Quotulatiousness

October 10, 2017

QotD: The base conditions for democratic society

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

The absolutely vital elements of a successful democratic component of government (note – component of a system, not the entire system): is that there be a literate population; a free and enquiring press; a well developed and just rule of law; and a tradition of give and take being acceptable to the society.

Tribal societies have none of these things. That is why democracies have consistently failed in African countries where tribalism is still the most important element. (In fact politics in some of these places is still largely a competition between which tribal groups served in the imperial militaries, versus which served in the imperial civil services. With very bloody competition between the two.) The fact that illiteracy is rampant; free presses almost non-existent; and the rule of law where judges are not beholden to tribal interests, or simply threats, doesn’t exist: makes democracy impossible to sustain.

Muslim culture has none of these things. A system where a woman’s evidence in court is one third of a man’s – and dhimmitude is recognized even if slavery officially isn’t – is unlikely to have these things. And for literacy, free press, or rule of law, see Africa, but doubled.

It is also possible to suggest that without a clear understanding of the logic of natural laws, you can’t have a democracy. The fact that Muslim scholarship specifically rejects natural law on the basis that Allah can cause anything, so there are no ‘natural laws’, means you cannot have these things. The reason the Muslim world lost its scientific supremacy of the 11th and 12th centuries relates specifically to their decision to turn their back on empirical evidence. Without that basic understanding, I do not believe democracy is possible. (In fact that basic approach helps explain why democracy is actually anathema to good Muslims, and why Boko Haram literally means ‘Western education is evil’!)

So the concept that an ‘Arab Spring’ could work in the Middle East is a sad indictment on the Western media and ‘intelligentsia’s’ failed understanding about how democracy works.

In fact the entire deluded Western project of attempting to impose ‘republics’ on tribal societies as part of post-colonialism, is an indictment on the western fantasy that republics are workable, let alone good things.

Let’s face it, no western republic, even in the most educated, literate, and rule of law-abiding parts of the Anglosphere, has survived a first century without a collapse and or bloody civil war. The most ‘successful’ Western republics have included the American (see above), French (see above), Weimar (heard of the popularly elected Adolf Hitler?), Italian (50 governments in 50 years), Greek (how’s that brilliant financial planning going?) and Polish (are they on their 3rd, 4th, or 5th?). Those are the good ones. 90% of all republics ever founded in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, have collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, mass murder, or ethnic cleansing, within 20 years of being set up.

And that’s what we thought would work in the Middle East?

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s”, Rethinking History, 2015-09-19.

September 2, 2017

“Nice little business you’ve got here, Mr. Forbes. It’d be a shame if something happened to its Google search results…”

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

At Gizmodo, Kashmir Hill recounts the tale of what happens when Google decides to suppress media coverage it doesn’t like:

Six years ago, I was pressured to unpublish a critical piece about Google’s monopolistic practices after the company got upset about it. In my case, the post stayed unpublished.

I was working for Forbes at the time, and was new to my job. In addition to writing and reporting, I helped run social media there, so I got pulled into a meeting with Google salespeople about Google’s then-new social network, Plus.

The Google salespeople were encouraging Forbes to add Plus’s “+1″ social buttons to articles on the site, alongside the Facebook Like button and the Reddit share button. They said it was important to do because the Plus recommendations would be a factor in search results — a crucial source of traffic to publishers.

This sounded like a news story to me. Google’s dominance in search and news give it tremendous power over publishers. By tying search results to the use of Plus, Google was using that muscle to force people to promote its social network.

I asked the Google people if I understood correctly: If a publisher didn’t put a +1 button on the page, its search results would suffer? The answer was yes.

After the meeting, I approached Google’s public relations team as a reporter, told them I’d been in the meeting, and asked if I understood correctly. The press office confirmed it, though they preferred to say the Plus button “influences the ranking.” They didn’t deny what their sales people told me: If you don’t feature the +1 button, your stories will be harder to find with Google.

With that, I published a story headlined, “Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Suffers,” that included bits of conversation from the meeting.

    The Google guys explained how the new recommendation system will be a factor in search. “Universally, or just among Google Plus friends?” I asked. ‘Universal’ was the answer. “So if Forbes doesn’t put +1 buttons on its pages, it will suffer in search rankings?” I asked. Google guy says he wouldn’t phrase it that way, but basically yes.

(An internet marketing group scraped the story after it was published and a version can still be found here.)

This article reminded me that I was still showing a “Google+” share button on my postings … it’s still available for all three of you that still use that service, but it’s now in the “More” group instead.

June 22, 2017

The Netflix tax is dead (again) – “This thing was a turkey, and Trudeau was right to wring its neck.”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Chris Selley rejoices in the demise of the so-called “Netflix tax” proposal, but also pours scorn on yet another proposal to prop up Canadian print media organizations:

Justin Trudeau wasted little time last week rubbishing the Heritage Committee’s so-called “Netflix tax,” and no wonder. If you’re determined to raid people’s wallets to fund journalism they’d rather not pay for and Can-con programming they’d rather not watch, you’re far better off doing it shadily than with a shiny new tax on something people love. The sound bytes winging around in the idea’s favour were, in a word, pathetic: “it’s not a new tax, but an expanded levy!”; “we already tax cable, why not Internet?”; “we already subsidize magazines, why not newspapers?”

Good God, why any of it? This thing was a turkey, and Trudeau was right to wring its neck.

Newspaper publishers and union bosses remain undaunted in pursuit of unearned public funds, however. “Canada’s newspaper industry unites to advocate for Canadian Journalism Fund,” proclaimed a headline at News Media Canada, the publishers’ lobby group. They’re savvy enough to propose tying subsidies to employed journalists’ salaries — 35 per cent to a maximum of $30,000 per head — rather than just cutting cheques. That might fend off Executive Bonus Rage, but it won’t fend off sticker shock: the suggested eventual cost is a whopping $350 million a year.

As a taxpayer I would much rather subsidize Canada’s journalists than Canada’s legacy media companies — but I would sure as hell rather subsidize neither. The more beholden to government a country’s journalists, the less free its press. Magazine writers in this country know their publications get a top-up from Ottawa in the form of the Canadian Periodical Fund. That’s not ideal. But under News Media Canada’s proposal, we would know our jobs literally depended on government largesse. I’ll take a hard pass on that.

Publishers’ and union bosses’ claims of unanimous support notwithstanding, many unionized journalists, and many of your non-unionized friends here at the National Post, hate the idea. It risks narrowing Canada’s already remarkably narrow spectrum of acceptable ideas and arguments. It risks — no, guarantees — alienating the very consumers we need to attract. In the case of some legacy media outlets it would simply extend the runway for business models that everyone knows will never fly again. In any event, the sums being bandied about wouldn’t solve the crisis as a whole unless the solution was permanent and ever-greater government dependency. I’m amazed to see how many journalists, including some very nearly pensionable ones, support the idea.

May 20, 2017

QotD: Speaking (actual) truth to (actual) power

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

Nobody should want journalists ever to fear attacking the behavior of the U.S. military when they have actual evidence that it is wrong. Militaries are dangerous and terrible things, and a free press is a vital means of keeping them in check. It is right and proper that we make heroes of those who speak damning truths to power.

But it makes all the difference in the world when a journalist does not have actual evidence of wrongdoing. Especially when the journalist is a U.S. citizen and the claim gives aid and comfort to the declared enemies of the U.S. in wartime. Under those circumstances, such an attack is not heroic but traitorous.

I hope this is a teachable moment. Oliver Wendell Holmes observed that shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is not protected speech; if the speaker has no evidence of actual fire, the consequences to that speaker should be as dire as the risk of death by trampling he created for others. The Holmes test should be applied in politics as well.

[…]

After Vietnam and Watergate, a lot of journalists (and other people) lost the distinction between speaking truth to power and simply attacking whoever is in charge (especially any Republican in charge) on any grounds, no matter how factually baseless. Mere oppositionalism was increasingly confused with heroism even as the cultural climate made it ever less risky. Eventually we arrived at the ludicrous spectacle of multimillionaire media personalities posing as persecuted victims and wailing about the supposed crushing of dissent on national news and talk shows.

Eric S. Raymond, “Lies and Consequences”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-02-12.

July 11, 2015

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

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

Published on 7 Jul 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 4, 2014

Orwellian newspaper editing as a game

Filed under: Gaming, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 16:22

John Ryan linked to this article about The Westport Independent, which puts you in the position of a newspaper editor in an Orwellian world:

The Westport Independent, a self-described “censorship simulator,” places that editorial power in the hands of players during a time of political unrest in the city of Westport. It’s 1948, and rising rebellions against the government lead to a new bill banning any news outlets that do not comply with the Loyalist Government Guidelines. You play as the editor in chief of an independent newspaper entering its final weeks before the ban.

As editor, you control the censorship of articles, pick headlines, and arrange the layout to tell the truth of your choosing. As with Orwell’s 1984, “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Will you abide by rules and force-feed your readers the government’s narrative? Or will you defy their guidelines, and print the rebellion’s perspective instead? The city, divided into class-based districts, dynamically responds to everything you print. By shaping public opinion with the stories you choose, you shape the current events that unfold. And by shaping the events, you affect the stories you can cover.

February 12, 2014

India’s unhappy relationship with the free press

Filed under: Books, India, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:55

A recent report from Reporters Without Borders has India at the 140th rank (of 180 countries surveyed) for freedom of the press:

The world’s largest democracy remains one of the most restrictive places for the press.

In a report published Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based nonprofit, ranked India 140th out of 180 countries surveyed for the free speech it affords the media. This was a one-point jump from the country’s 2013 ranking, when it recorded its steepest fall on the annual-list since 2002.

On Monday, acting on an agreement chalked out by a Delhi court, one of India’s largest publishing houses withdrew a 2009 book that reinterprets Hinduism, the latest instance of a book being removed from circulation in the country.

The authors of Wednesday’s report singled out the insurgency in the disputed territory of Kashmir, where channels of communications, including telephone lines, satellite televisions and the Internet, are routinely suspended in response to unrest, as well as the killings of eight journalists in 2013, for India’s lowly press freedom ranking. The killings included those of Jitendra Singh, a freelancer in the eastern state of Jharkhand, who documented Maoist activists in the state, and that of Rakesh Sharma, a Hindi newspaper reporter who was shot dead in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, in August.

January 31, 2014

Security theatre special edition – destroying hard drives that held Snowden’s documents

Filed under: Britain, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:30

It may have been pointless — and it was! — but the British government not only felt it had to do something, but that it had to be seen to be doing something:

New video footage has been released for the first time of the moment Guardian editors destroyed computers used to store top-secret documents leaked by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Under the watchful gaze of two technicians from the British government spy agency GCHQ, the journalists took angle-grinders and drills to the internal components, rendering them useless and the information on them obliterated.

The bizarre episode in the basement of the Guardian‘s London HQ was the climax of Downing Street’s fraught interactions with the Guardian in the wake of Snowden’s leak — the biggest in the history of western intelligence. The details are revealed in a new book — The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man — by the Guardian correspondent Luke Harding. The book, published next week, describes how the Guardian took the decision to destroy its own Macbooks after the government explicitly threatened the paper with an injunction.

In two tense meetings last June and July the cabinet secretary, Jeremy Heywood, explicitly warned the Guardian‘s editor, Alan Rusbridger, to return the Snowden documents.

Heywood, sent personally by David Cameron, told the editor to stop publishing articles based on leaked material from American’s National Security Agency and GCHQ. At one point Heywood said: “We can do this nicely or we can go to law”. He added: “A lot of people in government think you should be closed down.”

November 15, 2013

Nadine Strossen is against banning “dangerous” ideas

Filed under: Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:25

Brendan O’Neill talks to former ACLU president and ardent feminist Nadine Strossen about censorship and the demand to ban “rape porn”:

New York City doesn’t only have better buildings, bridges and burgers than London — it also has better feminists.

As British feminists agitate tooth-and-nail for the banning, or at least modesty-bagging, of lads’ mags, rape porn, Page 3 and pop vids, the NYC-based feminist and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, Nadine Strossen, tells me she wouldn’t support the censoring or censure or even stigmatisation of any misogynistic material, including the most warped, woman-objectifying porn.

‘As a feminist, I vehemently disagree with the idea that women are sex objects, that women should be raped, that women should be discriminated against or treated unfavourably in any way’, she tells me in her offices at the New York Law School in downtown Manhattan, where she is professor of law. ‘And yet, to paraphrase Voltaire, I would defend to the death your right to say any of those things, and to say them explicitly, and to say them using sexual language.’

But what about the claim that porn, especially the disturbing rape-fantasy stuff, gives some men a skewed impression of women, implanting in their possibly dim-witted heads the idea that women are objects existing solely to satisfy male lust?

‘Well, if the “harm” [she asks for those quote marks] of a certain form of speech is that the idea it is promoting is one of which society disapproves, then that is the exact antithesis of a justification for censoring it’, she says. So far from dodging the cri de Coeur of our censorious age — which is that speech and film and porn and all the rest of it can affect individuals’ view of the world — Strossen turns it into an argument against censorship. ‘Any expression can potentially affect people’s attitudes. That is why speech is so important to protect — precisely because it can influence ideas’, she says.

August 21, 2013

The Guardian gets a taste of the medicine it prescribed for the tabloids

Filed under: Britain, Government, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:25

In sp!ked, Brendan O’Neill talks about the amazing double standards of Britain’s “chattering classes”:

If there was a Nobel Prize for Double Standards, Britain’s chattering classes would win it every year. This year, following their expressions of spittle-flecked outrage over the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda by anti-terrorism police at Heathrow airport, they’d have to be given a special Lifetime Achievement Award for Double Standards.

For the newspaper editors, politicians and concerned tweeters now getting het up about the state’s interference in journalistic activity, about what they call the state’s ‘war on journalism’, are the very same people – the very same – who over the past two years cheered the state harassment of tabloid journalists; watched approvingly as tabloid journalists were arrested; turned a blind eye when tabloid journalists’ effects were rifled through by the police; said nothing about the placing of tabloid journalists on limbo-like, profession-destroying bail for months on end; said ‘Well, what do you expect?’ when material garnered by tabloid journalists through illegal methods was confiscated; applauded when tabloid journalists were imprisoned for the apparently terrible crime of listening in on the conversations of our hereditary rulers.

For these cheerleaders of the state’s two-year war on redtop journalism now to gnash their teeth over the state’s poking of its nose into the affairs of the Guardian is extraordinary. It suggests that what they lack in moral consistency they more than make up for with brass neck.

Everything that is now being done to the Guardian has already been done to the tabloid press, a hundred times over, and often at the behest of the Guardian. For all the initial depictions of Mr Miranda as ‘just Glenn Greenwald’s partner’, in fact he was ferrying encrypted information from the NSA leaker Edward Snowden on flights paid for by the Guardian. That is, he was detained and questioned over journalistic material acquired through illegal means. That’s already happened to the tabloids. Over the past two years of post-phone hacking, post-News of the World harassment of tabloid hacks by the state, 104 people have been arrested, questioned, usually put on unjustly elongated bail, and sometimes imprisoned. These include many journalists but also office secretaries and other non-journalist types, like Mr Miranda, who stand accused of handling illegally acquired material. The 104’s crimes include ‘disclosure of confidential information’ – not that dissimilar to what Greenwald and Miranda have done in terms of getting hold of and publishing Snowden’s illegally leaked confidential material. Yet while the redtop writers rot in legal limbo, Mr Miranda becomes a chattering-class cause célèbre.

[…]

But, believe it or not, the double standards run even deeper than that. For today’s outraged defenders of Greenwald, Miranda and the Guardian from a state war on journalism were the architects of the state’s far larger, far more destructive war on tabloid journalism. From the Guardian itself to Labour MP Tom Watson to various influential members of the Twitterati, many of those now shocked to find officials harassing journalists for doing allegedly dodgy things were at the forefront of demanding that officialdom harass redtop hacks for doing dodgy things. If you unleash and cheer a war on journalism by the state, you really cannot be surprised when the warmongers eventually put you and your journalism in the crosshairs, too.

August 20, 2013

“You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:29

Things are getting surreal at the Guardian:

A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian‘s reporting through a legal route — by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government’s intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK. But my experience over WikiLeaks — the thumb drive and the first amendment — had already prepared me for this moment. I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?

The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian‘s long history occurred — with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian‘s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

Update: Charlie Beckett at the LSE’s Polis blog:

The narrative of increasing totalitarian persecution has a few flaws. Firstly, I think it was entirely reasonable for security forces to question someone linked to security breaches. I just think that doing it under terror laws was wrong, especially as Miranda is part of a journalism team.

I am still a little unsure of the Greenwald/Guardian narrative. I am puzzled by why the team chose to fly Miranda through London at all. I am also unclear as to why the Guardian let security officials smash up their hard-drives without making them go down a legal path.* [Someone with more profound doubts about the Guardian and Greenwald is former Tory MP Louise Mensch — good piece by her here]

But those are details. Overall, it’s clear that US and UK officials, long-tortured by WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, are now losing patience with whistle-blowers and their accomplices in the news media. Whatever the absolute truth of the NSA/PRISM revelations it is clear that the security service are pushing the boundaries on what they can do with new technologies to increase their information and surveillance. They are also seeking to reduce scrutiny by journalists, as they told Rusbridger:

    “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

That in itself may be worrying but it’s hardly surprising. That is what they are there for. We would all be very cross if there was an act of terror missed because of inadequate data collection by spooks or if a press leak endangered our safety. But it’s also journalism’s job to hold these people to account and let the public know the scope of what they are up to. That’s what worries me about the Miranda incident.

July 11, 2013

Rupert “Emmanuel Goldstein” Murdoch

Filed under: Britain, Business, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:57

James Delingpole on the quick march to government control over the British media:

I was listening to Radio 4 news yesterday as with salivating glee it reported the recall of Rupert Murdoch to the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee and I thought to myself, not for the first time: “Britain is losing the battle for press freedom.”

What worries me most is that so few of us seem capable of comprehending a) how we’re losing it and b) why it might be a problem. The default assumption behind the BBC’s reportage — and unfortunately, probably, an accurate one — is that most normal people think that Murdoch is the very type of low-down reptilian evil, that he is primarily responsible for dumbing down our culture and abasing standards within our media, and that every time he gets his comeuppance it’s a jolly good thing.

Needless to say, I disagree totally with this analysis — and not purely because I’d love it if he plucked me from obscurity and gave me an incredibly well paid job, writing, say, the James Delingpole Tells It Like It Is column in the Sun. No, I say it because I sincerely believe it. Tabloid media moguls like Murdoch do not create public taste: they reflect it. And if, like me, you believe in free markets and freedom of choice then we should applaud the farsightedness and tenacity with which he broke the print unions at Wapping, and the way he pioneered satellite viewing in Britain with Sky and the way in the US his Fox channel and his Wall Street Journal fight such a heroic and inspiring battle against the liberal consensus. Sure, I’ve no doubt he’s very good at drowning kittens — he’s a ruthless billionaire businessman, for heaven’s sake — but the benefits this buccaneer has brought to our world economically and socially far, far outweigh any he damage he might have done.

Yet you’d never guess this from his treatment in the media nor from the way he’s represented in public debate. Really, he’s like our very own Emmanuel Goldstein — the all-purpose hate-figure created by Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty-Four in order to channel the people’s discontent in the “correct” direction.

July 4, 2013

Bonfire of the civil liberties

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:06

A recent article by Dan Gillmore in the Guardian was reposted on Alternet yesterday:

No one with common sense believes Obama is planning to become a dictator. But the mail list question was indeed not paranoid — because Obama, building on the initiatives of his immediate predecessors, has helped create the foundation for a future police state. This has happened with bipartisan support from patriotic but short-sighted members of Congress and, sad to say, the general public.

The American media have played an essential role. For decades, newspaper editors and television programmers, especially local ones, have chased readers and ratings by spewing panic-inducing “journalism” and entertainment that helped foster support for anti-liberty policies. Ignorance, sometimes willful, has long been part of the media equation. Journalists have consistently highlighted the sensational. They’ve ignored statistical realities to hype anecdotal — and extremely rare — events that invite us to worry about vanishingly tiny risks and while shrugging off vastly more likely ones. And then, confronted with evidence of a war on journalism by the people running our government, powerful journalists suggest that their peers — no, their betters — who had the guts to expose government crimes are criminals. Do they have a clue why the First Amendment is all about? Do they fathom the meaning of liberty?

The founders, for all their dramatic flaws, knew what liberty meant. They created a system of power-sharing and competition, knowing that investing too much authority in any institution was an invitation to despotism. Above all, they knew that liberty doesn’t just imply taking risks; it absolutely requires taking risks. Among other protections, the Bill of Rights enshrined an unruly but vital free press and guaranteed that some criminals would escape punishment in order to protect the rest of us from too much government power. How many of those first 10 amendments would be approved by Congress and the states today? Depressingly few, one suspects. We’re afraid.

America has gone through spasms of liberty-crushing policies before, almost always amid real or perceived national emergencies. We’ve come out of them, to one degree or another, with the recognition that we had a Constitution worth protecting and defending, to paraphrase the oath federal office holders take but have so casually ignored in recent years.

What’s different this time is the surveillance infrastructure, plus the countless crimes our lawmakers have invented in federal and state codes. As many people have noted, we can all be charged with something if government wants to find something — the Justice Department under Bush and Obama has insisted that simply violating an online terms of service is a felony, for example. And now that our communications are being recorded and stored (you should take that for granted, despite weaselly government denials), those somethings will be available to people looking for them if they decide you are a nuisance. That is the foundation for tyranny, maybe not in the immediate future but, unless we find a way to turn back, someday soon enough.

H/T to Tim O’Reilly for the link.

June 30, 2013

Steps towards a police state

Rick Falkvinge thinks that the United States is at the point of no return as far as civil liberties are concerned:

While this may seem a trivial observation, it is critical in this context: people tend to be focused on what affects them in the here and now. While some people can connect the dots and follow the line with their eyes into the future, the vast majority of people don’t bother with something that doesn’t affect them directly, personally, and in the present. In 1932, families were still skating in the park in Berlin on weekends. All that nasty stuff was theoretical, rumored, and somewhere else. People who look ahead and try to sound the alarm bell tend to be regarded as tinfoil hats, eccentric, and nuts.

One of the first things that happens past the point of no return into a police state is the persecution of reporters. As a society is closing down, those persecuted first are those with the audience and an interest in reporting the worrying trends that society seems to be closing. This is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. This is the alarm bell. Once that happens, get out of the mine.

An event horizon is a term from astrophysics. It is the edge of a black hole – so the event horizon appears like a black sphere, if you like. Nothing, not even light, can escape from within the event horizon – hence the term black hole. But if you were traveling through space, in direction of the black hole (which may be as large as an entire solar system), then you would notice absolutely nothing as you crossed the event horizon. You would pass a point of no return, and register not a single thing while doing so. The analogy is depressingly apt.

I’ve written before that I believe that the U.S. is lost to encroaching totalitarianism, which it will likely endure for a number of years before it collapses under its own weight (as all empires do sooner or later). With Edward Snowden being hunted relentlessly across the globe for leaking evidence of systematic abuse of power, Glenn Greenwald – who published Snowden’s leaks – was recently criticized for aiding and abetting the leak itself. This is a key choice of words, for aiding and abetting a crime is itself a crime – the wording suggested that the reporter who published evidence of abuse of power is himself a criminal.

May 29, 2013

“One imagines this isn’t the response the administration was expecting”

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:01

In the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto talks about the surprising recent uniformity of opinion among media outlets:

Hey, kids! What time is it? “TIME TO GO: HOLDER OK’D PRESS PROBE,” shouted the always subtle homepage of the Puffington Host last Thursday evening. It was in response to the news, broken by NBC, that Attorney General Eric Holder had participated in “discussions” about “a controversial search warrant for a Fox News reporter’s private emails.” That’s in contrast with the Associated Press phone-log subpoena case, from which Holder told Congress he had recused himself.

The New York Times‘s reaction, while not as breathless, was more dramatic. The paper’s editorial appeared a week ago tomorrow — before Holder’s involvement had publicly emerged — under the headline “Another Chilling Leak Investigation.” The editorial was straightforward and reasonably argued. That may not sound like a great compliment, but this is the New York Times editorial page we’re talking about.

The editorial was remarkable as much for what it didn’t say as for what it did. There were no snide asides about Fox News, or qualifications along the lines that “even Fox” has First Amendment rights. Nor did the Times editors take any shots at George W. Bush, congressional Republicans or any other familiar antagonist. They simply defended Fox News‘s right to engage in news-gathering and denounced the Obama administration’s assault on it.

One imagines this isn’t the response the administration was expecting.

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