Ten Years After Lieberman’s “Internet Kill Switch,” the War on Freedom Rages On

In 2010, US Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Thomas Carper (D-DE) introduced their Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act. Better known as the “Internet Kill Switch” proposal for the emergency powers it would have conferred on the president, the bill died without receiving a vote in either house of Congress.

A decade later, the same fake issues and the same authoritarian “solutions” continue to dominate discussions on the relationship between technology and state. The real issue remains the same as well. As I wrote in a column on the “Kill Switch” bill nearly 10 years ago:

“If the price of keeping Joe Lieberman in power is you staring over a plow at the ass end of a mule all day and lighting your home with candles or kerosene at night before collapsing on a bed of filthy straw, that’s a price Joe Lieberman is more than willing to have you pay.”

A single thread connects the “Internet Kill Switch” to the passage of Internet censorship provisions in the name of fighting sex trafficking (FOSTA/SESTA), the whining of federal law enforcement and intelligence officials  for “back doors” to cripple strong encryption, and President Trump’s threats to ban video-sharing app TikTok, supposedly because the Chinese government’s surveillance programs just might be as lawless and intrusive as those of the US government.

That thread is the burning, pathological compulsion which drives politicians and bureaucrats to control every aspect of our lives, on the flimsiest of excuses and no matter the cost to us.

The compulsion hardly limits itself to technology issues (the war on drugs in a great example of its scope), nor is it limited to the federal level of government (see, for example, the mostly state and local diktats placing millions of Americans under house arrest without charge or trial “because COVID-19”).

That thread and that compulsion are more obvious vis a vis the Internet than “public health”-based authoritarianism because we’ve been propagandized and indoctrinated into the latter ideology for centuries, while the public-facing Internet is younger than most Americans.

Few of us can remember the days before quarantine-empowered “health departments” in every county, let alone a time when a five-year-old could walk into a store and buy morphine without so much as a doctor’s note.

But most of us can remember a relatively censorship-free Internet and the false promises of politicians and bureaucrats to respect the dramatically expanded power it gave to free speech.

That makes “kill switches” and “back doors” and TikTok bans a tougher sell. But the political class is still coming after the Internet. If we want to continue living in the 21st century instead of the 11th, we’re going to have to keep fighting them.

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“Anarchist” Is Not An Insult

“These are anarchists, these are not protesters,” US president Donald Trump said on July 20th, defending his decision to unleash Department of Homeland Security hooligans on anti-police-violence demonstrators in Portland.  Anarchist-bashing  — referring to “radical left-anarchists” in Minneapolis, “ugly anarchists” in Seattle, etc. — has become a consistent Trump campaign theme since May.

Does Trump have any idea what an anarchist is? Or is he just hoping that frequent repetition of a word he associates with widespread fear and loathing will get an increasingly hostile American public back on his side?

It’s somewhat amusing that Donald Trump considers the word “anarchist” an insult, or that he fancies himself morally fit to insult anarchists.

He’s got a lot of nerve, that guy. He’s a head of state. Or, in more accurate English, a second-rate mafia don, chieftain of an overgrown street gang with delusions of grandeur.

Trump and his type — the “leaders” of political governments —  murdered hundreds of millions of innocent victims in the 20th century and are already off to a bang-up start in the 21st.

Trump and his ilk steal more wealth, destroy more property, and kill more of the people they claim to serve in any given week than all the anarchists in history combined. Then they try to shift the blame onto their victims and onto the anarchists who stand up for those victims.

Gangsters like Trump (and his 44 predecessors) aren’t morally qualified to shine a Black Bloc rabble-rouser’s Doc Martens, let alone criticize the ideological anarchists who daily expose the protection racket called the state.

Anarchism comes in many flavors, but at root it’s a simple concept: It calls for the absence of rulers.

Note that second “r.” Not an absence of rules, but of charlatans who empower and enrich themselves and their cronies on the false claim that they serve society by enforcing rules.

Nineteenth century anarchist Lysander Spooner exposed the American version of that racket, incidentally prophesying the arrival of Trump:

“[W]hether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.”

Not all who hear themselves called “anarchists” resemble the remark or deserve the praise, but high praise it is indeed. Anarchists are defenders of freedom and opponents of the death cult known as the modern state.

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Executive Orders: This is Trump’s Brain on Drugs

On July 24, US president Donald Trump signed four executive orders with an eye toward altering the way prescription drugs are priced and purchased in the United States.

Three of the four orders embody good ideas that accord with the goals of think tanks supposedly supporting “free-market policy solutions” to America’s healthcare problems.

Sally Pipes, president of one such think tank (the Pacific Research Institute), writes in opposition to those three orders, and in support of the fourth, anti-free-market order, at Fox News. Her opposition says more about PRI’s supposed support for free markets than about the quality of Trump’s orders. Let’s look at how these four measures stack up against a free-market approach.

The first order requires federally funded community health centers to “pass the giant discounts they receive from drug companies on insulin and EpiPens directly to their patients.”

These clinics advertise affordable, sliding payment scales for low-income patients. Trump’s leveraging their federal funding  to stop them from price-gouging patients. Even if we disagree over whether government should be funding healthcare at all, we should agree that taxpayer funding shouldn’t go toward picking the pockets of the poor.

The second order will “allow the safe and legal importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries where the price for the identical drug is incredibly lower.”

Trump usually opposes free trade, but this is a step in that direction, and it’s the RIGHT direction. The US government shouldn’t artificially jack up drug prices by restraining trade across borders.

The third order — which Pipes opposes — eliminates market incentives for pharmacy benefit managers who negotiate drug prices between insurer and pharmaceutical companies. Trump, decrying them as parasitical “middlemen,” hath decreed that they may not accept “rebates” from drug companies for successfully negotiating deals.

Yes, these “rebates” can create situations in which consumers ultimately pay more for drugs. They incentivize benefit managers  to negotiate bigger paychecks for themselves instead of lower prices for patients. But that’s an issue for market actors — pharmaceutical companies, insurers, pharmacies, and consumers — not government, to tussle over.

The fourth order brings us back to the same territory as the first: Taxpayer money versus drug pricing. It would require Medicare, the US government’s healthcare program for senior citizens, to negotiate drug prices based on an “International Pricing Index” reflecting prices in other developed nations.

Trump is delaying implementation of that order pending a counter-proposal from the industry, but it should be a slam-dunk. Medicare, whether one supports its existence or not, is effectively the biggest prescription drug purchasing network in the world. That market power should get its members the lowest, not the highest, prices.

Healthcare would be cheaper, better, and more accessible if government got its nose out of the matter entirely — but failing that, three of these four orders make good sense. They’re also a great litmus test. They tell us who really supports freer markets in healthcare and who just pays lip service to the notion while advocating crony capitalism in service to Big Pharma.

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“Peak Libertarianism?” No, Thom Hartmann is Just a Sore Winner

“We have now reached peak Libertarianism,” Thom Hartmann informs us at CounterPunch, “and this bizarre experiment that has been promoted by the billionaire class for over 40 years is literally killing us.”

That claim is so bizarre on its face that it’s easy to dismiss. On the other hand, even the craziest claims can fool people if nobody takes the time to debunk them.

Even in its most watered-down, weak-tea form, Libertarianism calls for “smaller government.” That’s not its real focal point (opposing aggression is), but let’s give Hartmann the maximum benefit of doubt here and have a look at American government since 1980.

As of 1980, the US government’s total spending came to a little less than $600 billion. As of 2019, that number was nearly $5 trillion. Even adjusting for inflation, the US government spends about three times what it spent 40 years ago (that number will be WAY up for this year due to COVID-19 “relief” and “stimulus” spending).

Of course, spending isn’t the only indicator of size of government. There’s also regulation.  As of 1980, according to George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, about 100 new pages were added to the Code of Federal Regulations each year. After trending generally upward for 39 years,  that number has exceeded 180 new pages each year since 2016. As for total pages published in the Federal Register, that’s gone up and down, but is about the same now (70,000 pages or so) as it was in 1980.

Perhaps Hartmann is thinking of something like the number of cops out there enforcing laws? I couldn’t easily find numbers going back to 1980, but from 1992 to 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of full-time law enforcement officers went up from fewer than 800,000 to more than a million, from 3.05 cops per thousand US residents to 3.43 cops per thousand.

Or maybe it’s the “social safety net” Hartmann has in mind?

Social Security outlays are way up in both nominal and wage-adjusted dollars since 1980, and steady as a percentage of GDP.

As of 1980, about 21 million Americans received average monthly benefits of $34.47 through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (when I was a kid, we called it “food stamps”). As of 2019, more than 35 million Americans received average monthly SNAP benefits of $129.83. SNAP benefit growth has out-paced inflation and the number of beneficiaries has out-paced population growth.

The actual numbers say America hasn’t moved so much as a whisker in the direction of “peak Libertarianism” over the last 40 years. Rather, it’s continued steadily down the road toward “peak Hartmannism” ever since LBJ’s Great Society, with relatively few bumps in that road since FDR’s New Deal.

Faux-“progressive,” actually reactionary, Hartmann  desperately wants to fob the blame off on Libertarians for the consequences of 85 years of failed policies he still supports.

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Yes, the Rent is Too Damn High — But Not Because the Minimum Wage is Too Damn Low

“Full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford a two-bedroom rental anywhere in the U.S.,” Alicia Adamczyk writes at CNBC, “and cannot afford a one-bedroom rental in 95% of U.S. counties.” Adamczyk gets her figures from the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual “Out of Reach” report.

Here are a few numbers NLIHC isn’t as eager to talk about:

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a whopping  1.9% of all American workers, and only 1% of full-time workers, earned minimum wage as of 2019. Also per BLS, minimum wage workers are more likely than average to be employed in food service jobs where wages are often supplemented with tips.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 60% of workers in the lowest income decile (which would include minimum wage earners) receive public assistance benefits that top off a full-time minimum wage earner’s wages by an average of about $1.50 an hour.

And then we come to two assumptions in the NLIHC report that become problematic, especially when combined.

The first assumption is that rent is only “affordable” if it comes to less than 30% of a person’s income. But that seems awfully one-size-fits-all. What if spending 35% of my income on rent saves me 10% of that income somewhere else — utility bills or gas costs for longer commutes, for example?

The second assumption is that that there’s only one earner living in (or at least only one earner contributing to the rent on) the household. That assumption seems especially silly as applied to two-bedroom rentals. In reality, many people share housing. They move in with their romantic partners, or find amicable roomies. Just as many hands make light work, many paychecks make lower per-person rent.

Is the rent, as Jimmy McMillan says, too damn high? In some places, absolutely. In many places, probably.

Is the rent being too damn high a function of the minimum wage being too damn low? No. A tiny fraction of one percent of Americans struggling to make rent are full-time minimum wage workers without secondary sources of income.

The rent is too damn high because the housing supply is too damn limited.

Who are the geniuses limiting the housing supply with permit schemes, zoning restrictions, and supposed “fair housing” rules, all while pretending they’re doing tenants a favor?

The same geniuses who oppress workers with minimum wage laws, licensing requirements, and supposed “labor protections,” all while pretending they’re doing workers a favor.

Making it harder for the average worker to earn a living and find  a place to live may not be the intended purpose of government as we know it, but it’s certainly the result of government as we know it.

Perhaps it’s time for America’s workers to re-think government as we know it.

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The Road to Hell is Paved with Economic Plans

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden says he has an economic plan for America to “Build Back Better.” US president Donald Trump complains that Biden “plagiarized” significant elements of that plan from, you guessed it, Donald Trump.

Both plans are packed full of bad ideas that have been proposed a thousand times by a thousand other politicians, so the plagiarism claim seems more trollish than truthy. The problem with both economic plans isn’t that they’re plagiarized, it’s that they ARE economic plans.

What is an economy?

Ask a politician, and you might get the idea that an economy is a metaphorical truck full of goodies. Give the keys to the right politician and everyone gets candy and ice cream. Give the keys to the wrong politician and he rolls the truck into a ravine and everyone starves.

Ask a bureaucrat, and you’re likely to get lists of “key indicators,” accompanied by graphs and charts attempting to explain life, the universe, and everything in terms of those indicators.

In actuality, an economy is the aggregate of nearly every decision, made by nearly every human being on the planet, nearly every second, of nearly every hour, of nearly every day.

The economy is whether you have lunch, and if so what you eat and how much of it.

The economy is whether you go to work today or call in sick and return to bed.

The economy is whether you try to make that old beater last one more year, or give in and go shopping for a new car, or start bicycling more and driving less.

The economy is everything you and eight billion other people decide to buy or not buy, sell or not sell, consume or not consume, and do or not do, 24/7/365, cradle to grave.

The idea that a politician or bureaucrat (government or corporate) can come up with an “economic plan” that takes all the relevant variables into account — forecasts what people need or want and efficiently allocates resources to make sure they get it — isn’t just silly, it’s dangerous.  We’re not even very good at forecasting the weather yet. Behind politicians’ “economic plans” lies the kind of hubris that that turns recessions into depressions, droughts into mass starvation episodes, and trade wars into shooting wars.

According to the “Build Back Better” plan, “Joe Biden believes to his core that there’s no greater economic engine in the world than the hard work and ingenuity of the American people.” Trump makes similar noises.

If they actually believed it, their “economic plans” would be identical and 11 words long: “Laissez faire et laissez passer, le monde va de lui meme” (“Let do and let pass, the world goes on by itself”).

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