Quotulatiousness

September 14, 2014

Latest Snowden revelation – NSA and GCHQ have full access to German telecom systems

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:21

In The Register, Kelly Fiveash sums up the latest information from Edward Snowden:

An NSA and GCHQ surveillance programme — dubbed Treasure Map — grants US and British spooks access to the networks of German telcos such as Deutsche Telekom, according to a new stash of leaked documents from Edward Snowden.

Der Spiegel published the latest revelations today. However, Deutsche Telekom reportedly said it had found no evidence of such tampering on its system.

“We are looking into every indication of possible manipulations but have not yet found any hint of that in our investigations so far,” a spokesman at the company told Reuters.

He added: “We’re working closely with IT specialists and have also contacted German security authorities. It would be completely unacceptable if a foreign intelligence agency were to gain access to our network.”

The Register sought comment from the telco, but it hadn’t immediately got back to us at time of writing.

The Treasure Map programme was described by Snowden as “a 300,000 foot view of the internet” in a New York Times story published in November last year.

September 13, 2014

Ohio State University’s bureaucratic approach to student-to-student intimacy

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:46

US colleges and universities are struggling to come up with new and innovative ways of regulating how their students interact in intimate situations. Ohio State University, for example, now requires that students who engage in sexual relations must agree on why they want to have sex to avoid the risk of sexual assault charges being brought:

At Ohio State University, to avoid being guilty of “sexual assault” or “sexual violence,” you and your partner now apparently have to agree on the reason WHY you are making out or having sex. It’s not enough to agree to DO it, you have to agree on WHY: there has to be agreement “regarding the who, what, where, when, why, and how this sexual activity will take place.”

There used to be a joke that women need a reason to have sex, while men only need a place. Does this policy reflect that juvenile mindset? Such a requirement baffles some women in the real world: a female member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights told me, “I am still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of any two intimates in the world agreeing as to ‘why.’”

Ohio State’s sexual-assault policy, which effectively turns some welcome touching into “sexual assault,” may be the product of its recent Resolution Agreement with the Office for Civil Rights (where I used to work) to resolve a Title IX complaint over its procedures for handling cases of sexual harassment and assault. That agreement, on page 6, requires the University to “provide consistent definitions of and guidance about the University terms ‘sexual harassment,’ ‘consent,’ ‘sexual violence,’ ‘sexual assault,’ and ‘sexual misconduct.’” It is possible that Ohio State will broaden its already overbroad “sexual assault” definition even further: Some officials at Ohio State, like its Student Wellness Center, advocate defining all sex or “kissing” without “verbal,” “enthusiastic” consent as “sexual assault.”

Ohio State applies an impractical “agreement” requirement to not just sex, but also to a much broader category of “touching” that is sexual (or perhaps romantic?) in nature. First, it states that “sexual assault is any form of non-consensual sexual activity. Sexual assault includes all unwanted sexual acts from intimidation to touching to various forms of penetration and rape.” Then, it states that “Consent is a knowing and voluntary verbal or non-verbal agreement between both parties to participate in each and every sexual act … Conduct will be considered “non-consensual” if no clear consent … is given … Effective consent can be given by words or actions so long as the words or actions create a mutual understanding between both parties regarding the conditions of the sexual activity–ask, ‘do both of us understand and agree regarding the who, what, where, when, why, and how this sexual activity will take place?’”

Update:

September 12, 2014

When the government steals, they call it “civil forfeiture”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:53

In Forbes, Jacob Sullum explains the amazingly lenient rules in most states for the government to steal your property:

Three key features of civil forfeiture law give cops this license to steal:

The government does not have to charge you with a crime, let alone convict you, to take your property. Under federal law and the laws of many states, a forfeiture is justified if the government can show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it is connected to a crime, typically a drug offense. That standard, which amounts to any probability greater than 50 percent, is much easier to satisfy than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard for a criminal trial. Some states allow forfeiture based on probable cause, a standard even weaker than preponderance of the evidence.

The burden of proof is on you. Innocent owners like Mandrel Stuart have to prove their innocence, a reversal of the rule in criminal cases. Meanwhile, the government hangs onto the money, which puts financial stress on the owner and makes it harder for him to challenge the forfeiture.

Cops keep the loot. Local cops and prosecutors who pursue forfeiture under federal law, which is what happened in Stuart’s case, receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds. Some states are even more generous, but others give law enforcement agencies a smaller cut, making federal forfeiture under the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program a tempting alternative. The fact that police have a direct financial interest in forfeitures creates an incentive for pretextual traffic stops aimed at finding money or other property to seize. The Post found that “298 departments and 210 task forces have seized the equivalent of 20 percent or more of their annual budgets since 2008.”

There’s at least some awareness in the Senate that the civil forfeiture rules are being abused:

The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in July, addresses each of these issues. The FAIR Act changes the standard of proof in federal forfeiture cases from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” That change does not go as far as the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that has been fighting forfeiture abuse for years, would like. I.J. argues that civil forfeiture should be abolished, meaning that a criminal conviction, based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, would be required for the government to take property allegedly connected to a crime. But Paul’s reform would make it harder for the government to prevail if a forfeiture case goes to trial, which might deter seizures of large sums in situations where the evidence is weak.

Welcome to Indiana, here is your regulatory compliance brewpub menu

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:00

Indiana, like most states, has some odd laws still on the books from the immediate post-Prohibition era, including a “food requirements” rule that specifies that any establishment that serves retail alcoholic beverages must also maintain a restaurant on-site. That restaurant is required to serve certain specific food items. This is how the Bank Street Brewhouse complies with the law:

Indiana regulatory compliance menu

As you can see, this fully complies with the wording of the rule which requires “a food menu to consist of not less than the following:”

  • Hot soups.
  • Hot sandwiches.
  • Coffee and milk.
  • Soft drinks.

H/T to Katherine Mangu-Ward who has more on the ridiculous requirements.

September 11, 2014

US Navy facing unpleasant budget choices and diminishing options

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:30

It’s still the largest navy in the world, and will continue to be for some time yet … but it’s shrinking.

BATH, Maine (Oct. 28, 2013) The Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer DDG 1000 is floated out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. The ship, the first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers, will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics/Released)

BATH, Maine (Oct. 28, 2013) The Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer DDG 1000 is floated out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. The ship, the first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers, will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics/Released)

In 2009 the navy decided it could only afford to build three of the new DDG-1000s. To replace the cancelled DDG-1000s the navy resumed building older DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyers. It was all about cost. The DDG-1000s would cost more than $3.5 billion each if built in large quantities. The Burkes cost $1.9 billion each. The last of 62 original Burkes was ordered in 2002 and the last of those entered service in 2011. But now, another 13 are on order and more were going to be ordered until the shrinking naval budget got too tight for that. The 9,800 ton Burkes are smaller than DDG-1000, being 154 meters (505 feet) long and 20 meters (66 feet) wide. But even the Burkes have been growing, with the first ones weighing in at only 8,300 tons. In 1945, most destroyers were about 3,000 tons. This constant size escalation is something navies, especially the Americans, have had a hard time dealing with, mainly because the cost per ton has escalated even more (even after taking inflation into account).

While the DDG-51 is much less expensive than the DDG-1000, some navy officials believe that in the long run the larger and more expensive DDG-1000 would be a better investment. The key problem here is the inability of the navy to control costs, and cost estimates, and the inability of the DDG-51s to provide space for new technologies. The navy hopes to overcome this by installing smaller versions of new tech in the DDG-51s and to upgrade other DDG-51s if the new stuff works out.

There are other problems as well, such as the costs of upgrades. Because of budget cuts the navy plans to buy some time (about a decade) by upgrading dozens of existing destroyers and cruisers. This is a bitter pill to swallow, as only a decade ago the navy was so sure about the new DDG-1000 that it accelerated the retirement of a dozen of the 31 Spruance class destroyers, in order to save the $28 million a year it would cost to keep each one of them in service. These ships were not just retired, they were all either broken up or sunk in training exercises. The dozen that entered service in 1979-83 could have been refurbished and been available until 2019. That’s a lost opportunity.

The guided missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) steams through the Mediterranean Sea. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 2nd Class Patrick Reilly. (RELEASED)

The guided missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) steams through the Mediterranean Sea. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 2nd Class Patrick Reilly. (RELEASED)

In the end these extensive refurbishments were too expensive and the navy was forced to fall back on a two-tier refurb plan that concentrated on electronic and software systems. The cheaper tier, called MILSPEC (designed specifically and only for military use) cost $113 million and takes six months per ship. This upgrades a lot of the 1980s electronics in the older DDG-51s. The other tier, COTS (commercial off-the shelf) uses commercial hardware and software to replace the older MILSPEC stuff. This makes these ships easier and cheaper to continue upgrading but all this costs $184 million and 18 months per ship. All these upgrades concentrate on the ability of DDG-51s to support the Aegis modification that enables missiles and low orbit satellites to be shot down. There is additional money (from outside the navy budget) available to do this.

The navy is still in danger of losing (to retirement because of aging and failing systems) the oldest DDG-51s if money is not available to refurbish elderly hulls and mechanical equipment. Because of the unpredictable future budget the navy also has to make plans for some radical downsizing. If the money is not there, neither are the ships and prudent admirals have to plan accordingly.

QotD: The real lesson taught by mandatory “volunteer” work

Filed under: Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

What about the rationalization that charitable extracurricular activities teach kids important lessons of moral engagement? There are reasons to be skeptical. A skilled professional I know had to turn down an important freelance assignment because of a recurring commitment to chauffeur her son to a resumé-building “social action” assignment required by his high school. This involved driving the boy for 45 minutes to a community center, cooling her heels while he sorted used clothing for charity, and driving him back — forgoing income which, judiciously donated, could have fed, clothed, and inoculated an African village. The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.

Steven Pinker, ” The Trouble With Harvard: The Ivy League is broken and only standardized tests can fix it”, The New Republic, 2014-09-04.

September 10, 2014

NATO’s “aim” problem

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:35

James Holmes explains why “aim” isn’t good enough for NATO members:

The Naval Diplomat is not from Missouri, America’s Show-Me State. But I’m in a show-me state of mind following last week’s NATO summit in another Newport — Newport, Wales. Lofty words were said. The summit communiqué pledges, for instance, to restore some sanity to defense spending.

NATO long ago fixed the standard for defense spending at 2 percent of GDP. Few meet the standard, but at Newport the NATO-European powers put everyone on notice that they’re really, truly serious about it. The small minority that already comply — Great Britain (for the moment) and Greece, alongside the United States — will “aim to continue to do so.” The majority that don’t vow to arrest further slippage. And they will “aim to increase defense expenditure in real terms as GDP grows,” and “aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade,” helping field viable forces.

Aim being the keyword — or, more accurately, the key diplomatic weasel word — in these passages. How many European allies will fulfill their commitment, and how many will avail themselves of the escape clause? Barry Pavel of the Atlantic Council observes charitably that the uptick in budgets is “not going to happen across the entire alliance, but it’s useful for framing incentives for some nations to start to contribute more.” And that tepid prediction comes from someone who’s presumably a NATO enthusiast.

So let me get this straight. NATO-Europe resolutely promises to try … to build up to a level that barely qualifies as peacetime defense spending … over the next decade … if GDPs expand to permit it. Wow. As a matter of alliance management, think about the message the Newport communiqué telegraphs. To us in North America, it indicates that Europe sees itself inhabiting entirely tranquil surroundings, untroubled by anything like, say, Russian aggression against an Eastern European neighbor.

September 5, 2014

In international affairs, perceptions matter a lot

Filed under: Europe, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:07

In today’s Goldberg File email (update: now available online here), Jonah Goldberg talks about the problem President Obama faces on the international stage:

… the Obama administration has wittingly or unwittingly sent the signal that our reign as the enforcer of the Pax Americana is over. Or, less starkly, we have sent the signal that it might be over. This is an important distinction. When it comes to power politics, perception matters as much as reality. Vladimir Putin, the Chinese Politburo, the Islamic State, Assad, the Iranians, Solomon Grundy, the stinking Diaz Brothers, Simon Bar Sinister, and that sweet-smelling cloud that steals your hemoglobin are all going to test America and the system around it to see how much they can get away with. It’s like Gandhi’s famous advice about going to prison. “On the first day, find the biggest, meanest-looking MoFo you can and beat the crap out of him. That will send the signal no one should mess with you.” (“Um, are you sure that was Gandhi? Remember Aristotle’s warning: ‘Some quotations on the Internet are unreliable.'” — The Couch).

The reason this is such a dangerous moment is that the mere act of testing the system encourages others to test it as well. In prison, when you’re a pushover for one guy, everyone gets the idea that they can take the apple brown betty off your lunch tray. It’s also how riots and lootings start. One person smashes a window on the hunch he can get away with it. Others watch. When nothing happens to the smasher, the idea becomes contagious.

This gets us to the heart of the damage Barack Obama has done. A superpower can cruise on perception for a very long time. Perception is relatively inexpensive. Sure, you gotta float some ships around. Yeah, you might have to run some military exercises. But as long as people think you’re sustaining a Pax Americana you are, in fact, sustaining a Pax Americana. But once you let that perception waver, you’re suddenly faced with a terrible set of choices. You can’t tell the world you’re still in charge, you have to show them. If you just talk about red lines and then do nothing to enforce them, further talk becomes worse than useless, it becomes provocative. If you opt to demonstrate your power, you risk failing and confirming weakness. You also risk a horrible escalation as the bad actors respond not with surrender but with even more testing. Does anyone think Putin would be the first to blink at this point if Obama sent troops to Ukraine?

Obama could do everything right starting today (Stop laughing!) and in a sense it would still be too late. It’s always more expensive to put down a riot than to prevent it. And it’s not entirely clear to me that the American people are willing to pay that price right now. It’s much clearer that this president has no interest in asking them to.

NATO – “they spent all their money on buying Ferraris and now they have no gas money”

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:34

Philip Ewing reports on the chances of improved military “readiness” among the NATO allies:

With President Barack Obama in Europe this week for a major NATO summit, the White House hopes the growl of the Russian bear on Europe’s eastern flank means the moment is right for some long-sought reforms to the alliance. But the outlook appears dim for anything beyond incremental steps at best.

The major reason is one that has frustrated policymakers over the past several administrations: Most European nations would love a stouter defense structure — so long as they don’t have to pay for it.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization requires that member nations devote at least 2 percent of their economies to defense spending, yet today only four do: the U.S., Britain, Greece and Estonia. Although this week’s summit in Wales appears likely to yield a “pledge” in support of increased spending in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, no one expects a serious effort from members other than those most directly threatened, including Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

[...]

Obama and U.S. officials also are focused on bolstering European military “readiness,” particularly as U.S. spending declines. NATO relies on the U.S. for critical military capabilities such as surveillance, in-flight refueling and transportation. European militaries field top-rate troops, ships and aircraft but keep only weeks’ or even days’ worth of munitions on hand. In NATO’s 2011 campaign against Libya, many nations ran out of munitions and the French began dropping concrete bombs.

“It’s sort of like they spent all their money on buying Ferraris and now they have no gas money,” Benitez said. “There are many allies that literally aren’t flying their planes because they can’t afford to. They have very advanced fleets, but their fleets aren’t leaving port because they can’t afford to.”

September 4, 2014

How post-Prohibition restrictions still plague many states

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 17:07

The American craft beer boom continues, but making the beer is only the start of the process of getting the beer into the hands of eager consumers. CEI’s Michelle Minton explains how rules crafted for the end of Prohibition now artificially restrict the craft beer marketplace, reduce consumer choice, and add unearned profits to favoured corporations:

After Prohibition ended, Americans could sell, produce, import, and transport alcoholic beverages, but home-brewing was still illegal until 1978 when then President Jimmy Carter signed legislation to legalize brewing in the home for personal or family use. In that year, the number of breweries was at its lowest point after the repeal of Prohibition. But in the 1980s, after states began to legalize brewpubs, the number of brewers began to rise. This development, along with easy access to capital in the 1990s and 2000s, aided efforts of modern craft breweries to change the laws in their home states so that they could brew more, self-distribute, and start the microbrew revolution.

[...]

Another hindrance for craft brewers are franchise laws, enacted among the states in the 1970s and 80s due to fears of brewers’ market power. With less than 50 brewers in the nation at the time — most of them large — there was a fear the big brewers could hold wholesalers hostage by threatening to walk away unless distributors bowed to the brewers’ demands. Since then, however, the landscape has completely shifted.

Although the number of wholesalers nationwide has declined, those remaining are larger and more powerful than almost all of the breweries in the nation. Yet, the laws remain, giving the wholesalers “virtual carte blanche to decide how the beer is sold and placed in stores and bars,” according to Brooklyn Brewery founder Steve Hindy.

In almost every other industry, a manufacturer unhappy with a distributor’s performance or price can terminate a contract in search of a better fit. This is not the case for beer manufacturers. Brewers wishing to switch from one distributor to another must go through long and costly legal battles. Hindy, for example, paid $300,000 to get out of a contract with a New York wholesaler. Yuengling COO Dave Casinelli’s experience was similar. In a phone interview, he noted that in his 24 years with the company, he couldn’t recall any attempt to switch wholesalers that didn’t end up with some legal ramifications.

Most state franchise laws not only make leaving a wholesaler hard, but they also create regional monopolies, known as “exclusive territories,” where a brewer is prohibited from selling through more than one distributor within a given area. This undermines incentives for wholesalers to compete by improving performance, increasing efficiency, or lowering prices. After all, distributors have little or no fear that a brewer will leave — because most of them can’t. As for consumers, they end up paying more because of this lack of competition.

“David Cameron mouths foolish nothings” while “Obama … resembles a spineless invertebrate”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:25

Historian Max Hastings pours out the scorn toward British PM David Cameron and American President Barack Obama for their dithering and unwillingness to grapple with real world problems like the invasion of Ukraine and the rise of ISIS:

Suddenly, the world seems a frightening place. The beheading of a second American hostage by jihadist fanatics and the threat that a British aid worker will suffer the same fate has shocked the peoples of the West, as have few events since the Cold War.

We are uncertain how the Western Powers should respond.

At such moments, we turn to our national leaders for wisdom, reassurance and decision. Instead, we get posturing, dithering and waffle.

David Cameron mouths foolish nothings, proclaiming that Britain would commit ‘all the assets we have’, including our ‘military prowess’ against the Muslim extremists.

More serious, the President of the United States seems supine in the face of the gravest threats to international order in a generation.

Barack Obama boldly strides golf course fairways, while apparently washing his hands of the job the American people — and, by association, the civilised world — pay him for: to strive to lead us into the paths of righteousness.

To borrow P. G. Wodehouse’s phrase, however intelligent Obama may be, he resembles a spineless invertebrate.

Update: Speaking of scorn, here’s Jonah Goldberg yesterday (H/T to Jim Geraghty for the link).

This was always nonsense, but then again so much of the hype about Obama in the early days of his presidency was nonsensical. Still it does contribute to the poignancy of the moment. I’m referring specifically to the Islamic State and their celebration of slavery. MEMRI has excerpts of Facebook chats between British and French supporters of the group as they discuss the great news that you can buy Yazidi women as sex slaves.

[...]

It’s also worth noting that the president has done everything he can to claim that his domestic political opponents are engaged in a “war on women.” He won an election largely because he convinced enough women — and pliant journalists — to take this bilge seriously. Just this week the head of his party went on at great length to claim that the Republican governor of Wisconsin has been “giving women the back of his hand.”

Oh, and let us not forget, the president and his supporters work very hard to paint their domestic political opponents as religious extremists because some private businesses and religious groups don’t want to pay for procedures that violate their conscience.

Now compare this to the people who are celebrating the fact their faith allows them to enslave women.

Just think about it for a moment. The president surely knows about this. His administration surely knows about this. And yet, the president — this modern incarnation of Lincoln, protector of women and opponent of domestic religious extremism — defines his goal for the Islamic State as reducing it to a “manageable problem.” Does this mean that if the group renounces any designs on attacking the U.S. homeland (an impossibility given the tenets of their faith and ambition for a global caliphate) he will stand by as they continue to barter women as sex slaves and breeders? This is the same man who campaigned in Berlin as a “citizen of the world” and champion of global community.

Forgive me, but the term, “Lincolnesque” doesn’t immediately spring to mind.

September 2, 2014

The suddenly unsettled science of nutrition

Filed under: Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:58

After all the salt uproar over the last year or so, perhaps it was inevitable that other public health consensus items would also come under scrutiny. Here’s Ace having a bit of fun with the latest New York Times report on fat and carbohydrates in the modern diet:

One day there will be a book written about this all — how a “Consensus of Experts” decided, against all previous wisdom and with virtually no evidence whatsoever, that Fat Makes You Fat and you can Eat All the Carbohydrates You Like Because Carbohydrates Are Healthy.

This never made a lick of sense to me, even before I heard of the Atkins diet.

Sugar is a carbohydrate. Indeed, it’s the carbohydrate, the one that makes up the others (such as starches, which are just long lines of sugar molecules arranged into sheets and folded over each other).

How the hell could it possibly be that Fat was Forbidden but SUGAR was Sacred?

It made no sense. A long time ago I tried to get a nutritionist to explain this to me. “Eat more fruit,” the nutritionist said.

“Fruit,” I answered, “is sugar in a ball.”

But the nutritionist had an answer. “That is fruit sugar,” the she told me.

“Fruit sugar,” I responded, “is yet sugar.”

“But it’s not cane sugar.”

“I don’t think the body really cares much about which particular plant the sugar comes from.”

“Sugar from a fruit,” the nutritionist now gambited, “is more natural than processed sugar.”

“They’re both natural, you know. We don’t synthesize sucrose in a lab. There are no beakers involved.”

“Well, you burn fruit sugar up quicker, so it actually gives you energy, instead of turning into fat!”

“Both sugars are converted into glycogen in the body. There can be no difference in how they produce ‘energy’ in the body because both wind up as glycogen. I have no idea where you’re getting any of this. It sounds like you’re making it all up as you go.”

This is Science,” the nutritionist closed the argument.

Eh. It’s all nonsense. Even cane sugar contains, yes, fructose, or fruit sugar, and fruits contain sucrose, or cane sugar.

QotD: Shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre

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

First, there’s the shoutout to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.:

    There is no freedom to shout “fire” in a crowded theater.

Back in 2012 I wrote at length about the context for that Holmes quote. First of all, Professor Rosenbaum — like most Holmes fans — truncates the quote to render it vague. What Holmes actually said was “[t]he most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

But more importantly, Professor Rosenbaum — like most who misquote Holmes — ignores the context. To summarize rather than make you read my lengthy post: (1) Holmes made the analogy in deciding a shockingly brutal and censorious series of cases that are no longer good law, in which the Supreme Court gave the government free reign to jail people who criticized or agitated against American participation in World War I; (2) Holmes later repented of that position, undermined that line of cases through decisions he wrote or joined, and articulated a far more speech-protective line of authority that remains the law today, and (3) if you are fond of Holmes’ rhetorical flourishes, you ought to know he was the sort of statist asshole who said things like “three generations of imbeciles are enough” whilst upholding the right of the government forcibly to sterilize people deemed undesirable.

In other words, when you throw around the “shout fire in a crowded theater” quote, you’re echoing the rhetoric of a tyranny-cheerleader whose logic was later abandoned by everyone, including himself.

Ken White, “Professor Thane Rosenbaum Deceptively Carries On The Tradition of Censorship-Cheerleading”, Popehat, 2014-02-03

September 1, 2014

Philadelphia’s growing addiction to civil forfeiture

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:25

In Forbes, Nick Sibilla explains how the city of Philadelphia uses the civil forfeiture laws to enrich city coffers and oppress the residents:

Chris Sourovelis has never had any trouble with the law or been accused of any crime. But that hasn’t stopped the City of Philadelphia from trying to take his home.

The Sourouvelis family, along with thousands of others in Philadelphia, is living a Kafkaesque nightmare: Their property is considered guilty; they must prove their innocence and the very prosecutors they’re fighting can profit from their misery. Now the Institute for Justice has filed a major class-action lawsuit to end these abuses of power.

Back in March, Chris’s son was caught selling $40 worth of drugs outside of the home. With no previous arrests or a prior record, a court ordered him to attend rehab. But the very day Sourovelis was driving his son to begin treatment, he got a frantic call from his wife. Without any prior notice, police evicted the Sourovelises and seized the house, using a little-known law known as “civil forfeiture.”

Law enforcement barred the family from living in their own home for over a week. The family could only return home if they banned their son from visiting and relinquished some of their constitutional rights. Adding to the cruel irony, their son has already completed rehab, ending his punishment by the city. “If this can happen to me and my family, it can happen to anybody,” Sourovelis said.

Under civil forfeiture, property owners do not have to be convicted of a crime, or even charged with one, to permanently lose their property. Instead, the government can forfeit a property if it’s found to “facilitate” a crime, no matter how tenuous the connection. So rather than sue the owner, in civil forfeiture proceedings, the government sues the property itself, leading to surreal case names like Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. The Real Property and Improvements Known as 2544 N. Colorado St.

In other words, thanks to civil forfeiture, the government punishes innocent people for the crimes other people might have committed.

Update: As Eve Harris reminded me, civil forfeiture is not a US-only issue, and the police in British Columbia have been feeding cases to the province’s Civil Forfeiture Office (CFO) for further action even when no criminal charges are filed (and sometimes even when the police have violated Charter rights in the process). BC’s CFO was established in 2006 and since then has generated about $41 million in proceeds from civil forfeiture actions. Six other provinces also have civil forfeiture laws, but BC is leading the pack in the scale and scope of their activities. Eve also sent a link to a National Post article (which I can’t quote from without paying a licensing fee, which is why I rarely if ever link to that newspaper).

August 29, 2014

QotD: Answering the question “how should we live?”

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

One of the biggest problems facing the Right these days is an inability to answer the question, “How should we live?” One reason for this is that we don’t want the government imposing an answer. Another reason is that we rightly don’t want to tell other people how to live. A third is that the conservatives who do try to tell everyone how to live are simply buzzkills and pariahs in the mainstream culture. A fourth reason is that we simply assume that the institutions of civil society that we draw meaning from are adequate for others to draw meaning from as well. And maybe they are — but something is stopping a lot of people from drawing sustenance from the Burkean little platoons of civil society. And, as a result, many are also having trouble making the most of what capitalism has to offer.

This was my point about how the Constitution is powerless against Satan. A healthy society should not have to resort to constitutional arguments to explain why building a shrine to devil-worshippers on public land next to the Ten Commandments is incredibly stupid. Indeed, if all you have left are constitutional arguments, you’ve lost.

“Today, the New Left is rushing in to fill the spiritual vacuum at the center of our free and capitalist society,” Irving Kristol wrote over three decades ago in Two Cheers for Capitalism. Indeed, because they are liberated from the need to pay tribute to the idols of the old order, the Left has always had an easier time telling people how they should live. Conservatives — who wish to conserve what is good or even eternal about the old order — are always at a disadvantage in this regard. (Our advantage is that our ideas may be boring but they have been proven to work. “What is conservatism?” Abraham Lincoln asked. “Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?”)

Thanks to the mostly healthy influence of libertarianism, conservatives have lost interest in making arguments about right and wrong, good and evil, honorable and dishonorable, preferring instead to fall back on the principles of the Constitution, federalism, and individual liberty. We’ve largely gotten out of the business of telling people how to live. And that’s probably a good thing, at least in most circumstances.

The problem is that the Left hasn’t gotten out of that business — at all. It is selling people an answer to “How should we live?” It’s fine for us to point out the deficiencies of their offer. But it would be nice if conservatives had a counter-offer that people wanted to hear.

Jonah Goldberg, “It’s Still Only Two Cheers for Capitalism”, The Goldberg File, 2014-01-31

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