3 days ago

Don’t regulate Facebook — That’s what Zuckerberg wants

If Facebook disappeared forever this afternoon, I wouldn’t exactly be upset about it. I’m astounded when I see people post loads of personal information on the site, including posts about all their travel plans, their shopping habits, their daily routines, and their family members. Long is the list of people who have been harassed by law enforcement agencies or “child welfare” agencies in response to something they said or did on Facebook. And, given what we know about Big Tech’s willingness to collaborate with government agencies, people who are fond of posting their every move in Facebook might as well hand over their daily itineraries to the FBI.

Similar problems exist with other tech platforms as well, from Twitter to Google.

However, there is a fairly easy way to minimize the amount of information Facebook and other platforms collect on the user. The user can stop using the platform, or at least stop using it so often. Unlike the state, which is free to mandate that people use their “services,” consumers are still free to not use Facebook.

Also, it is still the case that producers are free to create new firms that will compete with Facebook. And many have done so. Recent data suggests that Facebook users are spending less time on Facebook, and younger users are preferring to spend their time elsewhere. Facebook is expected to actually lose users in the under-25 category this year. Some will keep using Facebook-owned Instagram, but many will go to services not owned by Facebook, such as Snapchat.

For whatever reason, whether it’s increased competition or a decline in social media use overall, Facebook is not bulletproof, and it is facing competition from others. True, none of Facebook’s competitors are just like Facebook. But that’s how competition works. Other firms offer a choice for consumers, and offer different products.

After all, we’ve already seen firms like Facebook be beat by competition in the past. Remember MySpace? It was once bigger than Facebook. And now it’s not.

If consumers want to use social media platforms that aren’t Facebook, and which offer different choices, the answer lies in greater competition. But, if greater competition is what we want, barriers to entry must be kept low, government regulations must be abolished or minimized, and consumers must be free to use or not use firms as they please. So long as this is the case, Facebook will never have a true monopoly. Consumer preferences can always change. And sometimes they change drastically.

Get Ready for More Regulation

Unfortunately, this week’s Congressional hearings with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg suggest that things are going in a direction that will only end with increasing whatever monopoly power Facebook currently has. Washington politicians are interested in regulating the social media world, and ultimately, this will only strengthen the big firms that dominate the industry now — while making things harder for smaller start-ups and future competitors.

Oh sure, politicians are making a big show of how concerned they are about everyone’s privacy, although it is embarassingly obvious that the elderly and out-of-touch-with-reality members of the Senate have no idea how social media works. They most they could do was read questions written for them by staff and try to understand Zuckerberg’s answers.

(These people, by the way, will be the ones voting on any future legislation that regulates social media.)

But even if members of Congress had a wonderful grasp of the internet and social media, would anyone benefit from any new regulations on the industry?

Well, yes, of course some people would benefit. Those who would benefit include the government agents who will get jobs as regulators, the politicians who can score political points for passing new legislation, and the large incumbent firms that now dominate the social-media market.

Dominant Firms Want Regulation

It should not surprise us, then, that even before he testified to Congress, Mark Zuckerberg was calling for his own industry to be regulated:

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday that he’s open to having his company be regulated. “Actually, I’m not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” Zuckerberg said in an interview…I actually think the question is more ‘What is the right regulation?’ rather than ‘Yes or no, should it be regulated?’” Zuckerberg told CNN.

But why so open to regulation? Zuckerberg cleared this up himself in one of his answers to questions from members of Congress:

I think a lot of times regulation puts in place rules that a large company like ours can easily comply with but that small start-ups can’t,” Zuckerberg said as he testified for the second consecutive day on Capitol Hill.

Indeed.

Government regulations such as minimum wages and financial mandates are especially burdensome on small firms because small firms have less access to capital and enjoy fewer benefits of economies of scale.

It’s far easier for a firm like Walmart, for instance, to pay higher wages than for a small start-up. And, should the economy fall on hard times, higher costs can be weathered better by large firms that can borrow large amounts to get through a crisis. Small firms have far less borrowing power.

One example of this can be seen in the decline of small banks in the wake of the new banking regulations found in the Dodd-Frank legislation. Compliance costs created by the new legislation have led to fewer small firms, fewer start-ups, and fewer community banks. Huge financial institutions have benefited greatly from additional legislation. Market share for small firms, meanwhile, is being destroyed.

These barriers to both entry and survival for small firms, end up destroying competition. Per Bylund notes: 

Regulated markets are different from open, free markets in that they have artificial barriers to entry: they redistribute costs of business to protect some incumbent firms by forcing the cost on (some) entrants. In other words, there are fewer new businesses and thus less competition.

Moreover, this decline in competition then means that the surviving large firms can afford to be less responsive to the desires of consumers. Efforts to reduce prices also fall by the wayside and competition wanes. Bylund continues:

Under interventionism, businesses do not always need to discover accurate consumer prices because the threat from new entrepreneurs entering the market is smaller than it otherwise would have been.

In other words, government regulations diminish consumer sovereignty by reducing both competition and thus the incentive to stay in tuned with what consumers want.

Dominant Firms Control the Regulators

The other great danger in regulation exists in the fact that regulatory bodies have a tendency to be taken over by the large dominant firms themselves.

This is a common occurrence in regulatory schemes and is known as “regulatory capture.” When new regulatory bodies are created to regulate firms like Facebook and other dominant firms, the institutions with the most at stake in a regulatory agency’s decisions end up controlling the agencies themselves. We see this all the time in the revolving door between legislators, regulators, and lobbyists. And you can also be sure that once this happens, the industry will close itself off to new innovative firms seeking to enter the marketplace. The regulatory agencies will ensure the health of the status quo providers at the cost of new entrepreneurs and new competitors.

Moreover, as economist Douglass North noted, regulatory regimes do not improve efficiency, but serve the interests of those with political power: “Institutions are not necessarily or even usually created to be socially efficient; rather they, or at least the formal rules, are created to serve the interests of those with the bargaining power to create new rules.”

After all,  how much incentive does the average person have in monitoring new regulations, staying in touch with regulators, and attempting to affect the regulatory process? The incentive is almost zero. The incentive for regulated firms, on the other hand, is quite large.

So, once Congress begins its process of regulating social media firms, you can be sure that Facebook and the other major firms involved will be at the table, and will be key in writing the legislation, and in guiding it through the legislative process. And why wouldn’t they be allowed to be closely involved?  As The Verge has already shown, Facebook freely writes checks to members of Congress as “political donations.” And once the new regulatory bodies have been created, Facebook will be involved every step of the way, from selecting regulators, to writing new regulatory rules.

Needless to say, it won’t exactly be a priority for Facebook to make sure that start-ups and other small firms get a fair shake at slicing off a piece of Facebook’s market share.

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t pandering when he says that he welcomes new regulations from Congress. He doesn’t want Facebook to end up like MySpace, and new regulations are among the easiest ways to crush the competition.

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is the editor of Mises Wire and The Austrian.

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11 hours ago

AUDIO: ‘The University of Alabama showed great courage in its defense of open debate and free speech’ — J. Pepper Bryars

Earlier this week J. Pepper Bryars, editor of Yellowhammer News, appeared on WYDE’s “The Ford Faction” to discuss a speech that was scheduled to be given by a “race realist” this Thursday at the University of Alabama.

“The University of Alabama showed great courage in its defense of open debate and free speech through its willingness to allow this speaker on campus,” Bryars said, adding that “the only cure for hate speech is more speech.”

The details:

— An obscure student group invited self-described “race realist” (aka: a racist) Jared Taylor to deliver a lecture on campus.

— The university initially approved the event because the group had followed the required process, although administration officials made clear Taylor’s message ran contrary to the school’s values.

— Eventually, however, the student group was found to be in violation of key requirements (having a faculty advisory, etc.), and after officials gave the students time to come into alignment, the group failed so the invitation was rescinded.

“Had the group met the requirements and followed the process like any other, Alabama was prepared to allow its students to hear the racist arguments this man makes, and that’s a great thing,” Bryars said. “Because the only way our society can refute such claims is to know of their existence and how to properly dispose of them … like the garbage they are.”

LISTEN NOW:

@jpepperbryars is the editor of Yellowhammer News and the author of American Warfighter

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12 hours ago

Alabama man charged after hunters find remains of missing woman

An Alabama man has been charged with murder after hunters found the skeletal remains of a missing woman.

News outlets report that 58-year-old Kenny Darity of Montgomery is charged in the strangling death of Christina Bloss.

Darity was arrested and charged Tuesday, and bond was set at $150,000. Jail records on Wednesday did not show whether he is represented by an attorney.

Bloss was reported missing Feb. 28, 2017, in Montgomery County. Authorities now think she had been killed 10 days earlier.
A Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department captain, George Beaudry, says Darity and Bloss were acquaintances.

Hunters found her remains Thursday in Lowndes County, which is just west of Montgomery County.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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13 hours ago

Michael Knowles featured at Alabama Policy Institute’s 19th annual dinner event in Mobile

On Tuesday, the Alabama Policy Institute held its 19th annual Mobile dinner event in the airplane hangar at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.

“I cannot think of a better place to discuss freedom and liberty than at the U.S.S. Battleship Memorial Park and Aircraft Pavilion, a place that holds so many reminders of the sacrifices that thousands of Americans have paid to guarantee our freedom and liberty,” Caleb Crosby, President and CEO of API, told Yellowhammer News.

The “Evening with the Alabama Policy Institute” included keynote speaker, Michael Knowles.

Knowles is a talk show host and former managing editor of The Daily Wire, who is most well-known for his best-selling (and blank) book Reasons To Vote For Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide.

Part of a generation of young-ish conservatives that includes the Wire’s, Ben Shapiro, Knowles spends much of his time traveling to universities and rebutting their brand of “illiberal liberalism,” as Frank Bruni of the New York Times has called it.

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“I feel that here we’re in a safe space,” Knowles opened his speech last night, mirroring Crosby’s sentiment by ironically appropriating the campus buzzword.

“We’re definitely in a safe space because there are lots of guns and battleships. This is the perfect safe space for conservatives to be on tax day.”

Knowles’s speech before API and guests was as much about making the case for conservatism and for President Trump as about rebutting progressivism.

He began by reminding everyone in the room of all the good that the Trump presidency has accomplished: tax cuts, deregulation, originalist judges.

“Now you might be having déjà vu,” he said, “because I could have given that exact same [list] in 1981.”

Pointing out similarities between Reagan was Knowles’s primary way of arguing that Trump has governed as a conservative. In some ways, it also seemed to be his way of coaxing those never-Trump conservatives to embrace the president, or at least to encourage those conservatives supportive of — but still apprehensive — about him.

“Take the victories that we can get today,” Knowles said.

His chief point was that politics is about the now.

“Politics changes all the time,” he said. “There are different circumstances. There are different public policy challenges. There are different public policy prescriptions. There are timeless principles. And of course the hope, is that we conservatives can maintain the bedrock of timeless principles that we can apply to new circumstances and new challenges and make America great again, again.”

“Political victories are never permanent,” Knowles continued. “Political successes are never permanent. That’s why you always need to be making America great again. It’s because otherwise, it’s going to revert to its natural state of decay and destruction.”

@jeremywbeaman is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News

13 hours ago

Why the Alabama Legislature holds the power — and a breakdown of interesting open seats

Our antiquated 1901 Constitution was designed to give inordinate power to the Legislature. During the Wallace years, the King of Alabama politics, George Wallace, usurped this power and controlled the Legislature from the Executive Branch of Government. Over the last couple of decades the Legislature has wrestled this power back and pretty much excluded the Governor from their bailiwick. Governors Bob Riley and Robert Bentley were ostracized and pretty much ignored. Their proposed budgets were instantaneously tossed into the nearest trashcan.

Legislative power is derived from controlling the state’s purse strings. Thus the old adage, “Those who have the gold set the rules.” The Legislature has gotten like Congress in that incumbents are difficult to defeat. Therefore, the interest will be on the open Senate and House seats. Most of the Montgomery Special Interest money will be focused on these Legislative races.

Speaking of Montgomery, two open and most interesting Senate seats in the state will be in the Montgomery/River Region. One is currently in progress. Montgomery City Councilman, David Burkette, Representative John Knight and Councilman Fred Bell are pursuing the Democratic seat vacated by Senator Quinton Ross when he left to become President of Alabama State University. Burkette has already bested Knight and Bell in a Special Election last month. A rebound race is set for June 5.

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The Republican Senate seat in the River Region held by Senator Dick Brewbaker is up for grabs. This seat was expected to attract numerous well-known aspirants. However, when the dust settled at the qualifying deadline two relatively unknown candidates were the only ones to qualify. Will Barfoot and Ronda Walker are pitted against each other in a race that is considered a tossup.

The Etowah County/Gadsden area was considered one of the most Democratic areas of the state for generations. However, in recent years it has become one of the most Republican. State Representative, Mack Butler, should be favored as a Republican. Although, polling indicates that veteran Democratic Representative, Craig Ford, could make this a competitive race in the Fall. He is running as an Independent.  

Veteran State Senator Harri Ann Smith has represented the Wiregrass/Dothan area admirably for over two decades. She has been elected several times as an Independent. However, she has decided not to seek reelection. Her exit leaves State Representative Donnie Chesteen in the catbird seat to capture the seat.

Republican State Senator Paul Bussman, who represents Cullman and northwest Alabama, is a maverick and very independent. This independence makes him powerful. He will be reelected easily.

State Representative David Sessions is predicted to win the seat of Senator Bill Hightower who is running for Governor.

Most of the state Senate’s most powerful members are unopposed or have token opposition. Included in this list of incumbent State Senators are veteran Senate leader and Rules Chairman, Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia, Senate President, Del Marsh, R-Calhoun, Senate Majority Leader, Greg Reed, R-Jasper, veteran Senator Jimmy Holley, R-Coffee, as well as Senate leaders Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, Clay Scofield, R-Marshall, Clyde Chambliss, R-Autauga, Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, Tom Whatley, R-Lee, and Shay Shelnutt, R-Gardendale. The Senate leadership will remain intact, as will the House leadership.

Almost all of the House leaders are unopposed or have token opposition. This prominent list includes: Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Madison, Budget Chairmen, Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, Speaker Pro-tem, Victor Gaston, R- Mobile, Rules Chairman, Mike Jones, R-Covington.

In addition, there are numerous Veteran lawmakers, who will be reelected, including Lynn Greer, Mike Ball, Jim Carnes, Howard Sanderford, Kerry Rich, and Jimmy Martin; as well as rising leaders: Nathaniel Ledbetter, Kyle South, Connie Rowe, Tim Wadsworth, April Weaver, Paul Lee, Terri Collins, Danny Garrett, Dickie Drake, Chris Pringle, Randall Shedd, Allen Farley, Becky Nordgren, Mike Holmes, David Standridge, Dimitri Polizos, Reed Ingram and Chris Sells.

Even though there are 22 open House seats and 10 open Senate Seats, the leadership of both Chambers will remain the same.

There are some competitive House seats that will be interesting. In the Pike/Dale County Seat 89, Pike Probate Judge Wes Allen is pitted against Troy City Council President Marcus Paramore. Tracy Estes is favored to replace retiring Mike Millican in Marion County. Alfa is going all out for Estes. David Wheeler is expected to capture the open House seat in Vestavia.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

13 hours ago

Alabama aging death row: Is executing old or infirm inmates cruel?

Vernon Madison has spent decades on Alabama’s death row. Now 67, Madison has suffered from strokes and dementia and his lawyers say he no longer recalls the crime that put him there: the 1985 killing of a police officer.

His speech is slurred, he suffers from confusion, and once thought he was near release and talked of moving to Florida, according to his lawyers. This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to review the claims by Madison’s defense team that executing someone in his condition would violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“Killing a fragile man suffering from dementia is unnecessary and cruel,” Madison’s attorney, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, said in January, when the justices stayed Madison’s execution the night he was to receive a lethal injection.

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The U.S. death row population is aging, and that leaves courts increasingly likely to grapple with questions of when it becomes unconstitutionally cruel to put someone to death who is mentally frail — or whose medical conditions could complicate the execution procedure.

“That is going to be an increasing issue in carrying out the American death penalty,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. “We are reaching a stage, as death row inmates age, we’ll see this more frequently.”

About 2,800 people are on death row in prisons nationwide, and about 1,200 of them over age 50, the non-profit group said. An Associated Press review of the group’s data shows the median age of an executed inmate in the U.S. rose from 34 to 46 between 1983 and 2017 — a fact observers attribute to appeals taking longer — sometimes decades.

One of the oldest, 83-year-old Walter Leroy Moody, is scheduled to be executed Thursday in Alabama for the 1989 package bomb killing of a federal judge. If the sentence is carried out, Moody would be the oldest person and the first octogenarian put to death since U.S. executions resumed in the 1970s, Dunham said.

“Many of these defendants have done terrible things. People are torn between wanting to punish severely and the belief it is beneath us as a nation to kill a frail person who is already dying. It’s a challenge to our morality and our sense of humanity,” Dunham said.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, supports steps to reduce the time between an inmate’s sentencing and execution.

“There is no constitutional issue from age alone, though dementia does, of course, become more common with age. The underlying question about what kind and degree of mental illness will prevent an execution is not new. It is ancient.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing in Madison’s case, noted the growing number of aging prisoners on death row and said, “Given this trend, we may face ever more instances of state efforts to execute prisoners suffering the diseases and infirmities of old age.”

Age by itself isn’t the issue, but rather the illnesses more common with old age.

Take Alva Campbell, 69. He died last month in an Ohio prison of natural causes after his 2017 lethal injection procedure was halted when a usable vein couldn’t be found. Alabama similarly aborted last month’s execution of Doyle Lee Hamm, 61, who has battled lymphoma. His lawyer said Hamm had at least 11 puncture wounds from attempts to find a vein.

“It was precisely Doyle’s old age and illness that raised all the problems. The state of Alabama was not prepared,” Hamm’s attorney, Bernard Harcourt, wrote in an email.

Yet 75-year-old Tommy Arthur, who had argued that his cardiovascular disease would complicate execution, was put to death without obvious incident last year in Alabama.

Madison was convicted of killing Mobile police officer Julius Schulte.

Schulte responded to a missing child report on April 18, 1985. Arriving at a home, he found the child had returned but Madison and his girlfriend were embroiled in a domestic dispute. According to court records, Schulte interacted briefly with Madison, telling him to “just to go on and let things cool down.” According to prosecutors, Madison left but then crept up behind Schulte as he sat in his police car, shooting him twice in the head.

The Supreme Court has ruled inmates must have a rational understanding of why they’re being executed, faculties which Madison’s lawyers say he doesn’t possess.

His attorneys argue strokes have left Madison frequently disoriented with no independent memory of his crime. They also say he is legally blind, cannot walk independently and has urinary incontinence from his brain damage.

The state’s lawyers counter that Madison was found competent at a 2016 hearing, hasn’t presented new evidence and is aware he received the death sentence — even if he doesn’t remember killing Schulte.

“What happened to my dad was cruel and unusual punishment,” said Schulte’s son, Michael. “He was shot twice in the head while he was trying to help somebody.”

Schulte, 59, has suffered health problems of his own, including a stroke and heart attack. Yet he said Madison’s protracted legal fight has been hard on his family and doesn’t “do my dad justice.”

Said Schulte: “Somebody needs to make a decision. Either we are going to have the death penalty or we’re not.”

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)