The New York Times has been running a multi-part story—with countless additional internal links—on the connections between (Republican) state attorneys general and industry groups and their lawyers and lobbyists. There’s lots of wining and dining in fancy places to gain and maintain corporate access to state AG’s when it’s needed—more often than not, to deal with this or that multi-state investigation and prosecution. Also, the energy industry in particular has made common cause with state AG’s in fighting the Obama administration’s climate change agenda. The article series is quite good in a Times-ish way—informative to the point of exhaustion, self-congratulatory (“We intrepid reporters unearthed this information on the internet! And through open records requests!”), and slightly paranoid.
Archives for December 2014
Perhaps the biggest technology story of the year is also the most general—the recognition that machine intelligence is poised to displace more people in the labor market more rapidly than ever before. Among many other treatments, two economists wrote a well reviewed book, the Second Machine Age, on the subject, the financial commentator Nouriel Roubini took note of the trend, and the New York Times recently wrote a long piece trumpeting the development. I wrote about machine intelligence’s imminent invasion of the legal space. But this news is all around us. Google and others are developing self-driving cars. Self-service kiosks are replacing cashiers.
The cause of this development is the most important phenomenon of our age—the relentless exponential increase in computer power. Until a certain level of power is reached, computers cannot compete with humans. But once they get into a domain they can improve rapidly until they oust human competitors.
[Update: According to the Washington Post, yesterday Paramount Pictures, the maker of Team America, pulled that film—a 2004 puppet animation satirizing Kim Jong Il, among other targets—from all theaters. Alamo Drafthouse’s defiant showing of it will apparently not take place.]
Last month, when hackers invaded the personal and medical information of every employee of Sony Pictures, and then threatened to bomb any theater that screened the studio’s new movie, The Interview, the reaction was clueless.
It was a Seth Rogen comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong Un, and the hackers were presumed to be the North Koreans or their proxies. Here was a private American company being punished by sophisticated cyber-attackers from abroad who menaced life and limb. But so what—Rogen and other Hollywood figures like Aaron Sorkin did nothing but complain about the disclosure of their private emails in the massive cyber attack. The entertainment press that covers them (such as the website The Wrap) was similarly preoccupied, hyping the gossipy highlights of those emails.
That this was shaping up as a much bigger event became inescapable yesterday, though.
When Gary Becker put forward his idea of human capital in 1964, it was to address the effects of knowledge and training on individual economic performance. This idea can and should be extended to gauge the productive capacities of society in general.
Cultural patterns of behavior that become engrained over time, such as norms of punctuality, honesty, sobriety, or what others might call social capital, are just another way of speaking about human capital. When Max Weber described the attributes of character that marked the modern bourgeois, he was in fact emphasizing patterns of beliefs that facilitated the operation of markets by enabling individuals to effectively negotiate their social landscape—to engage in commerce and production over the long run.
One of the criticisms of the Cromnibus is that it very substantially raises the amount individuals can give to political parties. But this change was inevitable and generally positive. It was inevitable, because recent Supreme Court and lower court decisions have protected the First Amendment rights of citizens to band together for political messaging at election time. Without corresponding increases in the capacity to fund themselves, political parties would become a relatively less important political platform.
This development is also a positive one so long as it happens in concert with empowering electoral speech by individuals not connected with parties.
For a time now, the crusade to declare a rape culture on campuses and to address it through a series of standards that denies accused males a variety of due process protections has been progressing largely unimpeded. Perhaps the high point was the California affirmative consent statute and the Rolling Stone article on the alleged University of Virginia rape at a fraternity.
But since those two events, there has been a significant pushback against the crusade. Of course, the crumbling of the Rolling Stone article has been important, showing once again (after Duke, after Hofstra, etc, etc.) that such allegations are sometimes not credible. But it has also been 28 Harvard Law Professors – mainly of the left – who have attacked the one sided standards at Harvard.
Now comes an excellent article by Emily Yoffe who writes the Dear Prudence column at Slate. Yoffe is no right winger (in fact, I have sometimes disagreed with her advice from my own political perspective) and has very mainstream media credentials.
Joseph de Maistre never met men in the abstract. Frenchmen, Italians, yes—but not “Man.” There were no universal principles of government, applicable to all men at all times, only governments suited to the different kinds of people in different countries.
Maistre was right, and to that extent, American conservatives are wrong if they think that their constitution is the perfection of human reason, a light unto the Gentiles. They’re especially wrong since the Constitution isn’t looking too good these days. One can love liberty and one can love America’s Constitution, but one can’t love both together without a thick set of blinders.
In my prior two posts here and here, I discussed why even the narrowest view of the commerce power under modern precedents – Lopez and Morrison – is inconsistent with the constitutional structure because that view renders several other enumerated powers redundant. Here I discuss whether there are any counterarguments to my position.
One counterargument is that redundancy is not a serious matter since the Constitution contains clear redundancies. I disagree with this view. The standard way of writing formal legal documents, especially short ones, like the Constitution was to avoid redundancies. As a result, courts interpreted the document to avoid reading it to contain surplusage – including in the landmark case of Marbury v. Madison. (On the argument for following interpretive methods at the time, see here.)
It is true that the Constitution does contain a few redundancies, such as Congress’s power to establish inferior federal courts in both Article I, section 8 and in Article III, section 1. Sometimes one can come up with an explanation for a redundancy — with the second provision added for clarification or as a limitation. But if not, one must accept it as an oversight of the drafting process. But the few redundancies that the Constitution contains should not be used as a justification for embracing redundancies or failing to regard redundancies as matters to be avoided. That way lies clear misinterpretation.
Well, it’s finally out.
Reading the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation” after 9/11, and listening to the CIA’s reaction reverberating through the media, I found myself finishing other people’s sentences. Having served on that committee’s staff for eight years, I have seen this movie many times before.
The occasions have varied—a covert action somewhere gone awry, cases of foreign espionage long undetected, even flawed analyses of weapons systems that could well have invited nuclear war—but the script is always the same.
Yesterday, the House of Representative passed a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep government—most of it, anyhow—operating through the summer of 2015. (The measure is expected to pass the Senate unless someone filibusters.) Senator Warren, the Madame Defarge of the U.S. financial sector, is very upset about one piece of the bill: an amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act that would give certain FDIC-insured banks the ability to keep derivatives contracts on their books (as opposed to the statutorily required “push-out” to subsidiaries). Senator Warren thinks this fix will spell the difference between the Dodd-Frank’s ironclad anti-bailout protections and a future Armageddon at taxpayer expense.