“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
I’m not a bettin’ man, probably because I’ve lost every time I’ve tried it. Still, I benefit from those who do. We all do. Betting odds give us information about what others believe, same as stock and bonds prices. And this collected knowledge, backed by real property, tells us more about the real world than we can otherwise discover on our own.
Just recently in the presidential election, for example, I followed Intrade.com’s election markets. Here, the odds are formed by people betting their own property on the outcome. They have every incentive to extract every possible amount of truth out there so that they can make their money work for them.
I figured that the markets knew more than the blabberheads on television. This way I could ignore all election coverage. One guy would win, and it would probably be the one Intrade said would win, and then the whole thing would end. I would have used my time during the season doing actual productive things, rather than listening to the dopes on television who pretend to know what they do not.
It turns out, of course, that Intrade was right. Obama won. Romney never really had a serious chance, despite what every Republican operative claimed even up to the last minutes before the election was called. Intrade might have been wrong, of course, but it turned out to be more right than every expert.
My strategy of following the markets over the pundits worked. That’s generally true of markets: They are more correct than any individual. Not always, but most of the time.
It further turns out that I’m not alone. Even Washington Post energy reporter Brad Plumer wrote, “I’ll confess, I spent a good chunk of the 2012 campaign clicking on Intrade.com several times a day to see where the House, Senate, and presidential races stood. All those traders betting on the eventual outcome, I figured, could provide a more accurate synopsis of the race than reading endless blog posts and tweets.”
He points out that Intrade predicted 49 out of 50 state races as well.
Now just imagine my shock to hear that Intrade, a site based in Ireland, had been body-bagged by the government. This news was stunning to me. I had to see it to believe it. I mean, this isn’t a meth lab. It’s a site for the facilitation of a very normal human activity, namely betting on stuff.
It turns out that the case is a bit more complicated. The site is not shut for international users. This was not the FBI at work here. True, the FBI and U.S. Customs and Homeland Security shut down sites every day. On Cyber Monday, more than 100 websites were body-bagged and stolen from their rightful owners. It’s the government’s war on your right to know.
Intrade, by comparison, has received kid glove treatment. Americans have been barred from using the website. Everyone else in the world can use it, but Americans cannot, at least not legally. The reason, supposedly, is that Intrade allows betting on price movements in commodities. That puts it under the jurisdiction of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
People are trading in an unregulated environment and the U.S. government doesn’t like that kind of thing. For most governments in the world, it’s neither here nor there, but for the U.S.? No trading without regulation. Your overlords must approve or disapprove all that you do.
Intrade believes that it can deal with the CFTC’s complaints and reopen for Americans too, even though Americans were barely able to use the site in the first place, given the extreme restrictions on cash transfers in the U.S. relative to the rest of the world.
But some close observers aren’t so sure. Rajiv Sethi points out that the CFTC has only recently barred any betting on political elections in particular. A press release dated April 2, 2012 said: “The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today issued an order pursuant to Section 5c(c)(5)(C)(ii) of the Commodity Exchange Act and CFTC Regulation 40.11(a)(1), prohibiting the North American Derivatives Exchange (Nadex) from listing or making available for clearing or trading a set of self-certified political event derivatives contracts. The contracts are binary option contracts that pay out based upon the results of various U.S federal elections to be held in 2012.”
This is a violation of human rights. In a free society, people should be allowed to bet on anything, such as in Guys and Dolls when Nathan Detroit tries to trick Sky Masterson to bet on whether the kitchen has served more strudel or cheesecake that day. Nathan had been counting, so the system is rigged. Sky knows it and Detroit gets beaten. So it goes in a free market. People work out their issues and problems in an environment of liberty.
The CFTC will have none of it, but why? What is wrong with having a market in which people trade real property and the results benefit everyone else by broadcasting information? If we can’t have that information, we are being forcibly denied knowledge that helps us live better. Nothing is to be gained by shutting it down. And yet government usually always gains from even its stupidest policies. There is usually something going on behind the scenes. What it is and who it is can be very difficult to detect.
Now, you might say this is not really an attack on betting in general. This is a specific case that represents no larger threat. I’m not so sure. Last year, I wrote about a gambling site that was shut down with no public notice and no controversy. Two years ago, there was a big crackdown on Internet poker that ended up stealing millions in assets. Now we have this attack on what I thought was a very mainstream and upstanding website used frequently by academics and reporters.
The attack on the Internet is real. It is getting more intense. In every case, there seems to be a plausible excuse: futures trading, piracy, counterfeit goods, violation of copyright, financial fraud, national threats, you name it. You can rationalize them all.
But here’s the thing. There is a sense in which there is always a rationale for tyranny, always a seemingly good excuse for shutting down human freedom. The mass allowance of human volition always seems dangerous to the despot. That’s why freedom itself is always and everywhere on the defensive against all-knowing dictators who are quick to say that they have a better way. But if we let them get away with it time after time, excusing their every encroachment as an exception with a plausible basis in this one particular case, eventually, they will come for you. You will see the injustice clearly and experience the violation personally. But then it will be too late.
I’m firmly convinced that technology and human freedom will triumph over reaction and despotism in the end. Of that I have no doubt. The digital revolution is too far along to be turned back. But there is a lot of static between now and the endgame. It is always a good time to be jealous of human rights and passionate about liberty.
Thank goodness for the geeks all over the world who are inventing technologies that prepare for the worse. So long as governments survive, they will conspire against the people. It’s a race between us and them.
The attack on Intrade should put people on notice: There is no safe place for anyone when the regulators are free to do whatever they want for any reason they deem appropriate at the time.