Quotulatiousness

November 22, 2014

The rise of the Quebec libertarian movement

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:02

Back when I was active in the Libertarian Party of Canada, Quebec was an almost unknown area … there were so few libertarians or pro-free market people that we rarely tried to run a candidate in elections there. That apparently is now changing:

Published on 18 Nov 2014

“For a couple of years now, Canada has had a freer economy than the United States.”

That’s Martin Masse, one of the leading figures in the Canadian libertarian movement. Back in the late 90s, when libertarianism was a thoroughly marginal ideology in the country, Masse started Le Quebecois Libre, an online gathering place for allies to the cause.

Things have since changed. Free market ideas now inform Canadian public policy to a degree that’s probably surprising to the average American. Reason TV recently sat down with Masse to find out about this transformation and to discuss the future of liberty in our neighbor to the North.

November 21, 2014

QotD: Trigger warnings

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

I like trigger warnings. I like them because they’re not censorship, they’re the opposite of censorship. Censorship says “Read what we tell you”. The opposite of censorship is “Read whatever you want”. The philosophy of censorship is “We know what is best for you to read”. The philosophy opposite censorship is “You are an adult and can make your own decisions about what to read”.

And part of letting people make their own decisions is giving them relevant information and trusting them to know what to do with them. Uninformed choices are worse choices. Trigger warnings are an attempt to provide you with the information to make good free choices of reading material.

And my role model here, as in so many other places, is Commissioner Lal: “Beware he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart, he dreams himself your master.”

Scott Alexander, “The Wonderful Thing About Triggers”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-05-30.

November 19, 2014

Net Neutrality is a good thing, right?

Net Neutrality is back in the news thanks to President Obama making a PR push to the regulators who may (or may not) be crafting regulations to bring the internet under government supervision:

Because this issue is still in the FCC’s hands, no one can know for sure what rules the agency will adopt. One important question, though, is: will neutrality apply to wireless services or only to cable-based ISPs, such as Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T? In addition, will failure to preserve the status quo slow down the speed at which Internet connections and broadband capacity expand (because ISPs won’t be able to shift more of the expansion costs onto the “hogs”)? And what exactly is wrong with ISPs wanting to charge content providers higher prices for more bandwidth and faster, more reliable downloads?

More certain, however, is that regulations requiring “net neutrality” will end up benefiting the large, established ISPs. Incumbent firms have gained from “common carrier” regulation throughout U.S. history. As a matter of fact, the FCC predictably will be captured (if it has not already been) by the very companies President Obama wants to regulate “in the public interest.”

The president’s call to action sounds eerily similar to demands for federal railroad regulation that ultimately led to the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887. Until it was put out of business in the early 1980s by President Jimmy Carter, the ICC allowed the railroads and, later, motor carriers and pipelines to charge prices exceeding competitive levels, thereby trying its best to protect the carriers’ profits at consumers’ expense.

William Shugart follows up on his original post:

The source of today’s online bottleneck can be traced back to local and regional government authorities, who quickly recognized the benefits (to them personally) of creating and granting exclusive franchises to one ISP that would, for the term of the contract, be a monopolist. (Government officials can extract more rents if they negotiate with only a handful of contestants.) Given that only one ISP would “win” the right to provide online content to local customers, the local monopolists also recognized a benefit of exclusive franchises: They would have the freedom to discriminate against some content suppliers by adding extra fees for privileged access.

So, a simple solution to the absence of net neutrality is readily available: Foster competition between ISPs.

Some people might raise the objection that, in this realm, robust competition for consumer dollars is unlikely because the suppliers of connections to the Internet are “natural monopolists”. In fact, ISPs are not “natural monopolists” as some commentators would have us believe. They are local government-granted monopolies. (Even Frederic Scherer, the author of the influential textbook Industrial Market Structure and Economic Performance, wrote that such claims of “natural monopoly” are “trumped up.”) Competition between ISPs nowadays is a contest for the favors of mayors and city councils who ultimately will determine who will win the exclusive franchise; it is not competition for the business of paying customers.

QotD: Celebrate conformity

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

I heard a lot of that kind of talk during my battles with the Canadian ‘human rights’ commissions a few years ago: of course, we all believe in free speech, but it’s a question of how you ‘strike the balance’, where you ‘draw the line’… which all sounds terribly reasonable and Canadian, and apparently Australian, too. But in reality the point of free speech is for the stuff that’s over the line, and strikingly unbalanced. If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isn’t free at all. So screw that.

But I don’t really think that many people these days are genuinely interested in ‘striking the balance’; they’ve drawn the line and they’re increasingly unashamed about which side of it they stand. What all the above stories have in common, whether nominally about Israel, gay marriage, climate change, Islam, or even freedom of the press, is that one side has cheerfully swapped that apocryphal Voltaire quote about disagreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it for the pithier Ring Lardner line: ‘“Shut up,” he explained.’

A generation ago, progressive opinion at least felt obliged to pay lip service to the Voltaire shtick. These days, nobody’s asking you to defend yourself to the death: a mildly supportive retweet would do. But even that’s further than most of those in the academy, the arts, the media are prepared to go. As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: ‘What really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.’ Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity.

Mark Steyn, “The slow death of free speech”, The Spectator, 2014-04-19

November 12, 2014

“We’re just wild and [ableist slur], aren’t we?”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:56

Susan Kruth on what can happen in the wonderful world of academia when free speech can’t even be used on a panel on free speech:

So what exactly happened at Smith? Smith President Kathleen McCartney, moderating the panel, asked about the line between free speech and hate speech. Torch readers know such a line doesn’t exist. Kaminer said, regarding what’s allowed in the classroom, that there’s a difference between students cursing at each other and students using words in the context of a discussion — for example, talking about the use of “the n-word” in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. She prompted the audience: “When I say, ‘n-word,’ … what word do you all hear in your head?” and proceeded to repeat the answer she got from the audience, remarking that “nothing horrible happened” when she did so. Some students, however, not only condemned Kaminer for uttering the word but also argued that McCartney should have intervened.

Smith’s student newspaper The Smith Sophian later published a transcript of the panel that both prefaces the content with a trigger warning and censors a number of potentially explicit words, to the point that, in some cases, it’s not clear at first glance what was said. This censored transcript is therefore itself an excellent example of how censorship hurts dialogue. All instances of “nigger” are written as “[n-word].” Kaminer’s use of the word “cunt”—which she used one time, to clarify a student’s reference to “the c-word,” was written as “[c-word],” resulting in this line in the transcript:

    WK: And by, “the c-word,” you mean the word [c-word]?

Clarification was evidently needed, considering that another c-word was also censored from the transcript:

    Kathleen McCartney: … We’re just wild and [ableist slur], aren’t we?

That’s right, wild and crazy. It took my colleagues and me a moment to figure that one out (it is audible in the audio recording of the panel). Despite this word apparently being too offensive to reproduce in the transcript, it was spoken by all three of the other panelists besides Kaminer, in addition to President McCartney.

This kind of censorship serves only to distract from the real dialogue that was happening among panel members and the audience at Smith. It is the Sophian’s editors’ prerogative to cut words from its reporting, but to do so is counterproductive. Newspapers exist to provide information, and censorship inhibits that goal. It also cannot be justified in the name of safety, since no reasonable person could interpret the publication of an accurate transcript as threatening.

November 8, 2014

Republicans and the Patriot Act re-authorization in May 2015

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:31

Conor Friedersdorf on the ethical and moral challenge that will face the Republican members of the next Congress soon after they take office:

The Patriot Act substantially expires in May 2015.

When the new Congress takes up its reauthorization, mere months after convening, members will be forced to decide what to do about Section 215 of the law, the provision cited by the NSA to justify logging most every telephone call made by Americans.

With Republicans controlling both the Senate and the House, the GOP faces a stark choice. Is a party that purports to favor constitutional conservatism and limited government going to ratify mass surveillance that makes a mockery of the Fourth Amendment? Will Mitch McConnell endorse a policy wherein the Obama administration logs and stores every telephone number dialed or received by Roger Ailes of Fox News, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA, the Koch brothers, the head of every pro-life organization in America, and every member of the Tea Party? Is the GOP House going to sacrifice the privacy of all its constituents to NSA spying that embodies the generalized warrants so abhorrent to the founders?

The issue divides elected Republicans. Senator Rand Paul and Representative Justin Amash are among those wary of tracking the phone calls of millions of innocent people. Senator Richard Burr favors doing it. Republicans pondering a run for president in 2016 will be trying to figure out how mass surveillance will play in that campaign.

Many would rather not take any stand before May, as if governing — the very job citizens are paying them to do — is some sort of trap. But their preferences don’t matter. This fight is unavoidable.

Sadly, the smart money is betting that they’ll flub it and just re-authorize with little or no changes to the most offensive parts of the legislation. Because 2016.

November 7, 2014

QotD: Freedom of speech versus “fear, cowardice and rationalization”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Middle East, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

On Feb. 14, 1989, I happened to be on a panel on press freedom for the Columbia Journalism Review when someone in the audience told us of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious edict for blasphemy against the British novelist Salman Rushdie. What did we think? We didn’t, as I best recall, disgrace ourselves. We said most of the right things about defending freedom of thought and the imagination.

But the death sentence from Iran’s supreme leader seemed unreal — the sending of a thunderbolt from medieval Qom against modern Bloomsbury — and we didn’t treat it with the seriousness that it deserved. I recall, alas, making a very poor joke about literary deconstructionism. My colleagues, though more sensible, were baffled and hesitant. Was it even true — or perhaps just a mistranslation?

We knew soon enough that it was true. The literary, media and political worlds rallied in defense of Mr. Rushdie. He became a hero of free speech and a symbol — even if a slightly ambivalent postcolonial one — of Western liberal traditions. But he also went, very sensibly, behind a curtain of security that was to last many years.

And by degrees — when it seemed that not only Mr. Rushdie’s life but the lives of his publishers, editors and translators might be threatened — his base of support in the literary world thinned out. Sensitive intellectuals discovered that, in a multicultural world, respect for the Other meant understanding his traditions too, and these often were, well, sterner than ours. Freedom of speech was only one value to be set against…ahem, several other values. Fear, cowardice and rationalization spread outward.

John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.

November 6, 2014

Asset forfeiture again

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

In the Washington Post last month, David Post discussed the issue of asset forfeiture:

The heat is slowly turning up on the government’s use of civil asset forfeiture procedures to extort money out of innocent individuals without the messy need to actually show that they did anything wrong or wrongful. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago, and today’s New York Times has a front page article detailing another wrinkle in the civil forfeiture scam: seizures of funds deposited in violation of the “anti-structuring” provisions of the federal code.

As you probably know, banks have an obligation to report all cash transactions of more than $10,000 to the federal government. What you may not know is that it is a federal crime to “structure a transaction,” including by “breaking down a single sum of currency exceeding $ 10,000 into smaller sums, … “for the purpose of evading the [reporting] requirement.” The reporting requirement itself is designed to alert the government to possibly suspicious transactions involving proceeds from money laundering, or drugs or gambling or other cash-intensive activities. But the statute makes the evasion itself a crime — even if the money was derived from perfectly lawful activities, and even if the “purpose of evading the reporting requirement” is a perfectly benign one. And to make matters much worse, the IRS doesn’t even have to charge you with the crime of “structuring” in order to seize the proceeds of the transaction under civil asset forfeiture laws, and the Times article details growing use of this procedure to take and keep money belonging to innocent individuals who are never even charged with the crime at all.

November 5, 2014

Alaska, Oregon, and Washington DC vote to legalize marijuana

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:24

Jacob Sullum on the success of two more state legalization campaigns (oh, and the imperial capital, too):

Yesterday Alaska became the fourth state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. With 74 percent of precincts reporting, 52 percent of voters favored legalization. Alaska joins Oregon and Washington, D.C., which legalized marijuana on the same day, and Colorado and Washington state, where voters approved legalization in 2012.

Alaska has taken a unique approach to marijuana since 1975, when the Alaska Supreme Court decided that the state constitution’s privacy clause allows people to possess small amounts of cannabis at home for personal use without fear of arrest or punishment. But that ruling raised an obvious question: Where are people supposed to get the pot they are allowed to use?

Measure 2 answers that question with a system similar to Colorado’s. It allows adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time, grow up to six plants at home, and transfer up to an ounce at a time to other adults “without remuneration.” It authorizes state-licensed growers, cannabis product manufacturers, and retailers, to be regulated by Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board or a separate agency created by the state legislature.

November 4, 2014

Alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s “Freedom is Slavery”, we can now add “Censorship is Free Speech”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:45

Sean Collins on the spectacle of the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement demanding that speakers must not say “hurtful” things, lest students be upset:

Students at the University of California, Berkeley, are demanding that the administration ‘disinvite’ comedian Bill Maher who had been asked to be the commencement ceremony speaker in December. An online petition from the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition (MEMSA) declares that Maher ‘has made statements that are blatantly bigoted and racist’, in particular about Islam. Examples of ‘hate speech’ cited by the petitioners include Maher’s recent statement that ‘Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing’.

In response to the clamour for Maher’s disinvitation, the undergraduate committee at UC Berkeley responsible for selecting speakers voted to rescind the invitation to Maher. But the university administration announced the invitation will stand.

The controversy resonates historically at Berkeley. The university is currently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM), a coalition of Berkeley staff and students who fought for free-speech rights for students on campus. ‘I guess they don’t teach irony in college any more’, quipped Maher, in response to his disinvitation.

Maher does not have a ‘right’ to speak at Berkeley’s ceremony; this is not a First Amendment issue. But the campaign to remove him as the speaker at the graduation event is thoroughly censorious and antithetical to the free exchange of ideas. Trying to silence certain views is especially problematic at universities, institutions in which students are expected to engage with a variety of ideas. The attempt to oust Maher is part of a regressive anti-intellectual trend. In the past year alone, there has been a wave of speakers – including Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Ayann Hirsi Ali and George Will – who have had invitations rescinded or who decided to decline following protests.

The slogan used by the UC Berkeley campaign against Maher is ‘Free Speech, Not Hate Speech’. This formulation is a contradiction in terms: if you seek to prevent certain speech – say on the grounds of being ‘hateful’ – then you do not support free speech. Alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four’s ‘Freedom is Slavery’, we can now add ‘Censorship is Free Speech’.

The chilling future of TV ads

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:21

Think today’s ads on TV are irritating? You ain’t seen nothing yet:

I’ve discussed in the past how many people mistake privacy as some sort of absolute “thing” rather than a spectrum of trade-offs. Leaving your home to go to the store involves giving up a small amount of privacy, but it’s a trade-off most people feel is worth it (not so much for some uber-celebrities, and then they choose other options). Sharing information with a website is often seen as a reasonable trade-off for the services/information that website provides. The real problem is often just that the true trade-offs aren’t clear. What you’re giving up and what you’re getting back aren’t always done transparently, and that’s where people feel their privacy is being violated. When they make the decision consciously and the trade-off seems worth it, almost no one feels that their privacy is violated. Yet, when they don’t fully understand, or when the deal they made is unilaterally changed, that’s when the privacy is violated, because the deal someone thought they were striking is not what actually happened.

And, unfortunately, it often seems like people are increasingly being pressured into deals they don’t fully understand and don’t have full control over. Michael Price, over at the Brennan Center for Justice, took the time to actually read through the “privacy policy” on his new “smart” TV and it’s terrified him. Just the fact that a TV even has a privacy policy seems oddly terrifying, but it makes sense, given that at least some information goes outbound as part of the “smarts.” But how much? Potentially a lot more than people would expect:

    The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how, and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.” It records “the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy.

To some extent, that’s not really all that different than a regular computer. But, then it begins to get creepier:

    It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide “gesture control” for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine.

    More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a “voice recognition” feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV.

    You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening.

QotD: Democracies need freedom of speech

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

In the New Statesman, Sarah Ditum seemed befuddled that the ‘No Platform’ movement — a vigorous effort to deny public platforms to the British National party and the English Defence League — has mysteriously advanced from silencing ‘violent fascists’ to silencing all kinds of other people, like a Guardian feminist who ventured some insufficiently affirming observations about trans-women and is now unfit for polite society. But, once you get a taste for shutting people up, it’s hard to stop. Why bother winning the debate when it’s easier to close it down?

Nick Lowles defined the ‘No Platform’ philosophy as ‘the position where we refuse to allow fascists an opportunity to act like normal political parties’. But free speech is essential to a free society because, when you deny people ‘an opportunity to act like normal political parties’, there’s nothing left for them to do but punch your lights out. Free speech, wrote the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson last week, ‘buttresses the political system’s legitimacy. It helps losers, in the struggle for public opinion and electoral success, to accept their fates. It helps keep them loyal to the system, even though it has disappointed them. They will accept the outcomes, because they believe they’ve had a fair opportunity to express and advance their views. There’s always the next election. Free speech underpins our larger concept of freedom.’

Mark Steyn, “The slow death of free speech”, The Spectator, 2014-04-19

November 3, 2014

UCLA students on the new Affirmative Consent rules

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf talks to actual UCLA students to find out what they think of the new rules for how they must conduct themselves in intimate situations:

Imagine serving on the campus equivalent of a jury in a sexual-assault case.

The accused testifies, “I thought I was reading all the signals right. Once we started kissing it felt like things progressed naturally, like we were both into it. Neither of us said, ‘Yes, let’s do this,’ but I definitely wanted to hook up. I felt sure we both did.” The accuser says, “I was totally comfortable when we started kissing, but as things progressed I felt more and more uncomfortable. I didn’t say stop or resist, but I didn’t consent to being groped or undressed. I wasn’t asked. I didn’t want that.” If both seem to be telling the truth as they perceive it, what’s the just outcome?

Last week, I spent some time at UCLA asking students about California’s new “affirmative-consent” law. In our conversations, I described the law and asked them whether they supported it or not. I also posted this scenario to them. I was surprised by how common it was for students to express support for the law and then to say a few minutes later that they wouldn’t feel comfortable convicting the accused in that example. But there were also students who opposed affirmative-consent laws and later said that they would find the accused guilty.

That conflict fit with a larger theme that ran through my conversations with undergraduates, from freshmen to seniors. Asked about California’s law, many supporters focused on how affirmative consent squared with their notion of what campus norms, values, and culture ought to be, rather than its effect on disciplinary cases, which they treated as a tangentially related afterthought. Opponents expressed abstract concerns about unjust convictions and due process, yet some felt that convicting the accused in that hypothetical would be just.

In short, forcing both sides to confront a specific scenario made them see a thornier issue than they’d imagined. And it increased the conflicted feelings of many of those who had no definite position.

November 2, 2014

Harper – “We will not be intimidated”. Reality? We’re intimidated.

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:12

The recent fatal attacks on Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil provoked a strong verbal reaction from the PM. Yet the actions of military commanders directly contradict what Mr. Harper said:

After the recent Islamist outrage in Ottawa, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated.”

[…]

Over in Canada after the latest atrocity, military personnel have been requested “to restrict movement in uniform as much as possible.” That request came from Rear Admiral John Newton, Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic.

So the Canadian military’s response to Islamist aggression in Canada is to instruct military personnel to take off their uniforms. Is that defending our Western way of life? How is it “not being intimidated” when you are afraid to walk your own streets in your country’s uniform?

If Prime Minister Harper meant what he said about “not being intimidated”, was this not precisely the time to insist that Canadian values be respected by all citizens? As the Canadian journalist Mark Steyn commented:

“If we have to have dress codes on the streets of free societies, I’d rather see more men like Corporal Cirillo (the murdered Canadian soldier) in the uniform of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders — and fewer women in head-to-toe black body bags. — I’m tired of being told that we have to change to accommodate them.”

October 31, 2014

US government’s no-fly list at an all-time high

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:13

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf talks about the travesty that is the US government’s no-fly list:

An image accompanying the scoop starkly illustrated an out-of-control watchlist. (The Intercept)

An image accompanying the scoop starkly illustrated an out-of-control watchlist. (The Intercept)

Months ago, The Intercept reported that “nearly half of the people on the U.S. government’s database of terrorist suspects are not connected to any known terrorist group.” Citing classified documents, Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux went on to report that “Obama has boosted the number of people on the no fly list more than ten-fold, to an all-time high of 47,000 — surpassing the number of people barred from flying under George W. Bush.” Several experts were quoted questioning the effectiveness of a watch list so expansive, echoing concerns expressed by the Associated Press the previous month as well as the ACLU.

The Intercept article offered a long overdue look at one of the most troubling parts of the War on Terrorism. Being labeled a suspected terrorist can roil or destroy a person’s life — yet Team Obama kept adding people to the list using opaque standards that were never subject to democratic debate. Americans were denied due process. Innocent people were also put on a no-fly list with no clear way to get off.

As the ACLU put it, “The uncontroversial contention that Osama bin Laden and a handful of other known terrorists should not be allowed on an aircraft is being used to create a monster that goes far beyond what ordinary Americans think of when they think about a ‘terrorist watch list.’ If the government is going to rely on these kinds of lists, they need checks and balances to ensure that innocent people are protected.” The status quo made the War on Terror resemble a Franz Kafka novel.

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