Chicago taxes Netflix—Why not!

Service taxChicago is my birthplace and my favorite place to visit family. Unfortunately, it is also a city guided by morons.

Chicago politicians think that they can tax cloud and streaming services that sell to their residents, including Netflix, Spotify, Pandora, XBox Live—and even premium email services.

They can enact a cloud tax, of course. But can it be applied fairly? Can it be enforced? —At what cost? It certainly can’t be enforced at a cost that is less than many times the anticipated revenue. But who cares? This is Chicago!

More likely, any attempt to enforce such a screwy tax would simply move the providers further away from Chicago jurisdiction. If the entire country is compelled to honor and collect taxes on behalf of every other municipality, then the service will simply be moved to another country. After all, we are talking about virtual services, aren’t we?!

Can you imagine the Chutzpah? As if there is something local about internet service.

Can Chicago tax at the source? Not a chance. Can they tax at the consumption point? (i.e. tax anyone using a service within their jurisdiction). Let’s think it through. The dim bulbs who enacted this tax, haven’t tried thinking, so we will pose the easy questions…

Will they tax tourists passing through airports and checking email or watching Netflix in the waiting area? What about a Chicago internet-tax-increaseresident who watches TV primarily at his child’s home in the suburbs? Does he pay the tax to Chicago? Perhaps the city will create a bureaucracy of exemptions for tourists and residents who consume entertainment while traveling. Why not? Whatever tax is ultimately collected could be used to employ more Internet Savvy politicians! Then it becomes a jobs bill!

Here’s another good scenario: What about an XBox account that was purchased as a gift by an out of state Grandpa. He used his own address so that he can pay the bills. Is Grandpa now an illegal tax delinquent? Will there be a warrant for his arrest when he visits little Billy? Or will Chicago perform deep-packet inspection to ensure that Billy is lawfully using the Internet and is not using an out of town XBox account?

Perhaps, the tax is simply levied on a subscriber’s billing address. That would be real smart, Mr. legislator! What about a Chicago residence who is traveling far from home? I occasionally use a VPN relay to get around Netflix geographic restrictions. Does a Chicago resident traveling or living in Germany pay a tax to Chicago for viewing Netflix?

This is not a minor land grab. It is a serious attempt to tax the flow of bits.

wing_nuts

Chicago City Council meeting

It is doomed to failure, of course. Perhaps city council overlooked the fact that the state recently struck down the Amazon tax. Florida even backed down from taxing real-world services such as dental cleaning, Federal Express, fitness membership and private school tuition. If they found it difficult to tax these businesses with Florida addresses and direct customer contact, just how far do they think a tax on cloud services will fly?

Wild Ducks know that I am given to sarcasm. I promised a few readers that I would tone it down just a scooch. But when wing nuts enact wacky legislation in the name of helping constituents (or in the name of religious freedom), avoiding sarcasm is an unreasonable expectation. Their actions beg to be put into perspective. Not one of these idiots sat down to consider whether a cloud tax is reasonable, fair or enforceable.

Ellery responds. Speak your opinion here.

Lily is not a Drone—She’s a Flying Selfie

Please don’t call Lily a “drone”. That’s the pitch from Lily Robotics, maker of an an aerial selfie-camera. Rather than a flying toy for hobbyists, they market it to outdoor sports enthusiasts, as a competitor to the GoPro wearable camera.

Lily is different than other drones, because she has no remote control, manual control or Smartphone app to guide it. Instead, it operates differently…

  • It simply follows and films the user. (It can also film from the front or side).
  • There is no flight control. Simply throw it into the area (in an open space). The propellers automatically unfold and it begins following a waterproof tracker in a user’s pocket or on his wrist.
  • The microphone is not on the drone. Instead, it is located in the tracking device carried by the user. In fact, the tracker has several functions:
    • It guides the drone to follow and film the user
    • The user can tell Lili take hi-res snapshots
    • The user can change video mode: Follow, lead, or fly along side
    • The user can recall Lily to land on an outstretched hand

Coolest feature that is not immediately obvious

Lily is waterproof. She can be thrown into a pool or lake. In the crowd funding video below, it films a whitewater kyack adventure both from behind and even from the front.

Limitations

  • Lily has a 20 minute flight time (far more than less expensive, recreational ‘toy’ drones).
  • Lily cannot sense trees, buildings, power lines or obstacles. It can be used only in wide open areas. For this reason, it is useful for outdoor open-area sports only, such as skiing, soccer or rafting. It’s a safe bet that the makers will eventually address this shortcoming and introduce a version that can navigate around obstacles and film in tight quarters.

This slick video makes the benefits and fun of Lily very clear

For details and an interesting perspective of the design philosophy, see this interview with an officer of the start up that makes Lily.

Crowd funding started in May 2015. Participants can purchase Lily for $499. The company plans to introduce it in February 2016 for $999.

Website: lily.camera (that’s the full URL: “.camera” is a top level domain)

From time to time, AWildDuck offers previews or reviews of new products and services. Ellery and AWildDuck received no money or consideration for this article—and has had no contact with the company as of the publishing date. We have not tested this product, which had not been released as of the publishing date.

Our Universe is Fine Tuned for Life—Why?

Consider how many natural laws and constants—both physical and chemical—have been discovered since the time of the early Greeks. Hundreds of thousands of natural laws have been unveiled in man’s never ending quest to understand Earth and the universe.

I couldn’t name 1% of the laws of nature and physics. Here are just a few that come to mind from my spotty recollection of high school science. I shall not offer a bulleted list, because that would suggest that these random references to laws and constants are organized or complete. It doesn’t even scratch the surface…

Newton’s Law of force (F=MA), Newton’s law of gravity, The electromagnetic force, strong force, weak force, Avogadro’s Constant, Boyle’s Law, the Lorentz Transformation, Maxwell’s equations, laws of thermodynamics, E=MC2, particles behave as waves, superpositioning of waves, universe inflation rate, for every action… etc, etc.

For some time, physicists, astronomers, chemists, and even theologians have pondered an interesting puzzle: Why is our universe so carefully tuned for our existence?And, not just our existence—After all, it makes sense that our stature, our senses and things like muscle mass and speed have evolved to match our environment. But here’s the odd thing—If even one of a great many laws, properties or constants were off by even a smidgen, the whole universe could not exist—at least not in a form that could support life as we imagine it! Even the laws and numbers listed above. All of creation would not be here, if any of these were just a bit off…

cosmic_questWell, there might be something out there, but it is unlikely to have resulted in life—not even life very different than ours. Why? Because without the incredibly unique balance of physical and chemical properties that we observe, matter would not coalesce into stars, planets would not crunch into balls that hold an atmosphere, and they would not clear their path to produce a stable orbit for eons. Compounds and tissue would not bind together. In fact, none of the things that we can imagine could exist.

Of course, theologians have a pat answer. In one form or another, religions answer all of cosmology by stating a matter of faith: “The universe adheres to God’s design, and so it makes sense that everything works”. This is a very convenient explanation, because these same individuals forbid the obvious question: ‘Who created God?’ and ‘What existed before God?’ Just ask Bill Nye or Bill Maher. They have accepted offers to debate those who feel that God created Man instead of the other way around.

Scientists, on the other hand, take pains to distance themselves from theological implications. They deal in facts and observable phenomenon. Then, they form a hypotheses and begin testing. That’s what we call the scientific method.

If any being could evolve without the perfect balance of laws and constants that we observe, it would be a single intelligence distributed amongst a cold cloud of gas. A universe that is not based on many of the observed numbers (including the total mass of everything in existence) probably could not be stable for very long.

rene_descartes-sDoes this mean that  it’s all about you?! Are you, Dear reader, the only thing in existence?—a living testament to René Descartes?

Don’t discount that notion. Cosmologists acknowledge that your own existence is the only thing of which you can be absolutely sure. (“I think. Therefore, I am”). If you cannot completely trust your senses as a portal to reality, then no one else provably exists. But, most scientists (and the rest of us, too) are willing to assume that we come from a mother and father and that the person in front of us exists as a separate thinking entity. After all, if we can’t start with this assumption, then the rest of physics and reality hardly matters, because we are too far removed from the ‘other’ reality to even contemplate what is outside of our thoughts.

Two questions define the field of cosmology—How did it all begin and why does it work?  Really big questions are difficult to test, and so we must rely heavily on tools and observation:

  • Is the Big Bang a one-off event, or is it one in a cycle of recurring events?
  • Is there something beyond the observable universe? (i.e. the one that traces back to the Big Bang)
  • Do the laws of physics and chemistry that we observe in our region of the galaxy apply everywhere?
  • Is there intelligent life beyond Earth?

Having theories that are difficult to test does not mean that scientists aren’t making progress. Even in the absence of frequent testing, a lot can be learned from observation. Prior to 1992, no planet had ever been observed or detected outside of our solar system. For this reason, we had no idea of the likelihood that planets form and take orbit around stars.

Today, almost 2000 exoplanets have been discovered with 500 of them belonging to multiple planetary systems. All of these were detected by indirect evidence—either the periodic eclipsing of light from a star, which indicates that something is in orbit around it, or subtle wobbling of the star itself, which indicates that it is shifting around a shared center of gravity with a smaller object. But wait! Just this month, a planet close to our solar system (about 30 light years away) was directly observed. This is a major breakthrough, because it gives us an opportunity to perform spectral analysis of the planet and its atmosphere.

Is this important? That depends on goals and your point of view. For example, one cannot begin to speculate on the chances for intelligent life, if we have no idea how common or unusual it is for a star to be orbited by planets. It is a critical factor in the Drake Equation. (I am discounting the possibility of a life form living within a sun, not because it is impossible or because I am a human-chauvinist, but because it would not likely be a life form that we will communicate with in this millennium).

Stephen HawkingOf course, progress sometimes raises completely new questions. In the 1970s, Francis Drake and Carl Sagan began exploring the changing rate of expansion between galaxies. This created an entirely new question and field of study related to the search for dark matter.

Concerning the titular question: “Why is the universe fine-tuned for life?”,  cosmologist Stephen Hawking offered an explanation last year that might help us to understand. At last, it offers a theory, even if it is difficult to test. The media did their best to make Professor Hawking’s explanation digestible, explaining it something like this [I am paraphrasing]:

There may be multiple universes. We observe only the one in which we exist. Since our observations are limited to a universe with physical constants and laws that resulted in us—along with Stars, planets, gravity and atmospheres, it seems that the conditions for life are all too coincidental. But if we imagine countless other universes outside of our realm (very few with life-supporting properties), then the coincidence can be dismissed. In effect, as observers, we are regionalized into a small corner.

Cosmic EpochsThe press picked up on this explanation with an unfortunate headline that blared the famous Professor had proven that God does not exist. Actually, Hawking said that miracles stemming out of religious beliefs are “not compatible with science”. Although he is an atheist, he said nothing about God not existing. He simply offered a theory to explain  an improbable coincidence.

I am not a Cosmologist. I only recently have come to understand that it is the science of origin and is comprised of astronomy, particle physics, chemistry and philosophy. (But not religion—please don’t go there!). If my brief introduction piques your interest, a great place to spread your wings is with Tim Maudlin’s recent article in Aeon Magazine, The Calibrated Cosmos. Tim succinctly articulates the problem of a fine-tuned universe in the very first paragraph:

“Theories now suggest that the most general structural elements of the universe — the stars and planets, and the galaxies that contain them — are the products of finely calibrated laws and conditions that seem too good to be true.”

And: “Had the constants of nature taken slightly different values, we would not be here.”

The article delves into the question thoroughly, while still reading at a level commensurate with Sunday drivers like you and me. If you write to Tim, tell him I sent you. Tell him that his beautifully written article has added a whole new facet to my appreciation for being!

Related: Quantum Entanglement: EPR Paradox

Could Bitcoin be Dethroned by an Altcoin?

Cryptocurrency aficionados have been discussing Bitcoin limitations ever since the blockchain buzz hit the street. Geeks toss around ideas for clearing transactions faster, resisting potential attacks, rewarding miners after the last coin is mined, and supporting anonymity (or the opposite—if you lean toward the darkaltcoins side). There are many areas in which Bitcoin could be improved, or made more conducive to one camp or another.

Distinguished Penn State professor, John Carroll, believes that Bitcoin may eventually be marginalized due to its early arrival. He believes that its limitations will eventually be overcome by newer “altcoins”, presumably with improved mechanisms.

So, does progress in any of these areas threaten the reigning champ? It’s unlikely…

More than any other individual, Andreas Antonopoulos is the face of Bitcoin. We discussed this very issue in the outer lobby of the MIT Bitcoin Expo at which he was keynote speaker (March 2015). Then, we discussed it again, when I hosted his presentation at The Bitcoin Event Andreas Antonopoulos-01sin New York (also in March). He clearly and succinctly explained to me why it is unlikely that an altcoin will replace Bitcoin as the dominant—and eventually surviving—cryptocurrency

It is not simply that Bitcoin was first or derived from Satoshi’s original paper, although this clearly established precedent, propelled it into the media, and ignited a grassroots industry. More importantly, Bitcoin is unlikely to be surpassed by an altcoin because:

  1. Bitcoin is open source. It is difficult enough for skeptics to accept that an open source protocol can be trusted. Users, businesses, banks, exchanges and governments may eventually trust a distributed, open source movement. After all, math is more trustworthy and less transient than governments. Math cannot inflate itself, bend to political winds, or print future generations into debt if it is tied to a cap. But it is unlikely that these same skeptics will allow an inventor with a proprietary mechanism to take custody of their wealth, or one in which the content of all wallets cannot be traced back to the origin.
  2. If we accept #1 (that a viable contender must be open source and either public or freely licensed), then Bitcoin developers or wallet vendors are free to incorporate the best protocols and enhancements from the alt-developers. They can gradually be folded into Bitcoin and adopted by consensus. This is what Gavin and the current developers at Bitcoin Prime do. They protect, enhance, extend, and promote. Looked at another way, when a feature or enhancement is blessed—and when 3 or 4 of the leading 7 wallets honor it, it becomes part of Bitcoin.

Bitcoin has achieved a two-sided network effect, just like Acrobat PDF. Unseating an entrenched two-sided network requires disruptive technology and implementation with clear benefits. But in the case of a widely distributed, trusted and universally adopted tool (such as a public-use monetary instrument), a contender must be open source. The Cryptocurrency Standards Association, The Bitcoin Foundation and the leading wallet vendors have always been open and eager to incorporate the best open source ideas into Bitcoin.

Even if Bitcoin were replaced by an altcoin or by “Bitcoin 2.0”, it is likely that the public would only migrate to the enhanced coin if it were tied to the original equity corpus of earned and mined coins from the Bitcoin era. That is, we all know that Satoshi may have thousands of original Bitcoins, but few among us would tolerate (a) losing all of our Bitcoin value, and (b) rewarding a blockchain wannabe who declares that his coins are worth more than the grassroots legacy of vested millions that came before.

string_can_phoneConsidering Prof Carroll’s analogy: “Who will use an acoustic string telephone when he could access a mobile phone.” A more accurate analogy is the evolution of the 32 year old AMPS phone network (the first widely deployed cell phone network). In 1983, the original phones were analogue and limited to 400 channels. Like their non-cellular predecessors, user equipment was bulky. Phones were divided into bulky components in the trunk, under the seat and a corded handset. They lacked GPS, LTE and many signaling features that we now take for granted. Yet carriers, equipment manufacturers and users were never forced to throw away equipment and start over. The network grew, adopted, and yielded incentives for incremental user-equipment upgrade.

With all due respect to the distinguished Penn State professor, John Carroll, Wild Ducks believe that Bitcoin need’t relinquish the throne. It is evolving!

Ellery is a board director of The Cryptocurrency Standards Association
This article was published simultaneously in the Lifeboat Foundation Blog

Related: Stellar & Ripple: Pretender to Bitcoin throne?

Privacy –vs– Anonymity

My friend and business partner, Manny Perez holds elective office. As New York State politicians go, he is an all around decent guy! The first things colleagues and constituents notice about him is that he is ethical, principled, has a backbone, and is compassionate for the causes he believes in.

Manny wears other hats. In one role, he guides an ocean freighter as  founder and co-director of CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency Standards Association. Manny-guitar-sWith the possible exceptions of Satoshi Nakamoto and Andreas Antonopoulos, Manny knows more about Bitcoin than anyone.

But Manny and I differ on the role of privacy and anonymity in financial dealings. While he is a privacy advocate, Manny sees anonymity —and especially civilian tools of anonymity—as a separate and potentially illegal concept. He is uneasy about even discussing the use of intentionally architected anonymity in any financial or communications network. He fears that our phone conversation may be parsed (I agree) and trigger a human review (I agree) and that it could be construed as evidence of promoting illegal technology. This is where we differ… I agree, but I don’t care how anyone who is not party to a private conversation construes it! Yet, I see anonymity as either synonymous with privacy or at least a constituent component. You can’t have one without the other.

Manny was raised in Venezuela, where he was schooled and held is first jobs. He was involved in the energy industry. He acknowledges that experience with a repressive and graft-prone government, lead to a belief in the more open approach of free, markets coupled with a democratic government.

Perhaps the main source of our different viewpoints is that Manny comes from a repressive land and has come to respect the rules based structure within his comfort zones, of banking, energy and government. He is a certified AML expert (anti-money laundering) and believes strongly in other financial oversight rules, like KYC (Know Your Customer) and RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act).

Because Manny is appreciative of the opportunity and benefits conveyed by his adoptive country, he may overlook a fact that that pings on the mind of other privacy advocates: That is, we may one day need protection from our own government. After all, who but a conspiracy nut or white supremacist could imagine the US government suppressing its populace. Sure, they engage in a little domestic spying—but if you have nothing to hide, why hide at all?!

This week, Manny posted an open letter to the cryptocurrency community. His organization, CRYPSA is at the intersection of that community with law, technology and politics. His letter addresses privacy, anonymity and transparency, but the title is “How can you report a stolen bitcoin?” For me, the issue is a non-sequitur. You needn’t, you shouldn’t, the reporting superstructure shouldn’t exist, and in a well designed system, you can’t.* More to the point, the imposition of any centralized reporting or recording structure would violate the principles of a decentralized, p2p currency.

To be fair, Manny is not a sheep, blindly falling into line. He is shrewd, independent and very bright. But in response to my exaggerated and one-dimensional Manny, I have assembled some thoughts…

1. Privacy, Anonymity and Crime

Bitcoin pile-sThe debate about Bitcoin serving as a laundering mechanism for cyber-criminals is a red herring. Bitcoin does not significantly advance the art of obfuscation or anonymity. There have long been digital E-golds and stored value debit cards that offer immunity from tracking. They are just as easy to use over the Internet.

Moreover, it’s common for crime or vice to drive the early adoption of new technology, especially technology that ushers in a paradigm shift. The problem with linking Bitcoin to crime is that it drives a related debate on transparency, forensics and government oversight. This is a bad association. Transparency should be exclusively elective, being triggered only after a transaction—if and when one party seeks to prove that a payment was made or has a need to discuss a contractual term.

On the other hand, a good mechanism should render forensic analysis a futile effort if attempted by a 3rd party without consent of the parties to a transaction. We should always resist the temptation to build a “snitch” into our own tools. Such designs ultimately defeat their own purpose. They do not help to control crime—Rather, they encourage an invasive government with its fingers in too many people’s private affairs.

CRYPSA is building tools that allow Bitcoin users to ensure that both parties can uncover a transaction completely, but only a party to the transaction wishes to do so!. For example, a parent making a tuition payment to a college can prove the date, amount and courses associated with that payment; a trucker or salesman with a daily expense account can demonstrate to his employer that a purchase was associated with food and lodging and not with souvenirs. And, of course, a taxpayer under audit can demonstrate whatever he wishes about each receipt or payment.

But in every case, the transaction is opaque (and if properly secured, it is completely anonymous) until the sender or recipient chooses to expose details to scrutiny. I will never accept that anonymity is evil nor evidence of illicit intent. Privacy is a basic tenet of a democracy and a government responsible to its citizens. CRYPSA develops tools of transparency, because commerce, businesses and consumers often need to invoke transparency—and not because any entity demands it of them.

We are not required to place our telephone conversations on a public server for future analysis (even if our government saves the metadata or the complete conversation to its clandestine servers). Likewise, we should not expose our transactions to interlopers, no matter their interest or authority. The data should be private until the data generator decides to make it public.

2. Reporting a Transaction (Why not catalog tainted coins?)

Manny also wants to aid in the serialization and cataloging of tainted funds, much like governments do with mass movement of cash into and out of the banking network. This stems from an earnest desire is to help citizens, and not to spy. For example, it seems reasonable that a mechanism to report the theft of currency should be embedded into Bitcoin technology. Perhaps the stolen funds can be more easily identified if digital coins themselves (or their transaction descendants) are fingered as rogue.

The desire to imbue government with the ability to trace the movement of wealth or corporate assets is a natural one. It is an outgrowth of outdated monetary controls and our comfort with centralized trust-endowed. In fact, it is not even a necessary requirement in levying or enforcing taxes.

Look at it this way…

  1. Bitcoin transactions are irreversible without the identification and cooperation of the original payee (the one who received funds). Of course, identification is not a requisite for making a transaction, any more than identification is required for a cash purchase at a restaurant or a newsstand.
  2. There are all sorts of benefits of both anonymous transactions and secure, irrevocable transactions—or least those that cannot be reversed without the consent of the payee. This is one of the key reasons that Bitcoin is taking off despite the start-up fluctuations in exchange rate.
  3. Regarding the concern that senders occasionally wish to reverse a transaction (it was mistaken, unauthorized, or buyer’s remorse), the effort to report, reverse or rescind a transaction is very definitely barking up the wrong tree!

The solution to improper transactions is actually quite simple.

a) Unauthorized Transactions

Harden the system and educate users. Unauthorized transactions can be prevented BEFORE they happen. Even in the worst case, your money will be safer than paper bills in your back pocket, or even than an account balance at your local bank.

b) Buyer’s Remorse and Mistaken transactions

Buyer beware. Think before you reach for your wallet! Think about what you are buying, from whom, and how you came to know them. And here is something else to think about (issues that are being addressed by CRYPSA)…

i.   Do you trust that the product will be shipped?
ii.  Did you bind your purchase to verifiable terms or conditions?
iii. Is a third party guarantor involved (like Amazon or eBay)?

All of these things are available to Bitcoin buyers, if they only educate themselves. In conclusion, “reporting” transactions that you wish to rescind is a red herring. It goes against a key tenant of cryptocurrency. It is certainly possible that a distributed reverse revocation mechanism can be created and implemented. But if this happens, users will migrate to another platform (call it Bitcoin 2.0).

You cannot dictate oversight, rescission or rules to that which has come about from organic tenacity. Instead, we should focus on implementing tools that help buyers and businesses identify sellers who agree to these extensions up front. This, again, is what CRYPSA is doing. It is championing tools that link a transaction to business standards and to user selective transparency. That is, a transaction is transparent if—and only if— the parties to a transaction agree to play by these rules, and if one of them decides to trigger the transparency. For all other p2p transactions, there is no plan to tame the Wild West. It is what it is.

* When I say that you should not report a stolen coin, I really mean that you should not run to the authorities, because there is nothing that they can do. But this is not completely accurate.

20130529_102314a1. There are mechanisms that can announce your theft back into a web of trust. Such a mechanism is at the heart of the certificate revocation method used by the encryption tool, PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). CRYPSA plans to design a similar user-reporting mechanism to make the cryptocurrency community safer.

2. Authorities should still be alerted to theft or misuse of assets. They can still investigate a crime scene, and follow a money trail in the same way that they do with cash transactions, embezzlement or property theft. They can search for motive and opportunity. They have tools and resources and they are professionals at recovering assets.


 

Disclosure: Just like Manny, I am also a CRYPSA director and acting Co-Chairman. (Cryptocurrency Standards Association). This post reflects my personal opinion on the issue of “reporting” unintended, unauthorized or remorseful transactions. I do not speak for other officers or members.

Will Hillary Gag Her Critics?

My friend, Peter, is at it again. He’s the dude with a geographic license to wear loud, floral print shirts that don’t tuck in. We used to be friendly competitors in the email security space. But we both switched careers long ago and we are now fast friends at a distance.

I said “at a distance” because we are separated by both land and politics. At 5100 miles (8200 km), we are geography separated as far as two people in USA can be! And the political distance between a bible-toting redneck and a blue-blooded Libertarian is nearly as great! Actually, I am exaggerating the metaphor… Neither of us is at the fringe—but as the pendulum swings, we each tend to be adrift from the center!

I have always been impressed with Peter’s ability to initiate passionate and popular debate. While this Blog elicits between zero and ten comments for each article, a simple post on Peter’s Facebook wall gets 75 responses, often within hours. His capacity to generate discussion and debate not only speaks to Peter’s breadth of contacts, but more importantly to a keen sense of hot-button issues!

Last week, Peter asked his friends to opine on Hillary Clinton. He was critical of her desire to vet Supreme Court nominees based on their willingness to restrict free speech rights for campaign commercials that slander a candidate in proximity to an election.

His question refers to this article. [Click below to read in a new window]

Hillary

Actually, the use of the term slander is my spin. Slander invokes a very different legal bar, and it is not a form of protected speech. But Hillary openly opposes the airing of any critical opinion in the days leading up to an election.

Peter asks:

If you and your friends pool your resources into a corporation making a movie that comes out 30 days prior to an election criticizing candidate Ted Cruz, should you be arrested? If you answered “No”, then I hope you also agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United.

 

A Wild Duck response…

I have read and understand the Powerline Blog piece on Citizens United. I fully agree with the Supreme Court decision. And, of course, I believe that Clinton should avoid a litmus test that buttresses her effort to thwart our First Amendment.

My initial reaction was to wonder if anyone feels differently? Who can argue with free speech, especially when it comes to politics. Perhaps I live among a small circle of friends, but I can’t think of anyone—regardless of their politics—who would expect or desire a different outcome. (I am assuming that the Powerline article was not slanted—or lacking some germane point!)

Big Business, Money and Free Speech

What if big money backs free speech? Surely, that type of speech should be restricted. Right? Not on your life! The argument that organizations are not people and that they shouldn’t enjoy basic rights just doesn’t hold water. And the argument that money buys elections is just daffy!…

What are we? Idiots and sheep?! There is no such thing as “buying” an election. Not in a country with a free press, free speech and the Internet. Of course, access to money helps any persuasive campaign, just as a well-funded ad campaign helps Coca-Cola sell more soda than Fred’s regional cola. But, when was the last time that you or a family member voted for a candidate because she had more TV ads? If you ask me, modern electioneering is comprised mostly of negative attack ads. I suspect thst expensive messages leading up to an election are more likely to dissuade voters than they are to “buy” votes.

Hillary as President

I have not yet formed a position for or against Hillary as a presidential candidate. But, I would give her a pass for being pig-headed on this issue, at least in public discourse. The ramifications of free speech have hit too close for her to think straight. I doubt that she will find a credible candidate for Supreme Court Judge that would vote to prohibit an opinion piece, regardless of its sponsors or timing.

On Second Thought

church-&-state-sHere, at Wild Duck, I rarely equivocate. My opinions are as pig-headed and bull nosed as Hillary’s. But once in a while, I acknowledge that there may be another side to an issue. (Not the free speech issue. On that, I stand firm). But, on assuming that a candidate—if elected—would not act on their radical or religious beliefs. On this point, I can no longer vote with smug assurance…

I once gave Republicans a pass on the issue of a litmus test. I assumed that they would  never hand pick ANTI-choice justices or ANTI separation of church-state justices. I thought it impossible that any educated individual could be a bible thumper. I was wrong. Clearly, some politicians and judges mix religion with politics or seek to force our sisters and daughters into back room abortions.

And so, Peter, I shall reflect on your question a bit more! Regards from your slightly more liberal friend on the mainland.


 

Like Peter Kay, Ellery occasionally pontificates on politics of the day. But,
unlike Peter, Ellery is apt to opine from a liberal or Libertarian perspective.

Fool’s Mission: Asserting Open Carry Rights

There is a cottage industry afoot that entails making an amateur video of yourself or a friend asserting the right to walk down the street with a gun, but without a badge. After all, we live in a country with a 2nd amendment (the right of citizens to bear arms) and some communities drive this point home by having explicit open carry laws.

LiveLeak.com has recently staked their fame on videos submitted by yahoos, often featuring gang members or reckless youth brazenly taunting police. (“I was just walking down the street officer…minding my own business!)”. In one particularly troubling video, a guy walks into a police station wearing full body armor and carrying an AR15 assault rifle. He calls this behavior a “2nd amendment audit”. Yeah, right! By the same logic, you could test your right of peaceful assembly by surrounding a midnight girl scout campfire with gang members carrying grenade launchers, hand cuffs and duck tape.

There is no confrontation in the police station audit, but check out this video, instead…

Drop to the ground!

This is not a video about race, guns or constitutional rights. It is a video about two individuals and their girlfriends making an a*s of themselves.

It’s not the message about race that bothers me…

In this video, one protagonist is white and the other is black. But before we get into the sub-plot, let’s address the main premise… Do these guys have a constitutional right to bear arms?

Yes they do! But there is no national consensus on what it means to “bear arms”. Do they have a constitutional right to display automatic weapons as they walk down a street? That’s certainly in doubt. If so, then you could extrapolate this to a right to carry grenades and chemical bombs. Do they have a right to openly carry weapons down the streets of this particular community? Perhaps. Maybe. I don’t know.

But even if their actions are intended to assert their rights or demonstrate a bias toward black males, they are still idiots. Regardless of laws and rights, a society lives on norms of conduct, safety and behavior. Quote me all the rights that you wish; we still can’t have citizens walking down the street with assault rifles or Uzis. Unlike the police, there is no way to know if they have been adequately trained, screened for mental health, enraged by a recent incident, or simply looking for trouble.

These guys are clearly jerks. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand their motives. I was once young, arrogant, with a chip on my shoulder, and also an idiot. Too bad that there isn’t a better way to communicate across generations and save these dolts from making the same mistakes in an effort to assert their ‘rights’.

The Narrator’s Other Message

To be fair, the accompanying article explains: “The white guy did not have a gun pulled on him, the black guy never got a chance to say anything before a gun was pulled on him.” The video shows two separate events. One in which a white man is challenged without apparent fear or violence and the other in which an officer draws a gun on a younger black man and yells for him to drop to the ground before engaging in any discussion. Is there a point here about race, balanced law enforcement and prejudice? Sure! But that doesn’t change the fact that both men are idiots.

Let’s be clear. Race is not a main point of the video. In the opening scene, a lunkhead states that he will stage a provocative exercise for “educational purposes” and to ensure that the state of Oregon does not trample on his rights. As to the race angle, there are certainly other ways to research and present sociological data. In fact, it can be done in a manner that solicits the viewer to reflect on their own bias and perhaps take action in changing perceptions and practices. But this certainly wasn’t a primary motive for the white guy wanting to demonstrate his rights. He just wanted to poke a bobcat with a sharp, flaming stick. In his book, it makes him hot stuff; a really big cheese. In my book, he demonstrates about as much sense as a soft boiled egg.

What do you think? I would particularly like to hear from some gun rights supporters. Is it reasonable to demonstrate your rights by walking down a busy street with an assault weapon?