Shikha Dalmia on totalitarianism at the borders

Since I don’t have time to write much of my own stuff, I can at least point to something good when I see it, such as Shikha Dalmia’s piece at The Daily about how both the left and right hate it when people cross the border:

If there was ever any doubt that the totalitarian temptation identified by economist and Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek in his brilliant tract, “The Road to Serfdom,” is alive and well (even in the sweet land of liberty), two current crusades of the left and the right ought to put it to rest.

The restrictionist right is deploying ever more draconian methods to chase prospective Americans out of the country, including imposing what some call a “business death penalty.” And the tax-and-spend left is devising ever more punitive ways to prevent existing Americans from leaving the country, including imposing a rather ominous exit tax.

I didn’t connect those issues in my head, but it makes a certain kind of sense: What kind of crazy country will we have if we try to keep out the people who want to be here and keep in the people who want to leave?

Probably not one we’ll enjoy living in.

Read the whole thing.

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Who’s Your Daddy?

Here’s an extra-creepy flip-flop from blogger and pundit Andrew Sullivan, a man who knows of flip-flops.

First he insisted scornfully, for years, that it doesn’t matter if president Obama supports gay marriage. Even just six days ago, hours before the president’s thumbs-up to marriage equality, Sullivan had this to say:

I don’t much care. The Congress and the states are the players here — not the president. And this desperate desire among some gays for some kind of affirmation from one man is a little sad.

“A little sad.” OK.

But the moment after the Anointed One was done “evolving,” and grandly declared Himself in favor, Andrew broke down in a puddle of gratitude and hailed the president for his greatness, courage, humanity, etc.

Obama’s support matters after all, Sullivan declares tearfully, because … he is “a father figure.”

Oh for fuck’s sake, get a grip man: Obama is no one’s father except for Sasha and Malia’s. He’s certainly not mine, and if he were, I’d be dreaming something vaguely Oedipal right now.

Father figure. That actually goes beyond “Dear Leader,” doesn’t it?

What’s next? Will Sullivan and his editor friends try to make us see that the president is America’s Very Own Jesus?

Oh, wait.

Actual cover, on newsstands now.

Look, Nobody’s Business has always taken a public stance for marriage equality, going back to the blog’s inception in 2004, and on this issue the president is right  — though, at the risk of sounding peevish … what took him so long? We can’t exactly thank Obama, can we, for hedging on same-sex marriage all these many years, only to come out in favor when it’s the politically expedient, relatively un-risky thing to do? Such calculations are, to me, not the mark of a principled or even a halfway serious man.

Anyway, fine, he’s done “evolving” on this no-brainer, and I suppose that’s good.

And now the gay donors are coming out of the closet woodwork like crazy

“The phone calls went on until one in the morning after the president spoke — people calling saying ‘Where do I go, what can I do to help, what events are coming up,'” said Robert Zimmerman, a Long Island, N.Y., Obama bundler. “People I’ve been seeking out for campaign support for months have been calling me saying, ‘I’m ready to give.'”

I find this kind of single-issue narcissism somewhat less than understandable, to put it politely. So my gay friends are itching to donate millions to a man who orders toddlers and octogenarians to be felt up at our airports? Who, despite his lofty campaign promises, comes down on whistleblowers and medical-marijuana patients like a fucking hammer? Who declares war on another country without congressional authorization? Who is happily overseeing the expansion of a huge bureaucracy tasked with spying on all Americans? Who orders a drone strike on an American citizen who, while admittedly an asswipe of epic proportions, hasn’t been tried or convicted of a single crime? A president who then orders another strike that results in the killing of the asswipe’s 16-year-old son?

None of that will deter my gay friends from giving generously to this president? They’re OK with all of it as long as he’s willing to give a government-issued piece of paper to guys who like guys and girls who like girls?

Do you believe, dear myopic gay friends of mine, that all these things pale in comparison to the lack of equality you’ve endured? When you offer this president your money and support, is it truly that easy for you forget that despite his tentative bromides about you and your significant other, his second term means more of the same for everyone else — more foreign killing, more domestic spying, more loss of life and liberty?

I think the answer is, sadly, yes. You really do care most(ly) about yourself. You really do think that Daddy ‘Bama can do no wrong just because he has a (D) after his name and he makes pretty kissy-faces at you. I don’t know that I was expecting better from you, because I never overestimate the extent to which people — of any sexual persuasion — will set aside their self-interest in the name of an ideal. Most wouldn’t dream of it. They haven’t the awareness, or the courage. But yeah, frankly I’d hoped that you’d put slightly more thought into this; and that you wouldn’t allow your affections to be bought quite as cheaply as those peddled by your average aging street whore.

And that brings us back to Andrew Sullivan, who, every so often, proves himself to be a man of easy virtue, abandoning all pretense of independent thought in order to greedily fellate, in words if not deeds, the occupant of the White House. It was Bush all the way for Sullivan in 2001—2003, and then, a few years later, he switched his man crush to Obama. In his own words, Sullivan was and remains “an unabashed supporter of Obama”; that’s despite his simultaneous claim that he (Sullivan) is a libertarian-leaning conservative independent.

Well, sorry, you can’t have it both ways. If Sullivan were actually independent, he would cut the cringe-inducing Daddy talk and try a bit harder to find his spine.

If you’re a supporter of the president, you owe it to yourself to honestly answer the following question, posed in January by the Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf:

How would you have reacted in 2008 if any Republican ran promising to do the following?

(1) Codify indefinite detention into law;
(2) draw up a secret kill list of people, including American citizens, to assassinate without due process;
(3) proceed with warrantless spying on American citizens;
(4) prosecute Bush-era whistleblowers for violating state secrets;
(5) reinterpret the War Powers Resolution such that entering a war of choice without a Congressional declaration is permissible;
(6) enter and prosecute such a war;
(7) institutionalize naked scanners and intrusive full body pat-downs in major American airports;
(8) oversee a planned expansion of TSA so that its agents are already beginning to patrol American highways, train stations, and bus depots;
(9) wage an undeclared drone war on numerous Muslim countries that delegates to the CIA the final call about some strikes that put civilians in jeopardy;
(10) invoke the state-secrets privilege to dismiss lawsuits brought by civil-liberties organizations on dubious technicalities rather than litigating them on the merits;
(11) preside over federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries;
(12) attempt to negotiate an extension of American troops in Iraq beyond 2011 (an effort that thankfully failed);
(13) reauthorize the Patriot Act;
(14) and select an economic team mostly made up of former and future financial executives from Wall Street firms that played major roles in the financial crisis.
I submit that had Palin or Cheney or Rumsfeld or Rice or Jeb Bush or John Bolton or Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney proposed doing even half of those things in 2008, you’d have declared them unfit for the presidency and expressed alarm at the prospect of America doubling down on the excesses of the post-September 11 era. You’d have championed an alternative candidate who avowed that America doesn’t have to choose between our values and our safety. Yet President Obama has done all of the aforementioned things.

And then some. He does not deserve a free pass, much less our money, whether we’re gay or straight.

Posted in civil liberties, government, libertarianism, politics, U.S. politics, war on drugs | Comments closed

The FBI thinks you should never have privacy

Can you imagine if the FBI had been around when the construction industry was as new as the internet is? We would have been reading news items like this:

The FBI is asking for industry support for new legislation that would require construction contractors to keep copies of the keys to all locks they install in new construction or remodeled properties, and to make those copies available to law enforcement officials serving search warrants.

“The shift to solid, well-fitted doors and stronger locks has made it harder for police to enter people’s homes and businesses to search for criminals and contraband,” said FBI director Jack Lint. “This new law would address the ‘Locking Up’ issue that is increasingly impeding law enforcement.”

I thought of this when I read that the FBI wants to force websites to make it easier for them to spy on us.

The FBI general counsel’s office has drafted a proposed law that the bureau claims is the best solution: requiring that social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly.

The FBI’s proposal would amend a 1994 law, called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, that currently applies only to telecommunications providers, not Web companies. The Federal Communications Commission extended CALEA in 2004 to apply to broadband networks.

In February 2011, CNET was the first to report that then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni was planning to warn Congress of what the bureau calls its “Going Dark” problem, meaning that its surveillance capabilities may diminish as technology advances. Caproni singled out “Web-based e-mail, social-networking sites, and peer-to-peer communications” as problems that have left the FBI “increasingly unable” to conduct the same kind of wiretapping it could in the past.

So what? Why should new technologies be forced to imitate the physical properties of the old systems just for the convenience of law enforcement? Because that’s how it used to be? If we didn’t already have a non-secure system — if we had invented secure encrypted digital systems before analog telephony — no one would seriously think that this was a good idea. What makes the FBI think that just because they’ve had it easy for a few decades, they’re entitled to the same level of surveillance for all eternity? What they call “Going Dark,” I call a return to privacy in America.

And how come this never works in reverse? If the FBI really wants to return to the way things were before all this technological change, why aren’t they giving up their thermal imaging gear, GPS trackers, and computerized records?

Subsentio, a Colorado-based company that sells CALEA compliance products and worked with the Justice Department when it asked the FCC to extend CALEA seven years ago, says the FBI’s draft legislation was prepared with the compliance costs of Internet companies in mind.In a statement to CNET, Subsentio President Steve Bock said that the measure provides a “safe harbor” for Internet companies as long as the interception techniques are “‘good enough’ solutions approved by the attorney general.”

Big shock, the compliance industry supports more regulations. Subsentio will sell more product if these changes pass. Naturally the president of the company can’t wait to get on his knees for the FBI. And “good enough” to be approved by the Attorney General means that these companies will have to do whatever they’re told by bums like Janet Reno, John Ashcroft, and Eric Holder.

A representative for the FBI told CNET today that: “(There are) significant challenges posed to the FBI in the accomplishment of our diverse mission. These include those that result from the advent of rapidly changing technology. A growing gap exists between the statutory authority of law enforcement to intercept electronic communications pursuant to court order and our practical ability to intercept those communications. The FBI believes that if this gap continues to grow, there is a very real risk of the government ‘going dark,’ resulting in an increased risk to national security and public safety.”

It never seems to occur to law enforcement folks that they are a potential threat to security and safety too.

Stewart Baker, a partner at Steptoe and Johnson who is the former assistant secretary for policy at Homeland Security, said the FBI has “faced difficulty getting its legislative proposals through an administration staffed in large part by people who lived through the CALEA and crypto fights of the Clinton administration, and who are jaundiced about law enforcement regulation of technology — overly jaundiced, in my view.”

Letting law enforcement regulate technology is an idiotic idea. The law and order crowd are classic old-school conservatives: They hate everything new, everything that lets people do things they can’t control.

From the FBI’s perspective, expanding CALEA to cover VoIP, Web e-mail, and social networks isn’t expanding wiretapping law: If a court order is required today, one will be required tomorrow as well. Rather, it’s making sure that a wiretap is guaranteed to produce results.

Huh? Expanding CALEA would give the FBI the power to force communications providers to do things they don’t currently have to do. Of course it’s an expansion of power.

But the FCC never granted the FBI’s request to rewrite CALEA to cover instant messaging and VoIP programs that are not “managed”–meaning peer-to-peer programs like Apple’s Facetime, iChat/AIM, Gmail’s video chat, and Xbox Live’s in-game chat that do not use the public telephone network.

Talk about the camel getting a nose in the tent! Once you let them get in a little with the regular telecom systems, they start using that as a justification for spying on everything, first the major web sites, then peer-to-peer. I prefer to take the argument in the opposite direction: There’s no point in requiring wiretap back doors for existing communications tools when the bad guys will always be able to switch to something else. We might as well repeal CALEA altogether.

But industry groups aren’t necessarily going to roll over without a fight. TechAmerica, a trade association that includes representatives of HP, eBay, IBM, Qualcomm, and other tech companies on its board of directors, has been lobbying against a CALEA expansion. Such a law would “represent a sea change in government surveillance law, imposing significant compliance costs on both traditional (think local exchange carriers) and nontraditional (think social media) communications companies,” TechAmerica said in e-mail today.

Ross Schulman, public policy and regulatory counsel at the Computer and Communications Industry Association, adds: “New methods of communication should not be subject to a government green light before they can be used.”

Amen to that.

(Hat tip: Peter Suderman at Reason)

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When libertarianism happens to people: Music shop edition

It’s a bit unfortunate for libertarianism and free markets that Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (soon to be another major motion picture) is about innovative captains of industry — giants among insects — beset on all sides by the leviathan of government. For one thing, it encourages too much respect for business leaders, many of whom don’t deserve it. It also paints a false picture of who really suffers from overreaching government.

The captains of industry can usually take care of themselves. They can afford the lawyers and lobbyists they need to protect themselves (and with depressing regularity, they use those lawyers and lobbyists to get the government to attack their competition, usually while paying lip service to the glories of free market capitalism). It’s more likely to be the small business owners who are beaten down by oppressive government regulation.

This piece from about second-hand record dealers in Washington D.C. is a good example:

Now, instead of simply selling records, they have to hire lawyers and try to get the city council to revise the laws. It’s a waste of time and money, it could shut these businesses down, and it discourages new entries into the market.

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Helping the well-connected by helping the disadvantaged

A family friend used to be an executive at a Fortune 500 corporation, where she ran a department that provided a certain kind of service to other businesses. She had started the department with just a handful of people and quickly grown it to occupy a whole floor of a downtown skyscraper. Then, about a decade ago, she left to start her own business, providing the same kinds of services.

She soon brought in two of her top former employees. They were also women with many years of experience doing that kind of work, making the new company the very epitome of a woman-owned-and-operated business. Nevertheless, when she tried to get certified as a woman-owned business in Chicago (or maybe Cook County, I can’t remember), she was repeatedly turned down.

One time, they turned her down because a businessman had helped her out with a little money and let her use some office space. They accused her of being a front for him.

Later, after she got the business running under its own power in a new location, she re-applied, only to be told that because her husband spent a lot of time around the office, they suspected she was just a front for him — never mind that he had no experience in that line of work and was just helping out because he had lost his previous job in the recession. After being turned down a few times, she eventually gave up.

Her problem — obvious at this point to anyone familiar with how business is done in Chicago — was that she didn’t have the right connections. If she really wanted to get certified, she was going to have to get some clout. That wouldn’t necessarily involve giving manila envelopes full of cash to city council members, but she would certainly have had to pay people who knew how to work the system for her.

A similar situation is developing with the system of set-aside programs for disabled veterans. According to Andrew J. Tobias and Tom Beyerlein of the Dayton Daily News, these programs are riddled with scams:

Federal agencies have awarded tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded contracts to businesses operating in Ohio that claimed to be owned and controlled by military veterans with service-related disabilities, only to conclude the companies lied to the government when they said a disabled veteran was in charge, a Dayton Daily News examination has found.

I’m not surprised. Congress passes laws that distort the efficient operation of the free market, and they get different distortions than they were expecting. It’s the law of unintended consequences.

In some cases, business owners pretended to be decorated war heroes to obtain set-aside contracts, or served as front men for large corporations. More often, disabled veterans improperly partnered with other small businesses, having little say in the running of the companies and bringing almost nothing to the table except their disabled-vet status.

I have to admit, I don’t entirely see why the latter development is such a big problem. So what if the veterans aren’t in charge? The point of veteran set-aside programs is to help disabled veterans. How is this not helping the disabled veteran who gets the job? (Although, of course, it’s vastly inefficient.)

The victims, experts say, are companies that are legitimately owned and operated by disabled veterans who may lose contracts to bogus firms.

Actually, companies that are not operated by disabled veterans are also victims, because they could also lose contracts to bogus firms. I suppose they’re not as important because they would only have lost those contracts anyway, to firms that are legitimately operated by disabled veterans. That’s the price we pay to help disabled veterans this way, which is probably cold comfort for workers at those other companies who lost their jobs.

The program limits bidding for certain contracts to small businesses that are majority-owned and whose day-to-day operations and long-term strategies are controlled by disabled vets, thereby easing the competition. The program is dominated by construction and information technology companies.“You have companies run by service-disabled veterans that are the only ones able to compete for contracts that are quite large,” said Edward DeLisle, a Philadelphia attorney who specializes in government contracting. “It’s a huge benefit.”

And that huge benefit is precisely why there’s so much cheating, which would have been obvious to anyone who gave it a little thought.

Naturally, the government is now cracking down:

In the wake of the GAO’s 2009 findings, Congress required the VA’s Center for Veterans Enterprise to verify the eligibility of all 10,000-plus businesses on the VA’s program rolls. The center issued a letter in December 2010 to the businesses, telling them they must prove ownership and control within 90 days or be cut from the eligibility list.The verification process has caused a bottleneck for entrepreneurs seeking to access the program. And the sudden shift from “self-certification” to government verification has caused small businesses months of delays, mountains of red tape and significant costs in some cases before they can do business with the feds, veteran advocates say. Some legitimate businesses, they say, are being eliminated by the process.

Notice how far things have drifted off course. The original purpose of these contracts was to purchase goods and services needed to carry out the functions of government. Then it was decided that these contracts should be used to help veterans through the set-aside programs, which raised the cost to taxpayers. Now, because of all the fraud, the government has added a massive amount of paperwork to the process. This will raise taxpayer costs further while simultaneously soaking up some of the benefits that would have gone to disabled veterans.

Whenever you take part in a government program, you don’t just have to do what the government wants you to do, you have prove it and document it and defend it. This is all part of the cost of regulatory compliance. Well, it’s a cost to businesses, but it’s a profit center for the lawyers and consultants who help businesses comply.

And it sounds like it’s a pretty big profit center. We know it’s got to be huge because women and disabled veterans are dropping out of the programs rather than paying the cost of qualifying. In other words, they discovered that the cost of qualifying for the program soaked up all of the program’s benefits. This means that even for people who remain in the program, a large portion of the benefit is probably being spent just to keep them in the program. Or to put it another way, programs that were supposed to help women and disabled veterans have become fronts for diverting money to people with good government connections.

Regardless of whether you think the government should help out specific disadvantaged groups such as women, or whether you think we owe more to disabled veterans, this doesn’t seem like a very good way to go accomplish either goal.

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…with liberty and strip searches for all.

Come to America! Now extra-free! 100% more ass-cheek-spreading at the low low cost of spitting on the Fourth Amendment. Apply today and you’ll get a free copy of the Constitution with all the silly bits blacked out! Call now, rubber-gloved operators are standing by!

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A shield law for bloggers? OK, but not for extortionists.

Suppose you own a flower shop called Jack & Jill Bouquets. One day, a woman you’ve never heard of registers and Then that person turns those URLs into live websites full of incoherent but wounding accusations against your business — not just claiming poor service or wilted blooms, but saying you engaged in theft, corruption, and double dealing. When you protest and try to clear your name, your new nemesis puts up a blog post with the headline “Did the Owner of Jack & Jill Try to Have Me Murdered?”

Pretty soon, anyone running “Jack & Jill Bouquets” through a search engine gets pages full of results that contain one outrageous claim after another. Where there’s smoke, fire is presumed; inevitably, your business suffers. And because archived web content is pretty much ineradicable, the damage to your life’s work, and indeed to the most valuable thing you have — your integrity, your reputation — can probably never be fully repaired.

Then, raising the stakes, your tormentor sends you an e-mail saying that for only 2,500 dollars a month, you can retain her services as a reputation and search-engine expert. The implication being, of course, that she will publicly continue to spread all kinds of unpleasantness and slander about you, unless … you pay up.

“Nice business you got there. Be a shame if something happened to it.”

This is known as extortion. Cut and dried, right?

But now let’s say this woman claims, when you finally take her to court, that she is no different from a journalist, on account of those blogs and websites she created in the apparent pursuit of an easy payday. She claims the shield law for journalists should apply to her too. And although no one would have lifted a finger in her defense previously, all of a sudden, thanks to her gratuitous dropping of the J-word, she gets kneejerk support from lots of bloggers and columnists who are too lazy to examine the facts of the case. These Internet warriors support — prima facie, no questions asked — the notion that anyone with a few websites disseminating information, however nasty and untrue, should be free to continue, as if the very future of the First Amendment were at stake.

In the preceding paragraphs, the flower-shop name is fiction, but the rest of the sad tale is all too true. Exactly this horror happened to a guy named Kevin D. Padrick, of an Oregon-based business called Obsidian Finance Group. By most reliable accounts, like this one in the New York Times, Mr. Padrick has done nothing wrong. Short of batshiat-craziness on the part of his persecutor, it remains unclear why he became her target.

After the Times piece ran, things got darker still, and began hitting a little closer to home. The harpy trained her crosshairs on First-Amendment lion Marc Randazza, the lawyer behind The Legal Satyricon and a friend of mine. Marc’s inclination had been to help her when she asked, and he might have if they’d agreed on a legal strategy. He says she wouldn’t take his advice, and they parted ways. She then registered multiple domain names like,,, and When that didn’t get her anywhere, Marc says, she registered several domain names containing “Jennifer Randazza” — Marc’s wife. And then, in a chilling maneuver that is so far over the line that you couldn’t spot it with binoculars made of fucking kryptonite, she also registered a domain that has the name of Marc and Jennifer’s daughter in it, who is three years old. Three.

It’s almost amusing on one level. Marc is is a shrewd, tenacious attorney who eats lowlifes for breakfast. You probably don’t want to get on his bad side. Then again, his would-be harasser, apparently not being in the full possession of her faculties, doesn’t seem to care, as she already has a recent 2.5-million-dollar legal judgment against her for very similar shenanigans. Still she continues.

Imagine the nightmare. Shades of Fatal Attraction, but without the juicy sex scenes.

So: a shield law for bloggers? I’m inclined to support it, but never when the First Amendment is used as a smoke screen to conceal or excuse behavior that is both despicable and (on the face of it) illegal. As in, criminal.

I find it disturbing that the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose work I have supported financially for over 15 years, has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the wannabe extortionist. I find it equally perplexing that sharp-minded law professor Eugene Volokh, whose writings I’ve long enjoyed, has taken on her case and is vowing, despite legal setbacks and despite his client’s inexcusably low behavior, to take it to the Ninth Circuit.

Far as I can see, she deserves neither his pro bono representation, nor the protections that the law rightly offers to writers of all stripes who serve the public good.

Posted in crime and justice, First Amendment and free speech, law | Comments closed

How not to bring women into the libertarian movement

Over at Ravings of a Feral Genius, the whole contraception-Sandra-Fluke-Rush-Limbaugh-slut-prostitute incident has got Jennifer Able pissed off at some of her fellow libertarian bloggers (emphasis, I suspect, on “fellow”):

Limbaugh’s rant didn’t surprise me at all. Here’s what did surprise me: when I’d go on Facebook, or visit various political blogs and forums I’m prone to frequent, all run by people I’d considered political allies of a sort (mainly self-described libertarians who claim to share my mantra “Social liberal and fiscal conservative”), I saw to my dismay how many “libertarians” favor Limbaugh’s view of ovarian-cyst treatment over Fluke’s.

I saw countless photos of Fluke’s face with captions suggesting she wants taxpayers to buy her silk sheets, Barry White albums and vibrating dildos; captions suggesting that only whores want or need healthy reproductive systems.

Sigh. Healthcare reform is a massive government-driven restructuring of something like a full 10 percent of the entire U.S. economy. There’s a serious debate about how to fix all the problems with our current system. The health and well-being of millions of people hangs in the balance. And somehow Rush Limbaugh has reduced us to talking about this crap.

So let’s get this part out of the way: Rush Limbaugh is a giant flaming asshole. He didn’t just call Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” The criticism he’s getting is not just about the words he used. The man spent days trying to humiliate and degrade Fluke.

Now, as a general rule, it’s a bad idea to buy insurance protection for things you can afford without insurance. This is especially true for routine and predictable costs such as contraception, where the insurance company is just going to add the cost to your premium anyway, along with a little bit of overhead and profit for themselves. This is why you insure your car against the cost of repair after a collision, but not against the cost of an oil change.

There’s also a pretty good argument that, if the government did not distort the healthcare market in any other way, then it certainly shouldn’t get involved with specifying the pill-by-pill details of everyone’s health insurance coverage.

In our reality, however, the government introduces a massive distortion by providing a tax subsidy for employer-provided healthcare, which makes it economical to buy insurance for things we could otherwise afford to pay for directly, such as routine doctor’s visits, many common medications, and yes, contraception. The tax saving offsets the cost of funneling the money through an insurance plan. But that’s only true on a personal scale. Our economy as a whole still pays the deadweight loss of operating a massive insurance bureaucracy.

(It’s not just health insurance, either. Corporations that routinely bet $100 million on developing new products for the market will still buy insurance for the $1200 computers on everyone’s desks because they get a tax break on the insurance.)

The government also distorts the market by being the single payer for millions of elderly and poor people, and it operates a chain of hospitals for military veterans. At the same time, the government drives up the cost of medical care, drugs, and hospitalization with regulations and cartel-forming barriers to entry.

The healthcare market is very, very far from Libertopia. Like it or not, the government is now heavily involved in making these decisions for us.

Don’t forget that the reason we’re debating minimum healthcare coverage terms is that, thanks to the individual health insurance mandate, the government is going to force all of us to buy into it. In free market terms, we’re losing the power of exit. If we think a store’s goods are shoddy or overpriced or just not to our taste, we can always walk out the door. We can even avoid the TSA’s degrading treatment of passengers if we’re serious enough to give up all air travel. But when it comes to health insurance, there’s no way out.

Therefore it seems a bit misguided to complain about Sandra Fluke’s desire to influence the terms of an insurance plan that she will be forced to buy at gunpoint.

I also read various respected libertarianish blogs — no names mentioned, no links provided, they’d be largely interchangeable anyway — blogs and comment threads attempting to be dispassionate, when they explained how Fluke wasn’t necessarily a “slut” for talking about her friend’s ovarian cyst, but was surely a whiny demander of free stuff because women who want their health insurance companies to pay for health problems involving their gender-specific body parts are just a buncha goddamn socialist Commies, or something.

I’m not sure, but something I wrote on my other blog might be the kind of thing Jennifer is talking about. I can’t speak for all those other libertarian bloggers, but one of the things I like to do in my posts is to take an issue in the news, pick out something that interests me, and strip away the surrounding mess until I can talk about it clearly. So perhaps that’s what some of those other bloggers were doing too.

Probably not all of them, though.

After awhile, it all started to sound like a thread on Stormfront discussing Obama’s dismal record of war crimes, TSA molestation policies and similar problems — yeah, guys, you have a couple legitimate complaints here, but quit pretending your hatred of Obama stems from your principled love of constitution and country. No: you hate the man because he is black, and the fact that he later went on to do things so odious you’d even criticize a white man for it is just a lucky coincidence.

Politics makes for strange bedfellows but some fellows I’d never bed, despite my being the sort of “prostitute” who believes women’s medical insurance companies should cover women’s medical problems. For example: no matter how bad TSA and NSA get under Obama, I’m still not hooking up with David Duke and the Stormfronters to fight them … and it looks like I can’t hook up with most “libertarians,” either. At least not the ones who’d call me a prostitute for opposing any reproductive-organs exemption to medical coverage.

Like many other radical movements, libertarianism has some very dark corners. Probably the darkest of these corners — the ones we talk about the least — are the corners where all the bigots are hiding.

I think it’s a reaction to shifting political power. There was no such thing as the Ku Klux Klan when white people were completely in charge and black people were literally slaves. But once the slaves were emancipated, white bigots lost some power in the world, and they fought back by forming a terrorist organization, with the goal of keeping blacks in their place.

That hasn’t worked out real well for them: Just check the skin color of our current President. It took a damned long time, but black people have risen up in this country and begun to take their share of political power. Women have been on the same path, gaining in power and influence every decade. These changes frighten a lot of bigots, and when people who frighten you are beginning to control the government, the idea of a smaller government begins to look really attractive. So they start calling themselves libertarians.

(Stripped of the racist elements, that’s a pretty good description of why I’m a libertarian: The people who control our government are frightening me.)

We all know a few of those libertarians. They’re the ones who complain endlessly about the government’s abuse of power, but the only example they ever come up with is Affirmative Action. They’re the ones who can only list “welfare” when asked for an example of government waste. They’re the ones who oppose gun control because “the streets are filled with savages.” They’re the ones who wrote the worst of the Ron Paul newsletters. And when the government wants to restructure healthcare, they’re the ones who only seem really upset about the parts that help women.

These kinds of attitudes do nothing to help libertarianism and plenty to hurt it, because they make other people distrust our motives. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard libertarianism derided as being for “privileged white males.”

To me, that’s a terrible misrepresentation. One of the best features of libertarianism is that it is a philosophy, not a group identity. If we oppose a policy that creates an unfair advantage for women or minorities, we do so because we believe the policy is wrong, not because of who benefits from the policy, and we will similarly oppose wrong-headed policies that hurt women and minorities, or that help white males. The goal is to make all of us more free, in the broadest way possible.

But to do that, we’re eventually going to have to convince everybody that we’ll all be better off if we all give up the special goodies we get from the government. And we’ll have a much better chance of convincing other people if they believe we are sincere in our philosophy and don’t have another agenda. Which is made a lot harder by the fact that some people who call themselves libertarians have another agenda.

To put this in terms my fellow libertarians might understand, it’s kind of like handgun registration. Many advocates of registration have trouble understanding why anyone would oppose such a simple and harmless requirement. What they don’t realize is that hardly anyone in the pro-gun movement is really worried about registration. No, what worries gun owners is what comes next? What worries gun owners is that once registration is enacted, gun grabbers will use it to enact the next step on their agenda, such as a handgun ban. This is not paranoia: There really are advocates of registration who want to ban handguns, and some of them have been successful.

Similarly, when libertarians argue that the government should not force health insurance to cover contraception, women’s advocates are likely to see that not as standing up for small-government principles, but as an attack on birth control. That’s not paranoia either. There’s a long history in this country of outlawing various forms of contraception. During the Comstock era, it was even against the law to distribute pamphlets about contraception. The last of those laws was struck down as recently as 1972. And then there’s the current Presidential candidate who says (17:40) that contraception is “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

No wonder some women don’t trust us. Even Jennifer — a fine libertarian writer who I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit as a blogger here — is beginning to have “a secular crisis of faith” because of the way this issue has played out.

If we want libertarian ideas to have a future in our political environment, it’s not enough that we believe we’re right. We’re also going to have to convince a lot of other people that we’re right. And just because they don’t agree with us, that doesn’t make them our enemies. We should treat them with respect. When women want a piece of healthcare reform to work for them, we’re unlikely to convince them our way is better by calling them “sluts” and “prostitutes.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a slut or a prostitute. We are, after all, libertarians. So let me end this with a quote from retired prostitute and occasional guest blogger Maggie McNeill, writing about advocating for sex workers:

For any given issue there are three positions:  Those who are strongly for it, those who are strongly against it, and those who don’t have a strong opinion either way.  And no matter what fanatics and demagogues may tell you, the third is nearly always the largest group on any issue.  When trying to sway public opinion, therefore, the wise writer or speaker targets that middle group, the “silent majority”.  It’s silly to waste energy in trying to convince those who are already convinced (“preaching to the choir”), and pointless to argue with those who are dogmatically committed to the opposite view (one can’t reason a person out of a position he didn’t reason himself into).  But the members of that third group, if they can be won, will decide the way the wheel turns.  They are the ones who took it for granted that black and white people couldn’t live together peacefully, but now abhor racism; they’re the ones who accepted the claim that homosexuals were perverts, yet now agree with equal conviction that they shouldn’t be mistreated.

And they’re the ones who take it for granted that the government is there to protect us from everything and provide for all our needs, but may someday realize that we’re better off not giving anybody that much power over us.

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Two thought experiments in the Tyler Clementi case

This blog is a friend of equal rights, and of marriage equality. I have written many posts and a newspaper editorial stating my position loudly and clearly.

But I don’t think I will ever see eye to eye with people, of any sexual orientation, who believe that harsh words and actions directed at gay/lesbian/transgender folk must be classified as hate crimes, and punished extra severely. You want equality? I’ll stand with you, and fight alongside you. But the moment you begin arguing that your people are more equal than other people — well, excuse me while I spin on a dime, and become your implacable foe. Even Animal Farm-reading eighth-graders might understand why I feel that way.

Quick recap for those who need it: Tyler Clementi was a Rutgers freshman whose 2010 erotic encounter with a male acquaintance was watched by Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, via a webcam that Ravi had stealthily placed in their shared quarters. Ravi then wrote crass remarks to friends about Clementi’s sexual proclivities, via Twitter. Clementi found out and was apparently so distraught that he killed himself by jumping off a bridge.

Late last week, a U.S. jury convicted Ravi on multiple charges, including invasion of privacy, and of having acted on an allegedly anti-gay bias (he denies he hates gay people). For his “hate crime,” Ravi faces up to ten years in jail and possible deportation to India, where he hasn’t lived since he was two.

Many of my friends are pleased with the verdict, or at least OK with it. One of them even saw Ravi’s reprehensible behavior as the equivalent of a direct physical “threat” to Clementi. The friend added that Clementi had clearly “been disturbed by what Ravi had done,” and argued that that was really all that mattered in elevating Ravi’s actions to a hate crime, a designation that draws higher sentences than a “regular” crime.

Where I come from, an actual “threat” would need to constitute something more than a few unpleasant Tweets, and more than a surreptitiously recorded groping. I think even the jury that convicted Ravi would back me up on that.

As for Clementi having been “disturbed by what Ravi had done,” yeah, no doubt. I would have been too, if I’d been in Clementi’s shoes. But so what? What is “being disturbed by something” supposed to prove? What unholy legal precept is being conjured with that phrase?

Look, I’m disturbed every day by the unconstitutional horrors that come out of Rick Santorum’s ugly mouth; just as I was disturbed by the angry woman who once commented on a pro-porn blog post of mine by saying that she fantasized about putting my dick in a vise. While they do not have the right to invade my privacy, they most assuredly can utter almost anything they damn well wish (excepting slander, libel, and threats of actual physical violence).

Being greatly upset does not give you the higher moral ground. It does not earn you automatic respect. It’s exactly the opposite for me: Play the “I’m really upset” card as if it means anything — a plea for sympathy usually made by hypocrites and weasels — and you will earn my enmity and scorn. Claiming that intemperate words can hurt just as much as bullets or blades is, after all, the same lame “argument” that religious crybabies of various stripes love making. Funnily enough, they believe that they somehow have the right not to have their feelings hurt.

The actor and writer Stephen Fry (who’s gay, by the way) dealt with that crowd rather admirably, I thought:

If you’re on the fence about the Ravi verdict, or if you support it, I have two quick mental exercises for you.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT NUMBER ONE: Let’s say that Clementi never jumped off that bridge, but everything else about the case remains the same. Do you believe that Ravi would have even been prosecuted for what he did, much less convicted by a jury and facing ten years in jail? More to the point: If you’d been on that jury, and Tyler Clementi was alive and appearing in court as the plaintiff, would you have felt compelled to put Ravi behind bars for up to a decade? I don’t know, but I doubt it. Remember, Ravi’s awful behavior would still have been the same. But few people would probably choose to convict him in the absence of a dead body.

What does that tell us? It says that his actions only amount to a crime when there are certain outcomes that he had no control over. (It’s not like he handed Clementi a gun and advised him to shoot himself. And even if he had, that final deed would still be Clementi‘s choice, and no one else’s.)

Keep in mind that these are college students. They’re old enough to vote, old enough to go to war. We have a criminal-justice system that frequently treats (and tries) 14- and 15-year-olds as adults. Surely we can expect actual (young) adults to take responsibility for what they do. That means Clementi and Ravi.

Ravi doesn’t deserve to get of scott-free. Rutgers could have suspended or expelled him, which seems like good comeuppance. Clementi, had he decided not to step off that bridge, could have sued Ravi for invasion of privacy, and won a monetary settlement as well as moral vindication. Both of those remedies address the actual problematic behavior, rather than what may or may not have been on Ravi’s mind at various times.

Better, no?

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT NUMBER TWO: What if Ravi had spied on Clementi while the latter was making out with a woman? I’ll let The Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen flesh that one out:

Suppose ­­­­Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers University student who spied on his roommate, had caught him not “making out with a dude,” as he so eloquently tweeted, but with a woman. And suppose further that this hypothetical roommate was awkward and sexually inexperienced and he had utterly failed at seduction. And suppose even further that this failure — this mortification — was seen by other students who mocked him behind his back so that, as did the real roommate, he jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Would we be dealing with a hate crime?

Probably not. We would still have a revolting invasion of privacy and the same hideous bullying (via webcam) and the same tragic death, but the aspect of bias would be missing and with it the charges that could bring Ravi an additional ten years in prison. The jury in his case was not permitted to consider the suicide, but it is what turned this case from a college disciplinary proceeding into a staple of the morning shows – a jerky prank into a hideous tragedy.

Cohen is bothered by the same fundamental flaw that’s always stuck in my craw about hate-crime laws:

[H]ate crime laws do more than punish crimes. They also punish thought or speech — or both. If in the course of a fight, one of the fighters utters an anti-gay (or anti-black or anti-Semitic) epithet, then the crime of assault becomes one of hate as well. Beat up a heterosexual and it’s assault. Beat up a gay and it’s assault and a hate crime – a little extra jail time for having a dirty mouth.

I just cannot get comfortable with a legal system that punishes thought crime. Did Ravi commit a heinous invasion of privacy? Absolutely, and it deserves our straight-up condemnation. But a privacy invasion is all I see Ravi being guilty of. Yeah, OK, the guy is also guilty of being a first-class douche nozzle. But is he a criminal? Techdirt’s Mike Masnick rightly points out that

[W]hether or not your actions are seen as criminal depends almost entirely on how someone else reacts to them. If they shake off your actions, then you’re fine. If they commit suicide, you get punished. Thus, the incentive then is actually for kids to seriously hurt themselves if someone acts in a mean way towards them, as that increases the likelihood of the bully getting punished. That doesn’t sound like a good incentive system.

No, it doesn’t.

But in some ways, the Dharun Ravi trial was less about achieving practical goals, and more about scoring a symbolic victory over a more or less abstract foe. It seems to me that this wasn’t really a young man on trial — it was homophobia itself; or rather, Ravi’s particular brand of homophobia; or rather, his attitude that we surmised was probably kind of homophobic, or maybe not quite, but let’s just make ourselves feel good and convict him anyway.

Dharun Ravi will thus go to jail for what we inferred was in his mind — and instead of being ashamed by that, we’ll just pretend that justice was served, and move on to the next hate crime, until all ostensible hate has been cleansed from our great land. It’s going to be a while.

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Mike Daisy lies about Foxconn, receives spanking

In late January, I wrote a riff on Foxconn, the Chinese parts supplier and assembler of iPhones, iPads, and other consumer technology. Everywhere, it seemed, tempers were flaring over Foxconn’s alleged mistreatment of factory workers. There is little doubt that working conditions at the Foxconn plant can be improved, and I hope that they will be. Apple is working on it pretty diligently, it seems.

Two things in the controversy stood out to me: Western workers’ advocates’ two-faced condemnation of Apple (all the while vigorously clinging to their beloved iPhones and other Apple baubles, instead of putting their money where their mouth is); and those same folks showing their bad faith by neglecting to mention that hundreds of millions of lowly factory workers are provably clawing their way to a better existence, thanks to Foxconn-type jobs.

Here’s the latest headscratcher in the Foxconn debate. If your opinions about this issue stem in part from This American Life, the popular, weekly public-radio program by Ira Glass, you might want to note the fact that Glass and his crew have now retracted their story about Foxconn, and issued a wholehearted apology.

Unbeknownst to Glass, This American Life‘s hour-long episode about Foxconn was riddled with half-facts and fabrications, thanks to a less than scrupulous closet activist named Mike Daisy. Daisy visited China in 2010 and later wove a highly critical tale about Foxconn and Apple that he’s been sharing in the form of a traveling-theater monologue. The monologue, entitled AGONY/ECSTACY, has reportedly been downloaded tens of thousands of times from Daisy’s website by other theater makers and storytellers. Daisy has become a demi-celibrity, having been featured as an expert on labor exploitation on many news shows. Recently, his monologue made it onto This American Life, masquerading as journalism — after Daisy, when asked, repeatedly assured Glass that everything in the piece was factual.

It has since emerged that Mike Daisy made up an entire group of sources he claimed to have met and interviewed, but didn’t — including:

• underage workers as young as 13;
• a man whose hand had gotten mangled in a steel press, after which Foxconn supposedly refused him proper medical care and eventually fired him for being too slow;
• people poisoned and neurologically damaged by the release of n-hexane, an industrial toxin.

Daisy also lied about a slew of details, such as

• Foxconn having surveillance cameras in workers’ dorm rooms (there are only cameras in hallways and in factory areas);
• Foxconn guards carrying guns (the untruth of which has been corroborated by local witnesses including western journalists);
• factory workers supposedly commiserating over coffee at Starbucks (Starbucks drinks, in real dollars, are even more expensive in China than in the U.S.);
• having seen a union-busting government blacklist (the translator with him at the time says he made it up). Et cetera.


While Daisy maintains that he mostly told the truth, albeit not a “literal” one, he acknowledges that his monologue is “not up to the standards of journalism, that’s why it was completely wrong for me to have it on your [Glass’s] show.”


It’s worth contemplating that Daisy’s account would probably have stood unchallenged if it wasn’t for the fact that he had a witness with him everywhere he went — his Chinese translator, Cathy. When called upon, she helped Glass and his people uncover Mike Daisy’s deceit.


Now think about how much of what you read requires you to assume its veracity purely on the reporter’s say-so, as there are often no witnesses à la Cathy to turn to for a quick fact-check.


Having been a journalist for a couple of decades, it greatly chaps my ass to see pitiful frauds like Mike Daisy, James Frey, Stephen Glass, Judith Miller, Greg Mortensen, and Jayson Blair have their way with the truth, further eroding our already shaky trust in the mainstream media.


On the other hand, Ira Glass and This American Life are a class act for leaving no stone unturned in investigating Daisy’s claims, and apologizing for their error in trusting a habitual liar.


Bottom line: Keep those bullshit meters finely tuned!


Posted in capitalism, economics, facepalm, free markets, politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Rick Santorum vs. Marc Randazza: A Dichotomy of Zealotry

The censorship method … is that of handing the job over to some frail and erring mortal man, and making him omnipotent on the assumption that his official status will make him infallible and omniscient.  –  George Bernard Shaw

Though there’s no scientific proof for it, I tend to believe in synchronicity, the tendency of apparently-unrelated yet similar events to occur together in time.  Having been a librarian for years before I became a whore (and even a sort of non-professional librarian for years before I became a sort on non-professional whore), I really hate censorship and especially hate censorship of sexual materials.  So I pay a lot of attention to free speech issues, and today I noticed a kind of inverse synchronicity involving free speech:  both Twitter and the blogosphere in general are awash in references to two first amendment zealots.  But while one of these is a zealous opponent of free speech, the other is a zealous supporter of it.  The former is of course Rick Santorum, who thinks that suppressing speech which offends some people is a legitimate function of government; the latter is prominent first amendment attorney Marc Randazza, who writes The Legal Satyricon and understands that the more speech offends some people, the more important it is to defend it.

The Santorum story is that he’s announced that he wants a “vigorous” crackdown on internet porn, with aggressive prosecution of both websites and viewers:

…Rick Santorum…has promised to crack down on the distribution of pornography if elected.  Santorum says in a statement posted to his website, “The Obama Administration has turned a blind eye to those who wish to preserve our culture from the scourge of pornography and has refused to enforce obscenity laws.”  If elected, he promises to “vigorously” enforce laws that “prohibit distribution of hardcore (obscene) pornography on the Internet, on cable/satellite TV, on hotel/motel TV, in retail shops and through the mail or by common carrier.”

…UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh told The Daily Caller…“It wouldn’t be that difficult to close down a lot of the relatively visible websites…if they’re in the United States”…but…to black out foreign sites, Santorum would likely need legislative action requiring Internet service providers to use “a mandatory filter set up by the government or by the service providers”…Volokh [said]…the government could also prosecute individual citizens who view porn, and already has the legal authority to do it…Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, noted that…“What Santorum would consider obscene is obviously far greater than many Americans…Sexual films of consenting adults that are watched by consenting adults are generally presumed to be pornographic but not obscene.”  Turley is less sure than Volokh that juries would go along with a crackdown.  “Federal courts,” he explained, “are reluctant to define movies or pictures as obscene based on such different opinions in society.  For that reason, Santorum’s view of the standard falls well outside of the accepted view of the case law”…In a primary season laser-focused on talk of “job creation,” said Turley, Santorum’s anti-porn proposal would “attempt to criminalize an industry that is supported by millions of Americans”…

The Randazza story is that there are a lot of Randazza stories today; some mysterious signal, perhaps akin to that which guides migrating birds to fly in formation, has permeated the more libertarian regions of the blogosphere and resulted in a plethora of Randazza stories.  Take a look at these:

Marc Randazza: First Amendment Badass
Marc Randazza would support me, right?
Righthaven, Liquified
Marc Randazza: The Mark of Excellence
Marc Randazza: 1st Amendment Lawyer Exemplar
Marc Randazza: Super Lawyer, Super Blogger?
Marc Randazza, First Amendment Lawyer, on the Rush Limbaugh Fiasco
Marc Randazza: A Sentinel For Free Speech

…and now this one, of course.  Why do I care?  Well, besides the fact that we need every champion of free speech we can get, here are a few of his recent post titles:  “Florida Airport Seeks To Evict the TSA”, “Strip Club Saves Little League Team” and “The Southern Poverty Law Center Takes On Male-Centric Blogs – Receives Bloody Nose”.  He also singlehandedly debated Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan on their asinine demand that Rush Limbaugh be censored, and he has a hot wife who buys clothes from a site named for Bettie Page.

Any other silly questions?

Posted in civil liberties, government, libertarianism, nannies, pornography | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Why the U.S. Postal Service is going broke

I shipped a package to a customer in Canada recently. At his request, I used the postal system instead of UPS or FedEx. It was a shipment worth about $2,000, so I made sure to purchase insurance and tracking, and then, a few days later, went to the Track & Confirm service at to request an automated e-mail, so I would be notified upon delivery.

In fairness, the postal carriers on both sides of the border performed admirably. When I went to check the shipment’s status on February 23, I found that the package had been delivered that day, four business days after I shipped it. Thumbs up.

The client pronounced himself happy with his product, and all was well. I did wonder briefly why I never got that automated confirmation e-mail from the postal tracking service, but thought no more of it. Until today.

See, today, I got the e-mail I requested. The United States Postal Service, after no doubt really trying, is saddened to inform me that it was “unable to locate any delivery information in our records regarding your item.”

If I lacked all scruples, I could probably use that e-mail to file a claim — the package was insured, after all — and pocket an easy two grand. Instead, my reward will have to be that the people displaying this level of competence will most likely be laid off in the next round of shrinkage, and will soon be asking you and me whether we want fries with that.

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