Getting Pummeled By The War On Drugs, The War on Terrorism, and The War on Piracy

For a time I thought the national debt was the most pressing political issue for the United States of America. It is rapidly expanding by record amounts, and the political leaders seem to have a compete unwillingness to make hard choices instead of just kicking things down the road a little more. I know Keynesians like Krugman keep saying that we should borrow even more because interest rates on Treasuries are so low right now, but Europe is daily proving that interest rates can suddenly rise much quicker than your ability to pay them back. I fear we are setting ourselves up for enormous problems in the future.

But the financial Armageddon has not happened yet, despite the regularly dire predictions of doomsdayers since 2008. It still seems to be somewhere in the distant future. I am still very concerned about it, but there is another important political issue that is beginning to cast much larger and more frightening shadows on my presently unfolding life.

It is the issue of civil liberties.

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Layman’s Terms: The Two-Month Payroll Tax Cut Extension

Gather round, folks, it’s time for a little story.

As long as I’ve been alive, the federal government has taken 6.2% out of workers’ paychecks to fund Social Security for the people who aren’t working anymore. Then at the end of the year 2010 Congress was looking for ways to spend money to make people happy, but they couldn’t just give people any more stimulus paychecks because that was too obvious. So somebody had the bright idea to reduce everyody’s payroll tax from 6.2% to 4.2% for the year 2011. This would put more money in people’s pockets and stimulate the economy and bring a magical paradise to all.

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Top 16 Links About SOPA

I just did a post about the latest developments in the SOPA battle, but as it may become quickly outdated, I thought I’d do a post summarizing some of the most important links that are being shared around the Internet. Some of the links provide summaries of the while the bill is so dangerous and what has unfolded already, and some of the links are good places to keep up-to-date on what will unfold in the future. Feel free to add other important links in the comments.

The Dangers of SOPA

1. Washington Post: Everything you need to know about Congress’s online piracy bills, in one post. I don’t think it’s really everything (thus the 15 other links), but it’s a good place to start and it summarizes the bill(s) without sounding paranoid about anything.

2. Forbes: How SOPA Could Ruin My Life. A post from a small business owner concerned that SOPA could destroy a website that provides his income.

3. TechDirt: How SOPA 2.0 Sneaks In A Really Dangerous Private Ability To Kill Any Website. TechDirt explains how a new amendment to the bill makes it even worse.

4. TotalBiscuit: WTF is SOPA ? aka The American Government trying to ruin the internet. A UK Law graduate goes to YouTube to explain the dangers of this bill. It’s long (21 minutes) but pretty informative (especially if you don’t like reading or do like British accents). It’s getting shared around Twitter like crazy right now and has acquired over 1 million views in less than two days.

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SOPA: Delayed But Not Defeated

Good news – somewhat. The extremely dangerous SOPA bill has been delayed. The Judiciary Committee began hearings on the bill on Thursday, but the outnumbered opponents of the bill prolonged the process as much as possible, forcing the entire text to be read out loud and bringing up amendment after amendment. The hearing continued on Friday where it was abruptly ended. Initial reports suggested that the bill had been delayed until at least January, but apparently they are going to try to have another meeting this coming Wednesday – apparently the issue of piracy is so important that it cannot wait until after Christmas. (Word on the Internet is that the lobbyists just want to sneak the bill through while no one’s paying attention, just like they did with the Federal Reserve act back in 1913 or something.)

So the fight will continue but at least it’s dragging out longer than expected, giving the entire Internet more time to mobilize defense against it. Also, Lamar Smith – the bill’s uncompromising leader – apparently seems open to letting actual technology experts talk about the potential consequences of the bill.

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The Right To A Lightbulb Has Been Extended

(Update below)

It seems that in the wheeling and dealing to pass a government budget this week, the ban on incandescent lightbulbs has been delayed. The 100W bulbs were supposed to be the first to be illegalized starting next month, but Congress apparently prohibited the administration from “spending any money to carry out the light bulb standards… That means the regs will likely go into effect next fiscal year, which starts in October 2012.”

Well, in the simplest sense, any delay to statism is good news. Of course, there are liberals on the Internet complaining that those dumb conservatives just hate regulation even when it would save them money on electric bills, but I’ve written before about how I’ve struggled to find any available lightbulbs that match the quality of existing incandescents – besides the fact that it’s arguable that the “green” savings from CFLs are offset by their manufacturing processes or the fact that they contain mercury. So a delay is good news. If things get delayed almost to the next presidential election, maybe it will get delayed again.

But it’s a rather hollow victory.

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SOPA: Opposed By The Entire Internet

The entertainment industry is lobbying for a dangerous “anti-piracy” bill that essentially gives the government the power to make websites accused of file-sharing vanish from the Internet – even if the accusation is unfounded or was caused by a random user. It’s a terrible, corrupt, and poorly written bill that will do nothing to solve the piracy problem but has a lot of potential to ruin the Internet. But don’t take my word for it. The founders of Google, Twitter, eBay, Craigslist, Yahoo, PayPal and more have sent a joint letter to Congress in opposition. So did 83 Internet engineers who helped create the original protocols that made the Internet work. Tumblr mobilized its users into making over 87,000 calls to Congress, and thousands of other websites are working with American Censorship to do the same thing. Techcrunch hates it. Gizmodo hates it. The primary editors of Wikipedia, the fifth-most popular website in the world, are considering blacking out the entire site for a day in protest (I really hope they do; it looks like about 89% of them support the idea).

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The Hullabaloo About Muslims and Hardware Stores

When the Florida Family Association called on advertisers to boycott a new TLC show about American Muslim families, they probably didn’t expect to start a big controversy that would end up with more people learning about the show than ever would have otherwise. But Lowe’s pulled its ads from All-American Muslim, and now everybody’s upset that they caved to a social conservative group. Apparently thousands of people want Lowe’s to reinstate the ads (no doubt many of them liberals who otherwise act disgusted by advertising). Personally I think it’s a big hullabaloo about almost nothing.

First, to the conservatives Republicans: You need to get over your obsession with “real Muslims vs. fake Muslims.” You know that some people think Islam is a peaceful religion and some people think it has to do with killing all the infidels. You’ve learned about al-Qeada and the history of Mohammed and seen some verses from the Koran and you’ve been convinced that the “real Muslims” are the killers and the ones that think it’s a peaceful religion are just fooling themselves. The Florida Family Association president, David Caton, declares that “a follower of Islam believes in the radicalization, use of Sharia Law, which provides for honor killings, mutilation of women, and numerous other atrocities to women.” So whenever part of our culture engages in an attempt to present “peaceful Muslims” in a good light, you get riled up because you think they’re trying to deceptively encourage sympathy and support for dangerous murderers.

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The Right To A Domain

There’s a lot of hoopla going around on the Internet, opposing the proposed SOPA and PIPA acts meandering through Congress. As far as I can tell this is completely warranted, as the bills have something to do with giving the government power to blackout websites that are merely accused of facilitating illegal activities, including anything happening to come from its user-generated content. Really, however, the bills seem to just be lobbying from the entertainment industry in another flailing attempt to crack down on online file-sharing.

Now I don’t know how much of the hysteria would really happen if these bills went through, but the government already thinks it has the power to seize domains suspected of illegally sharing files, because they did just that to dozens of sites in November 2010. (It seems like most of the sites just moved out of jurisdiction.) So if the government is already using scary powers to seize websites, I really don’t want to explicitly give them permission to use more.

But wait – it gets worse! One of the biggest problems with expanding the government’s power to do things is that it increases the potential for abuse. And yesterday I read an infuriating article about one of the domains that was seized last year. Apparently ICE seized a popular hip-hop blog that supposedly only shares files purposefully sent by artists and labels for promotion purposes. But the government put up its “warning graphic on the site, suggesting its operators were criminals, and then refused to comment at all about the case.”

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Guide to the 2012 GOP Presidential Candidates: A Reasonable Attempt At An Intelligent Summary

(NOTE: This is intended to be a living document. If you spot an error or just want to quibble about something I said or left out, let me know in the comments.)

One of my friends asked me for “an intelligent rundown” on the Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential election. Here is my attempt with a blog post for the public, including the candidates’ experience, links to their wiki and campaign sites, the age they would be as President, their fact-checked score on campaign statements by the [mostly] non-partisan Politifact, and my opinions of their pros and cons and a summary of their campaign thus far.

Here are the 2012 GOP Presidential candidates, in roughly reverse order of their current poll standings. This guide isn’t perfect, but neither are any of these candidates… (UPDATED 1/21/12) (Bias disclaimer: This guide may be too mean to Gingrich, not nice enough to Santorum, and too nice to Paul and Roemer)

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The Right to a Happy Meal Toy

I can’t believe I never blogged about San Francisco voting to ban toys in Happy Meals that did not meet certain health requirements. I guess it’s because it happened last November which was before the latest incarnation of my blog. At the time I thought it was a hilarious and classic example of the progressive mindset that the state is more authorized to make decisions for children than the parents, and also a hilarious and classic example of fruitless, arbitrary regulation that restaurants would find an easy way around.

Well, the ban is back in the news, because it finally goes into effect today, and the New York Times is reporting that McDonald’s is just going to charge 10 extra cents to slip the toy into the bag. And the regulator response:

“We are going to learn from how the industry responds,” Dr. Bhatia said, “and do what’s necessary to improve regulation.

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