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]

Thiel spiel

Many libertarians think that the answer to meetings like those Davos and Bilderberg Group get-togethers of the rich and powerful is to complain about them until they stop. This is ridiculous and pointless. Quite aside from the absurdity of libertarians objecting to people freely consorting with one another, how on earth are they going to stop the richest and most powerful people on the planet from meeting up and talking to each other from time to time?

My attitude has always been, not that such gatherings are automatically evil, but that we need our people to be right there in among them, and to make them less evil. People like Peter Thiel, who strikes me as being one of the smartest and most interesting people on the planet. The usual come-back about allegedly smart people goes: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” Peter Thiel has some very good answers to that line of attack. Around 2.2 billion answers, according to Forbes magazine. This short Forbes profile describes Thiel as being “ideological to the point of eccentricity”, his particular eccentricity being that he is a libertarian. I don’t know if Peter Thiel spends any of his time bending the ears of fellow plutocrats and billionaires at gatherings like those alluded to above, but if he does, good.

And, if he does, maybe this excellent video performance provides clues about the kinds of things he says. (You might want to skip the rather numerous thankyous to other people at the start from the Independent Institute’s David Theroux, and go straight to where Thiel himself starts talking, at 7 minutes 45 seconds.)

I have ordered a copy of Thiel’s latest book, and not just because I want to read it, although I definitely do. I think of a book order as being like voting for an idea that I like the sound of, or in this case an author that I like the sound of.

Samizdata quote of the day

Ah, the ‘do it again, only HARDER’ fallacy espoused by so many pro-regulation types. I still wonder why people assume that something will be good if you sprinkle the magic pixie dust of government on it.

– ‘Toastrider‘, discussing ‘Net Neutrality’

This should be interesting!

I just noticed this:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has won its four-year Freedom of Information Act lawsuit over secret legal interpretations of a controversial section of the Patriot Act, including legal analysis of law enforcement and intelligence agency access to census records.

Well, well, this should be interesting.

So why have overseas subsidiaries at all if you are a US business?

Question: why have overseas subsidiaries at all if you are a US business? Why not just hive off any non-US based businesses into actual, and not just nominal, separate businesses? As other nations do not try to tax and regulate non-domicile activities in the way the US does, surely it make more sense to simply do business elsewhere, have your HQ elsewhere and just make deals to sell your stuff to US only based companies if you want to access the US market (i.e. do it indirectly)?

Samizdata quote of the day

“I guess it’s going to come down to what consumers want to do,” said Lt. Chris Cummings, the Police Department’s liaison to the Taxi Commission.

– Report here. Thank you Instapundit.

Lt. Cummings didn’t say if he approved, because the Police Department’s job is to enforce ordinances, not make them. Maybe he was speaking through gritted teeth. But the Portsmouth Taxi Commission is unanimously for it. Good for them. The more Uber and its rivals are allowed in this or that place, somewhere, and the more we get to hear about it, the more chance that they will be allowed almost everywhere.

Libertarian Solution podcast

I am only just starting to discover podcasts, and the first libertarian one I found that I liked was The Libertarian Solution. Three guys talk about news stories that interested them over the past week and possible libertarian solutions to whatever the problem is that the news story is about.

This week’s podcast [Pocket Cast] featured:

  • An article by a former narcotics police officer on how war on drugs spending is far greater than spending on crimes with actual victims. There was discussion of how this is might be driven by the incentive of police making money from asset forfeiture, and how private police would have a feedback mechanism that public police do not thanks to sovereign immunity: you could sue them for not meeting a service level agreement.
  • An advertisment for an animated movie called Silver Circle about the Federal Reserve.
  • A news story about how undercover police in one state routinely infiltrate protests, presumably to gather information. There was discussion of whether gathering names of protestors is a valid function of the police, and also why an outed undercover cop was holding his gun like that.
  • Discussion about a survey that revealed that two thirds of people would prefer it if the full report into CIA torture was not published, and whether this means people would prefer not to know about it and why.
  • The dangers of blindly signing contracts, illustrated with South Park clips, and the benefits to a business of making sure its customers do understand and are happy with a contract.

At least some of the three are members of the Libertarian Party, and while my views were not in lock-step with theirs, I found them reasonable and thoughtful enough to be interesting, with just a little banter and rhetoric to keep it from being too dry. Not a bad listen while doing the ironing.

Mario Cuomo: An Appreciation

Those of you not in the United States may be blissfully unaware that Mario Cuomo, a former three term Governor of New York and briefly a feature on the national political scene because of a famous speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention, has died. Mario Cuomo was also the father of the current Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.

There have been many hagiographies in the press in recent days, for example: Mario Cuomo, Ex-New York Governor and Liberal Beacon, Dies at 82, but I think that a personal appreciation is in order when so lauded an example of the good politician has passed into the Great Statehouse in the Sky.

He will always be associated in my mind with several great achievements while Governor of New York, the office in which he is most remembered.

First, a couple of decades ago, he drove my health insurance premiums from about $50 a month to a bit short of $300 a month in a single year. This was done by the expedient of declaring it was unfair that people might have to pay a fortune to get insurance when they were already ill and passing a law requiring insurers to offer health insurance at the same price to all comers regardless of age or pre-existing condition. Whether you were 22 and healthy or 59 and suffering from liver cancer, you could walk up and buy a brand new policy at the same price.

This remarkable idealism has kept New York State at the forefront, the very cutting edge, of insurance premiums. The cost of insurance in New York has never gone down since Cuomo’s sagacious reforms, and indeed usually has lead the U.S. in price. To be fair, part of the cost rise for me was because I could no longer get an indemnity plan with a very large deductible because no insurer wanted to offer one ever again given the change in regulations, but that was only part of it. Now, of course, $280 (or whatever the price was, I confess I would have to check) would be a great bargain — the price has gone up greatly since then.

Affordability has of course been a concern for many politicians since those heady days — there are still some of considerable means who can afford health insurance after all. I’m sure President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, with many similarly brilliant ideas, will eventually fix this — premiums rose another 20% in the last year nationwide — and I look forward to its continued implementation.

Mario Cuomo’s second great achievement was the state takeover of the Long Island Lighting Company, aka LILCO. LILCO was in financial straights because Mario Cuomo himself blocked the opening of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant after it had been fully constructed to the tune of $6 Billion in 1980s dollars. Because LILCO had spent billions on a generating facility it was not allowed to turn on, it was in bad shape and charging high rates to its customers to remain solvent. Mario Cuomo declared the real issue was LILCO mismanagement and that the state could do a far better job running a power company than the private sector (which is, after all, driven only by mindless greed for profits) and so New York State forcibly took over LILCO and turned it into the Long Island Power Authority, AKA LIPA.

LIPA proceeded to spend very little money on maintenance over the next decades, until Hurricane Sandy hit and took out a large fraction of their lines because not even basic tree branch trimming over residential power cabling had been done in decades. Andrew Cuomo, Mario’s son and by now the Governor himself, got on TV after Sandy to angrily and vociferously condemn the horrible mismanagement by LIPA, an agency he personally controlled, but which he somehow failed to mention that he was in fact in complete control of as he told the viewers that he would absolutely hold the parties responsible to account. His father’s role was never mentioned by anyone in the news media, and his own was barely recalled either — somehow they, too, conveniently forgot that he was condemning mismanagement by himself. (I am unfair in saying this — a story buried far into the front section of the New York Times did mention it in connection with a corruption investigation. It seems that a report was prepared by a state commission condemning Andrew Cuomo’s administration for its role in screwing up LIPA, but Andrew Cuomo used his power as Governor to make sure it was never released.)

Mario Cuomo’s third great achievement was to raise taxes repeatedly, making New York State the most heavily taxed in the U.S., and New York City by far the most heavily taxed jurisdiction in the U.S. by virtue of having high city income taxes on top of the state ones. New York State has mysteriously been falling behind other states in population rank — it fell from #2 to #3 and now recently was passed by Florida and is #4 — and industry has been leaving the state for some decades now. (A succeeding Governor, George Pataki, lowered rates a bit, and California raised them further, so New York is no longer #1 in taxation, but Mario Cuomo’s son still has time to uphold family tradition and restore the state to its previous glory.)

Oh, and one minor achievement comes to mind. (Sadly this last point is purely from my memory, and I can’t find easy documentation of it on line, assistance would be welcomed.) During a major newspaper delivery strike (the delivery truck operators were being paid over $100k a year — this is $100k+ decades ago in non-inflation adjusted dollars you understand — with overtime and the papers didn’t think they could afford that any more for unskilled work), Mario Cuomo more or less blocked all investigation of acts of brutal violence by the union’s thugs. It seemed people were going around beating the operators of newspaper kiosks that none the less carried the newspapers in spite of the strike, and similarly beating people who delivered the papers anyway. At the time, Cuomo seemed to feel, much in the manner that President Obama does now about the malfeasance of the Bush administration, that it was best to look forward and not backwards. This was even the case in spite of the fact that the strike was still underway and “forward” hadn’t happened yet.

I can think of little else notable that Mario Cuomo got done while Governor. In spite of lots of lobbying by reform groups he did not push to fix the vicious sentences the state meted out for minor drug crimes. He did not fix the state’s horrible divorce laws, notably at the time some of the worst in the nation. He did not reform the police, or improve educational outcomes, or even deal with the enormous deferred maintenance problems on state highways and bridges. (He did veto the death penalty a few times, which seems to me to have actually been a good thing, though others may argue otherwise.)

However, Mario Cuomo will always be remembered as the man who once gave a very well written speech at a Democratic National Convention, and who really cares if a politician is a corrupt, economically ignorant mismanager if he can deliver words written by other people with a really solid and practiced public speaking style.

No wonder, then, that he is now described in obituaries as a lion, nay, a giant of politics, in story after story after story.

I encourage all to mourn his loss in whatever manner they feel appropriate.

The Senate’s Report on the CIA’s Torture Program

A few hours ago, the heavily redacted 500 page executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, a.k.a. “The Torture Report”, came out.

Here are just a few things I’ve learned from it.

In November, 2002, a man named Gul Rahman, who was totally innocent of any crime so far as we can tell, was being systematically tortured by the CIA at a top secret site named COBALT in an unnamed foreign country. It was felt that he was being “uncooperative”, probably because it is hard to even convincingly lie about having information when you were arrested for no reason and have no basis on which to spin a story. To make him “more cooperative”, he was shackled naked in his unheated cell 36ºF cell. The next morning, his jailers found his body. He had died in the night of hypothermia.

This is just one of the literally hundreds of horrors to be found in the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s crimes against humanity. It is described on page 54 of a 500 page summary of a 6,000 page report we will never see.

Gul Rahman’s murderers will never be brought to justice. Indeed, the man responsible for this, known in the unredacted portion of the report only as “CIA OFFICER 1″, received a $2,500 spot bonus four months later for his “consistently superior work” [page 55 of the report.]

Page after page after page recounts things like this and far worse. You can go almost anywhere in it and find things that beggar the imagination. Picking at random, for example, page 50 informs us: “One senior interrogator told the CIA OIG that “literally, a detainee could go for days or weeks without anyone looking at him,” and that his team found one detainee who, “‘as far as we could determine,’ had been chained to the wall in a standing position for 17 days.””

Oh, and the full 6000 page report’s creation was hampered by systematic destruction of evidence by the CIA and by their deliberate attempts to infiltrate, disrupt and harm the investigation, almost the least of which were deliberate lies made to Senate investigators, the CIA’s Inspector General, and other authorities. Hell, they even hacked the committee’s computers to try to disrupt their work and spy on them. The Director of the CIA also lied repeatedly to Congress. (See the report.) Who knows what sort of things are recounted in the evidence that was destroyed or never seen?

Anyway, back to our modern oubliette. Gul Rahman was just one of many, another statistic, another “oops” in a series of “oopses”. A man chained to a wall standing up for 17 days? Also an “oops”. We’ve all become so hardened to this that it doesn’t even shock us or surprise us that the State tortured an innocent man and froze him to death and never even considered punishing anyone for it. It no longer shocks us that someone might be chained to a wall standing up for 17 days. It no longer shocks us that a CIA interrogator killed a man he was torturing but was none the less allowed to continue working. It doesn’t shock us that two psychologists with no real qualifications were paid $80m to consult on how to torture people more effectively, not that a lick of useful information appears to have been uncovered, and it doesn’t even shock us that the CIA systematically lied to make it seem like brutal torture was producing intelligence when it came up empty.

Oh, yes. That too. All this sadism, much of which was bizarre, vicious and extemporaneous, yielded nothing. Yes, I’m sure there will be counterclaims, as the CIA has been busy lying about that for years, but the report’s authors, who had all the right clearances, examined all the evidence in detail and found nothing of value was produced — absolutely nothing.

Anyway, this sort of outrage is now just part of the background we live under — pervasive digital espionage, censorship, “extraordinary rendition”, force-feedings at Guantanamo, and all the rest. It is routine, uninteresting, not worth your trouble. Move on. There’s nothing to see here. This is just the way the world is. Nothing will happen even if you get angry, so why waste your time?

O tempora, o mores.

In Canada, the term sergeant-at-arms means what it says

Apparently the sergeant-at-arms in the Canadian Parliament is not just a ceremonial position.

An Islamist by the name of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed a Canadian soldier on guard duty at a war memorial, before entering the House of Commons in Ottowa… whereupon 58 year old sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers shot him dead. Nicely done, sir.

The dubious pleasures of US college campus life

Wildly overblown claims about an epidemic of sexual assaults on American campuses are obscuring the true danger to young women, too often distracted by cellphones or iPods in public places: the ancient sex crime of abduction and murder. Despite hysterical propaganda about our “rape culture,” the majority of campus incidents being carelessly described as sexual assault are not felonious rape (involving force or drugs) but oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides. Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties. Real crimes should be reported to the police, not to haphazard and ill-trained campus grievance committees.

Camille Paglia (h/t Glenn Reynolds).

Universities these days are not just toxic because of what Reynolds has referred to as the higher education bubble (a problem to some extent mirrored here in the UK, though smaller in relative terms). This sort of issue that Paglia writes about is creating a breeding ground for paranoia and fear among the sexes. And who benefits from this?

Are these people stupid or do they think other people are?

So John Kerry says the Islamic State has “nothing to do with Islam“. And presumably the USSR had nothing to do with Communism and Nazi Germany had nothing to do with National Socialism and the Vatican has nothing to do with Catholicism.

I have linked before to an article from a Middle Eastern writer laughing at such claims before, but seriously: how can Salafist Islam not be described as Islam? Feel free to presage comments about Salafists by noting there are non-toxic forms of Islam such as Sufi or whatever, but please stop these preposterous claims that the Islamic State is not Islamic.

It is as if John Kerry thinks that by repeating this manifest nonsense that somehow it will become true. Could this be some sort of warped world view in which people must be ‘goodies’ or ‘badies’? Therefore if (say) the Kurdish Peshmerga, who are pretty much accepted as being ‘goodies’ happen to be made up mostly of Muslims, OMG we must therefore pretend the Islamic State is not Islamic as our tiny minds cannot accept a nuanced world view that maybe, just maybe, the Peshmerga might see themselves as Kurds first and who have very little interest in political Salafist Islam?

Or could it be that Salafist Islam is actually the same as Saudi Wahhabi Islam, minus a dynastic Royal government and plus a Caliph? An embarrassing and politically inconvenient little factoid that one.

As of late I have taken to exchanging e-mails with a Kurdish couple who live near Kirkuk and they have no problem describing the Islamic State as, er, Islamic. But they way they see it, describing someone as ‘Islamic’ does not actually tell you very much about a person’s views… whereas saying someone is ‘Salafist’, for example, tells you a great deal.

But unlike the jackasses in the White House with their notions of imaginary Disney-Islam, people in the Middle East understand perfectly that Salafist ideology has a great deal to do with ‘Islam’. And so what? You think that will stop a Kurd who might or might not be a Sunni Muslim, from shooting a Salafist Islamic State soldier deader than dead? Clearly that is not the case.

By all means hyphenate the version if you want, but enough of “the Salafist Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam” crap.

Samizdata quote of the day

The day after James Foley’s beheading, President Obama paused his Martha’s Vineyard vacation—to express his condolences to the Foley family and inform Americans of the threat posed by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Listening to him as a Kurd, I had no reason to doubt his sincerity when he said, “Earlier today, I spoke to the Foleys and told them that we are all heartbroken at their loss, and join them in honoring Jim and all that he did.”

What troubled me was the way he qualified ISIS or failed to do. The man who hails from the “happiest” state, Hawaii, declared ISIS—the “angriest” wannabe state in the world — without a “religion.”

That’s like calling Hitler an internationalist or Lenin a capitalist!

Posing as an authority on Islam, he said, “No faith teaches people to massacre innocents.” Speaking for the 21st century, he went on, ISIS doesn’t belong to it.

And then this gem by way of reducing the threat to an understandable sound bite: ISIS is at war with the West “out of expediency,” but it really is at war with its neighbors and offers “nothing but an endless slavery to [its] empty vision.”

I will admit to my immediate reaction: my hand involuntarily went to scratch my head.

Kani Xulam