Posts tagged ‘free speech’

Missing the Point

John Hinderaker says that Democrats have been unsuccessful in their anti-Koch brother campaign because only 25% of Americans have a negative opinion of the Kochs and that has not changed much in 6 months.

But that strikes me as missing the point.  The Democrats have raised tens of millions of dollars from those 25% inflaming them with anti-Koch rhetoric.  They will outspend Republicans this year largely on the back of a campaign that, for example, never failed to mention the Kochs in almost every email sent out.  Further, they have succesfully turned the words "Koch Brothers" into some sort of boogeyman.  The media even here in Red state Arizona breathlessly discusses every contact a Republican candidate has with Koch Brothers-funded organizations while never ever mentioning any large backers on the Democratic side.  Despite the fact that Democrats have raised more so-called "dark money" than Republicans, nearly 100% of the media stories on dark money are about Republicans.  Further, by successfully (and asymmetrically) making public life a living hell for prominent Republican supporters, the Democrats are doing important battle space preparation for future elections, giving second thoughts to future potential Republican donors.

That, in my mind, is a political success.

(Of course, it is a disaster for liberty, and demonstrates EXACTLY why anonymous speech and donations have to remain legal.  The campaign waged right from the floor of the Senate by Democrats like Harry Reid to vilify private citizens who have been out-front and transparent about exercising their free speech is an insult to liberty).

Simply Corrupt

The US Justice Department is using decades-old anti-discrimination law to stop poor black families from escaping crappy schools via a school choice program.  The awesome Clint Bolick of Goldwater has the details:

Despite reports of compromise or capitulation, the U.S. Justice Department is continuing its legal assault on the Louisiana school-voucher program—wielding a 40-year-old court order against racial discrimination to stymie the aspirations of black parents to get their children the best education.

The Louisiana Scholarship Program began in 2012. It provides full-tuition scholarships to children from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty level, whose children were assigned to public schools rated C, D or F by the state, or who were enrolling in kindergarten. In the current year, 12,000 children applied for scholarships and nearly 5,000 are using them to attend private schools. Roughly 90% are used by black children.

Parental satisfaction is off the charts. A 2013 survey by the Louisiana chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national school-choice organization, found that 93.6% of scholarship families are pleased with their children's academic progress and 99.3% believe the schools are safe—a far cry from the dismal public schools to which the children were previously consigned.

But last August, the Justice Department filed a motion to enjoin the program in dozens of school districts that still have desegregation orders from generations ago. It claimed that any change in racial composition would violate the orders. After a tremendous public backlash, Justice withdrew its motion for an injunction, insisting it did not intend to remove kids from the program....

In fact, the children are very much in danger of losing their opportunities. The Justice Department is demanding detailed annual information, including the racial composition of the public schools the voucher students are leaving and the private and parochial schools the students are selecting. If it objects to the award of individual vouchers based on those statistics, the department will challenge them.

If I had to make a list of the top 10 things we could do to actually help African-American families (as opposed to the garbage programs in place now to supposedly help them), #1 would be decriminalization of narcotics and in general stopping the incarceration of black youth for non-violent victim-less offenses.  But #2 would be school choice programs like the one in Louisiana.

PS- I am thinking about what the rest of the top 10 list would be.  #3 would likely be putting real teeth in police department accountability programs, as I think that police departments tend to be the last bastions of true institutionalized racial discrimination.  #4 might be some sort of starter wage program that gives a lower minimum wage for long-term unemployed.  If I weren't a pacifist and committed to free speech and association, I might say #5 was shutting down half the supposed advocacy groups that claim to be working for the benefit of African-Americans but instead merely lock them into dependency.

What I Hate Most About Political Discourse...

..is when people attribute differences of opinion on policy issues to the other side "not caring."

I could cite a million examples a day but the one I will grab today is from Daniel Drezner and Kevin Drum.  They argue that people with establishment jobs just don't care about jobs for the little people.  Specifically Drum writes:

Dan Drezner points out today that in the latest poll from the Council on Foreign Relations, the opinions of foreign policy elites have converged quite a bit with the opinions of the general public. But among the top five items in the poll, there's still one big difference that sticks out like a fire alarm: ordinary people care about American jobs and elites don't. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Here are the specific poll results he sites.  Not that this is a foreign policy survey

blog_public_elite_cfr_priorities

 

The first thing to note is that respondents are being asked about top priorities, not what issues are important.  So it is possible, even likely, the people surveyed thought that domestic employment issues were important but not a priority for our foreign policy efforts.  Respondents would likely also have said that (say) protecting domestic free speech rights was not a foreign policy priority, but I bet they would still think that free speech was an important thing they care about.  The best analogy I can think of is if someone criticized a Phoenix mayoral candidate for not making Supreme Court Justice selection one of her top priorities.  Certainly the candidate might consider the identity of SCOTUS judges to be important, but she could reasonably argue that the Phoenix mayor doesn't have much leverage on that process and so it should not be a job-focus priority.

But the second thing to note is that there is an implied policy bias involved here.  The Left tends to take as a bedrock principle that activist and restrictive trade policy is sometimes (even often) necessary to protect American jobs.   On the other hand many folks, including me and perhaps a plurality of economists, believe that protectionist trade policy actually reduces total American employment and wealth, benefiting a few politically connected and visible industries at the expense of consumers and consumer industries (Bastiat's "unseen").  Because of the word "protecting", which pretty clearly seems to imply protectionist trade policy, many folks answering this survey who might consider employment and economic growth to be valid foreign policy priorities might still have ranked this one low because they don't agree with the protectionist / restrictionist trade theory.  Had the question said instead, say, "Improving American Economic Well-Being" my guess would be the survey results would have been higher.

Whichever the case, there is absolutely no basis for using this study to try to create yet another ad hominem attack out there in the political space.  People who disagree with you generally do not have evil motives, they likely have different assumptions about the nature of the problem and relevant policy solutions.  Treating them as bad-intentioned is the #1 tendency that drags down political discourse today.

Postscript:  This is not an isolated problem of the Left, I just happened to see this one when I was thinking about the issue.  There likely is a Conservative site out there taking the drug policy number at the bottom and blogging something like "Obama state department doesn't care about kids dying of drug overdoses."  This of course would share all the same problems as Drum's statement, attributing the survey results to bad motives rather than a sincere policy difference (e.g. those of us who understand that drugs can be destructive but see the war on drugs and drug trafficking to be even more destructive).

 

ACLU's Distaste for Commerce

Walter Olson writes (emphasis added)

Elane Photography LLC v. Vanessa Willock is the case in which an Albuquerque, NM woman has (thus farsuccessfully) sued husband-and-wife photographers under New Mexico’s “public accommodations” discrimination law for their reluctance to shoot photos of her commitment ceremony to a female partner. One of the most dismaying elements of the case is that the American Civil Liberties Union has taken the anti-liberty side. Adam Liptak in the NYT:

I asked Louise Melling, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, which has a distinguished history of championing free speech, how the group had evaluated the case.

Ms. Melling said the evaluation had required difficult choices. Photography is expression protected by the Constitution, she said, and Ms. [Elane] Huguenin acted from “heartfelt convictions.”

But the equal treatment of gay couples is more important than the free speech rights of commercial photographers, she said, explaining why the A.C.L.U. filed a brief in the New Mexico Supreme Court supporting the couple.

Earlier, Olson made the useful point that large organizations like the ACLU are not monolithic -- they have internal conflicts on issues like this.  But based on my interactions with the ACLU, I believe the key word is in bold:  "commercial".   For many at the ACLU, the fact that an activity is commercial or for money voids or cancels out any rights one has.  Property rights or rights exercised in the conduct of commerce tend to always come last (if at all) at the ACLU.  Which is why I donate every year to the IJ, the organization the ACLU should have been if they had not been founded by Stalinists.  Update:  That is unfair.  It's like criticizing someone because of what his father did or believed.  Many organizations move beyond their original founder's legacy.  But it is never-the-less undeniable that -- at best -- the ACLU has no interest in property rights or commercial freedoms.

Spying on the Press

Well, the silver lining of this story is that the press, who until now have generally yawned at libertarian concerns about warrantless searches and national security letters, particularly since that power has been held by a Democrat rather than a Republican, will now likely go nuts.

You have probably seen it by now, but here is the basic story

The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.

The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.

In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

The AP believes this is an investigation into sources of a story on May 7, 2012 about a foiled terror attack.  This bit was interesting to me for two reasons:

The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.

The plot was significant because the White House had told the public it had "no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death."

The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once government officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot because officials said it no longer endangered national security. The Obama administration, however, continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.

First, it seems to fit in with the White House cover-up over Benghazi, in the sense that it is another example of the Administration trying to downplay, in fact hide, acts of organized terrorism.  I have criticized the Administration for throwing free speech under the bus in its Benghazi response, but I must say their reasons for doing so were never that clear to me.  This story seems to create a pattern of almost irrational White House sensitivity to any admission of terrorist threats to the US.

Second, note from the last sentence that the White House is bending over backwards to investigate the AP basically for stealing its thunder before a press conference.  Wow.  Well if that were suddenly illegal, just about everyone in DC would be in jail.

Update:  Some thoughts from Glenn Greenwald

how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as "cruel and inhuman".

But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults, and acknowledge this administration's true character. That is redolent of how the general public reacted with rage over privacy invasions only when new TSA airport searches targeted not just Muslims but themselves: what they perceive as "regular Americans". Or how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman -- once the most vocal defender of Bush's vast warrantless eavesdropping programs -- suddenly began sounding like a shrill and outraged privacy advocate once it was revealed that her own conversations with Aipac representatives were recorded by the government.

My Problem With Benghazi...

... was not the crisis management but Obama's throwing free speech under the bus.

I can live with poor crisis management.  I have been a part of enough to understand that things are different in real time than they look when monday-morning quarterbacking the events.  In particular, it can be very hard to get reliable data.  Sure, the correct data is all likely there, and when folks look back on events, that data will be very visible and folks will argue that better choices should have been made.

A great example of this is when historians sort through data to say that FDR missed (or purposely ignored, if you are of that revisionist school) clear evidence of the Japaneses surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  Sure, the correct clues stand out like flashing lights to the historian, but to the contemporary they were buried in 10,000 ostensibly promising false leads.

In real time, good data is mixed in with a lot of bad data, and it takes some time -- or a unique individual -- to cut through the fog.  Clearly neither Obama nor Clinton were this individual, but we should not be surprised as our selection process for politicians is not really configured to find such a person, except by accident.

No, the problem I have with Benghazi is that when push came to political shove, the President threw free expression under the bus to protect himself.  I am a sort of city on the hill isolationist, who prefers as much as possible for the US to have influence overseas by setting a positive example spread through open communications and free trade.  In this model, there is nothing more important for a US President to do than to support and explain the values of individual liberty, such as free expression, to the world.

Instead, it is increasingly clear he blamed some Youtube video, an exercise in free expression, for the tragedy.  And not just in the first confused days, but five days later when he put Susan Rice on TV to parrot this narrative.  And when the Feds sent a team to arrest and imprison the video maker.  And days after the Rice interviews when Hillary parroted the same message at the funeral, and days after that when Obama spoke to the UN, mentioning the video 6 or 7 times.    Obama took to his bully pulpit and railed against free speech in front of a group of authoritarians who love to hear that message, and whose efforts to stifle speech have historically only been slowed by America's example and pressure.

Judge Rules National Security Letters Are Unconstitutional

This is good ... hope it withstands appeal

Ultra-secret national security letters that come with a gag order on the recipient are an unconstitutional impingement on free speech, a federal judge in California ruled in a decision released Friday.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the government to stop issuing so-called NSLs across the board, in a stunning defeat for the Obama administration’s surveillance practices. She also ordered the government to cease enforcing the gag provision in any other cases. However, she stayed her order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We are very pleased that the Court recognized the fatal constitutional shortcomings of the NSL statute,” said Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a challenge to NSLs on behalf of an unknown telecom that received an NSL in 2011. “The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.”

The telecommunications company received the ultra-secret demand letter in 2011 from the FBI seeking information about a customer or customers. The company took the extraordinary and rare step of challenging the underlying authority of the National Security Letter, as well as the legitimacy of the gag order that came with it.

Both challenges are allowed under a federal law that governs NSLs, a power greatly expanded under the Patriot Act that allows the government to get detailed information on Americans’ finances and communications without oversight from a judge. The FBI has issued hundreds of thousands of NSLs over the years and has been reprimanded for abusing them — though almost none of the requests have been challenged by the recipients.

After the telecom challenged the NSL, the Justice Department took its own extraordinary measure and sued the company, arguing in court documents that the company was violating the law by challenging its authority.

Punished for Speech

I have debated a while whether to run this personal experience, and in the end have reached a (perhaps wimpy) compromise with myself to run it but disguise the agency involved.  

As most of your know, I run a company that helps keep public parks open by privately operating them.  As part of that business, it is unsurprising that I would run a specialized blog on such public-private recreation partnerships.  Most of the blog is dedicated not to selling my company per se, since there are not many who do what we do, but advancing the concept.  In particular, I spend a lot of time responding to objections from folks who are concerned that private operators will not serve the public well or care for public lands as well as civil servants do.

One such objection is around law enforcement -- parks agencies who oppose this model argue that my company cannot possibly replace them because all their rangers are law enforcement officials and mine, a certification my private employees can't match.  So a while back I wrote an article discussing this issue.

I argued that parks were not some lawless Road Warrior-style criminal anarchy and simply did not need the level of law enforcement concentration they have.   We run nearly 175 public parks and do so just fine relying on support from the sheriff's office, as does every other recreation business.

I argued that so many rangers were law enforcement officials because they have a financial incentive to get such certification (e.g. more pay and much better pension, plus the psychic benefits of carrying a gun and a badge) and not because of any particular demand for such services.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I argued that providing customer service with law enforcement officials can cause problems -- after all, McDonald's does not issue citations to their customers for parking incorrectly.  To back up the last point, I linked to an article in the Frisky (of all places) and a Yelp review of a park where customers bombarded the site with one star reviews complaining about the rangers harassing them with citations and ruining their visit.

Well, one day I got a letter via email from a regional manager of the state parks agency whose park was the subject of that Yelp review I linked.  I was notified that I had 48 hours to remove that blog post or I would lose all my contracts with that state.  In particular, they did not like a) the fact that I linked to a negative Yelp review of one of their parks and b) that I impugned the incredibly noble idea that state parks are all operated by law enforcement officials.  I found out only later that there is a very extreme law enforcement culture in this agency -- that in fact you historically could not even be promoted to higher management positions without the law enforcement badge, truly making this an agency of police officers who happen to run parks.  I would normally quote the letter's text here, but it is impossible to do so and keep the agency's name confidential.

Fortunately, I was able to write the acting General Counsel of the agency that afternoon.  Rather than sending something fiery as the first salvo, I sent a coy letter observing innocently that her agency seemed to believe that my contracts with the state imposed a prior restraint on my speech and I asked her to clarify the boundaries of that prior restraint so I would know what speech I was to be allowed.  To her credit, she called me back about 6 minutes after having received the letter and told me that it was void and asking me to please, please pretend I had never received it.  So I did, and I reward her personally for her quick and intelligent response by not naming her agency in the story.

I am reminded of all this and write it in response to this story passed on by Ken at Popehat.  It is a story of free speech and petty government retribution for it.  I will let you read the article to get the details, but I will repost the original speech that earned Rick Horowitz a good dollop of government harassment.  As an aside, I realize in posting this how far from the law and order conservative I have come since my early twenties.

Your approach should be to try to live your life, as much as possible, without giving them one minute of your time. If they want to talk to you, you should ask, “Am I being detained, or arrested?” If they say “no,” then you walk away. If they tell you that you cannot leave, then you stay put, but don’t talk to them. Because they aren’t following the law when they detain you for no reason.

And if the government will not follow the law, there is no reason why anyone else should.

Let me repeat that:

If the government will not follow the law, there is no reason why anyone else should.

So this is the proposal I set forth:

To the government, you can start following the law, or none of us will.

To everyone else, if the government will not follow the law, you should stop pretending law means anything.

It’s time to step away from the wrong.

Start fighting over everything!

 

 

Free Speech -- We Were Just Kidding!

The First Amendment is nearly the last portion of the Bill of Rights that courts seem to take seriously -- treating all the others as if the Founders were just kidding.  The 9th and 10th went early.  The 2nd has been nibbled away at.  The 4th has become a bad joke under the last several Administrations.  We abandoned the 6th somewhere out in Guantanamo Bay and the 5th has fallen victim to the drug war.  (The 3rd is still alive and well, though!)

But today freedom of speech is under fire by those who increasingly claim [some] people have a right not to be offended that trumps free speech.  Just who has this new right and who does not (certainly white males don't seem to have it) is unclear, as well as how one can ever enforce a standard where the victim has full discretion in determining if a crime has been committed, are left unexplained.

We have seen this theory of speech gaining adherents in Universities, for example, so while its continued gains are worrisome though not entirely unexpected.  The one thing I never saw coming in the increasingly secular west was how much momentum anti-blasphemy laws would gain, and how much these laws would be pushed by the Left**.

Jonathon Turley has a good article on this topic in the Washington Post, as linked by Reason

Ken at Popehat has a roundup of creeping ant-blasphemy law over the last year (it is hard for me to even write that sentence seriously, it sounds so Medieval)

**It is in fact insane that the Left has so many people coming out in favor of protecting Islam from blasphemy.  I know it is not everyone, but it is just amazing that a good number of people who call themselves liberal can excuse violence by a misogynist culture that is meant to suppress speech in the name of Gods and Churches.  We have actual children of the sixties arguing that threats of violence are sufficiently good reason to suppress speech and that a religion that basically enslaves women needs laws that protect it from criticism  (these  same children of the sixties that all protested the Christmas bombings of Cambodia are also launching drone strikes willy nilly on civilians and claiming that the President can assassinate Americans solely on his say-so, but those are different topics.)

This all goes to prove my long-time conviction that the political parties have very little foundation in any real morality, and that they tend to simply take positions opposite of the other party.  Since Conservatives staked out the anti-Islam position, the Left feels the need to find some way to be pro-Islam.  Weird, but I can't think of any other explanation.  The only exceptions to this rule are 1) expansions of Presidential power and 2) taking the drug war to new stupid extremes.  Both parties seem unified in supporting these two things, at least when their guy is in office.

Oliver Wendell Holmes' Free Speech Jurisprudence

I found this history from Ken at Popehat to be incredibly useful background on free speech jurisprudence from OW Holmes, particularly of the oft-abused "yelling fire in a crowded movie house."

Perhaps the worst modern threat to free speech is this notion that "hate speech" is somehow a class of speech that should be banned.  Well, I would ask advocates of this position to remember that nearly every bit of political speech is hate speech to someone.  Those who advocate for such a restriction generally imagine themselves defining what is hateful.  Which leads me back to my #1 legal test:  if one supports some sort of government-rule-making legislation, imagine the politician you like the least making the rules.  If that makes you queasy, you shouldn't be supporting that legislation.

Restricting Government Speech

I have been emailing the Florida Secretary of State today, trying to get information on an article I am writing on corporate minutes scams (something I have blogged about in the past).  The folks in Florida have been helpful, no complaint there, which is why I took the individual's name off the email below.

It is the footer in this email that bothers me, specifically the chart on the bottom left.   My guess is that this footer is appended to all emails from government employees, at least of the Secretary of State's office.  It strikes me the attached chart crosses the line from public information into the majority political party making a campaign point.  Here is an enlargement of the chart:

My guess is that many Democrats in the state would not necessarily agree this is "the right direction".  Certainly President Obama went on the record last week as saying that he thought that the decline in public sector workers was bad, not good.

I think readers know that I likely agree with the sentiments of the people who made this chart.  I think increasing private employment and decreasing public employment is the right direction.  But just as it is important to support free speech of people we disagree with or find objectionable, it is important to oppose government excesses even when we are in favor of its goals.

This is a great campaign chart.  It is not an appropriate attachment to official government business mail.

Charles Carreon Discovers the Streisand Effect in 3..2..1...

I hate excerpting Ken at Popehat in times like this, because I simply love reading all his prose and hope you will do so as well rather than settling for the excerpt only.  I love Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon not because it is his best story (it's not) but because it has some of his best prose.  Six pages on eating Cap'n Crunch and ten or so on getting a wisdom tooth extraction, and I was left begging for more.  Ken is my blogging equivalent.  I could read a whole book just with Ken calling out censorious lawyers for threatening bloggers to try to shut them up.

That said, he has been writing of late about a site called Funnyjunk sending a lawyer-cum- Tony-Soprano after the Oatmeal.  Today he really rips into said lawyer, named Charles Carreon:

See, a legal threat like the one Charles Carreon sent — "shut up, delete your criticism of my client, give me $20,000, or I'll file a federal lawsuit against you" — is unquestionably a form of bullying. It's a form that's endorsed by our broken legal system. Charles Carreon doesn't have to speak the subtext, any more than the local lout has to tell the corner bodega-owner that "protection money" means "pay of we'll trash your shop." The message is plain to anyone who is at all familiar with the system, whether by experience or by cultural messages. What Charles Carreon's letter conveyed was this: "It doesn't matter if you're in the right. It doesn't matter if I'm in the wrong. It doesn't matter that my client makes money off of traffic generated from its troglodytic users scraping content, and looks the other way with a smirk. It just doesn't matter. Right often doesn't prevail in our legal system. When it does, it is often ruinously expensive and unpleasant to secure. And on the way I will humiliate you, delve into private irrelevancies, harass your business associates and family, disrupt your sleep, stomp on your peace of mind, and consume huge precious swaths of your life. And, because the system is so bad at redressing frivolous lawsuits, I'll get away with it even if I lose — which I won't for years. Yield — stand and deliver — or suffer."

Our system privileges Charles Carreon to issue that threat, rather than jailing or flogging him for it. And so Carreon supports bullying like that. He's got a license to do it. He knows that his licensed threats — coming, as they do, on the [slightly odd] letterhead of a lawyer — inspire far more fear and stress than the complaints of a mere citizen, and by God he plays it to the hilt.

By contrast, Charles Carreon doesn't like shows of force that you or I can muster. "I'm completely unfamiliar really with this style of responding to a legal threat," he sniffs. There's a whiff of Paul Christoforo of Ocean Marketing in there — the sentiment "how was I to know that I was picking on someone stronger than I am? Is that fair?" But what he means is "if the people I threaten don't have to dig into their pockets to go hire a lawyer, and spend unpleasant hours with that lawyer, and lay awake at night worrying, and rely on a lawyer who is part of my privileged culture, but can stand up for themselves . . . how can I intimidate them so easily?" Perhaps some rude Oatmeal followers did actually send true threats or abuse to Charles Carreon's office — which I condemn. That's morally wrong and not helpful to the cause of free speech; it's harmful. But I fail to see why Charles Carreon sending that threat letter is more legitimate, admirable, or proper than ten thousand Oatmeal fans sending back the message that Charles Carreon is a petulant, amoral, censorious douchebag. It doesn't take lawyers, it doesn't take law school, it doesn't take any special privilege conferred by the state — it only takes a robust right of free expression — sending it back by blogging it, tweeting it, posting it on Facebook, and posting it in comments on forums. Charles Carreon has power derived from an inadequate legal system and letters of marque from the State Bar; The Oatmeal has the power of goodwill and community respect earned by talent. There's no reason to exalt Carreon's power and condemn The Oatmeal's.

Read it all.  The Oatmeal's response is also classic.

Lame Constitutional Argument of the Day

Via unions in Indiana

The Indiana union's lawyers contend that the right-to-work law interferes with the union's free speech rights by stifling the collection of money that helps pay for its political speech.

"In this case, the state of Indiana restricted a channel of speech-supporting finance," the union brief maintains. "The Union legitimately utilizes dues money collected through the agency shop provisions in its collective bargaining agreements, in part, to finance political speech The Indiana Right to Work law prohibits agency shop agreements, and that prohibition restricts a channel through which speech-supporting finance might flow."

I Have A Lot of Respect for Free Speech Lawyers

According to Ken and Popehat, Eugene Volokh is defending Crystal Cox in a free speech case.  Here is some background on Ms. Cox.  In discussing Volokh's defense, Ken makes the same point I have on many occasions:

Crystal Cox is not a sincere supporter of free speech. Crystal Cox is not a defender of the First Amendment. Crystal Cox supports free speech for Crystal Cox, but for her own critics, Crystal Cox is a vigorous (if mostly incoherent) advocate for broad and unprincipled censorship.

This should not surprise us. As I mentioned before, free speech cases often involve defending vile speech by repugnant people. Nearly as often, those repugnant people are no respecters of the rights of anyone else. Do you think the Nazis who marched at Skokie, if they had their way, would uphold the free speech rights of the religious and ethnic minorities who protested them? Do you imagine that Fred Phelps' church, given its choice, would permit the blasphemous and idolatrous freedoms it rails against?

No. We extend constitutional rights to people who, given the opportunity, would not extend the same rights to us. That's how we roll.

Crystal Cox is no different. Eugene Volokh and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are appealing the judgment against her to vindicate (through however flawed a vessel) important free speech issues.

But it is one thing for me to blog that everyone, including Illinois Nazis and Crystal Cox, should have free speech rights.  It's quite another to actually spend days of one's time on a pro bono basis actually handling her legal work.  So kudos to Volokh -- we all know the sewers need to be cleaned out from time to time but few of us actually will jump in and do it.

Very Quick Thought on Corporate Speech Cases

This whole argument about corporate personhood is an enormous distraction.

Corporations have certain rights not because they are legally persons, but because they are formed by and made up of persons.

Here is my simple formulation.  Inidividuals have the right to free speech.  Individuals have the right to association.  It is crazy to then posit that individuals, when they associate, no longer have free speech rights.   If five of us gather on a park bench, we have not somehow given up our speech or other rights by doing so.  And the fact that we may form a formal club or organization among us with bylaws and hierarchies does not change this fact one bit.

By the way, if the First Amendment does not apply to individuals who have assembled into a corporation, does the Fourth Amendment apply?  How about the Fifth?  or Sixth?  of Seventh?  or Eighth?

Get Over It

As much as I enjoy seeing Yale circling the drain of self-destruction, I am simply flabbergasted by the most recent discrimination suit it faces from a group of current and former female students.

The Yale group's confidential Title IX complaint to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reportedly includes testimony about sexual assaults, but the hostile-environment charge against the university rests as well on a litany of complaints about offensive exercises of First Amendment freedoms. A December 2010 draft complaint letter, obtained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), focuses on these "incidents": In 2006, a group of frat boys chant "No means yes, yes means anal" outside the Yale Women's Center. In 2010, a group of fraternity pledges repeat this obnoxious chant outside a first-year women's dorm. In 2008, pledges surround the Women's Center holding signs saying, "We love Yale sluts." In 2009, Yale students publish a report listing the names and addresses of first-year women and estimating the number of beers "it would take to have sex with them."

There are few adults who would not recognize these incidents as stupid, boorish frat-boy behavior not to be emulated.  But taking Yale to court, in effect seeking to force the University to punish such speech, takes the current college trend of protection the right not to be offended to absurd extremes.

Consider for a moment that there are radical women's organizations on most college campuses that take it as an article of faith that all men are rapists and all men are complicit in violence against women.   How is this speech any less aggressive, though it is treated with complete respect by universities.  In fact, many integrate this point of view into required Freshman sensitivity training.   Women on compuses routinely engage in speech saying that every man is a guilty felon complicit in awful crimes, and I don't see any men whining and running to Uncle Sugar to protect their delicate ears from offense.  At least the frat boys were probably drunk and joking -- the women are sober and dead serious.

Don't not be mistaken -- this is not about rights or freedom, but about a bid for totalitarian control of campuses by a niche group.  From Wendy Kaminer

Sad to say, but feminism helped lead the assault on civil liberty and now seems practically subsumed by it. Decades ago, when Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, and their followers began equating pornography with rape (literally) and calling it a civil-rights violation, groups of free-speech feminists fought back, in print, at conferences, and in state legislatures, with some success. We won some battles (and free speech advocates in general can take solace in the Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the right to engage in offensive speech on public property and public affairs). But all things considered (notably the generations of students unlearning liberty) we seem to be losing the war, especially among progressives.

This is not simply a loss for liberty on campus and the right to indulge in what's condemned as verbal harassment or bullying, broadly defined. It's a loss of political freedom: the theories of censoring offensive or hurtful speech that are used to prosecute alleged student harassers are used to foment opposition to the right to burn a flag or a copy of the Quran or build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero. The disregard for liberty that the Obama administration displays in its approach to sexual harassment and bullying is consistent with its disregard for  liberty, and the presumption of innocence, in the Bush/Obama war on terror. Of course, the restriction of puerile, sexist speech on campus is an inconvenience compared to the indefinite detention or show trials of people suspected of terrorism, sometimes on the basis of un-reviewed or un-reviewable evidence. But underlying trivial and tragic deprivations of liberty, the authoritarian impulse is the same.

PS-  The last part in the first quote about rating women as related to sex is ironic, as, if memory serves, Yale was the location around 1980 when a group of female students created a guide rating male students on their sexual talents.  When women do it, it is a brave act of liberation.  When men do it, it is sexual harassment.

PPS-  My son is going through the college admissions process.  All these schools stress how much they are looking for future leaders.  How can Yale be so selective that it has an admissions rate around 7% of applicants but still end up with so many people who cannot function in the world as an adult?  The women are begging to have a daddy to protect them and the men seem to need a daddy to kick their ass until they act like adults.

Get Down In The Mud With The Rest Of Us

I wanted to leave Glendale's proposed $100 million subsidy of the purchase of the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team by Matthew Hulzinger behind for a while, but I had to comment on something in the paper yesterday.

The Arizona Republic, which is an interested party given that a good part of their revenues depend on having major sports teams in town, had an amazing editorial on Tuesday.  Basically, it said that Goldwater, who has sued to bock the bond issue under Arizona's gift clause,  needed to stop being so pure in its beliefs and defense of the Constitution and that it should jump down in the political muck with everyone else.

I encourage you to read the article and imagine that it involved defense of any other Constitutional provision, say free-speech rights or civil rights.  The tone of the editorial would be unthinkable if aimed at any other defense of a Constitutional protection.  Someone always has utilitarian arguments for voiding things like free speech protections -- that is why defenders of such rights have to protect them zealously and consistently.  The ACLU doesn't get into arguments whether particular speech is right or wrong or positive or negative -- it just defends the principle.  Can't Goldwater do the same?

My thoughts on the Coyotes deal are here and her.  Rather than dealing with the editorial line by line, which spends graph after graph trying to convince readers that Darcy Olsen, head of the Goldwater Institute, is "snotty,"  here are some questions that the AZ Republic could be asking if it were not in the tank for this deal

  • How smart is it for the taxpayers of Glendale to have spent $200 million plus the proposed $100 million more to keep a team valued at most at $117 million? (several other teams have sold lately for less than $100 million)  And, despite $300 million in taxpayer investments, the city has no equity in the team -- just the opposite, it has promised a sweetheart no-bid stadium management deal of an additional $100 million over 5 years on top of the $300 million.
  • The Phoenix Coyotes has never made money in Arizona, and lost something like $40 million last year.  Why has no one pushed the buyer for his plan to profitability?  The $100 million Glendale taxpayers are putting up is essentially an equity investment for which it gets no equity.  If the team fails, the revenue to pay the bonds goes away.   The team needs to show a plan that makes sense before they get the money -- heck the new owners admit they will continue to lose money in the foreseeable future.     I have heard folks suggest that the Chicago Blackhawks (Hulzinger's home town team) are a potential model, given that they really turned themselves around.  But at least one former NHL executive has told me this is absurd.  The Blackhawks were a storied franchise run into the ground by horrible management.  Turning them around was like turning around the Red Sox in baseball.  Turning around the Coyotes is like turning around the Tampa Bay Rays.  The fact is that the team lost $40 million this year despite the marketing value of having been in the playoffs last year and having the second lowest payroll in the league.  The tickets are cheap and there is (at least for now) free parking and still they draw the lowest attendance in the NHL.  Part of the problem is Glendale itself, located on the ass-end of the metro area  (the stadium is 45 minutes away for me, and I live near the centerline of Phoenix).
  • If taxpayers are really getting items worth $100 million in this deal (e.g. parking rights which Glendale probably already owns, a lease guarantee, etc) why can't the team buyer use this same collateral to get the financing privately?  I have seen the AZ Republic write article after article with quote after quote from Hulzinger but have not seen one reporter ask him this obvious question.  I have asked Hulzinger associates this question and have never gotten anything but vague non-answers.  A likely answer is what I explained yesterday, that Hulzinger is a smart guy and knows the team is not worth more than $100 million, but the NHL won't sell it for less than $200 million (based on a promise the Commissioner made to other owners when they took ownership of the team).  Hulzinger needed a partner who was desperate enough to make up the $100 million the NHL is trying to overcharge him -- enter the City of Glendale, who, like a losing gambler, keeps begging for more credit to double down to try to make good its previous losses.
  • Glendale often cites a $500 million figure in losses if the team moves.  Has anyone questioned or shown any skepticism for this number?  My presumption is that it includes lost revenue at all the restaurants and stores around the stadium, but is that revenue really going to go away entirely, or just move to other area businesses?  If your favorite restaurant goes out of business, do you stop going out to eat or just go somewhere different?
  • We hear about government subsidies to move businesses from other countries to the US, or other states to Arizona, and these tend to be of dubious value.  Does it really make sense for Glendale taxpayers to pay $400 million to move business to another part of the Phoenix metropolitan area?
  • Why do parties keep insisting that Goldwater sit down and "negotiate?"  Goldwater does not have the power to change the Constitutional provision.  Do folks similarly call on the NAACP to "negotiate" over repeal of Jim Crow laws?  Call on the ACLU to negotiate over "don't ask, don't tell"?  This may be the way Chicago politics works, with community organizers holding deals ransom in return for a negotiated payoff, but I am not sure that is why Goldwater is in this fight.  The Gift Clause is a fantastic Constitutional provision that the US Constitution has, and should be defended.
  • Jim Balsillie offered to buy out the team (and move it to Canada) without public help and to pay off $50 million of the existing Glendale debt as an exit fee.  Thus the city would have had $150 in debt and no team.  Now, it will be $300 million in debt and on the hook for $100 million more and may still not have a team in five years when, almost inevitably, another hubristic rich guy finds he is not magically smarter about hockey and can't make the team work in Arizona.   Has anyone compared these two deals?  Private businesses cut losses all the time -- politicians almost never do, in part because they are playing with house money (ours).

The Most Irritating Use of My Tax Money

I find many of the uses politicians make of the money they take from me to be irritating.  But perhaps the worst of them all is to use my money to fund their own election campaigns when they can't get enough people to voluntarily contribute.  Which is why I am happy to see the Supreme Court put a injunction on Arizona's politicians take tax money to re-elect themselves law.

Today the Supreme Court blocked "matching funds" for candidates under Arizona's Clean Elections Law while it decides whether to hear a First Amendment challenge to the system. Under the law, participating candidates receive one taxpayer dollar for each dollar spent by their privately funded opponents (or by groups sponsoring messages for their benefit) above a certain threshold. The Goldwater Institute and the Institute for Justice, representing politicians and activists who are challenging the law, argue that it penalizes people for exercising their right to freedom of speech by using taxpayer money to undermine the impact of their message. In January, U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver agreed, concluding that Arizona's campaign finance system "burdens"¦First Amendment rights, is not supported by a compelling state interest, is not narrowly tailored, and is not the least restrictive alternative." Last month the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Silver's decision and lifted her injunction against the delivery of matching funds. Today's stay effectively reinstates the injunction until the Court either rejects the case or accepts and decides it.

"The Supreme Court's decision today will allow the 2010 Arizona election to occur without the government placing its thumb on the scale in favor of those politicians who receive government subsidies," says Institute for Justice senior attorney Bill Maurer. "The purpose of this law was to limit individuals' speech by limiting their spending. But the First Amendment does not permit the government to restrain Americans from robustly exercising the right of free speech."

I Can't Let This Pass Without Some Scorn

Via the Telegraph:

The American blogosphere is going increasingly "viral" about a proposal advanced at the recent meeting of the Davos Economic Forum by Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer for Microsoft, that an equivalent of a "driver's licence" should be introduced for access to the web. This totalitarian call has been backed by articles and blogs in Time magazine and the New York Times.

As bloggers have not been slow to point out, the system being proposed is very similar to one that the government of Red China reluctantly abandoned as too repressive. It was inevitable that, sooner or later, the usual unholy alliance of government totalitarians and big business would attempt to end the democratic free-for-all that is the blogosphere. The United Nations is showing similar interest in moving to eliminate free speech.

I called this one back in 2005.  This isn't the first attempt by the UN in particular to throttle free speech via licensing way back in 1985.

State-Created Entities

One aspect of the recent debate about the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision that really irritates me is the notion, propounded by the NY Times among others, that corporations and the individuals assembled in them do not have free speech rights because corporations are "state-created entities."

This is wildly untrue, or alternatively, if you accept the logic, then nearly every aspect of our lives is state-created.  Take your pick.  Basically, the argument is that because the government has set the rules for corporate incorporation, and that these incorporations require state approval, that makes corporate entities "state-created."  But corporations are nothing more than a structure by which people can assemble and aggregate their capital and share ownership of an enterprise that employs that capital.  If government incorporation law did not exist, individuals still would have the incentive to assemble in some sort of entity.

I don't know of anything in the corporate structure that could not be duplicated with contract terms.  People point to the liability limitation as some sort of government gift to the corporate world, but that could easily be written in to every contract of, say, a partnership  (certain torts are an exception I would have to think about).  Vendors might choose not to accept such contracts, preferring to be able to pierce the partnership to go after individual owners to settle debts, but that choice exists today.  I have many, many vendor contracts in my corporation, and nearly all of my bank loans, that require the personal guarantee of all the owners, effectively waiving the liability limitation for those transactions.

My point, though, is that corporate forms have evolved as they are because that is what the sum of investors and business people were working towards on their own, and government merely enshrined these forms into law.  In fact, this basic rules-setting of the contracts playing field is one of the few arguably useful things government has done.  If we allow government rules-setting over certain activities to be the test of whether it can further restrict our Constitutional rights, then nearly every aspect of our lives would be subject to such restrictions.

At its heart, this is the classic "heads I win, tails you lose" argument of statists.  They claim that individuals must petition the state to register their corporation and license their business, and then use the fact of these required registrations to argue that the business is a "state-created entity" and that individuals give up their ability to exercise their rights when assembled into these entities.  By the same logic, the fact that every commercial transaction is subject to license and taxation by the state would make our every transaction a "government-created exchange."  Think I am exaggerating?  Just look at this from our Arizona state web site:

The Arizona transaction privilege tax is commonly referred to as a sales tax; however, the tax is on the privilege of doing business in Arizona and is not a true sales tax. Although the transaction privilege tax is usually passed on to the consumer, it is actually a tax on the vendor.

Rights, like the ability of free exchange between individuals, supposedly can't be revoked, but privileges can.   Thus the name.   For folks who treasure individual liberty, we have already lost the battle when we allow the state this kind of language.

Anyway, I feel like I am having a failure of eloquence over this issue.  Ilya Somin got me started thinking about these issues, so I will turn it over to him here.

Third, it's important to consider what is meant by "state-created entity." If the term refers only to institutions that literally would not exist absent state authorization, it does not accurately characterize many, perhaps most corporations. If the federal government passed a statute abolishing corporate status tomorrow, most actual corporations would still exist and still continue to engage in the same business or nonprofit activities. They just would do so under different and perhaps less efficient legal rules (maybe as LLCs, partnerships, or sole proprietorships). But they wouldn't all just collapse or go away. There would still be a demand for most of the products produced by corporations.

If "state-created entity" doesn't refer to the mere existence of organizations currently defined as corporations but to the particular bundle of legal rights currently attached to the corporate form, then it turns out that virtually all other organizations are state-created entities as well. Universities, schools, charities, churches, political parties, partnerships, sole proprietorships, and many other private organizations all have official definitions under state and federal law. And all have special government-created privileges and obligations that don't apply to other types of organizations.

Even individual citizens might be considered "state-created" entities under this logic. After all, the status of "citizen" is a government-created legal entitlement that carries various rights and privileges, many of which the government could alter by legislation, just as it can with those of corporations (e.g. "” the right to receive Social Security benefits, which the Supreme Court has ruled can be altered by legislation any time Congress wants). In that sense, "citizens" are no less "state-created" entities than corporations are.

By the way, in case I was not careful with my language, I offer the same proviso as does Somin:

I should clarify that in this post, as before, I'm not arguing that corporations themselves are "persons" with constitutional rights. Rather, I'm asserting that their owners and employees are such persons and that that status enables them to use corporations to exercise their constitutional rights. Similarly, partnerships, universities, schools, and sole proprietorships aren't people either. But people can use them to exercise their constitutional rights, and the government can't forbid it on the sole ground that they are using assets assets assigned to "state-created entities." This distinction was unfortunately obscured in the current post by my shorthand references to "corporations'" rights. I only used that terminology because it's cumbersome to always write something like "people exercising their constitutional rights through corporations."

Good News for Free Speech

Until today, we had the right to free speech, and the right to assembly, but not the right to free speech when we were assembled.  The Supreme Court has thankfully corrected that absurdity.  Quick roundup:  Jonathon Adler, John Stossel, Katherine Mangu-WardJD Tuccille, Jacob Sullum

Good for Google

Hopefully this is true, but it appears that Google is fed up with Chinese hijinx and is considering either pulling out of the country or insisting on being more open and less filtered.  I have given Google a lot of grief here for enabling Chinese censorship, so kudos if they are starting to rethink their relationship with China.

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered"“combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web"“have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

Our Rights are Threatened by All These New Rights

I have shared before the main problem with all these new fake "rights"  (e.g. right to healthcare, right to a job, etc.).  Our original Constitutional rights were merely checks on government - they said the government could not pass laws to prevent us from doing certain things or invade our homes without some sort of due process, etc.  But these new rights require that some previously free individual be coerced into providing money or labor or both to supply others with these new rights.    I often use the desert island test - if you can't have the right alone on a desert island, its not a right.

But what I had not realized until recently is that many of these new fake rights also share in common a level of compulsion on the beneficiary  (not just the payer and provider).  For example, you have the right to bear arms and engage in free speech, but you are not required to own a gun or speak in public.   But you will be required to use, and pay for, your new "right" to health care, at the threat of a term in prison.   In this light, its doubly perverse to call something like health care a "right."  How can something which government uses compulsion on the payers, the providers, and the users be associated with so clean and moral a notion as a "right."  Freedom of religion is a right.  Health care is a want.

I got to thinking about this even more with "the right to a job at a fair wage," embodied in such laws as the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Proponents of such a right would consider it a victory that employers have been compelled to not pay less than $7.25 an hour for labor.   But the beneficiary is the subject of compulsion as well.  This law also means that I cannot sell my labor at less than $7.25, even if I am willing (even eager) to do so.    This means that if my choices are to sell my labor at $6.00 or for nothing, the government compels me to be unemployed.  My son is 16 and would like a retail job, preferably around books this summer.  Having real job experience and customer contact experience, for him at his age, is worth enough that he would likely work for free.  But he can't work for free, because the Fair Labor Standards Act only allows compensation to be valued in monetary terms - non-monetary benefits like skills improvements don't count.  So, given the economy, my son will likely not work next summer.  All for his own good, of course.

Yet More Assaults on Speech

I am a bit late on this, but this is from Jonathon Turley in the USAToday:

Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.

While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any "negative racial and religious stereotyping." The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians. Though the resolution was passed unanimously, European and developing countries made it clear that they remain at odds on the issue of protecting religions from criticism. It is viewed as a transparent bid to appeal to the "Muslim street" and our Arab allies, with the administration seeking greater coexistence through the curtailment of objectionable speech. Though it has no direct enforcement (and is weaker than earlier versions), it is still viewed as a victory for those who sought to juxtapose and balance the rights of speech and religion.

I continue to be confused why the Left in this country is so absolutely hostile to Baptists in Alabama but are so deferential to Muslims in Saudi Arabia.  Is it simply because one group makes credible threats of violence while the other does not?

Missing the Whole Point

The Bill of Rights were originally restrictions on government power.  Period.  Many people do not want to read them this way today, because they have a strong interest one way or another in the increase in government power.

Take the First Amendment.  "Congress shall make no law..."  In other words, there can be no justification of any kind for the government taking away free speech, press, association, religion, etc.

Unfortunately, forces have been at work for decades from both political parties to undermine this hard and fast protection.  Our most recent assault comes from the Democrats in the guise of the hate crimes bill:

Republican Sam Brownback offered an amendment to the Senate version which said the bill could not "construed or applied in a manner that infringes on any rights under the First Amendment" and could not place any burden on the exercise of First Amendment rights "if such exercise of religion, speech, expression, or association was not intended to plan or prepare for an act of physical violence or incite an imminent act of physical violence against another."

With that amendment, GOP Senators supported the final bill. However when the bill went to the conference committee, key changes were made to the Brownback amendment by the Democrat controlled committee:

Where Brownback had insisted, and the full Senate had agreed, that the bill could not burden the exercise of First Amendment rights, the conference changed the wording to read that the bill could not burden the exercise of First Amendment rights "unless the government demonstrates "¦ a compelling governmental interest" to do otherwise.

That means your First Amendment rights are protected "” unless they're not.

"A compelling governmental interest" leaves the door wide open for your free speech rights to be trampled on the government's whim. Where the First Amendment was designed as a limit on government power (as was the entire Constitution), this law is a blatant attack on those limits and an attempt to expand government power.

So, the government's power is checked unless there is a "compelling governmental interest" in not having its power checked. We're doomed.