I’ve chosen to write this because there has been some confusion with regards to my political views. This confusion is fair; they are somewhat idiosyncratic. I want to get ahead of one of the most pernicious assumptions, though, and proactively assert that I am not a conservative.
A recent ruling by the California Labor Commissioner found that drivers for ridesharing service Uber were employees, not contractors, as the company contends. Although this ruling applies narrowly, to the litigant in question, its implications are wide-ranging and, in many ways, disastrous.
The set-up of Uber (and other sharing economy companies like Lyft, TaskRabbit, AirBnB, etc) relies entirely on the assumption that the company is a platform first and foremost, one designed to facilitate exchanges between people with a particular service to offer and others who wanted to purchase it. Pursuant to this arrangement, every driver for Uber is a 1099 contractor rather than a legal employee. This allows for a level of independence of operation and flexibility of scheduling that traditional employees don’t receive.
What the California Labor Commissioner found was that, because Uber is “involved in every aspect of the operation,” the drivers are not technically independent contractors, but full employees, and therefore are entitled to Social Security, workman’s compensation, unemployment insurance, and other benefits. Uber contends that paying this out to every one of their drivers would basically destroy their business as they know it, by lowering their valuation and pricing out many of their low costs.
It’s popular for young lefties to hate on Uber nowadays, but I’m not that kind of liberal. I’m the kind of liberal that remembers the root of the word itself, and I have to side with Uber on this.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first, and most straightforward, is legal: I don’t think that Uber’s drivers can really be considered employees. They have a level of autonomy that baristas and brogrammers don’t. They decide their own hours, how many of those hours they work, who they pick up; it’s entirely on them. This flexibility is a big part of the appeal of the job for a lot of drivers.
The second reason that I side with Uber is more philosophical: I think they’re, fundamentally, doing a good thing. Taxi companies, to put it politely, suck. Uber and Lyft provide a competitive edge that taxis have never really faced, and in a lot of ways, they’re winning. By offering low barriers to entry and a huge amount of autonomy to their drivers and a more streamlined (and, in many ways, more responsible — your driver’s photo, name, and phone number, not to mention ratings and comments, are saved on your phone in case they’re terrible, which is more than a taxi will offer) option for consumers, rideshares have shot a powerful blow across the bow of the taxi companies. To rule against Uber in a court of law is to privilege companies that we know to be corrupt and inefficient. To draw a line around Uber is to build a wall around the taxis. This is what always happens in situations like this, and it’s a prime example of how corporate-state collusion comes together to create a less free and less fair society. So much government regulation is performing surgery with a sledgehammer, and when a regulation that hasn’t been thought through has been passed, it isn’t the workers who win; it’s the CEOs of whatever companies fall on the right side of the line. After all, the government just ruled their competition illegal, and all those displaced workers will have to go somewhere to earn their scraps.
Uber is not perfect. It could use a more responsive system for incidents of violence, for one (so could taxis). The possibility of regulations that could be tailored to this industry is not unthinkable. These regulations, though, were designed for situations that were completely unlike this. This is like fighting a ground war against a UFO. Everyone’s gonna lose, except maybe the bad guys. Uber (and Lyft, and TaskRabbit, and AirBnB) are voluntary commercial exchanges that, for the most part, people are happy with. They’re popular, low cost, and are a real threat to an industry entrenched in corporate welfare. The sharing economy is new and emergent, and any regulation applied to it would have to be one designed for it, and one that treads lightly — it’s a lot easier to screw up an industry than to fix the screw-up. I haven’t seen any proposals for a regulation like that, and so, in their absence, I have no choice but to stand with Uber. More consumer freedom is better than less, more economic competition is better than less, and more challenges to corrupt industries are better than fewer. Ultimately, this ruling is corporate welfare for the taxi companies. Don’t believe the hype.
The year 2015 is increasingly becoming the year that trans-binary self-identification went mainstream. Ground zero for this is obviously Caitlyn Jenner, and with good reason; Jenner is the highest-profile figure to come out as trans in modern history, and has done so with an impressive grace. Caitlyn Jenner has, very rightfully, been accepted, for the most part, as a woman (and, perhaps even more surprisingly, as a Republican).
The central argument for accepting Caitlyn Jenner, or any other trans person, is that social identity is not biologically determined and is ultimately based in self-identification. A human being, of sound mind, has the right to determine exactly what kind of human being that person is; personal identity is not for a third party to decide. This is something that we, as a society, increasingly accept. This is good.
There’s a very vocal segment of social activists online and off that have taken great pains to separate the situation of Caitlyn Jenner from that of Rachel Dolezal, the former Spokane NAACP chapter president who was discovered to have been born and raised white. There are differences, certainly; Caitlyn Jenner, for one, was never deceptive about her identity, either past or present, while Dolezal represented herself as having been black from the start.
What’s missing from this conversation is that race is at least as much of a social construct as gender is. Sure, there are racial characteristics that correspond to certain ethnic backgrounds (same as there are gender characteristics that correspond to certain sexes), but there’s no intrinsic connection between them. Reason‘s Ronald Bailey discusses the science behind race and gender at great length. America has a long history of black citizens “passing” for white — when confronted with a white citizen who “passes” for black, we’re gobsmacked. Racial identity in the United States has always been complex, especially around white and black citizens, but that complexity is social, not biological. Biologically, outside of certain geo-ethnic indicators in the chromosomes, there is no difference between white and black citizens. The importance of race is one that is imbued socially. It’s a construct, one that we can admit is meaningless or even harmful, but still insist on defending.
Rachel Dolezal lied — this is undeniable. She is not of African descent, and the people she put forward as her parents were not. She is not an African-American. She does, however, identify as black. She’s lived an adult life as a black woman, and worked tirelessly for the black community. She has internalized black culture and worked for it. Why is this a bad thing?
She didn’t grow up black, and didn’t have to face the pressures that America puts on its black citizens — but Caitlyn Jenner didn’t grow up being treated as a woman, either. That doesn’t make her identity any less valid. It’s who she had always been. The way society treats her is irrelevant to her identity.
The ability to define who we are, as individuals, is one of the defining features of a freer and more liberated world. The lesson we should take from Rachel Dolezal isn’t that people who are one race can’t identify as another; it’s that, in as racially fraught a society as we are, it should be done without deception. I’m not sure Rachel Dolezal would’ve been accepted had she been open about being transracial; I’m not sure we’re at that point. What I am sure of, without hesitation, is that her identity is not a crime.
I recently watched Alex Winter’s documentary Deep Web, an examination of the Silk Road case and a history of both the titular deep web and Bitcoin. The film traces the online drug market and its mysterious founder, Dread Pirate Roberts, all the way up to alleged perpetrator Ross Ulbricht’s life sentence in prison, levied only two weeks ago.
It’s a fascinating and striking story, with elements that I had never really known. The case is complex, revolving around alleged contract killings and potentially multiple Dread Pirate Robertses, not to mention a trial in which the defense is forbidden from offering a counter-narrative. It’s difficult to walk away from the film, or an examination of the case generally, without the impression that Ross Ulbricht may not be guilty of anything more than what he said he set out to do: set up an anonymous online market to take the violence out of drug transactions. He was an ardent libertarian (of the Austrian and agorist schools), and laid down rules against violence on the site. The case contends that he was the sole perpetrator and founder of the site; he argued that he founded it on his free market principles, then left, passed on the “Dread Pirate Roberts” name to someone else (in true Princess Bride fashion), and was lured back to take the fall. This version of the story alleges that the second DPR was the one who attempted to hire contract killers to take out potential informants; these killers were actually FBI agents, who used the alleged hitman hirings to take down the Dread Pirate. This version of the story makes sense to me. The idea that somebody was so committed to peaceful market principles and radical libertarianism that they would set up a market with rules against using it to hire hitmen or buy child pornography or anything that would harm others would then go so mad with power that he would attempt to murder people in his own organization isn’t impossible, but it certainly rings false. The idea that that same idealistic young guy, who did not have a computer science or systems administration background, might found the site on his principles, and then hand it to someone else, someone else who may have been just in it for the money, or maybe even an informant himself, and that person tried to hire hitmen and pinned it on Ulbricht? That makes more sense to me. That Andy Greenberg, a journalist from Wired and Forbes, interviewed the Dread Pirate Roberts anonymously in 2013, and DPR gave that same story — that he didn’t found the site, that somebody else (presumably Ross Ulbricht) founded it and gave it to him and then left — only adds to the complexity.
The multiple DPRs narrative, despite being the longstanding story of Ulbricht and the Silk Road defense team, was not allowed to be presented in court. The judge ruled that the defense could only respond to the prosecution’s narrative, and not attempt to present their own. Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison.
So what does any of this have to do with presidents? And who is Lyn Ulbricht? She’s his mother. Throughout the film, Lyn Ulbricht explicitly becomes the face of the defense, touring the country, speaking at internet activist events and libertarian meet-ups, to defend her son and his actions. She proves to be a charismatic, likable, and popular speaker, and has vowed to continue her campaign. She is still fighting for the cause and even accepting Bitcoin donations at @Free_Ross. Midway through the film, though, I had a realization:
Lyn Ulbricht should seek the Libertarian Party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
She wouldn’t be the first personal activist to use a presidential campaign as a platform for her cause, and combining criminal justice reform, internet freedom, ending the Drug War, and peaceful markets into one singular cause/person is a compelling force for libertarian voters. The film and her interviews prove her to be a passionate and compelling advocate for these causes, and the emotional component of a mother grieving for her son’s future put these libertarian issues into starkly visceral terms in a way that they usually aren’t. Libertarian politics generally feel like they’re for eggheads and white men. Putting somebody forward with such an emotionally devastating story, someone who has a background of being a successful businessperson herself, someone who can put the liberty narrative in a way it’s never been popularly put before, might be huge in the upcoming election. Imagine if the Libertarian Party nominee could look Hillary Clinton in the eye and ask her, mother-to-mother, “What would you do if this were your child?”
Former New Mexico Governor and 2012 Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson has said that he’ll likely run again in 2016. That’s great. I like Gary, I was supportive of his 2012 run — I think he’s a good candidate. I still think Lyn Ulbricht should run. She doesn’t have the electoral history of Johnson, but, even if she lost the nomination, should would make one hell of a vice presidential nominee. Johnson / Ulbricht would be probably the most legitimate ticket the Libertarian Party has ever put forward.
There is an incredible opportunity here, an opportunity to recast libertarianism as the free politics of the internet, as truly being beyond left and right and not just “Republicans but then some.” It would be a waste to not even try.
So this is something that I’ve wanted to talk about for a while now, and this David Weigel piece in Bloomberg Politics has finally prompted me to do so.
I think that there’s a tendency in places, especially places like Reason or Reddit to treat Senators Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul as diametrically opposed opposites in their respective 2016 primaries (Democratic and Republican), which makes a certain amount of truth on the surface. After all, Bernie Sanders is a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who wants to nationalize healthcare and expand Social Security, while Rand Paul is a “libertarian-ish” conservative who wants to flatten out taxes and shrink the government. These are obviously impossible to reconcile, right?
Not so. Like Weigel points out, there is actually a fair amount of overlap between the two candidates’ support systems — namely, civil libertarians, antiwar activists, people who fight against bailouts and corporate welfare, and anti-corruption reformers (and probably a few universal basic income supporters, wherever my sweet people may hide). I would argue that not only is this a predictable occurrence, it’s an inevitable and ultimately positive one.
The thing is, Bernie and Rand are not really on opposite sides. They have disagreements, definitely, and not just on the proper role of government: Rand Paul is a pretty hardcore social conservative in ways that other libertarians, like 2012 Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, actively rejects, and this is the kind of thing that holds me at bay; if I had to choose between Rand and Bernie, I choose Bernie in a heartbeat, in a lot of ways because of that. That’s not nothing, but, even counting social issues and the philosophical role of government, they agree on 75%-80% of issues — even less than the average progressive and the average libertarian, I would guess. They’re both civil libertarian reformers, fighting against an overzealous corporatist war state and an entrenched political machine that hates them. They are, in that way, insurgent candidates in their respective parties, and, for that reason, they shouldn’t be treated as opposites. They should be working together.
This is not without precedent. Ralph Nader has floated the idea of a progressive-libertarian alliance, and, in 2008, progressive Democrat Dennis Kucinich said that he would seriously consider choosing libertarian hero (and near-best friend) Ron Paul as his running mate. Progressives and libertarians share differing views on economics (mostly), but they share a common enemy: the corporatist war state.
This needs to be understood and embraced. After all, how often do left and right statists work together to wage wars, to levy unfair taxes, to restrict liberty and trample equality? They do this all the time. Every mainstream bipartisan act of Congress in the modern political era is an instance of statists putting aside their differences to expand the state in one way or another, in a way that will either rile progressives, libertarians, or both. So why not fight back? Why not argue about capital gains taxes after surveillance and war and bailouts have been stopped, after prohibition has been reeled back and our justice system reformed, after the moneychangers get chased out of the temple and the dignity of democracy restored to Congress? Progressives and libertarians agree on significantly more than right and left statists do, so maybe the time is right to capitalize on that.
Contrary to the headline, I’m not really suggesting that Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul run for president together (although an independent ticket of the two of them would lay serious waste to Bush and Clinton in the general election, I think — maybe not enough to win, but enough to make a point). Instead, I think they should be recognized for what they both are: co-heirs to Ron Paul’s revolution, to Nader’s raiders. In their separate parties, they can agitate to make positive change, and should. If their fanbases and campaigns understood how much Bernie can stand with Rand, how much Rand can feel the Bern, then mountains can be moved.
Progressives, libertarians: You don’t disagree on that much. Not where it matters. Not more than you both do with left and right statists. So stand up. Work together. Make things right again.
This is a long video, but please watch the whole thing. There are jackbooted fascists in this country. There are armed and totally out of control thugs. That anyone could watch this and not see this for the systemic problem that it is makes me sick my stomach. These are unarmed teenagers playing in a pool. This police officer pulls his gun on a fourteen year old girl, and drags her across the ground. For how fucking long does this have to happen until we do something? I don’t give a shit if these kids weren’t supposed to be at the pool. It’s a fucking community pool. If you think this kind of authoritarian hyper-violence is the proper response to improper pool usage, you’re a fascist. There’s no two ways about it. I don’t give a shit about “administrative leave.” This guy should be fired and prosecuted for assault and battery and his colleagues for aiding and abetting a felony. I don’t give a shit about how hard it is to be a cop. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. If you snap and go nuts, face the consequences just like anybody else. Our founding fathers put a right to self-defense in the Constitution because they knew that this is what happens when we give lunatics weapons and authority and keep acting like it’s legitimate. These police officers do not have legitimate authority. They do not operate with the consent of the governed. This trend, all across the country, is an enemy of liberty. This is Stalinism. This is American fascism. Every person that watches this happens and turns a blind eye is guilty of perpetuating a system of violence and authoritarianism that’s fomenting in this country. These police officers are not patriots. They are redcoats. Why do we keep giving them a pass? When do we do right by our country, by our founders, and by our principles and stand up against this active tyranny?
So here’s some news that’s both cool and rad.
Famous musician Akon has started up an initiative to bring solar power to over 600 million people in Africa. Working in collaboration with Solar Academy, he’s founded the Akon Lighting Africa initiative to help African engineers to build a dedicated solar structure for Africa.
This is huge. A major part of the future of sustainable energy is recognizing what we recognize with oil and gas: certain places will have more of these resources than others. The American Midwest has been described as the Saudi Arabia of wind power, and a continent like Africa, that has an average of 320 sunny days a year, is very well positioned to be that for solar power.
Not only is this potentially huge for global sustainability, it’s huge for Africa. People tend to think of Africa as fundamentally backwards, and that’s obviously untrue. Many countries are downright metropolitan, bustling with engineers and small businesses and a population that’s 70% under the age of 35. The problem is that the infrastructure for continent-wide success is lacking, for a number of socioeconomic reasons. This could be the first step towards fixing that. If this works, if engineers and small businesses all over the continent are able to harness this resource, this will be a huge economic and technological boon for the continent, especially its impoverished central band. There have been other, more sought-after resources in Africa (particularly diamonds), but the difference here is that the 21st century Cecil Rhodes isn’t coming in to scoop up all the goods and sell them at an insane markup while destroying local culture; this is an attempt to empower the local populace to reap the benefits of their resources and labor. There may not be the global market for stored solar power that there is for petroleum, but any region that’s resource rich is in a good position. That somebody like Akon has decided to dedicate himself to helping Africa embrace and capitalize upon theirs is only good news.
The American people, graciously, have an answer that’s been plaguing us for at least a month: Why is former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee talking about running for president? What issue could be animating the former Republican and independent to run, as a Democrat, against the juggernaut of Hillary Clinton and the increasingly established ascendency of Bernie Sanders? What does he see, this hair-parted-right-down-the-middle visionary from the smallest state in the union? Thanks to his speech announcement his campaign yesterday, we finally know.
It’s incredible to have someone who understands the true issues of the day! Our savior!
And sure, maybe he was one of the only lawmakers in the country who was right about the Iraq War back when it happened, and sure, maybe he, as a Republican Senator, was the only member of his party to vote against the war authorization, and, okay, whatever, he’s mostly running so we don’t forget that Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the war, but come on people. Let’s focus on the issues that matter. Like the fact that he casually brought up the metric system.
In March 2014, I started this blog. I posted and then I ignored it.
Since then, I’ve been writing actively on Facebook, Twitter, and The Rearguard, but not on a dedicated space for my ideas. That ends today. Don’t call it a comeback.
I’m naming this project nxtPRESS, or nxtpressmedia, because I don’t want this to be just about politics. This blog is going to be where politics, technology, and culture intersect, and that’s because it’s what I’ve been wanting out of a blog. This project will be taking inspiration from sites like Boing Boing and Vox, and making something new. A different perspective, a different tone, and a different set of interests, all together.
Let’s have some fun.
So, first thing’s first: Rick Perry is running for president. His 2012 run was obviously disastrous (“oops”), and he’s trying again. Here’s the thing: Rick Perry is probably not a stupid guy. He was the governor of Texas for three terms, which is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s easy to forget that when he entered the Republican primary in 2012, he was hailed as the conservative savior that would knock Mitt Romney off his perch. That is obviously not how it turned out (and the runner-up ended up being Rick Santorum, for some reason), but he was seen as a legitimately formidable challenger for a while there.
My point is that he wasn’t necessarily wrong to be seen that way. There’s definitely an argument to be made that he missed his chance, but there’s an equally good argument to be made that he’s a sleeper contender. He’s a good politician who can potentially balance the disparate elements of the GOP. The question is whether any of that will matter with a bench as deep as the 2016 Republican field.