Anti-smoking fanaticism

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

Whenever I am in Paris I stay near Père-Lachaise, the greatest cemetery in the world, and I always take at least one walk in it. It is, like life and literature, inexhaustible; and after all, the paths not only of glory but of journalism, too, lead but to the grave.

On the way there this time I was passed by a road-sweeping vehicle with an excellent advertisement on its side. It showed a vast pyramid of cigarette ends, with the legend “350 tons of cigarette ends per year”: the sum of such annual sweepings in Paris. This must equate to an awful lot of death.

On the matter of smoking I suffer not so much from cognitive as from emotional dissonance. On the one hand I detest the filthy habit, and whenever I see the slogan SMOKING KILLS on a discarded packet on the ground, I think, “Yes, but not quickly enough.”

On the other hand, I detest the antismokers, the Savonarolas of public health. I want people to spite them by smoking, though not in my breathing space.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Of grave concern”, Taki’s Magazine, 2016-04-02.

November 21, 2017

Scaling back the Imperial Presidency

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

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

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

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

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

Josh Blackman also looks at this unexpected phenomenon:

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

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

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

November 18, 2017

Legalize Medically-Assisted Sex: Keep Government Out of Bedrooms and Wheelchairs

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

ReasonTV
Published on 17 Nov 2017

We should all be adults about sex and not deprive the disabled of services from which they’d benefit.

——

Nine out of 10 doctors agree sex is good for you, or at least better for you than smoking. But what happens if you have a disability that makes it difficult to engage in sex, or find a sexual partner in the first place? Enter sex surrogates, professionals who help the disabled work through their sexual problems (in large part by having sex with them). Although there’s a case to be made for the medical, if not psychological, benefits sex surrogates provide, they’re operating in a legal gray area.

In the latest Mostly Weekly, host Andrew Heaton makes the case that we should all be adults about sex and not deprive the disabled of services from which they’d benefit.

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

QotD: A key drawback of a cashless society

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 15, 2017

Ignorance of the law … is inevitable, because there are so many laws

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

We’ve all heard the old saying that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”, but there has been such massive growth in the number and scope of laws in the last couple of generations that even the people who work in the legal field can’t possibly keep up. What chance do average citizens have to ensure they aren’t accidentally falling afoul of unknown (and for all practical purposes, unknowable) legal traps?

“Because I said so.” “Life isn’t fair.” “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” These are some of the great cop-outs of all time, and the last one is particularly troubling in a country with so many laws that it is impossible to count — let alone read — them all. When was the last time you sat down with a complete set of the federal, state, and local codes setting forth the tens of thousands of criminal violations for which you could be sent to jail? If you answered “never,” you’re in good company. Nevertheless, America’s judges still cling to the proposition that it’s perfectly fine to lock people up for doing something they had no idea was illegal. But it’s not fine, and the justifications for that palpably unfair rule have only grown more threadbare with time.

Laws Are Not Even Countable, Much Less Knowable

Things have gotten so bad that even an act as innocent as sharing a Netflix password or a bank website password with a family member could potentially carry criminal penalties if the website disallows password sharing. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 bans intentionally accessing a computer “without authorization,” and the Supreme Court has recently declined to hear a case from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Nosal, that held that password sharing could be prohibited by the Act. Although the majority opinion did not explicitly mention innocent password sharing, the dissent noted that the lack of any limiting principle meant that the majority’s reasoning could easily be used to criminalize a host of innocent conduct.

One rationale for the maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse was to give people an incentive to educate themselves about legal requirements. But as any law student will attest, one can study those requirements for years and barely scratch the surface. Another rationale was to prevent people from escaping criminal penalties by claiming ignorance, even when they actually knew they were breaking the law. That might have made sense in ancient times when there were only a few dozen crimes on the books and all of them involved morally blameworthy conduct like murder, arson, or rape.

But today the law has grown so complicated, and the relationship between law and morality so attenuated, that these supporting rationales no longer make sense. There have been multiple attempts to count the number of federal crimes, including by the Department of Justice, and no one has yet succeeded. Title 18 of the United States Code, which governs crimes and criminal procedure, has over 6,000 sections, and it is estimated that there are more than 4,500 federal crimes and over 300,000 agency regulations containing criminal penalties. And of course, this does not include the dizzying array of state and local criminal codes, ignorance of which is practically assured but still not excused.

In 2009, Harvey Silverglate wrote Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. That was long enough ago that three is almost certainly an under-estimate by now … there are so many more laws and regulations that have been added (or “enhanced”) since then.

November 7, 2017

“Paying for” tax cuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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