Reclaiming “Freedom”

Thomas Frank’s weekly column in the Journal is one of the few tolerable pieces in the paper’s opinion section. This week, Frank writes, sensibly, in my opinion, that the left needs to recapture “freedom.”

There are few things in politics more annoying than the right’s utter conviction that it owns the patent on the word “freedom” that when its leaders stand up for the rights of banks to be unregulated or capital gains to be untaxed, that it is actually and obviously standing up for human liberty, the noblest cause of them all.

He concludes:

Even such pits of statism as Britain and Canada remain free societies, generally speaking, despite having gone skipping blithely down the universal-health-care road to serfdom decades ago.

For the sort of people who gathered on the Mall last weekend, however, I doubt that such observations would matter in the least. Their conception of freedom soars on by a force all its own, carried aloft on the wings of pure abstract reasoning: Government intervention equals tyranny. Liberalism is forever a form of despotism-in-waiting.

The reality of misgovernment, meanwhile, is not something you can grasp simply by donning a tricorn hat and musing on the majesty of Lady Liberty. It requires, among other things, close attention to the following irony: That many of the most destructive and even corrupt policies of the past few decades were engineered by exactly the sort of people who claim to be motivated by freedom and liberty. Our friends on the Mall no doubt imagine themselves as guiltless accusers, but if they really want to understand how our country got to this sorry state, they need to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Look at This F*ing Teabagger UPDATED

Update: LaTFT!!1!

Maybe the teabaggers just need ridicule, Morans-style, says Gawker:

“Check out that fucking teabagger,” writes in tipster Stefan, referencing “Look At This Fucking Hipster,” the blog chronicling hipsters looking ridiculous. Unfortunately, while hipsters have to be sought out within the pseudo-bohemian enclaves of their respective parishes, people who can’t have any kind of normal, rational discussion about politics–or even a rational, agenda-based protest–are easily found at protests like the one going on today in Washington D.C.

Best pic comes from DirtyPerz:


On Speech On “Skanks”

My civil libertarian friends are “worried” about the precedent set in the recent Liskula Cohen case. In the case, a formerly anonymous blogger said some nasty things about Cohen. So nasty that Cohen sued to unmask the blogger’s identity and was successful in doing so. The blogger is now suing Google alleging that the company owed her a fiduciary duty and should not have revealed her identity.

Critics of the Cohen case tend to focus on the fact that the blogger called Cohen a “skank.” They argue that the word is mere hyperbole and not an objective fact. But the blogger said and did much more than that. From the opinion (PDF):


I think the civil libertarians are wrong on this case. Privacy is not an unlimited right. Cohen pierced the blogger’s veil of anonymity, but to do so she had to go to court and prove some merits of the case. Maligning another as promiscuous has always been defamatory, and the First Amendment has always allowed punishing such expression. This type of speech carries with it serious harm to women, especially those who rely upon their reputation in their work.

Atlas Shrugged Miniseries

Oh noes, some morons are planning to create a Atlas Shrugged miniseries!

Gawker does a nice job summing up the story:

Charlize Theron would like to star as … Dagny Taggart, the lady who runs her brother’s railroad and enjoys violent sex with secretive entrepreneurial geniuses. But there is a problem: the book has not ever been filmed because it is terrible and involves a climactic 70-page monologue about radical libertarianism!

I’ve really dropped the ball on the development of the Ayn Rand Deprogrammer.

Free: R.I.P.

Wow! In a strange turn of events, Chris Anderson got it all wrong, while Malcolm Gladwell got it right. What’s that? Free. Chris Anderson thinks it is the future of price; that companies should give their products away free and find other, magical ways to generate revenue. Gladwell roundly criticizes this idea; it’s worth reading his review because his critique is effective on several levels.

Moving on…I want to make some crazy predictions here. Free is dead. It’s a Ponzi scheme, and we’re all invested in it. We all love free, but it has a price. We all think advertising will pay for everything, but in the end, something has to pay for advertising, and that something is in a recession.

Subscription was the model for media for a long time. In the last century, advertising subsidized subscription, and in some markets, subsumed it. In the 21st century, we’re going to have to start paying for things again.

Would you be willing to pay for sites such as the New York Times (as many people, myself include, do for the top-tier reporting of the Journal)? Would the tradeoff be worthwhile if there were less advertisements? What if, assuming that websites are wealth maximizing, these sites charge subscription fees, continue to advertise, and continue to sell users’ information? Would you be willing to demand more from publications if you actually paid for them?

The next crazy prediction: free is going to create a backlash similar to the anti-Wal-Mart movement.

Vitamin Lead: All Natural Component in your Nutritional Supplements

Stephanie Rodgers of the Mother Nature Network reports on a recent study of lead content in popular multivitamins by Consumer Labs. According to the news summary (the report is subscription only):

Of the 300-plus children’s vitamins and prenatal vitamins tested for lead, only four were found to be lead-free. Those include TwinLab Infant Care, Natrol Liquid Kid’s Companion, NF Formulas Liquid Pediatric and After Baby Boost 2 (for lactating women). No multivitamins for adult women tested negative for lead, but the ones with the lowest concentrations include FemOne, Viactiv Multivitamin Milk Chocolate, Family Value Multivitamin/Multimineral for Woman, and Women’s Basic Multi.

Now, since there are trace amounts of lead in nearly anything, it’s hard to say what this report means. Sciblings, do any of you have access to the actual report?

It seems to me that the market would be really effective in eliminating vitamins that contained high levels of lead, if only the information about contaminants were easily available and consumers could choose safer alternatives.

The Taxman Cometh via Ticketing!

You’ve probably heard that California is in trouble financially. No one wants to cut services and at the same time, no one wants to pay taxes. So what do you do? Ticket ticket ticket! And raise the fines for those tickets.

In the years I’ve lived in California, I’ve never seen so much traffic enforcement. They’re radaring all over the highways. And check this out–those fancy new parking meters are capable of neat tricks. For instance, it’s pretty easy to change the hours to 8 PM. 8 PM! In Oakland. Some ticket fines have more than doubled! The linkage to the financial crisis is explicit:

Oakland has raised the price of parking tickets, extended meter times to 8 p.m. in most parts of the city and is more aggressively enforcing parking violations, including in residential neighborhoods.

The decision is driven by the city’s budget woes, which deep cuts to city services alone did not solve. Falling sales and property, property transfer and hotel taxes have contributed to a $51 million decline in revenues.

One way or another, they’re going to get this money out of us. Would you rather just pay taxes or be nickled and dimed by the police? Which, of course, raises a related issue…why limit your fee collection to speeding and parking fines? Charging people for crimes, such as DUI, may be a money maker too…

Financial Data & Prescription Records Use Limited

If you are a resident of California, rejoice, because the Supreme Court let stand a decision in the 9th Circuit finding that SB 1 (California’s Financial Information Privacy Act) was not preempted by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In plain English, this means that California residents can opt-out of “affiliate sharing” among banks. Thus, if you have an account at Bank of America, you can ask the bank not to share information about your account with the company’s 2,000 affiliates! This sets the stage for other states to limit affiliate sharing, and in all likelihood, it means that some banks will simply stop affiliate sharing without direction from the consumer. Why is this important? Say that you are in charge of buying drinks for office parties, and that you regularly purchase large amounts of beer on your credit card for that purpose. Later, you apply for life insurance at Traveler’s. These entities are jointly owned, and they can make inferences from your purchase history information.

The Supreme Court also refused to review an important case from the 1st Circuit, involving the use of prescription records. In IMS Health, marketers challenged a prescription confidentiality law, which prohibited the sale of prescriber-identified prescription records. The 1st Circuit upheld the law, holding that it did not violate the free speech rights of prescription drug marketing companies. The 1st Circuit decision is important in particular because the court viewed the sale of records as mere conduct, rather than expression. If the sale of personal information is viewed in this way, marketing companies will have great difficulty framing privacy laws as restrictions on free speech. It also will mean that marketers will no longer see what drugs are prescribed on a per-physician basis in New Hampshire. Will this lower drug prices? Stay tuned!