Monthly Archives: January 2006

The Reactions

Earlier this month, I talked about CATO Unbound and their topic for this month: Internet Liberation: Alive or Dead?. In fact, I posted an entry titled Thoughts on Technology and Liberty just a day before CATO announced their topic, which I discussed in This Should Be Fun. Now the discussion is in full swing over at CATO.

Jaron Lanier posted the first essay, The Gory Antigora: Illusions of Capitalism and Computers, which has been followed by two more. Eric Raymond has written his Reply to Lanier, which makes some excellent points about Gift Cultures, capitalism, open and closed systems and freedom in general. The most significant point he makes, in my opinion, is in his conclusion.

As I pointed out years ago in Homesteading the Noosphere (which I highly recommend reading!), gift cultures rely on a hefty wealth surplus to keep them afloat. While there are many ways to concentrate such a surplus (patronage by one tyrant or a group of aristocrats can do it) capitalism is the only way to do it that scales up well. Capitalism is every gift culture’s best hope for sustainability.

Glenn Reynolds, the InstaPundit, wrote his Reply to Lanier, as well. And, as I expected, makes some excellent points from the perspective of the technically oriented layperson. Again, it is the concluding paragraph where the point I consider most important is made. Of course, this is how the author’s intended it, but so often we, in reading their writing gain insights or see key points other than where the author intended the strength to be. In any case.

To me, this is another reason why we should favor space exploration and – more significantly, over the long run – space colonization. (As I wrote a while back, “Stephen Hawking says that humanity won’t survive the next thousand years unless we colonize space. I think that Hawking is an optimist.”) And, it happens, the empowerment of individuals and small groups that we’re seeing elsewhere is also going on here, with significant progress in space technology taking place now that it’s moving out of the hands of a government monopoly. Let’s hope it moves fast enough.

And finally, John Perry Barlow has written his Reply to Lanier and it’s posted today. I haven’t yet had an opportunity to read it, but I’m looking forward to what the author of “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” has to say, as well.

I think, between what I’ve written and what Reynolds and Raymond have written, we can show that technology, in general, and, more specifically, the Internet are strong tools for individual liberty and wealth generation. Just as importantly, folks who are thinking like Jaron can be seen to be ignoring the true reality of the interactions between capitalism and gift cultures. Stronger by far than any of the individuals who started us on this path could have ever imagined. I plan, after reading Barlow’s essay, to write my own set of thoughts on this specific topic, much like Kay when she wrote Internet Liberation and the Ingenue. Stay tuned.

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball

A Clear Victory

The new Roberts Court has handed down its first significant opinion of the term and it is a clear victory for federalism and individual rights, and a defeat for the Federal Government

The Supreme Court delivered a rebuff to the Bush administration over physician-assisted suicide today, rejecting a Justice Department effort to bar doctors in Oregon from helping terminally ill patients end their lives under a 1994 state law.

In a 6-3 vote, the court ruled that then-U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft overstepped his authority in 2001 by trying to use a federal drug law to prosecute doctors who prescribed lethal overdoses under the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, the only law in the nation that allows physician-assisted suicide. The measure has been approved twice by Oregon voters and upheld by lower court rulings.

In other words, Ashcroft tired to use a law that had nothing to do with the right to die issue to override the will of the people of Oregon. Kudos to the Supreme Court for saying no.

At issue was whether the federal Controlled Substances Act, enacted in 1970 to combat drug abuse and trafficking, allowed the attorney general unilaterally to prohibit doctors in Oregon from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide, despite state law permitting them to do so.

Writing the opinion of the court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the federal law bars doctors from using prescriptions to engage in illicit drug dealing but that “the statute manifests no intent to regulate the practice of medicine generally.” Moreover, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) relies on “a functioning medical profession regulated under the states’ police powers,” he wrote.

“In the face of the CSA’s silence on the practice of medicine generally and its recognition of state regulation of the medical profession, it is difficult to defend the Attorney General’s declaration that the statute impliedly criminalizes physician-assisted suicide,” Kennedy wrote.

Here is a link to the text of the majority opinion.

Joined by Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts, Antonin Scalia delivered one of his usual stinging dissents:

Writing in dissent, Scalia attacked the finding that the attorney general “lacked authority to declare assisted suicide illicit” under the federal law. “This question-begging conclusion is obscured by a flurry of arguments that distort the statute and disregard settled principles of our interpretive jurisprudence,” he wrote.

Scalia backed the government’s position that assisting in suicide was not a “legitimate medical purpose.” Saying that the court’s decision “is perhaps driven by a feeling that the subject of assisted suicide is none of the Federal Government’s business,” Scalia wrote that “it is easy to sympathize with that position.” However, the government has long been able to use its powers “for the purpose of protecting public morality,” he said.

“Unless we are to repudiate a long and well-established principle of our jurisprudence, using the federal commerce power to prevent assisted suicide is unquestionably permissible,” Scalia said. “If the term ‘legitimate medical purpose’ has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death.”

As much as I respect Scalia, I think he misses the point here. The laws intent and purpose was aimed solely at illegal drug use and trafficing. It is silent on the question of what is and is not a legitimate medical procedure. In fact, it should be for the doctor, not the government to determine the appropriateness of a medical procedure. More importantly, though, if the Federal Government is going to intrude into one of the most personal, gut-wrenching decisions a person can make, it needs to (attempt) do so directly and not engage in the kind of creative legal maneuvering that Ashcroft tried here.

More importantly, this is a victory for federalism. There is nothing in the Constitution that gives the Federal Government the right, power, or authority to regulate this area of human life. If any such authority exists, it resides solely within the states. The people of the state of Oregon have chosen to allow physician assisted suicide within their borders. John Ashcroft had no right to try to override their judgment, and the Supreme Court did the right thing by telling him so.

Update: I have not had time to read through the entire opinion, but one section of Antonin Scalia’s dissent, highlighed in Ann Althouse’s post on the decision stuck out to me:

The Court’s decision today is perhaps driven by a feeling that the subject of assisted suicide is none of the Federal Government’s business. It is easy to sympathize with that position. The prohibition or deterrence of assisted suicide is certainly not among the enumerated powers conferred on the United States by the Constitution, and it is within the realm of public morality (bonos mores) traditionally addressed by the so-called police power of the States. But then, neither is prohibiting the recreational use of drugs or discouraging drug addiction among the enumerated powers. From an early time in our national history, the Federal Government has used its enumerated powers, such as its power to regulate interstate commerce, for the purpose of protecting public morality — for example, by banning the interstate shipment of lottery tickets, or the interstate transport of women for immoral purposes. See Hoke v. United States, 227 U.S. 308, 321-323 (1913); Lottery Case, 188 U.S. 321, 356 (1903). Unless we are to repudiate a long and well-established principle of our jurisprudence, using the federal commerce power to prevent assisted suicide is unquestionably permissible. The question before us is not whether Congress can do this, or even whether Congress should do this; but simply whether Congress has done this in the CSA. I think there is no doubt that it has. If the term “legitimate medical purpose” has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death

This is one of those times when Scalia’s deference to precedent gets the better of him. There is no such thing as a Federal police power, and never has been. The Federal Government is a government of limited powers; the things that it can do are set forth in Article II of the Constitution. If a power is not listed there, it does exist. By accepting without question a series of obviously wrongly-decided cases, Justice Scalia forces himself to endorse a point of view that ignores the meaning of the Constitution and would unjustly expand the power of the Federal Government over the states and the people.

Update 1/18/06: UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge takes a look at what Scalia’s dissent in this case means in answering the question of just exactly what his judicial philosophy is:

Some will condemn Scalia for abandoning originalism in this line of cases. Yet, I think these cases actually reveal something more interesting about Scalia, which is that he is not purely an originalist. Instead, Scalia’s jurisprudence has elements of originalism and textualism, but also of traditionalism. The latter looks at how the Constitution has been interpreted over time, such that well-established traditions become entrenched. The real problem with Scalia is that he doesn;t seem to have a hierarchy for choosing between the three.

(….)

There is much to be admired about Scalia. It no longer seems possible, however, to believe that he is developing a coherent conservative jurisprudence. Nor, insofar as results are concerned, that he can be expected to bring back the Constitution from the exile to which Wickard assigned it.

In other words, don’t place your faith in one Supreme Court Justice any more than you would place it in one Senator.

Cross-Posted at Below The Beltway

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His Dream

Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

If you support set asides and quotas, affirmative action and preferential hiring, are you juding by skin color or personality, character and capability? If you denigrate a man because he is black and not a Democrat, have you judged him by his character? Do you believe in Martin Luther King’s words, can you see, touch and taste his dream? Or do you simply seek to gain at another’s expense? Do you really think Dr. King would support your attacks on your fellow man? Or do you seek to delegitimize your opponents through the use of racist symbology to gain in power and influence? Do you keep racism and prejudice alive by continuing to deal with differences and promote judging people based on their color?

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball

The Alito hearings were worthless

I am deeply disappointed in the Senate this week after seeing the absolutely horrible confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito. The truly important issues of the day, property rights, privacy, and free speech, fell by the wayside in favor of abortion and executive power. It is no wonder we never got a useful answer from Samuel Alito, since he was never asked a useful question.

The first useful question I would have asked him is what happens when stare decisis comes into conflict with one of the core rights of Americans, namely life, liberty, and property. In Kelo v. New London, the left wing of the Supreme Court decided that municipal tax revenue was a public use, opening the door to rampant violations of the property rights of every American. The truly scary thing about Kelo is that, when viewed in the light of stare decisis, it makes perfect sense. I want to hear anyone who is nominated to the Supreme Court say that the fundamental rights of Americans and the Constitution of the United States come before precedent and settled law. Too bad none of the Senators were principled enough to ask about that.

The next question I would have asked Samuel Alito is what he thought of the privacy right established in Roe v. Wade. My view is that Roe v. Wade sets a very dangerous precedent not because it acknowledges a privacy right, but because it attempts to establish a selective privacy right. The idea that a privacy right only exists in certain circumstances, like sexuality, child-rearing, and reproduction, is contrary to the very concept of rights. From Roe v. Wade:

The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy. In a line of decisions, however, going back perhaps as far as Union Pacific R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, 251 (1891), the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution.

This concept is dangerous because the right to privacy, instead of being one’s right to conduct one’s private affairs without undue interference, becomes a way to protect certain activities and regulate others all based on whether or not the activity resides within a zone of privacy or not. Currently, the surgical procedure of abortion resides in a zone of privacy but the surgical procedure of breast enhancement does not. Logically, this does not make sense. Abortion involves a fetus that, given time, will become a separate being, bringing up a whole host of ethical questions. Breast enhancement involves simply a woman’s decision to alter a part of her self, carrying with it none of those ethical questions. If abortion, with its ethical questions, can be considered a private activity, then certainly breast enhancement should be. That would be reflective of a consistent and broad privacy right. That’s what we need instead of the zones of privacy of Roe. Again, too bad none of the Senators were principled enough to ask about that.

The final question I would have asked Samuel Alito is whether Congress had the right to regulate the speech of private citizens about elections. The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. It does not contain exceptions for compelling state interests, nor to avoid the appearance of corruption. The left wing of the court, plus Justice O’Connor, upheld, in McConnell v. FEC, the right of Congress to regulate the speech of private citizens based on the compelling state interest of avoiding the appearance of corruption.

These questions, I believe, would have illuminated a great many things about Samuel Alito. Instead of getting to the core of his philosophy, we got to hear a lot about the hot-button issue of today, executive power (which is important), and the worst possible proxy for judicial tendencies, abortion. It’s a sad time for the nation and for the Senate.

Cross posted at News, the Universe, and Everything.

Legislative Lunacy

An old friend of mine (Jon, who really Cialis by mail ought to start blogging) sent this little gem of a story to me via e-mail.

A pro-pot group alleges that an Aurora police officer pulled over one of its members this week because he had a marijuana legalization sticker on the back of his vehicle.

[…]

The officer, who wasn't identified, allegedly told Wansing [the 25 year-old ”criminal”] that he wouldn't have been cited if he didn't have the sticker on his vehicle and that he didn't want his children to see such “trash.”

Nice…! It seems that Joe Cop is unaware

of the fact that, if marijuana legalization stickers are outlawed, only outlaws will display marijuana legalization stickers.

For more ludicrous lawmaking, see this and this.

Update: In a comment to this post, John Newman wrote: <span online pharmacy style="font-sty

le:italic”>”Let me guess, you think we can fix things through the political process.”

Well, according blackjack online to a somewhat suspect conspiracist website (it claims that 9/11 was planned by the US government and that the US is a police state), there’s a bill in New Hampshire, sponsored by Rep. Paul Hopfgarten, that was “proposed at the request of local Free Staters“.

The bill reads: “Any law enforcement officer, person acting as a law enforcement officer, or other public official who confiscates or attempts to confiscate lawfully carried or lawfully owned firearms in this state during a declared state of emergency shall be charged with a class A felony.”

So yeah, if the bill is signed into law, then clearly the political process will have been instrumental in restoring an important aspect of

individual liberty.

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More On Regulating Anonymous Internet Speech

I wrote yesterday , as did Chris in a post here, about a provision attached to the Violence Against Women Act which appears to outlaw anonymous “annoying” speech on the Internet. Not surprisingly, it has been the subject of much discussion today, and a little bit of second-guessing.

At The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr takes a skeptical look at the alleged threat to online liberty and comes away unimpressed. First, Kerr says, the existing law isn’t as bad as it sounds:

It turns out that the statute can only be used when prohibiting the speech would not violate the First Amendment. If speech is protected by the First Amendment, the statute is unconstitutional as applied and the indictment must be dismissed. An example of this is United States v. Popa, 187 F.3d 672 (D.C. Cir. 1999). In Popa, the defendant called the U.S. Attorney for D.C on the telephone several times, and each time would hurl insults at the U.S. Attorney without identifying himself. He was charged under 47 U.S.C. 223(a)(1)(C), and raised a First Amendment defense. Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Ginsburg reversed the conviction: punishing the speech violated the Supreme Court’s First Amendment test in United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968), he reasoned, such that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to those facts.

Under cases like Popa, 47 U.S.C. 223(a)(1)(C) is broad on its face but narrow in practice. That is, the text looks really broad, but prosecutors know that they can’t bring a prosecution unless doing so would comply with the Supreme Court’s First Amendment cases.

Okay, that sounds somewhat reassuring, but what about the new portion of the law ?

The new law simply expands the old law so that it applies to the Internet as well as the telephone network. It does this by taking the old definition of “telecommunications device” from 47 U.S.C. 223(h), which used to be telephone-specific, and expanding it in this context to include “any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet.”

Kerr also points to this article which asserts that the new provisions of the law are about applying the existing law to Voice Over IP (VOIP) technology, nothing more and nothing less. Therefore, Kerr believes that much of the reaction to the new legislation is, in fact, over-reaction.

At the same time, however, Kerr’s fellow conpsirator Eugene Volokh isn’t quite as sanguine about the situation.

[O]n balance I think the extension of the telephone harassment statute to the Web is a mistake. The statute already has problems, and the extension risks substantially exacerbating those problems, by potentially covering one-to-many annoying Web speech as well as the somewhat less valuable one-to-one annoying telephone calls.

Who’s right ? I’m not sure, but I tend to fall into Eugene’s camp on this one. And I personally wonder why harrassment over the telephone needs to be the subject of a federal law to begin with.

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

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A Post-Kelo Test In Ohio

The Ohio Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in what is being called the first significant eminent domain case to be argued since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June in Kelo v. City of New London. As with the Kelo case, the case being argued this morning in Columbus involves a homeowner facing the loss of their property at the hands of a government that wants to hand that property to private developers.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Joy and Carl Gamble say they just want to retire peacefully in the dream home where they’ve lived for more than 35 years. But the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood has other plans for the property.

Using its power of eminent domain, the city wants to take a neighborhood that it considers to be deteriorating and boost its fortunes by allowing a $125 million development of offices and shops.

And the city’s justification for taking a home that the Gamble’s have owned for 35 years ?

The city and a private developer contend that Norwood had the right to acquire the property. They also argue that eminent domain applied not because the area is “blighted,” but because it is “deteriorating.”

How the Ohio court deals with the issue of blight has important ramifications for municipalities around the country, said Steven Eagle, a George Mason University law professor who studies property rights.

“Every jurisdiction allows condemnation to relieve blight,” Eagle said. “If blight is going to be vaguely defined, then it could be open season for condemnations for redevelopment.”

Like many jurisdictions, Ohio is studying the possibility of passing a law that would limit the right of municipalities to use eminent domain to give property to private developers.

In Ohio, a new law stops local governments from seizing unblighted private property for use by private developers while a committee studies the issue. The Gambles’ lawsuit was filed before that law was passed and before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

Though not mentioned in the article, it appears that the Gambles cannot take advantage of this moratorium since they filed suit before the law was passed.

And, not surprisingly, the Gamble’s are upset:

The Gambles, in their 60s, hoped to live comfortably in the home they had bought in 1969. They sold their small Cincinnati grocery store, Tasty Bird Poultry, and retired five years ago.

Instead of a comfortable retirement, however, they watched their neighborhood disappear as neighbors sold willingly to developer Rookwood Partners. The Gambles temporarily left their home to live with a grown daughter in Kentucky but vow to return should they win the case.

Joy Gamble speaks bitterly about the couple’s ordeal and what it meant to see their home of 35 years, purchased after years of savings, in danger of demolition.

“When the municipalities and the people that have lots of money decide they want what you have, you don’t own it,” Gamble said. “You bought it, you paid for it, you kept the taxes up, you kept the appearance up, but it wasn’t yours.”

Jacob Sullum at Hit & Run has this to say about the importance of this case:

This is the most important state eminent domain case since the U.S Supreme Court last year upheld condemnations for private development in Kelo v. New London. The Ohio Supreme Court has declared that “the power of eminent domain may not be exercised merely or primarily to take private property for private purposes,” and it has never ruled on the condemnation of “deteriorating,” as opposed to “blighted,” property. A victory for the owners would provide further evidence that state courts are prepared to interpret state constitutions so as to curtail eminent domain abuse, meaning that new legislation is not the only solution to the land grabs encouraged by Kelo.

Keep your eyes on this one.

Update 1/12/05: Via Todd Zywicki at The Volokh Conspiracy, here are online resources related to the case:

Copies of all briefs filed in the case can be found here.

Archived video of Ohio Supreme Court arguments are available here and the direct link to the Norwood argument, in Real Media format, is available here.

Cross-Posted at Below The Beltway

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Annoy, Abuse, Threaten or Harass

“Whoever…utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet… without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person…who receives the communications…shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

My god, how will usenet or blogs function when everyone is in prison?

Yes folks, congress has tried to make being anonymously annoying on the internet illegal.

In particular, Arlen Specter (who seems to truly hate the internet and electronic world in general given other bullshit he has sponsored before) re-wrote the language and included it in the “Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005″, a must pass bill that provided funding for the justice department to continue operating.

Specter is also one of the senators (along with Fritz Hollings) who keeps trying to insert broadcast flag, and other DRM or copyright legislation into unrelated bills etc…; thus my saying he must really hate the internet.

The gist of it is simple. They took an existing anti-telephone harassment law, and re-wrote it to cover the internet directly, without changing the wording

Except there’s a problem with that, the internet and the telephone, while both networks; are entirely different in nature; and are not, and can not be subject to the same type of rules, regulations, or management paradigms.

Oh, and this is a problem in conception that business people have had for almost three decades now, so it’s only fitting that lawmakers will catch up.

The telephone is a unicast medium. It involves a point to point communication that must be acknowledged or significant damage to ones life or business will result. The internet is a broadcast medium (with regards to communication of ideas or speach anyway).

Effectively the internet AS A WHOLE is a public space (with private spaces connected to it, and a huge number of idiots who don’t seem to understand the difference); and annoying speach in public is generally allowed, so long as that speach is not disturgbing the peace.

Well, how is something disturbing the public peace if you have to open a door and walk into a room to hear it? No matter how load and annoying it is, the sound cant leave the room you have deliberately entered of your own choice.

Not only that, but ones own sites, whether they are publicly accessible or not, ARE EFFECTIVELY PRIVATE SPACES, and annoying speach is ALWAYS allowed in your private spaces; unless that annoyance becomes harrassment.

The fact is, you jsut can’t make annoying speach a crime. If I were forcing you to listen to it; yeah that’d be a crime; but just posting annoying speach, or even sending annoying emails (though that is a much grayer area, especialy as regards inboxes and other explicit infospaces, expectation of privacy, and ownership of virtual spaces, but that’s another discussion entirely) can never be a crime.

The good news is, there is no way this provision will stand. Case law is already against it, and the ACLU will do one of it’s rare good deeds and make sure this gets challenged and struck down right away.

The congresscritters just better hope they made the damn thing severable or the supremes will have to invalidate the entire bill.

Cross posted from The AnarchAngel

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Internet Liberation and the Ingenue

Last week, Eric introduced as a topic the subject currently highlighted at Cato Unbound which is: Internet Liberation: Alive or Dead?.

The first essay, written by Jaron Lanier is an interesting theoretical read The Gory Antigora: Illusions of Capitalism and Computers.

Lanier describes the “antigora” as the privately owned and operated arenas or meeting places (i.e. Microsoft) as opposed to the open architecture of – oh, say “Linux”. This discussion is rather a fascinating (if sometimes a bit over-my-head) one to me with lots to mull over – namely, whether the internet should be more liberated (less brittle to use Lanier’s description) and free – less software based and more open to free flowing change for example.

While I personally believe that there is much good to be had in an open and free-flowing exchange of ideas, I also recognize that just like liberty in the real world, a wide open system comes with some definite hazards – and it must be up to the individuals delving into the internet market to monitor their own behavior and risk taking online much as it is in the real world. I love the *idea* behind free access to all information; but the risk is that if I stumble unprepared and without understanding into an open arena, I may face some damage to my own computer set up that *I* may not have the skill or knowledge to correct, and frankly, that scares the heck out of me. I suppose I could be called “agoraphobic”. And what about those who don’t even know enough about what they’re doing on the ‘net to even know when they have screwed up? How many *cyber-terrorists* are there who really enjoy messing with those of us who aren’t completely “in the know”? Situations like the one with Wikipedia a few weeks ago in which a false biography was planted spring to mind.

On the other hand, the stay-at-home mom in me that can’t afford all the latest software and is definitely a techno-geek of small skill loves it when she finds just what she needs that is GNU. I’ve not delved too deeply yet, but am mulling a changeover around in my brain for some future point when I’m ready to set myself the next techno-challenge. Even now, I look at the internet as a place in which I must step carefully – just as I am ever aware of my surroundings when I’m away from home (I never approach my car from a store without my keys in my hand) so I have learned to be diligent to watch for danger signs on the ‘net.

As far as being able to say, definitively, which is ultimately better – liberation of the internet in the form of more agora styled environs or more controls ala “antigoras” – I’m not sure that anyone can really answer the question. Perhaps, like the real life it mirrors, a combination of free market and controlled is as close to liberation of the internet as we can come. This, too, humanizes the contacts we make within the sphere of the internet – not all are highly skilled, but those who are can sometimes give a pointer or two to those who’re ready to learn. And those who’re highly technical sometimes need the chuckle provided by the diversely inspired talents of the ingenue.

Homeschooling Security Mom, Political Junkie, Believe in upholding the Constitution – and subscribe to the theory that gun control is the ability to hit your target!

Thought to Ponder

Since we are talking about government power and police states, Solzhenitsyn seemed a good choice for a quote today.

“The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie. One word of truth outweighs the world.”

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918- ) Russian writer, Soviet dissident, imprisoned for 8 years for critizing Stalin in a personal letter, Nobel Prize for Literature, 1970

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball

More Thinking on Government Power in the United States

Rather than continue hijacking Brad’s post on Air Travel Security, I thought I’d move the discussion that developed there into its own post. And, I’m trying to consolidate the discussion on two different blogs into one. To see what I mean, look at this post on Eric’s Grumbles. There are some points that really ought to be discussed, although I’m not sure we can come to any useful conclusions.

First, on a personal note, John Newman said to me, “You seem to resent my term police state in reference to this government.”. No, I don’t resent it, I find it to be inflammatory rhetoric that just isn’t accurate. That’s not the same thing as “resenting it”. Let me be very clear. There are problems with how our government behaves, what powers our government has taken to itself, and how we handle the need for new, or changed, government powers. We have created an oligarchy for ourselves that is no longer accountable to the people. That is halfway what our Founding Fathers intended. They designed a system that would be run by an oligarchy, but they intended for that group of men to be accountable to the citizens. As is the nature of all those who hold power, the oligarchy wants to retain power and has done what it can to remove their accountability and retain their power. At the same time, the group comprised of the politicians and senior bureaucrats that holds power in DC will not go too far lest their power be stripped from them, perhaps even violently.

Violent rebellion has occurred several times in this country and the average joe can be awakened, when he feels that he, personally, is threatened. The reason that those who control the military pay attention to what individuals think is that this country is founded on the principle that individuals may violently overthrow their government, if they feel it necessary. Ultimately, when the people feel that all other mechanisms to remedy a problem have failed, they will take matters into their own hands. This is in distinct contrast to most European nations, where the people are conditioned to think that their privileges derive from the government, in general.

The point? In my opinion, a true police state like Apartheid era South Africa, Ba’athist Iraq, the USSR, Nazi Germany, Rumania, etc. is really not possible in this country without a dramatic and violent change that alters our national psyche. Such a situation has arisen in the past, specifically during the US Civil War and during the Great Depression, WWII and the early years of the Cold War. Otherwise, ultimately, we believe so much in individualism, individual rights, and classic liberal political philosophy that a “slow change” to a police state will not be long term successful. In fact, this has happened in this country in the 20th century.

During the 1930’s, we became extremely fascist, right down to the ugly racism that other fascist countries were using to retain control of their people. Centralized industrial planning that drove what companies could, and could not, do was the norm. Employees had their wages set, retailers had their prices controlled, taxation was running as high as 90%, fear of the depression, socialism, blacks and orientals, and war with foreign countries was used to keep the people in line with Roosevelt’s New Deal plan. People like Robert Heinlein, Mencken, Ayn Rand, Mises, Hazlitt recognized it for what it was. And they stepped carefully most of the time, recognizing that in Roosevelt and Truman’s America, the FBI, OSS and Secret Service had powers to investigate, harass and arrest that were comparable to what you might have found in Fascist Italy (although nothing like those found in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany or Ba’athist Iraq). In the 1940’s, during the war years, you literally could not travel on airplanes, trains, buses or ships without government authorization to do so. Your food, gasoline, electricity, chocolate, nylons, tires, and much else was rationed by the government. If you held skills deemed necessary to the national interests, you had to take a job determined by the government.

You were subject to curfews at night, especially on the coast. If you were of Japanese, German or African heritage, you were likely to be imprisoned by the Federal Government without trial, without warrant and without the possibility of having a writ of habeas corpus issued to free you if no charges were filed. If you were a congressman who disagreed with the President, you were liable to have FDR pin an Iron Cross on you in the Capitol and publicly deride you as a sympathizer with our enemies (this happened several times, publicly). I could continue this list of how the country worked back then, but it should be obvious that it was overtly much worse than anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes, in this country.

Now, on to some points that John Newman and B.W. Richardson have been making in comments on Brad’s post. I think there are a few key points they would like to make, ones that I disagree with, to some degree. And I’ll explain why. I’ll also point out where I think there are problems in this area. And I will say that our government does not deserve the labels being given to it, although it does deserve some other ones. And, finally, to answer a diversionary question from John, I think that Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry would have considered our government to be unacceptably authoritarian. As do I, for that matter. But, really, that is a side issue from whether the following points are true, or untrue. The sort of thing that distracts from the question and creates an emotional situation that doesn’t allow for a logical and objective discussion of the subject at hand.

  1. Passive security controls on travel are equivalent to an active requirement of authorization to travel.

First of all, they really aren’t. But it sounds good. If you had ever lived in an environment where you had to request permission to travel, you would actually understand the difference. I served in the military, where you cannot go more than 50 miles from your duty station without approval from your commander and appropriate paperwork authorizing you to do so. If you think the current security controls on air travel are bad, imagine if you had to go to the government and get permission before you could buy a plane ticket, and then present your travel authorization in order to buy the ticket. And if you didn’t meet the established criteria for travel, or the bureaucrat you were dealing with didn’t like you, or was having a bad day, or you goofed up the request, you wouldn’t get your authorization. If you somehow managed to buy your ticket anyhow (possible in a bureaucracy), you would likely be charged with crimes against national security and thrown in prison, after a trial that no press was allowed into. That is the difference between one and the other. Now, that doesn’t mean that I believe the passive restrictions and controls placed on travel by the government are good, contribute to liberty or are actually constitutional. Just that they are not nearly as bad as this country has seen in the past, or other people deal with on a continuous basis now.

  1. The government has never given up any power, once gained.

No, but the government has had that power taken from it, whether by force of arms or intellectual revolution. The beginning of the end for fascist America was the massive outcry that ended the House Un-American Activities Committee and McCarthyism, which was nothing more than a continuation of New Deal oppression of dissent. The intellectual, and at some times physical, revolution of the 1960’s returned significant amounts of power from the government, including some limited rights to choose what to do with your body, restrictions on police power, curtailing of intelligence agency powers, a strengthening of the Supreme Court and Congress in comparison to the Executive, and stronger applications of the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, since classic liberals had long since been discredited, it was the neo-liberals of the left who effected this change, which meant that other intrusions into liberty and individual rights, especially economically, occurred simultaneously. Or, that the economic issues were ignored. That said, the country is significantly more free today than it was in 1935, 1945 or 1955. The same goes for other such interregnums in American history, most notably the civil War. Yes, during each of these periods the government usurped power that it did not give back, or have taken from it, but that is not the whole story and it is a mistake to pretend that it is. Nor is it intellectually honest or historically accurate.

  1. Gitmo, NSA eavesdropping and Jose Padilla are equivalent to the police state behavior of the US during the Civil War, WWI and WWII.

Another great sound bite. And another distortion of reality. Reality is that Jose Padilla being imprisoned was wrong. No doubt about it. It was a failure of the justice system of the USA, allowing the executive to wield powers they should not have. The difference between that and being held incommunicado, without trial, without charges filed, without recourse to a court, like Lincoln did in the Civil War or FDR did to the Japanese in WWII, is night and day. No amount of pressure brought to bear changed things for those people. Public opinion, Congressional pressure, etc. has made a difference for Jose Padilla, and the usurpation of power by the executive is being corrected, even if not completely or perfectly. The same is true for the NSA spying. It is quite possible that we will see charges brought against members of the Bush administration, perhaps even articles of impeachment. The US intelligence agencies did the same types of things in WWI and WWII and no amount of pressure changed it, nor were charges filed against anyone in the executive branch, nor articles of impeachment even discussed.

Gitmo is a different situation, entirely. There is nothing unconsitutional, or even morally wrong, about holding enemy prisoners in wartime indefinitely without trial or resort to the civil legal system. Special laws for military conduct are provided for in the Constitution. Everything at Gitmo is well within the norm for wartime conduct towards enemy prisoners, and well within military regulation and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There’s only one problem with all of it. Congress has never declared war, which is what is necessary to activate the President’s War Powers. Ooooops. Am I upset about the Executive overstepping its boundaries? Damn skippy. Do I think, within the context of wartime, that there is anything wrong with Gitmo. No. But, according to Congress, it isn’t wartme. And that makes it wrong.

  1. An implied position that post 9/11 is worse than pre 9/11, from a perspective of both individual liberty and government power

This is clearly not the case. At least not in terms of actual powers held by the Federal Government under the law. The Patriot Act really didn’t give the Executive new powers. They could already get secret warrants for wiretaps. They could have implemented all of the travel restrictions we deal with now at any time under law that existed long before 9/11/2001. However, two significant things have occurred since 9/11. The first is that Executive power has been consolidated, instead of being dispersed among many different bureaucracies, eliminating some of the inefficiency seen in the pre-9/11 structure. The second is that the Executive has acted in accordance with the idea that they hold War Powers. However, a strict reading of the Constitution shows that the Executive only gains War Powers IF Congress declares war. Which Congress has not seen fit to do. The interesting question is, when this is tested in court, whether the court will agree with the President, or not. It seems nearly certain that the NSA spying cases, as a minimum, will be decided by the Supreme Court.

  1. That the United States is a police state, or, if not, at the beginning of the path to becoming one

No, the US is not a police state. If you declare that we are, you are either unclear on what a police state is, or you are using rhetoric for political or ideological reasons. We are a somewhat authoritarian oligarchy, combined with the trappings of direct democracy. The authoritarian olidgarchy was created by the 100% franchise for direct democracy. The degree of authoritarianism and loss of freedom is more or less comparable to the government of Britain under the Hanoverian Kings. It should be noted that this level of authoritarianism led our Founding Fathers to rebel against Britain. And, I would guess that, if the degree of authoritarianism doesn’t begin to recede soon, we are going to see the continuation of the intellectual revolution that is already starting to make itself felt. I really don’t know how this will play out, but change will come, one way or another. The American people only tolerate overt authoritarianism for so long and then they start rebelling against it.

One of my personal theories of political systems is that, for any given culture, based on a variety of factors, there is a certain level of authoritarianism and usurpation of power that the poeple of the culture will tolerate. As The USSR, Czechosolvakia, Rumania and Poland found out between 1980 and 1990, when the factors influencing that society change, then the level of authoritarianism the people will tolerate changes. One key factor is how much personal danger the individual member of that society feels exists, compared to how much loss of personal freedom (as opposed to a more diffuse set of societal freedoms that may not impact the individual directly) they feel. When the two grow out of balance, the individual begins to take action. Today, the balance is such that only a few more radical libertarians and anarchists feel compelled to take action. But, that balance is slowly shifting, which is why we are seeing a backlash in opinion, and more people speaking out against the government.

Yes, our society is not perfectly free. But, the truth is, no society in the history of man has been perfectly free. There have been times and places that have had more liberty, and times and places that have had less, in our history. And an objective reading of our history makes that very clear. Or would you choose to trade the government and society of 1935-1945 for today’s, believing that there is no real difference?

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball

This Should Be Fun

Not long ago, CATO unveiled their blog: CATO Unbound. The premise is that they will have a primary essay every month, responses from other prominent bloggers and provide trackbacks and links so that the rest of the blogosphere can respond too. Because December was so insane, I didn’t get a chance to play with the CATO concept as they debuted with The Living Constitution. Which is really too bad, since they hit on one of my favorite political topics: The 17th Amendment.

Anyhow, this month’s topic promises to be another one of deep interest to me and hopefully one I can participate in. The topic is Internet Liberation: Alive or Dead?. The lead essay, defining the position to be argued will be written by Jaron Lanier. The other contributors will include Glenn Reynolds and Eric Raymond, or “esr”, as he is known in hacker circles. There aren’t many other folks who would be such obvious, and good, choices for this topic. The topic itself will deal with:

An all-star lineup of techno-visionaries will discuss what, if anything, is left of all those mid-nineties prophesies of radical internet liberation.

I have to say that I will be interested to see what the CATO contributors have to say and even more interested to compare and contrast it with my own vision related to Technology and Liberty. In fact, considering that recent article on my part, my joining the ranks of the mobile technology users and my general vision of technology and its relationship to people and to liberty, this should be interesting and fun. Here’s hoping that The Liberty Papers and Life, Liberty and Property have a lot of good contribution to the discussion.

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball

Rights of the Government to Impose Air Security Measures

In response to my piece, Common Sense Offends ACLU, addressing the ACLU’s opposition towards the behavioral screening procedures imposed by the TSA in certain airports, commenter John Newman brought up some questions. John believes that federalizing aviation security matters is Unconstitutional. He advances two particular arguments.

His first argument discusses the Constitution’s “fundamental right to travel”. It mainly consists of picking quotes from Supreme Court cases upholding the fundamental right of travel. I will first mention that the fundamental right of travel is not once mentioned in the Constitution, but may be built from penumbras emanating from some such or the like. But that’s not the crux of the argument. See the following quotes from John’s own selections of court cases (emphasis added below in italics):

require that all citizens be free to travel throughout the length and breadth of our land uninhibited by statutes, rules or regulations which unreasonably burden or restrict this movement

‘any classification which serves to penalize the exercise of that right unless shown to be necessary to promote a compelling governmental interest, is unconstitutional’

The right to travel, to go from place to place as the means of transportation permit, is a natural right subject to the rights of others and to reasonable regulation under law

fundamental personal right that can be impinged only if to do so is necessary to promote a compelling governmental interest

a ‘fundamental’ one, requiring the showing of a ‘compelling state or local interest to warrant its limitation

At the minimum, governmental restrictions upon freedom to travel are to be weighed against the necessity advanced to justify them, and a restriction that burdens the right to travel ‘too broadly and indiscriminately’ cannot be sustained

is basically the right to travel unrestricted by unreasonable government interference or regulation

Note the words used, for they are important. “Compelling government interest.” “Unreasonable burden.” These are phrases which, in Constitutional jurisprudence, have very specific meanings. Another particular phrase that must be added is “strict scrutiny”. A Congressional Research Service paper on Constitutional objections to the showing of ID on airline flights (warning: pdf) covers the defense of the “right to travel” objection quite well:

The Court has declared that the constitutional right to travel consists of three different components: first, it protects the right of a citizen of one state to enter and to leave another state; second, it protects the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than an unfriendly alien when temporarily present in the second state; and third, for those travelers who elect to become permanent residents, it protects the right to be treated like other citizens of that state. In the context of transportation security, however, only the first prong of the right to travel appears to be relevant.

Consistent with its status as a fundamental right is the requirement that the government’s action satisfy the constitutional standard of review often referred to as strict scrutiny, or heightened scrutiny. Under strict scrutiny the government must provide a compelling state interest for the burden and show that the means utilized are narrowly tailored to the achievement of the goal or, phrased another way, the least restrictive means available.

Given that the airlines are seemingly authorized to refuse service to anyone who fails to present proper identification, it appears that a strong argument can be made that there is an additional burden imposed on citizens who wish to travel by airplane. Thus, the inquiry should focus on the standard of review that should be applied. It appears difficult to argue that passenger safety and transportation facility security are something other than compelling governmental interests. Thus, it seems that, regardless of which standard of review is applied, the government may be in a strong position to argue that not only are the current security restrictions justifiable, but also that their burden on the right to travel is minimal and given the present conditions entirely reasonable.

From the look of it, to claim that the requirement that one shows ID in order to engage in air travel is unconstitutional appears to be– at the least– unsupported by Constitutional precedent. According to the court cases cited, regulations can legitimately be placed upon travel if there is a compelling state interest to uphold. One would think that stopping passengers from blowing up planes or hijacking them and flying them into buildings would meet even the “strict scrutiny” test.

So we must move on to John’s second argument, which is much shorter and yet at the same time, more difficult to answer. He asks where it is enumerated that airline security is a federal matter to begin with?

If the airlines want to impose security practises and procedures, I have no problem with that. Where is it enumerated in the Constitution that it is a matter for the federal government?

There are a lot of ways to answer this question. The first answer, although some creativity can change it, is that it simply isn’t in there. Article I, Section 8 has no provisions for regulation of airline security, nor does it ever claim that police power is the realm of the federal government. But two particular provisions might at least be able to be shown to have relevance:

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

This is, of course, a stretch up there with those who might envision a “living Constitution”. But if we’re going to allow a “fundamental right to travel”, I’m asking for a little bit of leeway. As I said above, nothing in the Constitution gives the federal government police powers over the states. But here’s where you can find a bit of an AHA! moment. The bits in Article I, Section 8 regarding Piracies and Felonies on the High Seas are quite analogous to those of hijackings and bombings of commercial aircraft. Both involve non-government-owned vessels (i.e. the government did protect private merchant ships from piracy); and both involve territory separate from that of land under the jurisdiction of the several states.

Second, the whole bit about “repel invasions”. We are in a war against foreign and quite possibly partly domestic enemies who will use commercial airlines to attack our nation. I don’t like using the “national security” defense in most circumstances, but there is a certain point at which one might allow that protecting our buildings and populace from terrorists who will (and have) hijack aircraft with the purpose of using them as guided missiles to attack civilian targets is a reason for which we might want to take on government-ordained security procedures.

Last, John had suggested that perhaps if the airlines wanted to enact security procedures, that might be enough for him (although I don’t understand how he does not similarly support private hiring and firing practices). And if the airlines had secure cockpits and could not be hijacked, I might agree. But once the airplane becomes a guided missile filled with fuel aimed at a building, the equation changes. Just as states and municipalities have laws regarding drunk driving or speeding, which can turn an automobile into a 3,000 lb missile, the feds have airline security regulations to keep an airplane from doing the same thing. The only thing that gives the feds jurisdiction, though, is that the particular exigencies of airline travel require it.

Simply put, there are a lot of things about federal power that highly disturb me. This is one of the few that does not. I’m not one to suggest that we should federalize the airport screeners, following in Daschle’s footsteps; because I suspect the procurement of security is better handled by the private sector, while the requirements of security are best handled by the government.

Either way, John, I thank you for the good-natured and challenging debate. As always, when debating a formidable opponent such as yourself, I only learn more and improve my own understanding in the process. And, of course, I’m sure this won’t quite be the end of it :-)

(cross-posted at The Unrepentant Individual)

Price Controls: Guaranteed Disaster

Thomas DiLorenzo wrote an excellent article back in November on the consequences of government price controls. There’s an interesting underlying theme here. DiLorenzo catalogs more than 2500 years of government price controls and the disasters they brought about, all the way up to modern times and the energy crisis of California. And the thing that jumped out at me was that we never seem to learn from history. And it isn’t just the things that we think of with history, war, crime, totalitarianism. Those are the issues most people mean when they say that humans don’t learn from history. But, arguably, government controlled economic systems have caused more misery, for more people, throughout history, than anything else humans have done to ourselves.

Listen to this (summarized from DiLorenzo’s article):

  • In the 3rd century B.C. the Egyptian economy and political stability collapsed due to agricultural price fixing. Farmers left their land because of the strangulation caused by price inspection armies, enforcing prices set by fiat.
  • In Babylon, four thousand years ago, the Code of Hammurabi contained a maze of price controls, setting the rate that workmen were to be paid, how much a boat could be hired for, and so forth. This “smothered economic progress in the empire for many centuries”.
  • In the American Revolution, after the Pennsylvania Legislature introduced price controls to support the war effort, Washington’s Continental Army nearly starved to death because of shortages of the very items under price controls. The actual language from the legislation was “those commodities needed for use by the army”.
  • American planners in charge of Germany at the end of WWII instituted incredible central planning and price controls, on par with those found under the Soviets. None other than Hermann Goehring told them “I tried and it failed. Nor can any country do it all the way either. I tried that too and it failed. You are no better planners than we.”

And on and on the list goes. Considering the incredible misery that economic regulation by government has brought about, including the deaths of many millions in Europe, Asia and Africa in the 20th century, you would think we would have learned our lesson by now. But we seem, somehow, to be blithely convinced that we can do it better than those other bums. Never mind that we ended up with brown outs and black outs in California because of price controls on electricity, that we had gasoline shortages in the 70’s because a “conservative” President instituted draconian price fixing on oil. Just ignore the entire black market that existed throughout the country to deal with the price controls and rationing of WWII. Forget about the fact that the Southern slave owners were huge proponents of socialist economics (bet you didn’t know that). It doesn’t matter that Canadians now wait longer to get worse health care than they did before they gave themselves 100% socialized medicine.

Oh, wait, history really does show that government regulation of economic activity fails miserably every time? Oooops. Ignore all that evidence. This time we’ll do it right. And, even if we don’t, you’ll be so busy trying to find some staple that you absolutely have to have that you will not pay attention to the horrible situation government economics have put you in. The USSR banked on that. It worked well for them too.

H/T: Don Lloyd of Catallarchy

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball

A Three Party System ?

James Joyner at Outside The Beltway points to this post by Scott Elliott where he predicts the emergence of the Libertarian Party as a true third party within twenty years:

Here’s the reason why: Many Americans are libertarian at heart – they just don’t recognize it…yet. These folks believe in less restrictions on behaviors (a liberal or Democratic view) and less involvement by the government in economic issues (a conservative or Republican view). Right now, many closet Libertarians are counted among the two major political parties. As Democrats continue to espouse increasingly liberal economic policies – such as universal healthcare – it is becoming more and more difficult for libertarians in their ranks to remain. Likewise, philosophical libertarians in the GOP are getting increasingly uncomfortable with the growing influence of the values-based politics – such as pro-life policies and the Defense of Marriage Act – in their party. These forces in both major parties that run contrary to their more libertarian brethren are showing no signs of backing off. As a result, I predict a slow steady bleed of philosophical libertarians from both the Democrats and Republicans. This migration will produce, sometime in the next two or three decades, a political system with three major partisan players.

Elliott is right that there is a subset of the American electorate that is, in some sense, libertarian at heart. It doesn’t necessarily follow, however, that this means success for the Libertarian Party, for several reasons.

First, the structure of the political system, especially at the national level, is biased heavily in favor of a two party system and the Democratic and Republican parties exist, in some sense, to preserve that system. Just as the Democrats co-opted the ideas of the Socialist Party in the early part of the 20th Century when its popularity was on the rise, one can expect to see one of the two major parties adopting a more libertarian-oriented platform if doing so would guarantee them votes. Since both of the major parties have far more resources at their disposal than the Libertarian Party can ever hope to have, this means that any insurgent libertarian movement in the near future would translate into a more libertarian tone from one of the two major parties rather than the emergence of a third party.

The second reason I think this is unlikely to happen is because the Libertarian Party is simply just too weird to succeed. They are, by and large, out of the mainstream when it comes to issues such as the War on Terror and have been dominated in the past by ideologues rather than the professional politicians that are needed to actually win elections. Absent a mass defection from one of the two major parties to the LP, an event I find unlikely to occur, it seems unlikely that the LP will ever be able to acquire the resources and talent that it takes to win elections at the national level.

Elliott is correct that there are forces that are causing the old coalitions that make up the Republican and Democratic parties to drift apart. Rather than the emergence of a new party, however, the more likely result of this divergence is the same kind of realignment we’ve seen at other times in American history.

Thoughts on Technology and Liberty

I was chatting with Robert about technology. As I mentioned on my own blog, I got a couple of cool geek toys for Christmas.

One is kind of passive, but awesome for audio/video geekery; a DVD recorder. Not only does it play DVD’s (and music and picture CD’s) very well, but it records just about any sort of DVD you might want, including DVD+/-R, DVD+/-RW and DVD+R DL. And it does it from my satellite receiver, TiVo, iLink from our DV video camera and an extra input on the front to allow adding just about any other device you might want to add. The front input includes S-Video, so I could probably hook up my laptop and record from there if I wanted to. Of course, this doesn’t really have a lot to do with liberty, except that it certainly makes things easier for accumulating entertainment without being quite so beholden to media monopolies. Of course, since it’s a Sony DVD recorder, they prevent you from recording movies with “copy protection”, even though you should be able to under fair use. Not a really big deal to me, but it is typical of the media industry that they want to prevent you from reasonable and legal activities because you might do something illegal.

The other geek toy I got, though, is what had Robert and I talking and got us onto the topic of technology and liberty. I got a Palm Treo 650 for Christmas from my wife. Now, for a computer tech geek, this is one of the ultimate in geek toys, in my opinion. Especially if you are into continous communication, network and data access. Aside from the normal, and very cool, PDA functions you can get in a Palm, the Treo is also a cell phone compatible with GSM/GPRS/EDGE cell networks (i.e. 2.5G and 3G cell networks). With a data connect plan from your cell provider, you can access the internet at somewhere around high end modem speeds. Then, with the addition of GoodLink, VersaMail or XpressMail (depending on your situation), you can get access to your personal and corporate email. On top of that, I discovered KMaps, a completely free open source geo-mapping tool for PDA’s using Google Maps. And much, much more, including instant messaging, calendard, universal address book capabilities, bluetooth connectivity, MP3 player ……. okay, I guess that gets the point across.

Anyhow, the driving force in technology is really to accomplish a vision of access to any data that you need, at any time, from any where. We humans have been working towards that goal since the first set of grunts used for communication between our ancestors a million years ago. Once we have the data, we can turn it into knowledge. And that is what has allowed us to reach the point we are at today, on the verge of leaving our planet with enough humans to assure the survival of the race even if our planet were to die. Not that we will accomplish that in the next year, or even the next decade, but it isn’t that far off. The point of data and knowledge is survival, of course. But the survival we are talking about has changed significantly. For tens of thousands of years it was survival of the individual, the family, the local group. About 200 years ago that began to change dramatically. To the point where, today, the typical individual in an industrial nation doesn’t need to be concerned with individual survival, as a general rule. We have reached the point today where the focus of our data and knowledge is a whole different level of survival. And our drive for access to data has led us to the point where we are getting very close to the realization of any data, any time, any where. My Treo is one of those major steps towards it, as is the Internet, worldwide cell networks that carry data and so forth.

The question is, from a perspective of individual liberty, is this good, or bad? There are a lot of truly negative things, things that governments, unscrupulous individuals, monopolistic companies, etc. can take advantage of and gain much more control over individuals. Databases that allow querying of information about individuals. Cell phones can be tracked within the cell network. Spy satellites can take pictures of individual humans. And on and on the list goes. It seems that every new technology enables new ways to control and monitor us.

And yet, if it weren’t for these technologies and the knowledge they give us access to, we as humans would be mired in the life of a peasant in the middle ages. As, indeed, many humans on this planet still are. Without the printing press we could not have spread knowledge far and wide so that the Anglo-Saxon traditions of individual freedom, constitutionally limited government and rule of law was considered the norm in much of the world today. Liberal ideas about the value of individuals and the role of the market would not have been possible. The American Revolution was almost completely enabled by technology that provided easy access to knowledge. Indeed, the printing press was a two edged sword, giving government bureaucracies enormously more data, easily accessible, for the constable and the tax collector to use. Two hundred years later the Czech’s used fax machines to communicate rapidly and securely and create the Velvet Revolution that led to the downfall of communism in Czechoslovakia. And today the Internet enables the rapid spread of information that every government would much prefer is not even spread slowly.

The truth is, technology is, itself, neutral. The question is what we humans will do with the power the technology confers upon us. We are quick to see the negatives, the NSA eavesdropping on conversations, police forces maintaining databases on all citizens, networked camera systems tracking people’s movements, and so much more. But what we miss is that this technology empowers the sovereign individual. Loosely coupled networks of humans are inherently becoming uncontrollable. We have seen it time and again, in the Soviet Union, China, our own country, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and many other places. We have seen the failure of first IBM and now Microsoft to stop the rise of loosely coupled developer and user networks bringing better, more usable, freer technologies to the table. The truth is that ignorance is the weapon of the oppressor and knowledge is the weapon of the free individual.

I wouldn’t be scared of things like always on connections to the network. The police can never keep up with all of us. I wouldn’t be scared of things like massive databases available to government bureaucracies. Those bureaucracies cannot make decisions as fast as the same number of peer to peer networked individuals can. I don’t worry that Microsoft and Chevron and GM will forever dominate what choices we have as consumers. Open Source methods are already proving to innovate faster and more effectively, while proving to be more resilient than the big guys ever imagined. Open Source is so effective that the methods, perhaps not called that, are popping up all over the place. Like blogs, for example. And look how fast a blog swarm happens, and how effective it can be (e.g. Rathergate). Decentralization, loose coupling of networks (whether computers, people, or businesses), and rapid dissemination of knowledge are the tools that the oppressors fear. They try to make them work for them, but we see, time and again, where that fails and we “little folk” win out.

Don’t fear technology and what it brings. Embrace it, use it, enjoy it.

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball
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