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Free Thinkers Anonymous

Think with an open mind, question everything

Is net neutrality possible?

A couple of days ago, big name companies like Google and Facebook protested the removal of so-called net neutrality “privacy” regulations. How interesting that the companies that have benefited over their competitors from such regulations would come out protesting against removing them (https://www.forbes.com/sites/howardhomonoff/2016/10/31/fcc-ad-privacy-ups-facebook-google-and-downs-everyone-else/#6eb8e31f54ae). Then again, that is exactly what so-called “net neutrality” beckons. The argument of net neutrality basically involves the idea of the government regulating the Internet in order to, theoretically, make all information be sent at the same speed regardless of source, destination, and content with very limited exceptions for traffic that’s illegal, malicious, or unwanted. Supporters of such a move defend NN as necessary in order to “look out for the little guy” and to keep ISPs from “discriminating” according to the service provided. The concept sounds great on paper, but ultimately what defeats it is when such a concept has to be worked out.

A recent development from the FCC involves a plan to roll back the net neutrality policies that were implemented by the regulatory body during the Obama administration (http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/26/technology/fcc-net-neutrality/). For all the talk of such policies being needed for “fairness” (which of course is purposefully vague, as with any justification for regulatory schemes…and despite the fact that so-called privacy protections already exist for the Internet – https://fee.org/articles/net-neutrality-is-about-government-control-of-the-internet/), such policies run the risk of stifling growth and innovation (just as they did for the phone industry before it was deregulated, and other public utilities)….as well as punishing those companies that dare to expand internet access to others that bureaucrats don’t “approve” of (because I guess it is better for those not as well off to have no access to Internet connectivity rather than some, right?) (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffreydorfman/2014/11/13/net-neutrality-is-a-bad-idea-supported-by-poor-analogies/; http://reason.com/archives/2014/11/12/net-neutrality-is-a-lousy-idea; http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshsteimle/2014/05/14/am-i-the-only-techie-against-net-neutrality/; http://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2014/05/21/net_neutrality_is_a_bad_idea_thats_run_its_course_101068.html; http://www.cato.org/blog/net-neutrality-or-destroying-internet-innovation-investment; http://www.internetfreedomcoalition.com/?p=4342; https://www.wired.com/2015/05/backlash-facebooks-free-internet-service-grows/).

They also serve nothing less than giving large ISPs with political clout and influence, like Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, Google, and Facebook etc. more influence in rent-seeking (again why no one should be surprised why such companies are coming out against their removal), crowding out other forms of innovation and investment that could serve to potentially threaten the monoliths in the industry.  By consequence, this will in effect limit the choices and possibilities that potential customers can have (in effect, harming the “little guy” that NN proponents claim to want to help).

It is a sad truth that as regulatory creep has grown, companies are increasingly finding it profitable to lobby public officials, which of course is an advantage to larger corporations as they have the resources to do so over their smaller competitors (https://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2016/07/21/a-very-depressing-chart-on-creeping-cronyism-in-the-american-economy/). This raises a serious question as to how policy should work going forward. In the drive for “fairness”, some forces will end up getting more perks over others, in effect picking winners and losers. It would be wonderful if a world of neutral application of a private service existed, but that isn’t how the real world works. When dealing with scare resources and labor, how such goods and services get distributed should be connected to how effectively they can be harnessed. Such decisions are better left to those who actually operate in such a field, not public bureaucrats and political convenience. Policy should reflect that reality. The internet has developed quite fine without the need for central-planning. No reason to change that now.

Was President Trump right to walk away from the Paris climate agreement?

As expected, President Trump’s decision to walk away from the Paris climate agreement has triggered the typical responses from some that doing this will lead to the “destruction of the planet” and isolate the United States from future endeavors. However, such a response glosses over the fact that the deal was largely toothless. The Paris climate agreement was ultimately non-binding, and therefore had no real mechanism by which to hold countries to account for emissions. Developed nations like the United States were to basically subsidize others through almost $100 billion yearly taxpayer handouts…which were pitched as a “climate fund” (exactly what that would entail is left to bureaucrats…how transparent, eh?), while other nations like China and India aren’t given much in the same manner of expectation until around 2030. Add largely arbitrary temperature goals, and the agreement would really have been negligible in combating alleged climatic issues, while hamstringing our economy and sovereignty to the whims of extranational officials. As the agreement was never ratified by the Senate, it doesn’t have the level of enforcement of a treaty as per the Constitution (Article II). Therefore, while President Trump could have allowed the Senate to have a crack at the agreement, he was well within his right to back out of it as an executive agreement only has relevance so long as the office holder agrees with it. Trump could have made the process far quicker and straightforward by backing out of the equally spurious UNFCCC, but perhaps that was a step too far given the political environment (though it would have continued the economic boon this move has potentially made…if only he could see further economic benefits by liberalizing reform in other areas like trade and immigration).

What a lot of the fallout here has shown is that as much as many environmentalists claim to care about the health of the planet, they are quite fine to sign onto mediocre plans which will do little demonstrable improvement in circumstances…showcasing that such an agreement is more about virtue signaling than actual results. Trump’s decision doesn’t mean that the planet is doomed, if such a belief of anthropogenic global warming is even valid in the first place (still a debate despite the political diatribes…see my post on the actual topic to see why). It also is largely hypocritical on the part of European leaders to criticize the United States for not respecting the Paris agreement (despite the fact that a lot of them actually got to vote on whether to accept it or not, when we didn’t) when they continue to ignore their responsibilities under NATO as well as their own EU treaties.

Perhaps a better agreement might come to pass, but that hardly leaves the world in a poor position to combat alleged climate issues. After all, one might buy into the whole AGW crisis, and yet still feel that centralized, one-size-fits-all agreements are not the solution. What has aided humanity in combating economic and global issues in significant ways has been innovation and growth. By allowing our economies to grow and flourish as much as they can, the possibility of a cleaner and more prosperous world will be ever closer to us. That won’t come by crushing it under meaningless regulations like those of the Paris climate agreement, which simply make economic endeavors more expensive with little to show for it. Here is to seeing what comes next.

Extra:

http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/7-reasons-trump-right-scrap-paris-climate-deal

http://thefederalist.com/2017/04/18/president-trump-run-not-walk-away-paris-climate-treaty/

http://theweek.com/articles/702717/dont-cry-paris-agreement

http://reason.com/blog/2017/06/01/can-trump-unilaterally-withdraw-from-int

https://fee.org/articles/the-g-7s-outrageous-hypocrisy/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fast-growth-can-solve-climate-change/

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/a-climate-roadmap-for-president-trump/article/2628628

Those against this move by President Trump use the fact that big businesses like Exxon, Shell, and Goldman Sachs are against it (funny that they should mention that, since they claim not to like such companies…guess that flips back and forth depending on the subject). Then again, such a fact shouldn’t be surprising. Big businesses are better able to handle the emission “targets” of the Paris agreement…as well as lobbying on how the standards would be “worked out”, and therefore would be in a better financial…and political…position against their smaller competitors. For all the hoopla of Elon Musk leaving administration groups as a result of the agreement exit, no tears should be shed. Like many green energy businesses, he gets heavy subsidies from the government. A true crony  – http://www.nationalreview.com/article/419720/dont-believe-elon-musk-renewables-get-much-more-federal-subsidies-fossil-fuels-sean; http://dailysignal.com/2016/11/13/its-time-to-stop-spending-taxpayer-dollars-on-elon-musk-and-cronyism/

War on Drugs

The fallout from the so-called “opioid crisis” continues to play out across the country. Different jurisdictions have pursued harsh policy…heightened criminal charges, drug bans, and mandatory minimum sentences are usually the name of the game. Such action, however, only further ignores the unintended consequences of public policy that has led Florida, and other states in the union, down this path. Such a path involves an activity that has been the arm of American policy since President Richard Nixon declared it back in 1971…the War on Drugs. Declaring such substances “public enemy #1”, Nixon set in motion a program that would involve billions of dollars spent, thousands of lives incarcerated or killed, and many pounds of illegal drugs seized. Has the initiative worked to contain such a supposed villain? No.

While the heavy drug policing wouldn’t take place for decades, the origins of drug prohibition began in the early years of the 20th century alongside the temperance movement. Opiates, cocaine, and heroin were among the first drugs to be made illegal, followed by alcohol. When alcohol prohibition was eventually rescinded in 1933, the proponents of drug regulation turned to marijuana as a substitute. Despite the lack of scientific research backing up supposed worries about the danger of cannabis, prohibitionists led by Bureau of Narcotics commissioner Harry Anslinger succeeded in heavily regulating…and then effectively banning….the use and possession of marijuana. “Reefer Madness”, based off of the film which depicted a marijuana-induced man who murders individuals in his stupor, took hold over decades…with states and local communities joining the feds in building a prohibitionist public structure which penalized heavily those who sold or possessed the plant. Thanks to such a structure, not only have many gone to prison over such drug use…even if they weren’t a harm to anyone else…but it has also been difficult for scientists and others to understand marijuana more thoroughly. A substance understood legally to be dangerous, as well as studies having to focus on the harmful results of it’s use, effectively limited what could be done research-wise (http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-04/why-its-so-hard-scientists-study-pot). This has led to places overseas, like Israel, being were most of the innovation understanding marijuana use has taken place (https://www.cashinbis.com/israel-cannabis-culture-focused-innovation/). Not only has this kept the potential of aid to patients and such from growing, but also has held down knowledge into the harm that addicts and victims get from over-consumption of marijuana.

Despite such roadblocks, some concepts have been understood. Marijuana now is increasingly shown to not be as dangerous as prohibitionists have traditionally claimed, with therapeutic applications being shown to be possible, as well as exaggeration in whether legalization would have a deleterious effect on drug use and whether it is harmful for drivers to use (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3202504/; http://www.drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/10-facts-about-marijuana; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/06/21/colorado-survey-shows-what-marijuana-legalization-will-do-to-your-kids/; http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2016/09/22/medical-marijuana-seems-to-reduce-deaths-from-pharmaceuticals; http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/features/medical-marijuana-uses; http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2016/03/17/new-study-suggests-marijuanas-impact-on-crash-risk-has-been-greatly-exaggerated/#3b8118fa1906; http://reason.com/blog/2016/05/10/aaa-finds-no-basis-for-equating-thc-leve; http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/nti/pdf/812117-Drug_and_Alcohol_Crash_Risk.pdf).

Draconian drug policy has also taken hold in other fields, like the aforementioned opioid issue. When looking at many new heroin and synthetic drug users, it is found that such users switched over from prescription opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. Such drugs have been made more expensive and harder to get thanks to government regulations that have limited accessibility. Heroin, though illegal, became a more attractive choice due to it being cheaper and easier to find (black markets being what they are)[http://www.lynnwebstermd.com/dea-inflicts-harm-on-chronic-pain-patients/; http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1874575%5D. Many such deaths are also not as a result of solely heroin, but rather mixing it with other drugs..including fentanyl.  It isn’t unheard of for illegal drugs to be more potent, which compounds the risk of ingesting such products in the first place. Increased crime also takes hold, with transactions being forced to solve disputes outside of the legal sphere. This has led to the rise of organized crime syndicates that take advantage of the drug trade, such as the Mexican drug cartels. Such a disastrous outcome also occurred during alcohol prohibition, and notably all of that lessened and disappeared after it was repealed (http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa157.pdf; http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03612759.1976.9945281; http://www.worldcat.org/title/economic-results-of-prohibition/oclc/2785674; https://archive.org/details/risefallofprohib00town; http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001141414; http://www.enotes.com/topics/report-enforcement-prohibition-laws-united-states; http://time.com/3665643/deadly-drinking/). Therefore, such individuals are on their own with respect to educating themselves on the substance/s, or being likely to come forward for help….as well as being increasingly in harm’s way as a result of a more prohibitionist policy.

Given such developments, it is clear that the War on Drugs has been a failure at curtailing addiction issues and drug violence. Despite all the conventional beliefs regarding the use of such drugs, they indeed can be of use in therapeutic measures. Even if not, it doesn’t necessarily follow that banning them is the solution. A market for such drugs does exist, and it will continue to exist whether illegal or not. The question is whether we would want such a thing out in the open where issues of addiction and use aren’t stigmatized, and therefore more likely to be met and faced with honest assessment. Prohibition has worked against that drive. Despite the conventional belief that such a war hasn’t worked as a result of being underfunded, research shows such a postulation to not be the case (http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/9/e003077.short?g=w_open_current_tab). Therefore, isn’t it time for a different approach, one that focuses on freedom and medical knowledge? We’ll see.

Extra:

Contrast prohibitionist policy here and aboard with a nation like Portugal, which earlier last decade decriminalized all drugs (though not a perfect case, as the law still allows for the arrest of drug dealers, fines and other punishments can still be enacted on users even if it isn’t common, and heavy subsidization of state-run facilities involved in medical treatment takes place). Since such enactment, illegal drug use by teenagers have declined, maladies like AIDS infection have lowered, and deaths as a result of heroin and similar drugs have been cut significantly. Still, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction has doubled, no indication is clear as to whether such issues are being resolved. After all, lowering of pathologies doesn’t necessarily deal with all the consequences that can arise from drug abuse. The level of drug usage rates post-decriminalization have remained the same or slightly lowered than those of other EU states…a refutation of those who claimed the rate would increase disastrously, but also raises questions as to the possible shortcomings of the public program in dealing with such rates. Still, a decent look at what a more decriminalized, therapeutic orientated policy bend might look like – https://news.vice.com/article/ungass-portugal-what-happened-after-decriminalization-drugs-weed-to-heroin; https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/greenwald_whitepaper.pdf

In another demonstration of public officials crafting policy that continues to propagate the situation intended to be ceased…Nevada now faces a “state of emergency”. Why? Like other states that have legalized marijuana, the Silver State institutionalized limitations on it’s growth and possession, providing only some licenses for “approved” growers (aka monopoly)…which ended with supplies running out within a few days (and a black market still very much alive). How surprising. Here is an idea…why not just let those who want to grow and distribute marijuana have more say in how they go about that? I’m sure they’ll have a better chance of understanding the supply and demand question than bureaucrats do, if this case is any indicator – http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/nevada-declares-state-emergency-after-legal-weed-supplies-run-out-just-one-week-1629814

It might be difficult for some to contemplate this, but before the expansive drug regulatory road of the last century or so, drugs such as cocaine and heroin were more widely used for therapeutic reasons. In fact, heroin was marketed and used for treatment of pain, coughing, asthma, pneumonia, and other issues (http://wings.buffalo.edu/aru/preprohibition.htm; http://www.oddee.com/item_97276.aspx). Even some research, which like marijuana can be a mess of attaining, showcases medical positives with measured use of them. Heroin has been shown to indeed be effective at reducing pain levels, being more on point than even morphine (http://www.mhra.gov.uk/home/groups/par/documents/websiteresources/con033594.pdf). Cocaine can be used to treat lacerations, as well being useful in some measures of surgery (http://www.medicinenet.com/cocaine_hydrochloride-topical/article.htm; http://www.entnet.org/content/medical-use-cocaine). Level management of such drugs can possibly be useful in handling addiction as well (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6479016).

When looking at the lives that have been needlessly lost due to the War on Drugs, there are unfortunately many. The story of Peter McWilliams’s fight, and how the state destroyed his life by denying him the ability to take care of himself due to the drug he was using, is perhaps one of the more insidious ones. http://www.november.org/thewall/cases/mcwilliams-p/mcwilliams-p.html

Are words definitively proof of guilt in a criminal case? What to make of mistrials? – The Michelle Carter/Bill Cosby/Dippolito cases

Every now and then, there is a case that arrives which provides a truly challenging prospect to justice. This is one of them. Michelle Carter, the at-the-time 17 year old girlfriend to deceased Conrad Roy III, was convicted a few weeks ago of involuntary manslaughter for apparently texting her boyfriend repeatedly before his suicide to go through with it. She now faces a possible 20 year sentence in prison (http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/16/us/michelle-carter-texting-case/index.html). Many have called for the head of this woman, but what are the ramifications of this case? As the conviction rested heavily on the words, and not necessarily the agency of the individuals involved, there is reason to be concerned that the precedent of this case could be a threat to our liberties, namely our freedom of speech.

First of all, for all that was made regarding Ms. Carter’s apparent encouragement of Mr. Roy’s suicide, there is no law in Massachusetts that criminalizes such an activity. Also, contrary to the image portrayed during the trial that Carter’s words were the sole cause of her boyfriend’s death, it was demonstrated that Roy indeed had agency in the event…as he was deciding to not go through with the suicide at first before eventually doing so. Therefore, exactly where Carter’s insinuations through texts end and where Roy’s agency began is hard to truthfully pin-point. After all, words by themselves are simply abstractions, and there is no evidence that Carter had actively worked out a plan to kill her boyfriend or was enacting force on him (she wasn’t there with Roy when he killed himself). Unless we are able to read minds in all this, we could just as easily be looking at a stubborn, vindictive teenager (apparently she struggled with depression episodes like her boyfriend, and also had eating disorders) or a conniving one. Where are we to draw the line? It is also interesting that the prosecution didn’t aim for conspiracy charges or an accessory before the fact, which are probably closer to the circumstances involved than what was argued. Unlike where it can be clearly demonstrated that a mob boss ordered a hit, a cult leader encouraged his disciples to kill, or someone clearly incited violence through deeds…that isn’t so clear cut here. Carter wasn’t at the scene of the tragedy, so whether she knew what was going on…or was reacting in an exasperated way to a boyfriend that has had depressive episodes before (I’m not saying that such a thing is okay, just that people aren’t as upstanding at times as we would like them to be…but being insensitive isn’t something we throw people in prison for…if that were the case, they would fill up rather quickly) is up for debate.

Therefore, a messy verdict such as this should be thrown out. A real threat from something like this being left intact is that it will be used as precedent to go after those who provide “questionable” or insensitive texts or speech in painful situations. Is that really a road we are willing to go down, and what unintended consequences will arise from it? Best to disengage.

Extra:

In other cases this week, Dalia Dippolito was found guilty of allegedly hiring someone to kill her husband. This is after two times where the case had either a conviction thrown out or ended in a mistrial. Such a circumstance raises the topic of such legal snafus concerning mistrials and how they are responded to, and whether it violates the ban on defendants suffering double jeopardy. At what point does a prosecution being given multiple times to try someone with the same charges undercut justice? Bill Cosby also had his first case end in a mistrial this week, and the prosecution is looking to run right into the quagmire again. Perhaps it is time to provide a limit to such standards. Indeed putting together a case is a tough gambit, but that makes it even more important to hold the state to a high level when conducting their jobs on such matters. http://wsvn.com/news/local/jury-finds-dalia-dippolito-guilty-of-trying-to-have-husband-murdered/; http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/bill-cosby-scandal/hung-jury-bill-cosby-sexual-assault-trial-ends-mistrial-n772106

The French Revolution

Today marks 228 years since the storming of the Bastille, the medieval prison in Paris, which has become a symbol of the French Revolution. While a conflict that found inspiration from the American Revolution that had occurred some 14 years beforehand, it ultimately led to a far different conclusion…one that provides a historical reminder of how revolutions are far from an assured positive outcome. The monarchy and aristocracy were ultimately overthrown after many years of political abuse, but the revolt led to the tyranny of the Jacobins under the absolute morality of Maximilian Robespierre, which presided over the hellish Reign of Terror that led to the deaths of 18,000 people, including royals, aristocrats, moderates, and eventually Robespierre himself. The vacuum of power left behind by the Terror, as well as the perpetual war that revolutionaries began in order to impose their brand upon the rest of Europe, ultimately gave rise to a whole new monarchy under Napoleon Bonaparte within a few short years (crowned as Napoleon I)…who would go on to expand his influence throughout most of the continent until his defeat at Waterloo in 1815. France continued to go through various governments until well into the 20th century (with another Napoleon taking power for a time in the interim), now within it’s fifth republican state.
 
Perhaps the best representation of the morass of the French Revolution, and what sets it apart from ours can be found in the document that represents it…the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. While many of it’s verses echo the document that inspired it (the Declaration of Independence), it also placed all sovereignty and will within the power of the state (“The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation”)….a far different and dissonant note from what the Founding Fathers here saw for governance, believing instead that sovereignty should rest with the people (“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”). It would prove to be a fatal flaw, as by putting one’s full faith in the state (or any form of class or organization) leaves accountability potentially with individuals that can serve to abuse that faith for their own means, which has much unfortunate expression throughout history.

The downfall of Sears

A dynamic economy offers much in the way of innovation and growth, but this doesn’t come without upheavals and changes in how business calculation works…both with consumer tastes and how venues respond to them. While some will succeed in such business, others don’t. This is the outcome of creative destruction. The graveyard is littered with those companies that failed to adapt to the changing economic climate around them, with Kodak, A&P, F.W. Woolworth, Polaroid, Sam Goody, Borders, and Blockbuster being just a few such examples. Another American icon in retailing might be joining those ranks soon. Sears, Roebuck & Co. in it’s heyday was a titan in the annals of shopping. Started by an entrepreneur who had found a way to sell watches, the company ultimately became a department store that was a mecca for many products across various genres. It is perhaps well known for being a pioneer in the mail-order catalog business, putting together a “wish book” upon which customers of all ages (especially children) could have access to products to their heart’s content. Sears was very much the Amazon of it’s day. For much of the 20th century, Sears dominated the marketplace, with brick and mortar stores across the country and a reputation of hard-earned quality both in customer satisfaction and product endurance.

However, unfortunately for Sears, nothing ever truly lasts in a dynamic economy…at least not without shrewd competitive spirit. Hampered by managerial mishaps and myopic vision, the company began to falter toward the latter end of the century. Changes in quality both in service and product began to drive customers away from stores. Little adaptation with regard to the advancement of e-commerce allowed upstarts like Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, and others to encroach upon aspects that Sears had once championed. The company has become a shell of it’s former glory, either downsizing store totals or selling brands. It is only a matter of time before the once proud vision of a railroad station agent closes it’s doors for the final time.

Such a story though shouldn’t be overtaken with grief. Indeed, there is the matter of unemployment that will befall Sears employees once the inevitable bankruptcy arrives (although most likely many of them will find work at better retailers…if they haven’t done so already). In the end however, what happened to Sears is hardly something to be blamed on anyone. As a company, over various administrations, it is largely responsible for the morass it finds itself in today. Customers have fled due to value that they weren’t finding, and that ultimately allowed others to rise to the challenge in bringing that value. That is what is important, and a demonstration how a company becoming large isn’t automatically something to fear…for such success will only continue as long as such value is continually provided in a free marketplace. In the end, we shouldn’t waste resources propping up failed endeavors like Sears. We instead should be making sure the marketplace is as open as possible for the next railroad station agent that comes up with a brilliant idea waiting to be shared.

What to make of the tragedy at the Grenfell Tower?

I try to make a habit of refraining from making judgment of tragic events until after some measure of investigation is done to look into the cause. There always seems to be a rush by some, whether activists or public officials, to try and characterize the circumstances of a tragedy (shooting, terrorist attack, natural disaster, etc.) right out the gate. In this case, such rumblings were done to project the idea that the Grenfell Tower fire occurred due to the evils of deregulation and markets, and that more regulation would have prevented it. Is such a thing the case?

On further reflection, such an assertion put forth by the rumblings doesn’t necessarily hold water. All manners of organizations outsource or contract work out to external organizations, whether government-based or not, at varying degrees. It is in such a decentralized manner at which the market works best, as competitive and experimental drives can aid in understanding how best to provide goods and services…not just in utility but also choice. In the case of the Grenfell Tower, the high-rise was set up by public officials and was controlled by the public council that ran the specific area in question. Considering the limitations that come in the public sector concerning accountability and competition, it is sadly not surprising that much failure took place in the administering of housing efficiency. Despite spending millions on a renovation project on the building, the high-rise had fire hazards. Tenants were routinely ignored despite their complaints about such management. Even with all the warning of potentially archaic and problematic fire regulations on the books, particularly those related to the Grenfell Tower, the government did not see fit to review them. However, even if regulations had been written to include sprinkler systems in the building and others (which very well might have prevented the tragedy), such a requirement might have also raised housing costs to the point where many tenants couldn’t have afforded it. Despite supposed regulations banning certain types of cladding from being used, such material still was used in the refurbishing of the building. Therefore, the idea that deregulation/austerity caused the tragedy seems spurious, or at the very least unsubstantiated.

As with many cases, general conclusions are not easy to find here. Whether publicly or privately run, housing will always face the intermittent threat of fire. What is perhaps most important is achieving a system that encourages an increased level of accountability and competitiveness in providing quality service for those involved. In this particular case, a rigid public sphere worked against that. Tenant council members and local government officials seemed slow and ineffectual in meeting the concerns of their patrons, and supposed standards were either flat out ignored…or left in place despite debatable utility. Here is hoping such things change for the better.

Is CNN legally at fault for their actions dealing with a Reddit meme user?

Moments like this really demonstrate how much political discourse has dampened of late. The entire circumstance of President Trump sharing a meme involving a CNN logo superimposed over a wrestling match individual he supposedly tackled years ago has only been the latest in a series of episodes of political/media gamesmanship between both sides that has become, frankly, quite tiring. As a result, I’ve hardly seemed fit to be involved in discussing it most days, feeling it necessary to focus on other subjects. However, it was what occurred in the aftermath of such meme sharing that perhaps provided some interest.

While Trump’s sharing of a doctored meme of a wrestling match he was involved in years ago was pathetic for different reasons, he didn’t craft it himself. He shared it from a Reddit user that had posted the content. CNN, the news organization that was the target of the meme, felt it necessary to track down this user (helped by information the user had posted to his Reddit account allegedly). The journalist affiliated with CNN then looked to pursue a story on the subject, which apparently frightened the user into eventually apologizing and deleting his Reddit account. Though the journalist stepped back from releasing the user’s personal information, he did reserve the right to do so if the situation changed (For those interested, here is the article on the subject by that journalist – http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/04/politics/kfile-reddit-user-trump-tweet/index.html). That reservation launched a fury in some circles, with many claiming that CNN had not only committed blackmail, but may have in fact violated the free speech of the user in question. Is such a thing the case?

When dealing with the subject of free speech, it can be a subject that is fraught with confusion for some. From a legal perspective, the answer would most likely be no. The First Amendment only focuses on what the government can’t do…namely limiting the ability of people to speak freely. When it comes to the press, the only subject that is typically raised is the subject of libel or slander (did a news organization knowingly publish a character-attacking story that was false?), and there doesn’t appear to be any of that in this case. All that would then be left is the subject of whether CNN committed blackmail. Such an understanding would come from looking over the state laws that are relevant to the subject….which would depend on what perspective we are looking from. If we are looking at it from CNN’s perspective, it would be Georgia law, which puts a focus on “obtaining property”. If we look at it from the journalist’s perspective, then it would be New York law, which puts a focus on coercion. As no money was exchanged in the interaction involved (as far as we know), as well as nothing of value being gained (the user could just as easily open a new account and continue as he did before, and not reveal the info he did last time…as well as there being others freely disparaging CNN over this), nothing would likely come of pursuing a case in Georgia. The NY law involving coercion might possibly level more luck, but again considering what I mentioned above regarding what the user could do, it isn’t a particularly impactful one.

Therefore, nothing of legal consequence appears to be of issue here. CNN, being a private company, has the right to do as it is. While people are free to peacefully express themselves (no matter how offensive or unsavory it is), that doesn’t absolve them of consequences as a result of that expression in the public eye. That applies to anonymous users on the internet as much as known public officials, and is the consequence of a free society. Such a thing also applies to CNN. While the news organization might be within it’s right, that doesn’t mean that such behavior isn’t fraught with ethical or moral questions. A news organization effectively holding an internet user to some measure of veiled threat (which isn’t, again, really enforceable) if he posts something they don’t like takes them out of the business of simply reporting news, and looking more like avenging advocates or speech police…hardly an act that a media company should be standing for. In the end, how CNN ends up will depend on what people ultimately consider it’s actions to be. We will see what that verdict is.

Extra:

In a follow-up to my recent Amazon post concerning government infringement on the private sector, looks like Trump might use his personal animosity for CNN against AT&T and Time Warner in their attempt to merge…yet another indication of what such “anti-trust” policies encourage. When it comes to innovation and growth, do we really want them at the mercy of the whims of politicians and those who lobby them (particularly those who have the means to do so more successfully, i.e. larger companies)? https://www.axios.com/report-trump-may-use-cnn-as-leverage-in-at-t-time-warner-merger-2454247910.html (Similar questionable outcomes dealing with property rights and free speech have occurred overseas, with the European Union turning the entire concept of competition and innovation on it’s head with it’s ruling that Google shouldn’t encourage support of it’s online support business to…you know…make money https://apnews.com/e97e52c7a5d743eba3a92879c35432f5, and Canada giving a middle finger to freedom of speech, whether in it’s borders or outside it, with it’s ruling that Google must block some search results worldwide http://www.reuters.com/article/us-canada-google-idUSKBN19J27N . Very unsettling.)

July 4th

As many celebrated Independence Day (July 4th) this week in the United States, there was perhaps one aspect to remember the most. Many nations, when celebrating their birth, look to some notion of identity in what constitutes their union. Such views typically lead to bonds of language, ethnicity, geography, dynastic history, or religion being expressed as the zeitgeist upon which national identity is based. However, when looking at the identity brought forth through American independence, it is something else entirely.
 
Perhaps it is no surprise that the United States celebrates it’s independence on July 4th. That day was when the colonies accepted the terms of the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming their separation from Great Britain. Of course for those who know the history, independence wasn’t assured that day. Those who signed the declaration knew that their lives were on the line by “pledging to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor”, for if they had lost the revolution that was to come, death for treason was the likely result. Still, despite such a risk, the chance at a freedom from royal tyranny was enough to take it. Independence wasn’t assured until 1783, when the Treaty of Paris was signed among the different parties involved. That moment, however, is not what we enshrine as our independence day. It wasn’t the moment that our freedom was assured that Americans draw attention to, it is the moment when we were free because we said we were. That says a lot about American identity itself.
 
Indeed many nations also do a similar relation concerning independence celebrations, but how the United States came to be shows how such a decision matches up well with the concept of our identity. Through the Declaration of Independence and it’s eventual successor, the Constitution (and Bill of Rights), our nation was formed not through the aforementioned bonds of kinship, but rather through an idea…identity through the law, governed by all, special privileges to none, and that people, no matter who or what they are, should be able to thrive on their own merits…and that such things aren’t given to us by government/s, but are a part of who we are as human brings (very Lockean). Indeed such an idea was more aspirational at the time, considering the imperfections that still very much existed at the time (slavery being the most obvious one). However, such imperfections don’t remove at the heart what such an idea embodied, and that it would ultimately drive those yet to experience such freedom and equality before the law to attain it (whether here or around the world), just as they inspired the Founders. Such a moment would lead to a renaissance around the world, and an eventual growth in freedom and innovation the likes of which generations had never witnessed before.
 
Such remembrance though must not give way to taking place for it’s own sake. While our nation remains among the freest in the world, that is not assured. The ability to be free to chart our own way in life is hardly guaranteed, and finds threats to it’s continued expression through political and social pressures. Those who came before us and the documents and victories they left behind have done much to advance the cause of liberty, but such things will mean nothing unless we continue to hold such values in our hearts and minds…and pass them on for others to understand and cherish. So go out there and enjoy a barbecue, blow up fireworks, tell those dirty jokes over and over again, play video games or watch someone else do it, watch that favorite TV show or movie, invest in that stock or risky venture, donate to that cause, visit that place, practice firing those guns, kiss and hug your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend regardless of who or what they are, chill with your friends no matter who or what they are, worship your creed, research and debate over any ideas, work on that project or concept, sell that lemonade, mow that lawn, drink that beer, smoke that weed, or do nothing at all. But above all, cherish that you can do any of those things, not because of obligation or coercion, but because you choose to…and defend others being able to make that choice as well, even if you may not agree with such activities…or ones I might not even have mentioned. As long as that drive lives on, the spirit of what was unleashed in Philadelphia 241 years ago will never perish from this world…and will remain an inspiration on these shores and elsewhere.

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