Archive for November 2005

They Were For Free Speech Before They Were Against It

Last week I wrote here and here about free speech and the defeat of the bill to protect such speech online.  Matt Welch has more, and wonders as I did why Democrats, who applaud themselves for their staunch support of free speech, have suddenly abandoned the cause:

I was reminded of that neat bit of self-delusion yesterday when reading news
that House Democrats had followed The New York Times' odious
to kill
the Online
Freedom of Speech Act
, which would have exempted weblogs from Federal
Election Commission campaign finance rules. Once again, the party supported by
people who truly do believe they and they alone care deeply about free speech
has casually stomped on the freedom to speak.

The bill itself would have placed an extra layer of statutory protection over
what should already be (but isn't) protected by the First Amendment"”the right to
buy political advertisements online. As the mess of appalling FEC rules
currently stand, nobody can
legally purchase a broadcast, satellite, or cable advertisement that even
mentions a candidate for federal office within 60 days of a general election (30
days for a primary), unless he or she sets up or joins a political action
committee (PAC) and agrees to abide by the heavy regulations that govern PACs'
funding and disclosure....

I am a friend of free speech, they assure us at every turn, but we
need to draw lines
, because when yucky people spend money to communicate a
political message through the news media, it's just like child pornography,
reckless endangerment, and intellectual property theft. Combine this attitude
with a general cluelessness about the unintended speech-impairing
of FEC rule-making, and you get the obscene sight of the New
York Times
editorial board, which bathed itself and Judith Miller in the holy
waters of the First Amendment in 15
different editorials
, arguing with a straight face that "The bill uses
freedom of speech as a fig leaf."

While I took some shots at the NY Times myself, observing that they seem to be just like every other business facing a new source of competition:  They are running to the government to get the state to quash the upstarts.  However, I missed the wonderful irony that Welch found.  Consider the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It is indeed amazing that the NY Times believes that these words protect them from cooperating with a criminal investigation and allow them to ignore subpoenas, but believes that these same words do NOT protect political speech on the Internet. 

Extra credit work for those who support campaign finance limitations:  Find the clause in the First Amendment language above the differentiates between speech that was paid for and speech that was not paid for.

Intifada or Welfare State Fallout?

Rioting in the immigrant-heavy, Muslim-heavy quarters of France continues

The unrest started last Thursday when angry
youths protested the accidental deaths of two teenagers in
Clichy-sous-Bois, who were electrocuted when they jumped a wall
surrounding a high-voltage electrical transformer while fleeing police. The
anger spread across the housing projects that dominate many of Paris'
northern and northeastern suburbs, which are marked by soaring
unemployment, delinquency and a sense of despair.

rioting has grown into a broader challenge for the French state. It has
laid bare discontent simmering in suburbs where immigrants "” many of
them African Muslims "” and their French-born children are trapped by
poverty, unemployment, discrimination, crime and poor education and

There are those who want to call this the beginning of a new European Intifada, a war of Muslims against non-Muslims.  They want to portray these riots in the same context as Islamic terrorism and Al Qaeda. 

Call me slow, but I just haven't seen evidence that the recent violence in Paris has religious overtones.  Maybe it is under-reported, but I haven't seen any targeting of Christians or Jews or Jewish Temples and such that one might expect in intifada-type violence. 

So far, a better explanation seems to be that these neighborhoods have been the victim of of the current form of Euro-socialism.  In this economic model, a whole collection of laws make it very expensive for companies to hire anyone.  If you do hire anyone, you have to pay them a very high salary, give them a fat package of benefits, weeks and weeks of paid vacation, and they only have to work 36 hours a week for you.  And, if the person doesn't do a good job, too bad because it is nearly impossible to fire them.  This may appear to be a great system for those who already have a job, but for the unemployed, the young, and the unskilled, it is a disaster.  Who in their right mind is going to take a chance on a young, unskilled employee who you have to pay a fortune and who you can't fire if they aren't any good.  And in particular, who is ever going to hire a young, unskilled immigrant for a job in France?

The answer is no one, which is possibly another reason for the rioting.  France has an unemployment rate that has hovered around 10% for years, but the unemployment rate for those under 25 years old is a truly shocking 23% and I would bet the unemployment rate for young immigrants may be as high as 40-50%. 

In the US, we have gone through phases of this same type of economic thinking.  A big part of motivation behind the original passage of minimum wage law, including the recently famous Davis-Bacon law, was to protect skilled white laborers against wage competition from blacks and immigrants.  Fortunately, the US has always stopped short of the radically distorting labor market laws they have in Europe, but new efforts in this country to raise minimum wages and generally make it harder for immigrants to enter the labor market should worry all of us, particularly those of us in immigrant heavy states like Arizona.

Problems with Amazon Prime

Up until the last month, I have been very happy with Amazon Prime, the service where you pay $80(?) for a year of free 2-day delivery.  I am sure I have ordered more stuff from Amazon because of it, and I know I order it faster because I don't wait weeks with things in the shopping cart to group shipments.   

However, in the last month, I have had not one but two orders show up in 7-8 days instead of two.  The first was a Batman Begins DVD, pre-ordered to ship on its release date (which it apparently did).  It was shipped USPS, so there was obviously no hope that it would arrive in 2 days.  The second was a new Nikon D50, which was back-ordered for about a week.

I never really got an explanation for the DVD shipment (maybe they don't apply Amazon Prime to pre-orders?), but I did get some explanation for the Nikon D50.  After writing Amazon, asking them why my item shipped UPS Ground with a 7-8 day delivery time instead of 2-day, which I had paid for with Amazon Prime and was listed as the shipment method on the order page, I got this response  (greetings, apologies, etc. omitted):

After your order leaves our fulfillment center, we may use any
appropriate ground or air shipping service necessary to ensure that
your order is delivered within one or two days, depending on the
delivery option you selected.  These delivery options do not
directly correspond to any carrier-branded shipping services.

I have researched the order in question, and it appears your package
will arrive on time.

We understand that customers who select Two-Day or One-Day delivery
want to receive their orders faster, and we will only use an
alternative shipping method when we know your order will arrive by
the estimated delivery date.

This is obviously not very clear, but here is what I infer:  When the item was back-ordered, they gave me an updated delivery date range, something like "estimated delivery Nov 2-10".  What I infer from this email is that once they give you an estimated delivery date range, they feel like their obligation to ship 2-day is voided.  The only obligation they now feel they have is to hit that date range.  So, despite the fact that my camera shipped on Nov 2 and I paid for 2-day shipping, they feel they are meeting their obligations if it gets to me by Nov 10, the back end of their estimated range.

The conclusion is not to feel sorry for me that I have to wait to play with my new toy, but that this may be the first sign of a program that is being gutted under profit pressure.  When lawyers looking for loopholes take over the customer service and fulfillment department, things can go downhill pretty quickly.  Note that the "est. delivery date" dodge really gives them carte blanche to get out of the 2-day obligation any time they want, since they set the estimates. 

As a note, I tried to confirm my interpretation with Amazon and have been unsuccessful.  In the tradition of making itself one of the hardest companies in America to actually contact, one can't reply to their customer service email so I can't get an easy confirmation or clarification.  I actually got and called their customer service phone number, which you will never find on their site (write this down:  1-800-201-7575).  The person on the other end of the line was useless, not understanding that I wanted a clarification of the Amazon Prime rules rather than some resolution of a particular order.  She couldn't access the emails I had sent to customer service or had received from them, and didn't seem to understand Amazon Prime rules, so she was no help.  The only funny part was that as I kept trying to clarify what I wanted from her, she kept upping the gift certificate amount she offered me as compensation, despite the fact that I kept saying "I don't want money I want to know what the rules are".  I think I ended up with $20 without even wanting it.

Which makes me wonder why I can't reply to Amazon's customer service emails.  I don't have a problem getting customer support via email rather than the phone, but to make this work I really need to keep working through to resolution with the same person, and the Amazon process makes this impossible.

Free Speech Thought for the Day

I suppose a large number of Americans must support the free speech restrictions embodied in McCain-Feingold and other campaign finance laws, or they wouldn't have passed.  The logic of such laws is apparently to reduce the influence of "big-monied interests" in elections, I suppose by being able to saturate media with their point of view.

So here is my question - have you ever met anyone (other than John Kerry with his Iraq vote) who thought that they had been duped or unduly influenced by election advertising?  Have you met anyone who says "yep, I voted for the guy with the most ads instead of what I believed in?"

The fact is that I have never met such a person, even among those who support campaign speech restrictions.  Their position is always that they are of course too smart to be gulled by the ads but "a lot of other people are not as smart".  But who are these other people?  They are like the friend of a friend who swears his grandmother put her cat in the microwave to dry it off.  They don't exist.  The fact is that no one thinks that they personally are unduly influenced by campaign ads, but they think everyone else is. 

Here is a rule of thumb:  When supporters of a law take the position that "This law is not necessary for me but for all those people who are not as smart as I am", it is a bad law.

Libertarians Even Further Adrift

I think maybe its time for me to stop reading the news.  What else can a good libertarian do when Republicans oppose free trade, support government intervention in the economy, and spend tax money like drunken sailors while Democrats vote for new restrictions on free speech?

The latter occurred yesterday, as the House failed to get the 2/3 majority necessary to pass the Online Freedom of Speech Act, mostly on the strength on opposition from Democrats (you know, those principled supporters of civil liberties).  Politicians have again shown themselves ready to trash the Constitution in order to limit the speech of those potentially critical to themselves.  Apparently, there is reason to hope, since bill sponsors are trying to bring the bill to the floor in a more routine process that would require only a majority vote for passage (which the bill appears to be able to garner).

My only problem with this initiative is that it falls far short of the mark of protecting all Americans.  Right now, only the major media outlets have full free-speech rights in an election.  This bill would extend free speech to the Internet.  Here's an idea:  Why don't we give everyone back their first amendment rights, as I wrote here:

These past few weeks, we have been debating whether this media
exemption from speech restrictions should be extended to bloggers.  At
first, I was in favorThen I was torn.
Now, I am pissed.  The more I think of it, it is insane that we are
creating a 2-tiered system of first amendment rights at all, and I
really don't care any more who is in which tier.  Given the wording of
the Constitution, how do I decide who gets speech and who doesn't - it
sounds like everyone is supposed to:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

have come to the conclusion that arguing over who gets the media
exemption is like arguing about whether a Native American in 1960's
Alabama should use the white or the colored-only bathroom:  It is an
obscene discussion and is missing the whole point, that the facilities
shouldn't be segregated in the first place.

By the way, I don't want to ever hear from the NY Times again about some company that is being monopolistic.  The NY Times has opposed the Online Free Speech Initiative from the very beginning in a transparent attempt to quash a competitive media that is stealing readers from it at a very fast clip.  I'm sure they hate having this type stuff on the Internet.  And this is the same NY Times that was one of the very few supporters of the Kelo decision because they were in the midst of getting a new HQ via an eminent domain landgrab.  Reason number 635 I don't agree with giving the press more rights than the rest of us have.

More Consistency NOW!

The other day in my post on Politics without Philosophy, I mentioned in passing the philosophical inconsistencies on the National Organization for Women (NOW) website.  Specifically, I referred to the premise that women should control the decision-making for their own body (a premise I accept) and noted the inconsistency of some of their positions, notably opposition to breast implants, with this position.  As usual, I got several emails on "my attack on women", which is pretty normal nowadays:  People tend to associate an attack on an organization purporting to represent a certain group with an attack on the group itself. 

Anyway, this post was just going to be an update, to provide the specific links on NOW's seemingly conflicting positions on abortion and breast implants, but in the process, I discovered another very interesting inconsistency, which I will get to in a few moments (its in bold at the bottom if you really can't wait).

In posting on the breast implant - abortion conundrum, I should have linked to this post, where I explained in more detail:

When it comes to defending abortion, women's groups are great
libertarians. They will point out that abortion is about the right to
choose and about protecting the "fundamental civil and human right of
women to make the most intimate decisions about their bodies and their
lives".  Its about not letting the government interfere with individual
decision-making or a "woman's right to privacy".  Its about assuming
women are grown-up enough to make difficult choices about their fetus
and their own health and safety.  Opponents of such choice are
"ultra-conservatives trying to deny women control over their own
bodies".  (all quotes from the NOW web site).

So, women's groups seem to be good libertarians concerned with the primacy of women's decision-making over their own body.  Except when they're not.
NOW has been feverishly campaigning to get the government to limit a
women's right to choose breast augmentation, despite the fact that the
science is overwhelmingly behind the safety of implants.  Sure, as in
any medical procedure, there are some risks, but I defy anyone to tell
me that the risks associated with breast implants are greater than the
risks associated with abortion.  Abortion is a much weightier and more
difficult decision, and, unlike breast implants, it is irreversible.
If women are mature enough to make abortion decisions, they certainly
are mature enough to weigh the risks of breast implants.  Or take the
birth control pill -- the impact to a woman's body of silicone sacks in
their boobs is far less than that of trashing their entire hormone
balance.  Sure, the pill makes sense for a lot of people and its great
that the option exists, but don't tell me that the the changes the pill
engenders in the body are OK but bags of silicone are not.

Note that if you accept the notion of a woman's right to choose for her own body, the risks of breast implants shouldn't matter.  A good government might make sure these risks are revealed, but would leave decision making on the risks vs. rewards to the individual.  For the sake of completeness, though, here is NOW's argument that breast implants are just too risky and here is the counter-argument, supported by most scientists and the medical profession, that there is nothing wrong with them.  Note, however, the NOW would not tolerate casting the abortion debate around safety or risk, arguing in that case that it is up to the woman to make these informed trade-offs.

Anyway, here is what I learned from grabbing a few of the links above.  Consistent with their position on breast implants (and their heavy funding from the tort bar) NOW also is criticizing the FDA for allowing the Vioxx painkiller on the market.

Whether it's Vioxx or Bextra or silicone implants, the rule now
is 'Buyer Beware, said [NOW President Kim] Gandy. The drug and device companies own
the FDA and it is the companies' profit potential that rules the
review and approval process - except when the profit motive is
overridden by the White House morality police, as with the
morning-after pill.

Yep, the FDA is apparently not doing a good job in limiting the number drugs or procedures women choose to put in their bodies (more on Vioxx on the NOW web site).  But this is still not the really funny part, just another illustration of how NOW only seems to apply "Its her body" to abortion, rather than any other decision.  What was really interesting was this (emphasis added):

An assisted suicide
bill (AB 654) passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly Judiciary
Committee on Tuesday, following two hours of debate. It now moves to
the full Assembly, where a vote may come in May.

officially supporting the bill include the pro-euthanasia group
Compassion & Choices; the American Civil Liberties Union, the
California Alliance for Consumer Protection, the California National Organization for Women; the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations; Drug Policy Alliance Network; and End-of-Life Choices.

I am OK with legal suicide as the last-ditch pain-relief strategy, though I am uncomfortable allowing doctors to help, given the inherent conflicts (maybe create a new suicide midwife profession?)  Anyway, note from this that while NOW opposes women's access to legal Vioxx, they support legal access to assisted suicide.  In case you are missing the full irony, I will restate it:  NOW supports the legality of a pain-relief strategy (assisted suicide) with a 100% chance of death but opposes the legality of a pain-relief strategy (Vioxx) with a less than 1% chance of death.

I don't really mean to pick on NOW in particular.  As I said before, nearly any organization on the right or left tends tends to espouse contradictory positions in the same manner.  NOW is just a particularly easy target since it takes positions on so many things.  Also, I must admit that they particularly piss me off some, articulating a fine libertarian point of view that women, and not the government, should control decision-making for their own body, and then abandoning this premise on nearly every non-abortion topic they address.

Anyway, you can read more on how the left really doesn't want to address the full implications of the Roe v Wade privacy right here.  If you want to understand why NOW takes the positions it does, beyond the usual we-know-better-what-is-good-for-women-than-they-do-themselves elitism, you might look at the NOW relationship to the tort bar.  NOW is usually prominently featured on the ATLA web site.

Stage Fright, Anyone?

My son loves to rate mens rooms at restaurants and hotels.  This one is pretty awesome (make sure to click on the photo for the enlargement).  Here is a picture from the other end.  I think the girl third from the left is the funniest, with the disapointed look on her face.

More on Wal-mart and the Minimum Wage

Last week, I posted on why Wal-Mart may be calling for higher minimum wages, and hypothesized that it may be because it won't hurt them (since they already pay well higher than the minimum) and may hurt competitors.  Llewellyn Rockwell of the Mises Institute, one of the few people in America with three sets of double-L's in his name, expands on this hypothesis:

The current minimum is $5.15. According to studies, Wal-Mart pays between
$8.23 and $9.68 as its national average. That means that the minimum wage could
be raised 50% and still not impose higher costs on the company....

So who would it affect if not Wal-Mart? All of its main competitors. And the
truth is that there are millions of businesses that compete with it every day.
Many local stores have attempted to copy Wal-Mart's price-competitive model, but
face lower costs and can actually thrive....

Even similar stores such as K-Mart can pay lower wages, and that can make the
margin of difference. K-Mart pays over a much wider range, as low as $6.75 an
hour. A major competitor is mainstream grocery stores, where workers do indeed
start at minimum wage. Target too pays starting employees less than Wal-Mart, if
the Target Union can be

Now, if Wal-Mart can successfully lobby the government to abolish lower-wage
firms, it has taken a huge step toward running out its competition. The effect
of requiring other firms to pay wages just as high as theirs is the same as if
the company lobbied to force other companies to purchase only in high
quantities, to open large stores only, or to stay open 24 hours. By making
others do what Wal-Mart does, the company manages to put the squeeze on anyone
who would dare vie for its customer base.

Now here is the great irony. The left has long been in a total frenzy about
how Wal-Mart saunters into small towns and outcompetes long-established local
retailers. Wal-Mart's opponents have whipped themselves into a frenzy about the
company's success, claiming that it always comes at a huge social cost.

Now, most of this rhetoric is overblown and ignorant. Wal-Mart would not have
made any profits or grown as it has without having convinced the consuming
public to purchase from the store. Consumers could put the company out of
business tomorrow, just by failing to show up to buy.

The left's claims of unfair practices would be valid if Wal-Mart did indeed
work to impose legal disabilities on its competitors "” in effect making it
illegal to outcompete the company. And yet that is precisely what raising the
minimum wage would do: impose a legal disability on those companies engaged in
lower-wage competition with Wal-Mart. So the economically ignorant left
advocates raising the minimum wage.