Thursday, January 10, 2019

Freedom FROM

The rare rational Leftist with whom can have an intelligent discussion sometimes asks us advocates of individual liberty what we mean by freedom or liberty.  They are right to ask that.  Over the centuries men have often fought for freedom.  But what was the freedom from?  Scots often declared that they were fighting for freedom.  So did that mean that they wanted a deregulated state?  Not at all.  What they were fighting for was freedom  from rule by the English. That the Scottish king was at least as tyrannical as the English king did not bother them. They saw it as a plus to be tyrannized by a fellow countryman.

And we see a similar ambiguity among libertarians.  It is sometimes said that there are as many versions of libertarianism  as there are libertarians.  Libertarians may even want opposite things. Some libertarians, for instance, want freedom for all individuals to smoke anywhere they happen to be.  That is a pretty purist libertarian position but, fortunately, not one often adopted.

In contrast, another libertarian may value the opportunity for all people everywhere to be able to breathe air unpolluted by the stink of tobacco smoke. So the two libertarians may want opposite things but value both things in the name of liberty.

Examples like that show that there really is no such thing as liberty in the abstract.  There are only freedoms from particular things. Liberty is meaningless without a predicate.

So to be frank and honest in our discourses we should list and justify separately what liberties we value.  Calling oneself a libertarian contains no real meaning at all.  A common list of things that libertarians want includes things that both Leftists and conservatives want but there will be no universally agreed list of those things.  We need to justify each of those freedoms by themselves.  Saying grandly that we stand for "liberty" is meaningless or at least uninformative.  And the same goes for individual liberty. There is no such thing by itself.

There is probably a fair amount of agreement about what liberties advocates of individual liberty want but that is just true of one particular time and place and one particular culture.  So being a libertarian is not easy at all.  It provides you with no magic key to unlock the "correct" position on any issue. We need to argue each point of the liberties we want.  Saying that we stand for freedom is just slipshod.  There is in fact no grand value that we are standing behind.  A love of liberty is always a love of some particular liberties.

Particularly under the influence of Disraeli, English conservatives often said that they stood for traditional English liberties -- which gave a reasonably clear list of liberties -- but there is not much left of those liberties in England these days.  The modern British state is a bureaucratic and authoritarian monster.

Libertarians do specify in general what liberties they want.  They say that they oppose force, fraud and coercion.  Unpacking those generalizations into particular policies is the problem, however -- as I have shown above with the example of smoking.

Note:  I use "liberty" and "freedom" interchangeably, which I think is common.  One word originates from Latin and the other from German but that seems to be the only difference -- JR


The Terrifying Rise of Financial Blacklisting

It is the most totalitarian form of blacklisting: not just to be prevented from speaking on a university campus, or to be kicked off social media, but to be shut out of the entire financial system. That is the terrifying new threat to freedom that western societies must now contend with.

Financial blacklisting doesn’t just rob you of a chance to spread your message: it robs you of your ability to do business, your livelihood, your very means of functioning in a capitalist society. Thanks to the encroachment of progressive ideology into the financial industry — including major credit card companies like Visa, Discover, and Mastercard — it has now become a reality.

I first wrote about the rise of financial blacklisting in July, in a column for Breitbart News in which I highlighted the growing tendency of online financial platforms — as well as Visa and MasterCard — to deny service to customers for political reasons. I was surprised to receive a strongly worded comment from the liberal Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who bluntly warned that banks and credit card companies had become “de facto internet censors.” That even liberal groups had raised the alarm signaled the seriousness of the problem.

Since then, financial blacklisting has only gotten worse. In August, Mastercard and Discover deplatformed conservative and Islam critic Robert Spencer. In the same month, Visa and Mastercard ceased service to David Horowitz. While credit card processing service to Horowitz was eventually restored, Spencer remains financially blacklisted.

Crowdfunding platforms like Patreon, which allow online content creators to collect donations from their supporters, are frequently cast as the primary villains in financial blacklisting. Patreon’s recent ban of YouTuber Carl Benjamin, better known by his moniker Sargon of Akkad, triggered a crisis for the platform. Both donors and creators — including prominent atheist Sam Harris — quit the platform in protest, while Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin pledged to create an alternative platform that is pro-free speech.

But Patreon and other crowdfunding platforms are not the real villains. They are dependent on the whims of the credit card companies, something that was already apparent in August when Mastercard forced them to withdraw service from Robert Spencer. We now know that the credit card companies were also a factor in Patreon’s decision to boot Benjamin.

YouTuber and Patreon creator Matt Christiansen recently released a transcript of his conversation with Jacqueline Hart of Patreon about Benjamin’s ban. Hart frankly admits that the sensibilities of credit card companies play a key role in Patreon’s decisions.

Here’s an excerpt of that transcript (emphasis ours):

JACQUELINE: The problem is is Patreon takes payments.  And while we are obviously supportive of the first amendment, there are other things that we have to consider. Our mission is to fund the creative class. In order to accomplish that mission we have to build a community of creators that are comfortable sharing a platform, and if we allow certain types of speech that some people would call free speech, then only creators that use Patreon that don’t mind their branding associated with that kind of speech would be those who use Patreon and we fail at our mission.  But secondly as a membership platform, payment processing is one of the core value propositions that we have. Payment processing depends on our ability to use the global payment network, and they have rules for what they will process.

MATT:  Are you telling me that this was Patreon’s decision then, or someone pressured you into this?

JACQUELINE:  No – this was entirely Patreon’s decision. 

MATT:  Well then I don’t understand passing the buck off to somebody else. 

JACQUELINE:  No, I’m not passing the buck off.  The thing is we have guidelines, but I’m trying to explain, #1 it is our mission to fund the creative class and obviously some people may not want to be associated. 

MATT:  Well if it’s your mission, then payment processors are irrelevant.  It’s your mission. That’s what you’re pursuing.

JACQUELINE:  We’re not visa and mastercard ourselves – we can’t just make the rules.  That’s what I’m saying – there is an extra layer there.

This “extra layer” places platforms like Patreon in an impossible position: abandon free speech or lose your ability to process payments. That’s also why so many free-speech alternatives to Patreon have failed: FreeStartr, Hatreon, MakerSupport, and SubscribeStar all tried to offer a more open platform, and were promptly dumped by the credit card companies. All are unable to do business.

This exposes the emptiness of establishment conservative arguments about the free market. Those who oppose Silicon Valley censorship aren’t allowed to just build their own alternative platforms. They must build their own global payment processing infrastructure to have any hope of restoring free speech online.

That, or they must find a way to stop Visa, Mastercard and Discover from taking advice from the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Color of Change. The former was allegedly responsible for the blacklisting of Robert Spencer, while the latter claims to have removed 158 funding sources from “white supremacist sites” — although as the group won’t list what those sites are, we don’t know if they really are “white supremacist.” The far left typically includes regular Trump supporters under the label.

Another thing the credit card companies will have to avoid — listening to the New York Times, which is currently pressuring them to blacklist gun purchasers.

The only other option is to find an alternative to Visa, MasterCard, and Discover that is indifferent about American social justice politics. There’s only one card which has a similar level of global coverage — China’s UnionPay. It remains to be seen if a company at the whim of Chinese Communists is better than Visa, Discover, and Mastercard — all of which currently appear to be at the whim of American communists.

Visa, Mastercard, Discover and Patreon did not return requests for comment.



Sidestepping Congress to Build the Wall

Could President Trump order the construction of his proposed border wall without having Congress specifically authorize the funds to pay for it?

Authorizing funds to pay for the proposed border wall is the central focus in this year’s episode of federal government shutdown theater. The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a total of $5 billion (0.1%) of the U.S. government’s projected $4.4 trillion spending budget for 2019 toward border security improvements that includes money to construct the wall, while the U.S. Senate has countered with a spending proposal of $1.3 billion that includes no wall construction funds. The lack of a compromise in setting the amount of this spending authorization that President Trump would approve is why the federal government is now partially shut down, as Washington D.C. politicians put on their nearly annual political performance.

But former House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz argues that President Trump could sidestep Congressional approval for the improved border barricade and use funds that haven’t been authorized to pay for it. Now a Fox News contributor, Chaffetz explains how that might happen in a recent op-ed:

Can the government spend money that has not been specifically authorized by Congress? In theory—no. In practice? Absolutely.

Each year the government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on things that are not specifically authorized by Congress. Both Democrats and Republicans have been complicit in this practice.

President Donald Trump, to his credit, has worked hard to get his wall funding properly authorized. But he may ultimately do exactly what presidents before him have done: take advantage of the broken Congressional process.

Washington’s dirty little secret is that unauthorized spending is not even uncommon anymore. As a freshman member of Congress, this truth stunned me—and I was not alone. By my estimation, there were many in the body who disapproved of the practice. But to our disappointment, the body as a whole was not inclined to address the issue.

How much money are we talking about? In 2016, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the U.S. government spent over $310 billion that wasn’t authorized by the Congress for that fiscal year. The $3.7 billion difference between the House and Senate budget bills for border security now being argued about on Capitol Hill, about 1.2% of the 2016’s total unauthorized spending total, could be scrounged from these funds.

Then, if President Trump wanted to escalate the stakes in this year’s government shutdown revue, he could force Congress to address the issue by ordering the shutdown of all the U.S. government’s nonessential functions whose money to operate comes from these unauthorized funds.



Anticipating New US-Bound ‘Caravan,’ Mexican Minister Says Mexico’s Southern Border Will be Secured to Ensure ‘Legal and Orderly’ Entry

A day before President Trump gives a prime time Oval Office address on “the humanitarian and national security crisis” on the Southwest border, Mexico’s interior minister outlined plans to strengthen her own country’s porous southern border, where hundreds of illegal crossing points have been identified.

Speaking at a gathering of Mexican diplomats at the foreign ministry, Olga Sánchez Cordero said at least 10,000 migrants had entered Mexico from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala since last October, and that another U.S.-bound “caravan” from the south was expected to arrive in mid-January.

Sánchez Cordero said the government was determined to ensure that “legal and orderly” entry takes place.

As part of the new government’s migration policy, she said, anyone wanting to enter Mexico would have to provide information including reason for entry, biometric data, and an identity document.

“Those who refuse to provide identity or biometric data will not be able to enter Mexican territory.”

For those whose objective in entering Mexico is to travel to the U.S., the government’s policy would be to stipulate “certain deadlines,” so that if access to the U.S. is not possible they return to their countries of origin.

Sánchez Cordero said although Mexico was not the cause of the mass migration phenomenon, it was “willing and determined to be part of the solution.”

To do so it would need the United Nations and Organization of American States (OAS) to assume their “co-responsibility in addressing the phenomenon,” along with the active participation of the governments of the migrants’ countries of origin.

“It is also essential that the governments of the countries of Central America, particularly Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, assume their inescapable responsibilities.”

She noted that there were 12 formal points of entry along the southern (Mexico-Guatemala/ Mexico-Belize) border, but that approximately 370 illegal crossing points had also been detected, and said the government would monitor them to prevent illegal entry into Mexico.

The minister predicted that mass migration would continue, and may even grow in the months and years to come.

“We need to bring order to our borders, and provide migrants with humanitarian aid and the dignified and respectful treatment they deserve,” she said.

Sánchez Cordero stressed that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s instructions were for a humanitarian migration policy, with migrants seen not as delinquents but as human beings seeking to escape insecurity and deprivation in their countries of origin.

Participants in previous caravans that entered Mexico from Central America in the closing months of 2018 have either crossed into the U.S., are waiting in the border city of Tijuana, have taken up offers to be repatriated, or have applied for asylum in Mexico.

Sánchez Cordero’s figures about some 370 illegal crossing points along Mexico’s southern border are not new: They were cited in 2015 in a State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs document, in which the Obama administration outlined ways it was helping the previous Mexican government to secure that border.

They included millions of dollars’ worth of mobile “non-intrusive inspection equipment” – scanners that use X-rays to inspect vehicles – and mobile kiosks used to capture migrants’ biometric and biographical data.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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