The Obama Administration insists that “‘Piracy is flat, unadulterated theft,’ and it should be dealt with accordingly.” Nonsense, of course. Only scarce goods can be property and therefore only scarce goods can be stolen. Ideas or information patterns are nonscarce goods. If I take your bicycle, you don’t have it anymore. If I copy your idea, now we both have it. Copying, i.e., piracy, is not theft.

As the Left is wont to do in lieu of sound argument, US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke recently related what is meant to be a heartrending story:

Recently, I’ve had a chance to read letters from award winning writers and artists whose livelihoods have been destroyed by music piracy. One letter that stuck out for me was a guy who said the songwriting royalties he had depended on to ‘be a golden parachute to fund his retirement had turned out to be a lead balloon.’ This just isn’t right.

My first immediate thought was why isn’t it right? Shouldn’t a progressive egalitarian’s own values lead him to be against intellectual property?

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In a series of Orwellian twists, the United States is pulling out (prematurely some say) “all” “combat” troops from Iraq but doubling down (for starters) on mercenaries.

The Obama Administration gets away with “fulfilling” Obama’s promise to end US combat operations in Iraq by removing the last (officially-labeled) combat brigade from the country, yet 50,000 troops will remain until (supposedly) 2011. These 50,000 troops make up 7 “Advise and Assist” Brigades, which are brigade combat teams like the one that just left but with special training, and 2 combat aviation brigades. “The troops are officially there to assist and advise the Iraqi government, but will carry weapons to defend themselves and will join Iraqi troops on missions if requested.”

After 2011, the “military” presence in Iraq is supposed to be “limited to several dozen to several hundred officers in an embassy office who would help the Iraqis purchase and field new American military equipment,” but military officers are saying that “5,000 to 10,000 troops might [still] be needed.”

Meanwhile, “the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to as many as 7,000.” Can we really still call security personnel ‘civilians’ or ‘private security’ anymore when they’re working for the state in foreign lands, particularly in a combat zone? They’re mercenaries, troops that are conveniently not part of the official US military. The NYT reporter couldn’t help calling them “a small army of contractors.”

The US is building military bases, fortified compounds, outposts, and the largest “embassy” in the world in Iraq. Iraqi politicians still haven’t been able to come to an agreement and form a government after the last elections, making Iraq vulnerable to a coup if the Iraqi military leadership get too frustrated by the ineffectual, in-fighting politicians. The US empire will not be completely out of there anytime soon.

But hey, “we” won…right?


Update: Less than a week after the official end of combat operations in Iraq, US troops were involved in a combat operation in Iraq.Go figure. 12 people died and dozens were wounded in an assault by heavily-armed militants against an Iraqi military headquarters,in the center of Baghdad no less.


Cross-posted at The Libertarian Standard.

I was reading Sarah Lacy’s “If You’ve Got Social Media Fatigue, UR DOIN IT WRONG” on TechCrunch and was reminded of a passage from Henry David Thoreau’s seminal essay “Civil Disobedience” that I discuss in chapter 6 of my dissertation.

First the passage from Lacy’s article:

Sometimes metrics can be a bad thing and beware of any so-called “social media consultant” who tells you otherwise. What’s the value of a Retweet or a Like? It’s roughly the equivalent to sitting next to someone during a keynote who nods his head at a salient point. Someone hitting a button in front of them is hardly a heady endorsement—nowhere near the impact of someone calling you to tell you about a story he read. That actually takes more than one-second of attention and work.

This reminded me of the moral hazards of voting in electoral politics and Thoreau’s likening it to a sort of gambling with morality:

All voting is a sort of gaming, like chequers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.

With this last sentence Thoreau is no longer really speaking of voting, as becomes clear later on when he writes “Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” He is advocating civil disobedience and participatory democracy.1

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  1. For more on participatory democracy, see chapters 6 & 7 of my dissertation

Over at, Reihan Salam had something rather unexpected but very welcome to say about the CEO of a major corporation:

That the success of the Kindle is good news for Amazon should go without saying. But it represents a remarkable environmental advance as well. The publishing industry in the U.S. felled roughly 125 million trees and generated vast amounts of wastewater. And, of course, physical books have to be transported by trucks, which generate carbon emissions, exacerbate congestion, increase traffic fatalities and cause wear-and-tear on already overburdened roads. One assumes that Bezos didn’t have the environment foremost in mind when he pushed the Kindle concept forward, yet he’s arguably done more to fight climate change by threatening hardcovers and paperbacks with extinction than any number of environmental activists.

Salam goes on to argue that Amazon will ‘win the internet’ through the Kindle and its rapidly growing ebook sales. I don’t know about that. What does it mean to ‘win the internet’? He only considers Facebook as a rival. What about Google? Android and ChromeOS are poised to dominate the mobile phone and tablet pc markets, putting Google into direct competition with the Kindle. Then there’s Google Search, Books, Voice, Gmail, Docs, Maps, Chrome browser, TV, and so on and so forth.

But bravo to Salam for daring to recognize in public the (probably unintended) positive environmental externalities of business decisions and technological innovation driven by profit-seeking amidst market competition — indeed, for daring to rank them on par with or above that of ‘altruistic’ environmental activists.

Cross-posted at The Libertarian Standard.

In How to Mirror a Censored WordPress Blog, I discussed how the Mises Institute open-sourcing all of and putting its entire literature and media library online as a set of torrents will help ensure the continued existence of this treasure trove of liberty in the event of a natural disaster or a future crackdown by the US government.

Here’s a practical example taking place before us. Some technologically and strategically-incompetent pundits are clamoring for the United States federal government to use its cyber capabilities to take out WikiLeaks before the organization puts online the remaining 15,000 documents of the leaked Afghan war logs.

Kevin Poulsen of explains how a previous attempt to take down has already failed in the past and how future attempts to take out WikiLeaks will fail as well.

In 2008, federal judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco ordered the domain name seized as part of a lawsuit filed by Julius Baer Bank and Trust, a Swiss bank that suffered a leak of some of its internal documents. Two weeks later the judge admitted he’d acted hastily, and he had the site restored. “There are serious questions of prior restraint, possible violations of the First Amendment,” he said.

Even while the order was in effect, WikiLeaks lived on: supporters and free speech advocates distributed the internet IP address of the site, so it could be reached directly. Mirrors of the site were unaffected by the court order, and a copy of the entire WikiLeaks archive of leaked documents circulated freely on the Pirate Bay.

The U.S. government has other, less legal, options, of course — the “cyber” capabilities Thiessen alludes to. The Pentagon probably has the ability to launch distributed denial-of-service attacks against WikiLeaks’ public-facing servers. If it doesn’t, the Army could rent a formidable botnet from Russian hackers for less than the cost of a Humvee.

But that wouldn’t do much good either. WikiLeaks wrote its own insurance policy two weeks ago, when it posted a 1.4 GB file called insurance.aes256.

The file’s contents are encrypted, so there’s no way to know what’s in it. But, as we’ve previously reported, it’s more than 19 times the size of the Afghan war log — large enough to contain the entire Afghan database, as well as the other, larger classified databases said to be in WikiLeaks’ possession. Accused Army leaker Bradley Manning claimed to have provided WikiLeaks with a log of events in the Iraq war containing 500,000 entries from 2004 through 2009, as well as a database of 260,000 State Department cables to and from diplomatic posts around the globe.

Whatever the insurance file contains, Assange — appearing via Skype on a panel at the Frontline Club — reminded everyone Thursday that he could make it public at any time. “All we have to do is release the password to that material and it’s instantly available,” he said.

WikiLeaks is encouraging supporters to download the insurance file through the BitTorrent site The Pirate Bay. “Keep it safe,” reads a message greeting visitors to the WikiLeaks chat room. After two weeks, the insurance file is doubtless in the hands of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of netizens already.

We dipped into the torrent Friday to get a sense of WikiLeaks’ support in that effort. In a few minutes of downloading, we pulled bits and piece of insurance.aes256 from 61 seeders around the world. We ran the IP addresses through a geolocation service and turned it into a KML file to produce the Google Map at the top of this page [go to the article or view it on Google Maps — GAP]. The seeders are everywhere, from the U.S., to Iceland, Australia, Canada and Europe. They had all already grabbed the entire file, and are now just donating bandwidth to help WikiLeaks survive.

Cross-posted at The Libertarian Standard.

Yesterday, in All Your Tubes Are Belong to Googlizon, I blogged about the Google-Verizon proposal for regulating the internet and why libertarians should oppose both it and any net neutrality laws and regulations. Today, I came across a post on CrunchGear, a tech and gadgets site, by Nicholas Deleon, that criticizes the Tea Party for opposing net neutrality on the basis that it will violate the right of ISPs to free speech. I left a comment on his post, but I’ll reproduce it here.

I’m a libertarian, not a Tea Partier, but I’ll take a stab at explaining this.

Both free markets and the right to free speech are based on the right to private property. Net neutrality, insofar as it involves regulation, violates private property rights. That said, not every violation of the right to property is a violation of the right to free speech.

“But really, to expect the ISPs to do “right” by you is laughable. If it could, Comcast and the nation’s ISPs would offer 1 mbps (down, mind you) and call that SUPER FAST INTERNET, then charge you $100 per month for the privilege of using it.”

If they could? Maybe. Maybe not. But in a free market, they could not. Restrict competition through regulations, monopoly franchises, and whatnot, and then maybe they could.

“But to oppose Net Neutrality in order to defend the free speech of ISPs is pretty laughable.”

Umm… I don’t see in the letter where they defend the free speech of ISPs. I don’t see it in the quoted soundbite either.1 More likely the speaker was concerned about the free speech of users who could be prevented by net neutrality regulations from purchasing services that otherwise might have been available, services they could have used to express themselves more effectively.

In any case, the fundamental reason to oppose net neutrality laws or regulations is that they constitute a violation of property rights.

Then I realized I had made a small mistake, so I left a second comment:

Okay, I see that in the linked article on Radtke’s quote, the reporter writes:

“The free-speech objection to net neutrality has also gained some ground recently. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and AT&T began citing First Amendment objections to net neutrality in public discussions and in filings with the FCC this year.

“The free-speech argument holds that, by interfering with how phone and cable companies deliver Internet traffic, the government would be thwarting the free-speech rights of providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.”

This is the reporter’s interpretation, but let’s say it’s accurate. Is it not possible to imagine how net neutrality regulations could interfere with even the free speech of ISPs? And as “browse” at 1:58 pm UTC pointed out:

“The EFF has some great pieces on Net Neutrality. One of the issues is the Trojan Horse issue: whereby a more activist commissioner could abuse powers won in the aims of Net Neutrality to stifle free expression online. Even if they current FCC has no inclinations to regulate the Internet beyond Net Neutrality, regimes do change pretty frequently, and agendas change with them. If you look at it from that perspective, the argument you quoted above sounds a bit less crazy.”

In any case, as I mentioned in my previous comment, the fundamental reason to oppose net neutrality laws and regulations isn’t free speech but private property.

To wrap things up: That Nicholas finds the Tea Party’s free speech argument so laughable on its face betrays a leftist anti-corporate bias. Corporations are often not the good guys, such as when they seek government protection from competition. But at least corporations are not intrinsically evil. To turn to government as our savior, when it is government that is the primary enemy and source of man-made problems in the world, now that’s more than slightly misguided. In any event, Nicholas hardly gives the Tea Party a fair shake, focusing on their free speech argument as he does and not even bothering to give that a charitable interpretation or serious counterargument.

Cross-posted at The Libertarian Standard.

  1. Jaime Radtke, chairwoman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation, said, “I think the clearest thing is it’s an affront to free speech and free markets.” 

Googlizon with Chrome eye beam What you say!!!1

There has been a lot wailing and gnashing of teeth recently over a joint announcement by Google and Verizon of a legislative-framework proposal they’ve been working on.

Now, I’ve seen this variously referred to as a backroom deal or pact, a secret treaty, or a set of regulations Google and Verizon are imposing on the internet. The FCC is shamefully abdicating its responsibility to regulate the internet! Nevermind that the D.C. Circuit court determined recently in the Comcast case that the FCC has no such regulatory authority over broadband internet; hence, the calls to disastrously reclassify broadband internet access in order to place it under the same regulatory rules as regular telephone service. Some are even intimating that Google and Verizon are trying to ‘own’ the internet. Net neutrality activists are up in arms about this proposal, viciously attacking Google for selling out and reversing its longstanding defense of net neutrality, and calling for people to stage a silly boycott of Google products and services. If you don’t join the herd, you get labeled a Google-Verizon apologist or it is insinuated that you are on their payroll (see comments on the CNET articles linked below, for example).

So what should libertarians make of all this?

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  1. Confused by this sentence and the title? The title is a mash-up of a few geeky internet memes. Know your meme, and also check out this Wikipedia article and this YouTube video

From the Edmonton Journal comes news that some Greenpeace members rappelled off the top of Calgary Tower to hang a banner that read “Separate Oil and State.”

Scott Blasken got this shot from his office window Tuesday morning after Greenpeace unfurled a banner from the Calgary Tower.

Hey, I’m all in favor of separating oil and state. But that means no strategic oil reserves; no taxes, including carbon taxes; no cap-and-trade; no regulations; no moratoriums or bans on offshore or other drilling; no special protections of any kind, including caps on liability for actual damages to private property caused by oil companies;1 no eminent domain (ab)use; and no mercantilistic and imperialistic wars to make the world safe for domestic consumption of foreign oil. But somehow I don’t expect all of this is what the Greenpeace activists confusedly mean by “separate oil and state.” Alas and alack.

Cross-posted at The Libertarian Standard.

  1. I’m not talking about limited liability for shareholders here. I’m referring to caps like the $75 million liability cap that has received so much attention in the wake of the BP oil spill, enacted in 1990 as part of the Oil Pollution Act following the Exxon Valdez spill.