URLs du Jour

2021-01-27

[Amazon Link]

  • We've blogged on this before. Unfortunately, it's an active issue. Armin Rosen writes on a puzzling phenomenon: Journalists Mobilize Against Free Speech.

    American journalism once thought of itself as being inherently and institutionally pro free speech. Visitors to the Newseum, the media industry’s temple of self-glorification on Constitution Avenue in Washington, were once greeted with the First Amendment inscribed across 74 vertical feet of lofty marble. The Newseum has been closed since late 2019, its operators having discovered the hard way that the public doesn’t share the media’s heroic level of regard for itself.

    The museum was an anachronism in more ways than one: The idea that journalists themselves look upon the constitutional right to free expression with quasi-religious awe is nearly as quaint as the idea the media could be the basis for a major D.C. tourist attraction. A publicly beloved press that earnestly believes in free speech now feels like it belongs to some fictive era of good feelings. These days, the American public distrusts the media more than it ever has.

    Confronted with this crisis of legitimacy, today’s corporate media increasingly advances ideas that would delight would-be power trippers of any party—like establishing novel forms of government control over what you can see, read, and hear and identifying people with a broad range of unpopular or unapproved views as domestic terrorists. Public discourse is now a “conflict space” with social media serving as an “information warzone,” the public intellectual Peter W. Singer declared in an essay published a few days after the alternately scary and farcical Trump riot on Capitol Hill, seamlessly adapting a framework of state-level physical violence to a discussion of constitutionally protected speech.

    I'm old enough to remember when Ari Fleischer's 2001 advice to Americans to "watch what they say, watch what they do." was taken as the harbinger of imminent fascism. (If you're operating under that delusion, see Christopher Hitchens' debunking.) But now even journalists, along with other "intellectuals", are demanding that we watch what we say, or else.


  • But it's not just those "tolerant" lefties. Mike Masnick takes a look at the GOP schemes: House Republicans Have A Big Tech Plan... That Is Both Unconstitutional And Ridiculous.

    Republicans have spent decades holding themselves out as the party of "small government" and "keeping government out of business," while also claiming to be strict supporters of an originalist interpretation of the Constitution. The reality, of course, is something altogether different. Even as Republican politicians often pay lips [sic] service to these claims, their policy ideas show the opposite. The top Republican on the House Energy & Commerce Committee has announced the GOP's "Big Tech Accountability Platform" that has an astounding level of government interference not just into business, but into the 1st Amendment rights of all Americans.

    The full plan is somewhat astounding (I don't know why it's showing sideways, but I guess download it and rotate it). It opens by paying lip service to the idea of the 1st Amendment, and the value of "more speech" over suppressing speech. But then immediately seeks to undermine the 1st Amendment by suggesting that internet companies should be compelled to host speech they disagree with. It falsely suggests that the decision to suspend President Trump's account was an attack on his conservative views, and not his efforts to incite his supporters into overturning the election. It includes a section on giving law enforcement more access to content and forcing tech companies to become an arm of law enforcement. It (of course!) has a section on protecting "our children."

    The whole thing is a censor's dream.

    Masnick could be a little more even-handed; certainly "Big Tech" is being hammered from both left and right these days. In the linked memo, the author explicitly calls for a "bipartisan" approach, and that's way too likely to happen.


  • Bryan Caplan brings us The Office of Free Speech: A Not-So-Modest Proposal for Academia. It's written by an (understandably) anonymous professor at the University of Texas. After briefly describing the hostile environment faced by heretics in Academia and the lack of remedies available to them:

    Existing institutions and norms are thus insufficient to address the problems of the current moment.  What is required is administrative reform, where attacks on academic freedom, free speech, and intellectual diversity are treated with at least the same degree of seriousness as other offenses at universities.  Specifically, every university should have an “Office of Free Speech” where faculty can lodge complaints when their academic freedom or free speech rights are violated, or when policies are put in place to limit the possibilities for intellectual diversity.  This office must have adequate funding to complete independent investigations of such allegations, and it should report directly to the highest authority governing the university, either the board of trustees or regents for most private universities or the regents or state legislature for public universities.  These investigations must have teeth; attacking academic freedom (not simply criticizing speech with speech) cannot be allowed to stand as acceptable behavior for administrators, faculty, or students.  The same sorts of consequences available for other offenses should be applied to those who use their position at the university to deprive others of their institutional or constitutional rights.  The office should not go as far as hounding people to suicide through punitive investigations and promotion of angry mobs, but those who weaponize university processes against innocent faculty should bear some costs for their actions.

    As we've noted in the past, the University Near Here (like many) has a website ("reportit!") where people can "report and learn about incidents of bias or hate, discrimination and/or harassment".

    Wouldn't it be nice to have an equally prominent site where people could "report and learn about" efforts to suppress free speech among the members of the university community? And to have those reports taken seriously and investigated?

    Well, that won't happen.


  • Robert VerBruggen tells us about The New (Old) Minimum-Wage Debate.

    A major downside to raising the minimum wage is that it could decrease employment. If employers have to spend more for each person they hire and each hour they assign, they might do less hiring and cut back on hours. But don’t worry, say the policy’s defenders: While older research did tend to find negative employment impacts, newer, better research does not.

    That line has taken hold in the public debate, but it’s not quite true. And with Joe Biden’s advocacy of a $15 nationwide minimum wage, it’s prompted some strong pushback from within the economics profession — including allegations that politics have played too much of a role in deciding what gets published and what gets discussed.

    “Anyone who thinks there’s a consensus in economics on the effects of changing the minimum wage should talk to someone who’s recently tried to publish a paper on the topic,” tweeted Jennifer Doleac, an economics professor at Texas A&M University, earlier this month. “I study lots of controversial topics but would never go near that one, thanks. So political. A nightmare.” She added that “the stories are enough to make me discount the past 10 years of published research in this area.”

    It's an NRPLUS article, another argument that you should subscribe. VerBruggen goes through the likely effects: decreased employment, decreased hours, decreased beneifits, increased costs paid by businesses and their customers. Bottom line:

    With all that in mind, my own view is that if we think people should be paid more, we should subsidize their wages with tax dollars. At least that way we’ll know who’s paying and who’s benefiting before we set the process in motion, we won’t single out the customers and employers of low-wage workers for punishment, and we won’t risk throwing people out of their jobs.


  • Another bit of cheerful news from Chris Edwards at Cato: Government Spending Could Top $9 Trillion.

    President Biden’s push to spend another $1.9 trillion on economic relief is surreal given that government budgets are vastly ballooned already. Total federal, state, and local government spending soared from $6.8 trillion in 2019 to $8.8 trillion in 2020. That is $68,000 in government spending for every household in the nation.

    We have already imposed $6 trillion in new debt on future taxpayers in just two years. More spending would be reckless and extremely unfair as young people will have their own costs and crises to deal with down the road. Vaccinate people, repeal shutdown mandates, and the economy will recover by itself. That’s what market economies do. The government has already spent far too much.

    His is an unfortunately lonely voice in the wildnerness. Politicians of every stripe have strong incentives to "do something". And pretty much the only tool in their "do something" belt is "spend insane amounts of money we don't have."


  • And the latest outrage: Tom Maguire reports that he is Languishing In Twitter Jail And Pondering Algorithms Run Wild.

    Last Thursday Twitter's algorithms busted me and suspended my account for what they read as a hateful tweet. My latest email from Twitter says their staff has reviewed my case and confirms that I am a hater. Hmm - I can feel myself getting radicalized!

    As background, I was engaged in a bit of back-and-forth about the Vietnamese cop who was busted for entering the Capitol Rotunda during the January 6 debacle. He initially lied to the FBI investigators about his involvement, then said he only entered the Rotunda to admire the art. Not a strong story!

    Click over to read Tom's tweet. And shake your head.

    I've been linking to Tom's blog for a long time; first time was in April 2005 when Pun Salad was barely two months old.

    Tom is funny, smart, and absolutely the last person that Twitter should suspend.

The Border

[Amazon Link]

Well, I wish I liked it better.

It's the concluding volume (apparently) in Don Winslow's series centering on American Drug Warrior Art Keller. I read the first book, The Power of the Dog, back in 2007; the second, The Cartel, in 2018. All books in the series are notable for unremitting violence, no-honor-among-thieves betrayal, corruption, and dozens of supporting characters with complex interrelationships that are very difficult to keep straight. (I managed many, but not all.)

The book opens with a 2018 prologue where Art is visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with wife Mari. An assassin opens up on him with (of course) an "assault rifle". What's Art done to inspire such hostility?

Quite a bit, actually. We flash back to 2012, where Keller is walking out of the Guatemalan jungle after having murdered his onetime friend, drug kingpin Adán Barrera. He's broken rules along the way, and if there's any lesson he's learned from the first two books, it's that America's War on Drugs is a colossal, deadly, failure.

So naturally he walks into a new role: head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The rest of the book describes what happens then: more of the same, pretty much. Art hatches schemes that he thinks will take down the heroin trade. He succeeds in the book about as well as we have in reality. After the first two books, he should have known better.

Except there's a new political element. The book is set in a slightly-parallel universe where the winning presidential candidate in 2016 is a Trumplike character. I mean, exactly like Trump. Except his name is John Dennison. And Dennison's son-in-law (not named Jared Kushner) gets a failing real estate project, "Park Tower", propped up via heroin money. That's bad.

Winslow is a leftie, and not particularly sophisticated in his political hatreds. He goes on about the "Tea Party", but (in reality) it was essentially moribund in the book's timeframe. The "alt-right" comes in for slagging, so does Fox News, etc. The political angle of the book is cartoonish enough to wreck things. I kept expecting at least one of the corrupt pols to twirl his mustache…

Also spoiling things is a couple of melodramatic subplots, constructed from every cliché in the playbook: one telling the tale of a young girl, Jacqui, falling into heroin addiction; the other about a young Guatemalan refugee, Rico, escaping the violence in his country by hopping a train to El Norte. The former subplot features Jacqui's fellow junkie, Travis, ODing on that new hot thing, Fentanyl-laced heroin. As he croaks, Jacqui exclaims:

"Travis!!!!! Nooooooooo!!!!!!"

Yes, that's 11 exclamation points. And 9 o's in No. Sheesh.

Winslow does taut, cynical, violent thrillers very well. Adding in social commentary, politics, and sentiment doesn't work for me.