We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

If the DEA does it, it isn’t perjury

According to this Reuters exclusive entitled “U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans”, the US Drug Enforcement Administration has been running a secret program to cover up the fact that it has been receiving information from the National Security Agency that it has subsequently used in court.

Under this covert program, agents are instructed to fabricate plausible explanations of how the agency uncovered evidence through means that did not involve NSA intercept capabilities in order to hide the true source of the information.

Now, normally, under US common law, such coverups are considered a very, very bad violation of the rights of a defendant, who is entitled to learn the source of information used against them at trial so that they can rebut the evidence presented by the prosecution. Furthermore, under the laws of almost every civilized country, lying in court is considered a crime, to wit, perjury.

I suspect, however, that we will not see any investigations, let alone prosecutions, of government officials for what is clearly a crime. Indeed, I suspect that we are all so conditioned to the idea that government officials are now above the law that no one reading this would even expect such a prosecution.

There’s something rather sad about this state of affairs, isn’t there?

If the President does it, it isn’t treason

This morning the New York Times, NPR and the BBC have all been discussing details of communications between senior Al Qaeda leaders which form the basis for closing numerous US, UK and other embassies worldwide. A New York Times article on the subject is typical:

The Obama administration’s decision last week to close nearly two dozen diplomatic missions and issue a worldwide travel alert came after the United States intercepted electronic communications in which the head of Al Qaeda ordered the leader of the group’s affiliate in Yemen to carry out an attack as early as this past Sunday, according to American officials.

Additional detail is given later in that article and in dozens of others from numerous news organizations. They know these details only because they were leaked said details by sources inside the Obama administration.

These details are clearly useful to Al Qaeda. They inform the leadership of that organization in no uncertain terms of US intercept capabilities, alerting them to the need to change their communications methods.

Had an Edward Snowden or a Bradley Manning revealed such information, it would be called “treason” by many commentators. Charges would be pressed in court of “aiding the enemy”.

When the leak is official and far more damaging, no one mentions treason. Instead, this is simply business as usual.

News headlines do not focus on questions about the identity of the suspected leaker. The leaker or leakers will not have to flee to foreign countries to evade prosecution, even though the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. That is because the leak is clearly authorized at the highest levels, never mind that it may have just “burned” a vital intelligence source in the process.

One may wonder why the Obama administration has chosen to leak such information to the press. That is an open secret. The New York Times first article on the subject some days ago has, buried within it, the following paragraph, a paragraph that should by all rights be the lead:

Some analysts and Congressional officials suggested Friday that emphasizing a terrorist threat now was a good way to divert attention from the uproar over the N.S.A.’s data-collection programs, and that if it showed the intercepts had uncovered a possible plot, even better.

In other words, aiding the enemy is fine provided it is in the service of fighting the actual joint enemy of Al Qaeda and the Obama administration, to wit, the general public.

The History of Individualism – an evening lecture with Dr Steve Davies

Libertarian Home is hosting an evening lecture next week with Dr Steve Davies called ‘the History of Individualism’ in London.

Most libertarians would agree that to build a free society “we wouldn’t start from here”, but we here we are. Dr Davies will put the present rise of libertarian politics into context and show how the progress of liberty, and the words used to describe it, have changed through the ages. Dr Steve Davies is a historian, a PhD, and Education Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

This inaugural lecture takes place in the Griffin Room above the Counting House pub, a first class meeting space in The City.

The event will be catered for with a buffet of pub fare sponsored by the Pro Liberty Party.

Formality begins at 8 and will be concluded by 9. Please RSVP.

7:00 pm, Monday June 17th
The Counting House
50 Cornhill, London EC3V 3PD (map)

This event is highly recommended if you are in the London area. Several Samizdatistas will be there to hear the lecture.

Paying for the Margaret Thatcher Funeral

I’ll pay my share of the Thatcher funeral cost and that of two objectors if they’ll pay my share of government spending I don’t like.

Any takers?

UPDATE: At least Mr Cameron is being as consistent as I would have expected.

When, if ever, is it right to use recent horrific crimes to push for political changes you wanted anyway?

I was struck by a particular contrast between two opinion columns that appeared in today’s Guardian. Both made reference to crimes in which many children were killed.

The first column I would like to look at, written by Zoe Williams, refers to the crime described here. Mick Philpott had lived in a ménage à trois with his wife, Mairead, his mistress Lisa Willis and the eleven children the two women had bore him. When Lisa Willis walked out on this arrangement, taking her five children – and their welfare benefits – with her, the Philpotts and another man set a fire at the Philpott house with the aim of framing Ms Willis for it, which would help him regain custody of their children and the income stream that came with them, and also so that Philpott could be seen to rescue the other six children who still lived in that house. It would also aid him in his custody battle to be hailed a hero. As it turned out, he could not rescue them. All six died in the fire. The three conspirators have been jailed for multiple manslaughter, with Mick Philpott receiving the longest sentence as the dominant figure in the group.

The Daily Mail published an article headed “Vile product of Welfare UK: Man who bred 17 babies by five women to milk benefits system is guilty of killing six of them.”

Zoe Williams of the Guardian was deeply angered by this. Her Guardian column has the title “Don’t get mad about the Mail’s use of the Philpotts to tarnish the poor – get even.” Ms Williams writes,

It is vitriolic, illogical depersonalisation to ascribe the grotesqueness of one wild, unique crime to tens of thousands of people on benefits. When any section of society is demonised on irrational grounds we have to take that seriously, so I will complain to the Press Complaints Commission, and I hope you will too.

The readers’ comments share Ms Goodman’s outrage, as does a similar comment piece about the same crime by Graeme Cooke which says,

There’s nothing wrong with moral principles in welfare policy but making political capital from an appalling crime is offensive.

The second, contrasting Guardian column, by Amy Goodman, referred to the gun massacre of twenty children and six adults carried out by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. That crime and its legal and moral implications were discussed at length in this blog at the time it occurred.

Amy Goodman’s column has the title “It’s time for the majority to move on gun control” and includes the words:

The moment to pass gun control was when the national attention was riveted on the massacre at Sandy Hook, the brutal slaying of 20 children and six adults. Before the broken bodies of those victims fade from memory, our broken body politic must be mended. What is needed is a vigorous grassroots movement, to provide the leadership so lacking in Washington DC.

I do not wish to simply jeer at the inconsistency of the reaction of the Guardian’s writers and readers. They could quite fairly throw the same jibe back at us – I assume that most readers of this blog oppose gun control and objected to the demonisation of American gun owners because of one grotesque crime on much the same grounds as Ms Williams objects to the demonisation of British welfare claimants for one grotesque crime. I post this to ask, not answer, the question, when is it offensive and when is it a moral necessity to make political capital over the bodies of dead children?

The British ruling class are no longer good sports

The typical member of the British ruling class of yesteryear was complacent, arrogant, and a hypocrite. However his public school had at least imbued him with one particular virtue, or, failing that, had imbued him with the desire to appear to have that one virtue, which does well enough for most purposes. He wanted to be seen as a good sport. A chap who played the game. A chap who would not shoot a sitting duck or a grouse out of season, and who would never hit anyone who by reason of sex, age, or any other cause, could not hit back.

We have dispensed with all that foolishness now.

It is contempt of court for a juror ever to describe the deliberations of the jury of which he or she was a member. Thus the members of the jury held up to public scorn (“…a fundamental deficit in understanding … in 30 years of criminal trials I have never come across this at this stage, never”) by Mr Justice Sweeney for asking stupid questions cannot defend themselves.

Not playing the game, sir, not playing the game at all.

Related: Sexual and financial privacy and the bully pulpit.

A very trivial and very boring little post about the price of a chair

Tonight I have the first of my new lot of Brian’s Fridays, and with this in mind I have been keeping half an eye open for cheap, cheerful chairs. In the course of which process I recently discovered a new use for digital photography.

I am fond of joking that my digital camera, especially the latest one with its super-zoom lens, has better eyesight than I do, but this is more than a joke, which is why it is, I think, quite a good joke. It’s true.

So there I was in Tottenham Court Road looking through the window of a shop, long after it had closed, and observing from a distance a chair that looked pretty cheap to start with and had been reduced from … £something, to £something-even-less. From what? Even if I had more up-to-date glasses I probably couldn’t have made it out. And more to the point to what? Those vital numerals were quite big, but unclear.

I got out the camera, cranked up the auto-focus, took a photo, and I quickly had my answer:

ChairPrice

Still too much, I think. But good to know, in real time.

I’m still a bit hazy about how to do that click-and-enlarge thing here at New Samizdata, but trust me, on the original I could also see that it was reduced from £90.

Sam Bowman, my speaker for the evening, has just arrived, and I told him about this posting. Yes, he said, a little telescope in your pocket. Exactly so.

One of the many uncertainties about the future generally (such as the portentous banking uncertainties that Sam Bowman will be speaking about) and about the applications that people will find for new technology in particular is that you often can’t tell beforehand what rather surprising applications people will find for new technology. Digital photography costs more than nothing, quite a lot more than nothing if you really like it, but its marginal cost, the cost of the next photo, really is, pretty much, nothing. That means a world full of hard discs full of photo-crap. But it also means that if you have digital photography on you, you will find further genuinely useful uses for it, the way you never would for photography done with shops or dark rooms.

I have long used my camera to photograph signs, next to tourist attractions or to paintings in galleries. I even choose to speculate that in the age of digital photography such signs may well have become more elaborate, long-winded and informative. I routinely photo local maps while on my photographic wanderings, so that I later know where everything was, even years later. But I have never before used my camera actually to see something very trivial, very boring to anyone else, right then, right there.

The boringness and the triviality being the point. Capitalism doesn’t just do big stuff, like: digital photography! It does the little things, like telling you the price of a chair which is too far away for you to be able to read the label. And, you never know what other boring and trivial things it might be able to do for you in the future.

Don’t kill it.

Jacques Barzun, RIP

Here is a fine study in the New York Times of the writer and intellectual figure, Jacques Barzun. His views on art, culture and the state of our civilisation are all worth reading. He made it to almost 105 years of age.

Here is a Wikipedia page about him, which contains a full bibliography. Here is one of his better known books, From Dawn To Decadence.

Bitcoin talk

This coming Friday evening (Aug 3rd), there will be a talk, at my home, on the subject of Bitcoin, given by a German libertarian who is now visiting London named Frank Braun.

Frank Braun is an acquaintance of Detlev Schlichter. Detlev wanted London to offer Frank Braun some kind of libertarian welcome, but many of the usual libertarian welcomers are now out of the country, on holiday and fleeing the Olympics. So, I’m doing some Frank Braun welcoming. Which suits me well because I have for some time been thinking of cranking up my Brian’s Fridays, and this will be a good way to see if that really appeals. Plus, any acquaintance of Detlev Schlichter is an acquaintance of mine. Certainly, this particular talk ought to be interesting.

There is a posting up at my personal blog about the event. If you’d like to attend, and are near enough actually to do that conveniently, please email me (follow the link to see how).

Now, back to all the tidying up that I must do before Friday. That has now become urgent. Which was another reason why I said yes to Frank Braun dropping by.

Discussion Point XXXVII

Who do you hope wins the election in Greece today?

As a starting point for discussion, I thought the headline of this Guardian article “A Syriza victory will mark the beginning of the end of Greece’s tragedy” might well turn out to be true if Syriza do win, albeit not in the way the left wing authors expect.

“Suppose things go badly, and Italy is in trouble” – Milton Friedman on the Euro in July 1998

…the more likely possibility is that there will be asymmetric shocks hitting the different countries. That will mean that the only adjustment mechanism they have to meet that with is fiscal and unemployment: pressure on wages, pressure on prices. They have no way out. With a currency board, there is always the ultimate alternative that you can break the currency board. Hong Kong can dismantle its currency board tomorrow if it wants to. It doesn’t want to and I don’t think it will. But it could. But with the Euro, there is no escape mechanism.

Suppose things go badly and Italy is in trouble, how does Italy get out of the Euro system? It no longer has a lira after whatever it is – 2000 or 2001 – so it’s a very big gamble. I wish the Euro area well; it will be in the self-interest of Australia and the United States that the Euro area be successful. But I’m very much concerned that there’s a lot of uncertainty in prospect.

Professor Milton Friedman interviewed by Radio Australia, 17 July 1998

Discussion Point XXXVI

What will happen to the Euro? I am not asking “what should happen”, but what will happen. Take this opportunity to put your predictions on the internet, and later be hailed as a true prophet or derided as a false one.