Category Archives: Role of Government

Wikipedia blackout.

With a Web-wide protest on Wednesday that includes a 24-hour shutdown of the English-language Wikipedia, the legislative battle over two Internet piracy bills has reached an extraordinary moment — a political coming of age for a relatively young and disorganized industry that has largely steered clear of lobbying and other political games in Washington.

The bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate, are backed by major media companies and are mostly intended to curtail the illegal downloading and streaming of TV shows and movies online. But the tech industry fears that, among other things, they will give media companies too much power to shut down sites that they say are abusing copyrights.

The legislation has jolted technology leaders, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, who are not accustomed to having their free-wheeling online world come under attack.

One response is Wednesday’s protest, which will direct anyone visiting Google and many other Web sites to pages detailing the tech industry’s opposition to the bills. Wikipedia, run by a nonprofit organization, is going further than most sites by actually taking material offline — no doubt causing panic among countless students who have a paper due.

Source.

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Filed under Role of Government, Technology

Do Tell

I love the cynicism… and the truth. George Will on the belief that we need to be told everything:

You step onto an airport’s moving walkway, a flat metal conveyor belt that conveys travelers down an airport concourse, sparing them the indignity of burning a few calories by walking a bit. And soon a recorded voice says: “The moving sidewalk is coming to an end. Please look down.”

Well, yes. Pretty much everything does come to an end, doesn’t it? Besides, we can actually see what we already knew — the moving walkway does not go on forever. So, is that announcement about it ending really necessary? Whatever happened to the rule, “Do not speak unless you can improve the silence”?

Passing through a U.S. airport is an immersion in a merciless river of words. They are intended to be helpful, but clearly they flow from an assumption that increasingly animates our government in its transactions with us. The assumption is that we are all infants or imbeciles in need of constant, kindly supervision and nudging, lest we allow ourselves to be flung off a moving walkway and over the edge of the world.

In Denver, underground trains take passengers to and from the ticketing area and departure concourses. As a train arrives, an announcement slightly louder than the noise of the arriving train says: “A train is arriving.” Do tell.

On the topic of mindless banter, George Carlin comes to mind.

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Filed under Philosophy, Role of Government

The Legal Industry As a Monopoly

Clifford Winston writes:

For decades the legal industry has operated as a monopoly, which has been made possible by its self-imposed rules and state licensing restrictions — namely, the requirements that lawyers must graduate from an American Bar Association-accredited law school and pass a state bar examination. The industry claims these requirements are essential quality-control measures because consumers do not have sufficient information to judge in advance whether a lawyer is competent and honest. In reality, though, occupational licensure has been costly and ineffective; it misleads consumers about the quality of licensed lawyers and the potential for non-lawyers to provide able assistance.

Is this necessary? Most licensing restrictions are self-imposed to protect those already in the industry. A case could be made for electricians as faulty electrical wiring can lead to fires, but do we need licensing for barbers and stylists, or for taxi drivers? What about lawyers?

What if the barriers to entry were simply done away with?
Legal costs would be reduced because non-lawyers, who have not had to make a costly investment in a three-year legal education, would compete with lawyers, who in many states are the only options for basic services like drafting wills. Because they will have incurred much lower costs to enter the field — like taking an online course or attending a vocational school — and can operate as solo practitioners with minimal overhead, these non-lawyers would force prices to fall. The poor would benefit from the lower prices for non-criminal matters, and poor litigants, who might be unrepresented in criminal matters like hearings because they could not afford a lawyer and because of dwindling state legal aid, would be better off.
At the same time, if corporations — and not just law firms, now structured as partnerships — could provide legal representation, their technological sophistication and economies of scale could offer much more affordable services than established law firms do. These firms, in turn, would have to reduce prices to compete.
Of course, lower legal prices would cause new law school graduates to be paid less, but more jobs would be available for such graduates because the demand for lawyers would increase. And new graduates would begin their careers with less law-school debt, because alternative providers of legal education would force law schools to reduce tuition.

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Filed under Law, Role of Government

Martin Luther King, Jr. Endorses Obama

President Obama speaking at the MLK Memorial dedication this morning in DC. (Full text here.)

And so at this moment, when our politics appear so sharply polarized, and faith in our institutions so greatly diminished, we need more than ever to take heed of Dr. King’s teachings. He calls on us to stand in the other person’s shoes; to see through their eyes; to understand their pain. He tells us that we have a duty to fight against poverty, even if we are well off; to care about the child in the decrepit school even if our own children are doing fine; to show compassion toward the immigrant family, with the knowledge that most of us are only a few generations removed from similar hardships. (Applause.)

To say that we are bound together as one people, and must constantly strive to see ourselves in one another, is not to argue for a false unity that papers over our differences and ratifies an unjust status quo. As was true 50 years ago, as has been true throughout human history, those with power and privilege will often decry any call for change as “divisive.” They’ll say any challenge to the existing arrangements are unwise and destabilizing. Dr. King understood that peace without justice was no peace at all; that aligning our reality with our ideals often requires the speaking of uncomfortable truths and the creative tension of non-violent protest.

But he also understood that to bring about true and lasting change, there must be the possibility of reconciliation; that any social movement has to channel this tension through the spirit of love and mutuality.

If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company’s union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain. He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other’s love for this country — (applause) — with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another. He would call on us to assume the best in each other rather than the worst, and challenge one another in ways that ultimately heal rather than wound.

The Washington Post reported that the speech “at times seemed to link King’s own struggles for civil rights with Obama’s political struggles during the economic downturn.” Is using the speech for these purposes is appropriate or not? Does it cheapen the event, or would King want Obama to use the event as an opportunity for social change? I tend to side with the former. Let the speech just be a commemoration of the great man to whom it is dedicated, and don’t cheapen it by making it more political, at least in such specific terms, i.e. “I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there,” or, “Government is not distant object, but rather an expression of our common commitments to one another.”

Additionally, what would King have thought of the inverted American flags or protesters singing “F*ck the USA”? (H/t to Drudge).

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Filed under Domestic Politics, Election 2012, Role of Government

Who Besides Solyndra Got Loan Guarantees?

Megan McArdle explains, with many helpful infographics.

She also explains why the program’s success rate is misleading. Most of the firms receiving the money don’t need the help. They’d succeed with our without it. Those that most need the help – e.g. Solyndra – may fail, but the failure rate is hidden by the “success” of the other loans.

That is, I hope that the infographic will be broadly useful to people who support the program: I figure everyone should be interested to know where the money went.  (And here’s a spreadsheet for those who want to trundle through the data themselves). But I have highlighted what jumped out at me: most of the money has gone to enormous companies that should have no trouble accessing capital.  Established utilities, large multinational auto manufacturers, a global warehouse owner.  The bulk of these funds are not going to rectify some gap in the capital markets.  They’re straight subsidies to huge corporations.  Even some of the smaller firms/deals are owned by large corporations like Total SA.
Giving large, established companies extra-cheap loans to build power plants, run transmission lines, and fix up the roofs of their warehouses is, in the immortal words of P.J. O’Rourke, like paying a Dairy Queen owner to keep his ice cream freezers on.

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Filed under Domestic Politics, Economy, Energy, Role of Government

“You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Foie!”

LOS ANGELES — A line up of people streamed into an unmarked, dimly lighted storefront on Fairfax Avenue as night fell Friday, on a mash-up Los Angeles block catering to religious Jews and hungry hipsters. Before long, a smattering of protesters arrived.

Behind the glass doors, an act of culinary defiance was taking place.

In eight months, the sale of foie gras will be banned in California. But for seven hours on Friday night, at a restaurant appropriately known as Animal, three chefs presented an eight-course meal that was nothing short of a glorification of this soon-to-be outlawed delicacy. There was smoked foie gras, roasted foie gras, steamed foie gras and liquefied foie gras, injected into agnolotti. It was served with veal tongue, yogurt, prosciutto, mustard ice cream and truffles. There was even a foie gras dessert: a brownie sundae with foie gras Chantilly.

That’s one heck of a menu. It’s also a sign of PETA’s influence and the mindset of micromanaging legislator. John L. Burton jokes that he’ll sell Lipitor outside, unaware that fat is not what causes heart disease according to the latest scientific studies. He also makes a comparison to the start of prohibition – “Everyone was giving away the booze. Whatever makes them happy.” Mr. Burton seems unaware that prohibition was a failure, as was the foie gras ban in Chicago in 2006, which lasted barely two years. If this ban succeeds, health problems will persist, jobs will be lost, and freedom will be diminished, all because PETA believes the animals are mistreated. Regardless, the PETA lobby wins and Mr. Burton feels especially proud. That is ultimately what matters.

Will foie gras producers be eligible for state aid for jobs destroyed?

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Filed under Economy, Food & Wine, Health & Nutrition, Role of Government

George Will on the Social Contract

Hot off the Washington Post’s press. I’m tempted to quote it in its entirety because George Will is the best defender of the case for limited government: it frees individuals by maximizing their liberty, and respects individuals by honoring their personal decisions.

Here Will puts his pen against a rant by Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren that recently went viral on the internet. He quotes her at length.

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. . . . You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

According to Will,

Warren’s statement is a footnote to modern liberalism’s more comprehensive disparagement of individualism and the reality of individual autonomy. A particular liberalism, partly incubated at Harvard, intimates the impossibility, for most people, of self-government — of the ability to govern one’s self. This liberalism postulates that, in the modern social context, only a special few people can literally make up their own minds.

An invigorating read for those of us who believe in maximum freedom.

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Filed under Domestic Politics, Philosophy, Role of Government