Dear Libertarians

For as long as I can remember, every discussion I’ve had with Libertarians ultimately goes to the same syllogism:

All government is a form of force.
All force is bad.
Therefore all government is bad.

I question line #2 of the syllogism, and therefore don’t agree with the conclusion. Why is all force bad? Don’t we need force to protect us? Most Libertarians agree that we need a police force to protect us from bad guys. But we need protection from more bad elements than just bank robbers.

Corporations, driven by the desire to maximize profit (i.e. greed) place financial goals above all others. Left unchecked, they deforest continents, exploit workers, spew pollution, sell unsafe goods, and exploit loopholes in financial markets. Lax regulation led to the recent banking crisis and the BP oil spill. Child labor in unregulated 3rd world countries continues to be a problem supported by our free market, which is far more concerned with cheap jeans and TVs than it is with the welfare of humans. A world where corporations are unregulated is not a world we would want to live in.

It would be awesome if there were an alternative to regulation (force). It would be wonderful if the free market could control the power of greed, but history shows us that it does not… mostly because consumers either don’t know or don’t care what they’re supporting with their purchases. Corporations will work tirelessly to cut corners and find loopholes in order to maximize profit at the expense of the interests of the general population. Not even Adam Smith believed that an unregulated free market could work to the good of the general population.

We need to know that our citizenry are educated; therefore we need force to make sure all of our children go to a satifactory school. I would prefer if force weren’t needed for that, but it is. To keep our population healthy (and from going broke), we need protection from the exploitative practices of health insurers, so we must apply force in two vectors – we must limit what insurers can charge, and we must force our population to have insurance of some kind. Insurance companies have shown us what they’re made of — their interests are personal greed, not public health.

Without government “force” we would have no National Parks — all of that land would have been razed and populated long ago. Without government “force,” we end up with broken systems spiralling out of control at the expense of the people. What alternative to government “force” do we have?

Of course government force can be a dangerous thing too – it needs checks and balances to keep it fair and safe. But our representative form of government, and our system of checks and balances, ensures that ultimately WE ARE the government. We can remove entities that don’t serve us well. We get to look inside of government and control its workings. We don’t have that option with the free market, since we can’t look inside of corporations, can’t take control of them. Healthy governance is open and transparent in ways that the “free” market will never be.

Libertarians, help me out here. When you trot out the old “But government is a form of force” argument, what exactly do you mean to convey? That it’s OK to let greed drive our world rather than common sense? Do you really believe that free market forces can protect us and our land/water from the power amassed by corporations? Do you really want to live in a world with no government?

John Stewart Skewers Glenn Beck

… by acting like him for the first 15 minutes of recent show. This kind of brilliance knows no bounds… and it’s also the best possible way to make a point that so desperately needs making. Go full-screen on this one, you won’t regret it.


This week’s California Supreme Court Ruling to uphold the voters’ recent decision to bake discrimination into the Constitution was tragic, though it was made for reasons that have little to do with the Supremes’ actual position on gay marriage.

That’s OK. Now we’ve got two years to ramp up a properly prepared campaign for the 2010 elections, in which we can upend this topsy turvy, nonsensical situation and restore reason and compassion to our state.

Courage Campaign has launched a pledge campaign to overturn Prop 8 by 2010. It may take all we can muster to turn this around, but it’s the duty of every person who considers themselves a fair, honest human being with a basic, non-negotiable conviction in basic equal rights. Please join us.

This excellent Fidelity video is already starting to air on TV across the state:

Who Owns Your RSS?

In a case with far-reaching implications for the widespread practice of automated aggregation of headlines and ledes via RSS, GateHouse Media has, for the most part, won its case against the New York Times, who owns, who in turn run a handful of community web sites. Those community sites were providing added value to their readers in the form of linked headlines, pointing to resources at community publications run by GateHouse. The practice of linked headline exchange is healthy for the web, useful for readers, and helpful for resource-starved community publications. However, for reasons that are still not clear (to me), GateHouse felt that the practice amounted to theft, even though the sites were publishing the RSS feeds to begin with.

Trouble is, RSS feeds don’t come with Terms of Use. Is a publicly available feed meant purely for consumption by an individual, and not by other sites? After all, the web site you’re reading now is publicly available, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to reproduce it elsewhere. The common assumption is that a site wouldn’t publish an RSS feed if it didn’t want that feed to be re-used elsewhere. And that’s the assumption GateHouse is challenging.

Let’s be clear – this is not a scraping case (scraping is the process of writing tools to grab content from web pages automatically when an RSS feed is not available). was simply utilizing the content GateHouse provided as a feed. I would agree that scraping is “theft-like” in a way that RSS is not, but that’s not relevant here.

In a weird footnote to all of this, GateHouse initially claimed that was trying to work around technical measures they had put in place to prevent copying of their material. Those “technical measures” amounted to JavaScript in its web pages, but was of course not scraping the site — they were merely taking advantage of the RSS feeds freely provided by GateHouse. In other words, they were putting their “technical measures” in their web pages, not in their feed distribution mechanism, missing the point entirely.

GateHouse seems primarily concerned with the distinction between automated insertion of headlines and ledes (e.g. via RSS embeds) vs. the “human effort” required to quote a few grafs in a story body. Personally, I don’t see how the two are materially different, or how one method would affect GateHouse publications more negatively or positively than the other. If anything, now that GateHouse has gotten its way, they’re sure to receive less traffic.

The result is that has been forced to stop using GateHouse RSS feeds to automatically populate community sites with local content. If cases like this hold sway, there will soon be a burden on every site interested in embedding external RSS feeds to find out whether it’s OK with each publisher first.

PlagiarismToday sums up the case:

It was a compromise settlement, as most are, but one can not help but feel that GateHouse just managed to bully one of the largest and most prestigious new organizations in the world.


The frustrating thing about settlements, such as this one, is that they do not become case law and have no bearing on future cases. If and when this kind of dispute arises again, we will be starting over from square one.

I’m trying to figure out who benefits from this decision… and I honestly can’t. GateHouse loses. loses. Community web sites with limited resources lose. And readers lose. Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark.

Government Whiskey

With four million people crowded into D.C.  for today’s inauguration, open house at the White House is out of the question — but it wasn’t always. SF Chronicle summarizes highlights from inaugurations past, including Andrew Jackson’s 1829 public melee’ :

1829: Andrew Jackson, “the People’s President,” holds an open house. About 20,000 people trample mud and horse manure into the White House, destroy rugs, break satin-covered chairs, smash crystal and china, and spill liquor. Fights break out, women faint and Jackson has to escape through a window. Order is restored when barrels of whiskey are placed on the South Lawn, drawing the crowd outside.

I bet barrels of free gubmint whiskey would still be effective as a crowd control technique. And more fun than rubber bullets.

Music: Carla Bruni :: Quelqu’un M’a Dit

I’m a Dirty Liberal

What did liberals do that was so offensive to the Republican Party? I’ll tell you what they did. Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did Conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things, every one. So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, ‘Liberal,’ as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won’t work, because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor. –The West Wing