I slapped together a little something (g) for Germany's Legal Times Online about the Snowden case. The editor pepped up the language a bit, but that's fine with me, it's supposed to be a popular format.
What I said is that the Fourth Amendment guarantees US citizens privacy in situations in which they have a 'reasonable expectation of privacy'. Email and (especially) phone calls certainly belong in that sphere. So if the NSA is collecting massive amounts of emails and telephone data randomly, without a specific search warrant, then it is violating the privacy rights of US citizens. According to recent revelations, the NSA has developed internal 'minimization procedures' that instruct agents to stop listening or reading if they find out that they are spying on a US citizen, similar to regulations the German Federal Constitutional Court has required in cases of spying on telephone calls or private apartments. But since the court meets in secret, we have no way of independently verifying these claims. Also, since the Obama administration has blocked all privacy lawsuits with the legal doctrine of the state secrets privilege, no American court has yet ruled on whether these programs are constitutional.
However, the situation in Germany is not very different. German spy agencies have extremely broad powers under existing law, and will gain new ones under the new Telecommunications Law which takes effect on 1 July. There is a parliamentary committee which provides general oversight of requests for surveillance and a so-called G-10 committee which rules on individual requests. They are supposed to follow strict minimization procedures and insist on adequate proof of possible wrongdoing before authorizing spying measures. However, since both of these committees operate in secret, we have no way of knowing how carefully these guidelines are respected. Plus, since there have been no German whistleblowers, we have no real insight into the scope of German programs. As the Green Party speaker Konstantin von Notz recently remarked, it is high time that Germans learned more about what their own spy agency is up to.
One thing that has really angered Germans is the fact that communication to and from and even within Germany are being spied on by the US and the UK. The official position of the US government (in the form of a Senate report) is that foreigners 'foreigners outside the United States generally are not entitled to the protections of the Fourth Amendment.' Thus, the current version of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides no protection for the privacy rights of foreigners. The secret court which orders surveillance can authorize blanket data collection on all foreigners, everywhere. The only limitations kick in when it appears that an American citizen may be involved. In the words of the report itself, 'Section 702 thus enables the Government to collect information effectively and efficiently about foreign targets overseas and in a manner that protects the privacy and civil liberties of Americans'.
Of course, this wouldn't matter so much if American and the UK didn't have, and use, spying technology that can sweep up massive streams of data from everywhere and anywhere. As far as remedies for Germany, it's not clear what Germany can do, except send sternly-worded letters (g) to American officials. I'm not aware of any treaty that the US has ratified without reservation which would give Germany a basis for complaint before international tribunals. But I'm happy to be corrected in comments if I've overlooked something.
The revelations of NSA spying activities have, predictably, generated plenty of headlines in Germany. The initial undertone of much of this coverage was predictable: everyone can be a victim of the super-powerful secret American surveillance state; Americans, as usual, are blindly overreacting and sacrificing their so-called liberties for the illusion of security.
However, some reporters and commentators are beginning to ask a question which would seem a lot more relevant for Germans: are German spy agencies doing similar things? The answer, depending on who you ask, is either 'probably', or 'we have no idea, since all these matters are kept secret in Germany and there have been no whistleblowers'.
The manner in which [German] spy agencies use the considerable powers granted them under current law is unknown. Therefore, it's impossible to say if there are programs in Germany which might be comparable to 'Prism'. Spy agencies operate in hiding, and [parliamentary] oversight is performed by a committee whose meetings are strictly confidential. Whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden or Bradley Manning have not come forward in Germany in recent years.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the main spy agency is planning a €100 million program to train and hire 100 new spies for Internet surveillance.
Two questions: (1) Where are the German whistleblowers? and (2) If one actually came forward, would he or she be celebrated as a hero by Germans, or denounced as a 'nest-fouler' who is endangering valuable and necessary security measures?
I was kindly invited to give a speech at the annual conference of the German American Lawyers' Association in Freiburg. I agreed, since Freiburg is a delightful place, the annual wine festival's happening at that time, and I can probably get some study time in at the Max Planck Institute for Criminal Law. The downside? I have to talk about collective bargaining. That's the theme of the conference, and although I repeatedly told the very nice lady that wasn't really my field, she was extremely persistent.
So now I'm boning up on collective bargaining. Which turns out to be a fascinating, if depressing story. The modern era of collective bargaining in the U.S. started with the National Labor Relations Act, which was supposed to set up a fair and equitable means of managing labor disputes. However, especially since the 1970s, changes in the American workplace and a concerted anti-union effort by conservative politicians and judges have effectively deprived American workers of the right to strike (for the long version of this argument see this article on how American workers have lost the right to strike).
Here are a few charts that basically tell the story. First, union membership rates:
As the article from which this was taken puts it:
In 2012, the rate of union membership in the public sector fell by more than a full percentage point, from 37 to 35.9 percent of workers, while in the private sector it dropped from 6.9 to 6.6 percent. The combined rate of American workers now belonging to a union stands at 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 the previous year and the lowest figure ever since the bureau started collecting the data in 1983, when the rate was 20.1 percent.
Strikes have also become practically non-existent:
Since the 1970s, wages and compensation for lower-middle and working class people have stagnated or dropped (the lines represent percentile rankings of the population):
Men are making less in real terms than they did in 1970, and many have therefore dropped out of the labor force entirely:
Kevin Drum has an insightful piece predicting that artifical intelligence will be here before you think and will radically change the economy:
We've moved from computers with a trillionth of the power of a human brain to computers with a billionth of the power. Then a millionth. And now a thousandth. Along the way, computers progressed from ballistics to accounting to word processing to speech recognition, and none of that really seemed like progress toward artificial intelligence. That's because even a thousandth of the power of a human brain is—let's be honest—a bit of a joke. Sure, it's a billion times more than the first computer had, but it's still not much more than the computing power of a hamster.
This is why, even with the IT industry barreling forward relentlessly, it has never seemed like we were making any real progress on the AI front. But there's another reason as well: Every time computers break some new barrier, we decide—or maybe just finally get it through our thick skulls—that we set the bar too low. At one point, for example, we thought that playing chess at a high level would be a mark of human-level intelligence. Then, in 1997, IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer beat world champion Garry Kasparov, and suddenly we decided that playing grandmaster-level chess didn't imply high intelligence after all.
So maybe translating human languages would be a fair test? Google Translate does a passable job of that these days. Recognizing human voices and responding appropriately? Siri mostly does that, and better systems are on the near horizon. Understanding the world well enough to win a round of Jeopardy! against human competition? A few years ago IBM's Watson supercomputer beat the two best human Jeopardy! champions of all time. Driving a car? Google has already logged more than 300,000 miles in its driverless cars, and in another decade they may be commercially available.
... True artificial intelligence will very likely be here within a couple of decades. Making it small, cheap, and ubiquitous might take a decade more.
In other words, by about 2040 our robot paradise awaits.
...This isn't something that will happen overnight. It will happen slowly, as machines grow increasingly capable. We've already seen it in factories, where robots do work that used to be done by semiskilled assembly line workers. In a decade, driverless cars will start to put taxi hacks and truck drivers out of a job. And while it's easy to believe that some jobs can never be done by machines—do the elderly really want to be tended by robots?—that may not be true. Nearly 50 years ago, when MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum created a therapy simulation program named Eliza, he was astonished to discover just how addictive it was. Even though Eliza was almost laughably crude, it was endlessly patient and seemed interested in your problems. People liked talking to Eliza.
...Increasingly, then, robots will take over more and more jobs. And guess who will own all these robots? People with money, of course. As this happens, capital will become ever more powerful and labor will become ever more worthless. Those without money—most of us—will live on whatever crumbs the owners of capital allow us.
This is a grim prediction. But it's not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds. Economist Paul Krugman recently remarked that our long-standing belief in skills and education as the keys to financial success may well be outdated. In a blog post titled "Rise of the Robots," he reviewed some recent economic data and predicted that we're entering an era where the prime cause of income inequality will be something else entirely: capital vs. labor.
So, by 2040, we will have robots intelligent enough to perform hundreds of tasks that used to be performed by humans. Let me put on my heavy, black-framed armchair-sociologist glasses and predict how these developments will be received in Germany [snark]:
As I anticipated, I got a lot of 'Facebook will steal your soul!!' reactions to the announcement of less blogging and more Facebooking, so I plan to keep blogging as time permits. However, Facebook and Twitter are better for spontaneous link-sharing and discussion, so you're invited to follow me there if you wish as well.
Here's a post I've been meaning to work on for a while, another installment in the series of 'Germany's social problems are more similar to America's than many Germans would like to acknowledge'. First, a short excerpt from an essay (g) by Hans-Ulrich Wehler in Die Zeit, on the government's most recent (and controversial (g)) report on 'Wealth and Poverty in Germany'. Here are a few of his conclusions (my translation):
Even more severe than the inequality in incomes is the inequality in wealth. They show class barriers on the bases of an unprecedented amount of wealth in Germany. In 1970, the top ten percent of Germany already controlled 44 percent of total cash wealth. In 2011, the richest decile controlled 66 percent. In a dramatic process of concentration, the top 10% has acquired control over an astonishing 2/3 of total private wealth in Germany. One hundred billionaires stood at the top of 345,000 millionaires, as measured by wealth. Rich Germany have never been so wealthy as they are now.
The situation is made more drastic by the fact that, for the first time since the 'golden years' before 1914, a generation of heirs will inherit a massive amount of wealth. In the late 1990s, the first billions created during the 'economic miracle' years was passed on to the next generation. Afterwards, however, the process started in earnest: between 2000 and 2010, two trillion Euros were inherited in Germany. Germany's 37 million households have collected total wealth of 7.7 trillion Euro. Of that, 2 trillion were in the hands of households dissolved by death during this decade. For the heirs of the next generation, the next decade will be even more beneficial: the German Institute for Old-Age Care estimates that since 2010, 260 billion dollars have been passed on as inheritance in each year. That means 3 trillion dollars will be inherited during this decade.
Meanwhile in the United States:
WASHINGTON — Incomes rose more than 11 percent for the top 1 percent of earners during the economic recovery, but not at all for everybody else, according to new data.
The numbers, produced by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, show overall income growing by just 1.7 percent over the period. But there was a wide gap between the top 1 percent, whose earnings rose by 11.2 percent, and the other 99 percent, whose earnings declined by 0.4 percent.
Mr. Saez, a winner of the John Bates Clark Medal, an economic laurel considered second only to the Nobel, concluded that “the Great Recession has only depressed top income shares temporarily and will not undo any of the dramatic increase in top income shares that has taken place since the 1970s.”
There are still meaningful differences between American and German social-welfare policies, and Germany remains a somewhat more equal society than the United States. But the gap between Germany and the U.S. is certainly not the yawning chasm that some Germans like to imagine -- and it's steadily narrowing, thanks in no small part to the policies of the current German government.
Iceland could (but probably won't) become the first Western democracy to censor Internet porn. Halla Gunnarsdóttir, an adviser to the interior minister, explains the country's anti-smut rationale to The Guardian:
"We are a progressive, liberal society when it comes to nudity, to sexual relations, so our approach is not anti-sex but anti-violence. This is about children and gender equality, not about limiting free speech..."
This is Iceland, after all. Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir is the first openly lesbian government head in the world. It's already illegal to print and distribute porn within the country, and since 2010, strip clubs have been prohibited as well.
The bill would try to target what opponents describe as 'hateful' or 'violent' pornography, but there's no information as to who would get to define these terms. Apparently the chances of this bill actually passing are almost nil, which is reassuring.
As I've so often had the occasion to remark, trends hit Europe with about a 10-15 year lag time after they hit the United States. Anti-smoking laws, shaving customs, freedom-of-information statutes, you name it. What we appear to be seeing now is the late 1980s-early 1990s alliance of a certain strain of feminism with cultural conservatism -- epitomized by Andrea Dworkin' book Pornography: Men Possessing Women. Here's a representative sample from one of her speeches, held in 1993:
Men use sex to hurt us. An argument can be made that men have to hurt us, diminish us, in order to be able to have sex with us--break down barriers to our bodies, aggress, be invasive, push a little, shove a little, express verbal or physical hostility or condescension. An argument can be made that in order for men to have sexual pleasure with women, we have to be inferior and dehumanized, which means controlled, which means less autonomous, less free, less real.
I am struck by how hate speech, racist hate speech, becomes more sexually explicit as it becomes more virulent--how its meaning becomes more sexualized, as if the sex is required to carry the hostility. In the history of anti-Semitism, by the time one gets to Hitler's ascendance to power in the Weimar Republic, one is looking at anti-Semitic hate speech that is indistinguishable from pornography --and it is not only actively published and distributed, it is openly displayed. What does that orgasm do? That orgasm says, I am real and the lower creature, that thing, is not, and if the annihilation of that thing brings me pleasure, that is the way life should be; the racist hierarchy becomes a sexually charged idea. There is a sense of biological inevitability that comes from the intensity of a sexual response derived from contempt; there is biological urgency, excitement, anger, irritation, a tension that is satisfied in humiliating and belittling the inferior one, in words, in acts.
We wonder, with a tendentious ignorance, how it is that people believe bizarre and transparently false philosophies of biological superiority. One answer is that when racist ideologies are sexualized, turned into concrete scenarios of dominance and submission such that they give people sexual pleasure, the sexual feelings in themselves make the ideologies seem biologically true and inevitable. The feelings seem to be natural; no argument changes the feelings; and the ideologies, then, also seem to be based in nature. People defend the sexual feelings by defending the ideologies. They say: my feelings are natural so if I have an orgasm from hurting you, or feel excited just by thinking about it, you are my natural partner in these feelings and events--your natural role is whatever intensifies my sexual arousal, which I experience as self-importance, or potency; you are nothing but you are my nothing, which makes me someone; using you is my right because being someone means that I have the power--the social power, the economic power, the imperial sovereignty--to do to you or with you what I want.
I confess that I don't really understand this argument, in fact I'm not even sure it is an argument. I simply present it to give you a flavor of what was fashionable on American university campuses in the early 1990s. You could be forgiven for thinking that Dworkin is actually arguing that all heterosexual intercourse is a form of violence (like many female anti-pornography crusaders, she appears completely unconcerned about gay pornography). These sorts of arguments are now out of fashion in the U.S. -- during the late 1990s and early 2000s, this sort of scolding, Puritan style of argument lost favor, especially at the hands of sex-positive feminists. One of them critiques Dworkin this way:
[T]he problem with Dworkin's attitude to porn sums up everything that can now be held against her. Her definition of porn and what is considered harmful is hugely misleading. In Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Dworkin used the word pornography knowing that it was different from society's understanding of the term. It was not just sex between adults recorded to inspire erotic and sexually arousing feelings; it was any sex act that involved degradation of women in a sexual context. "Pornography is a celebration of rape and injury to women ... " and by her definition, it was.
The deliberate blurring of these definitions is Dworkin's fundamental error and led ultimately to her malignment and the ease with which (male-led) society was able to demonise her. But it got her good headlines at first and if you court such controversy you play a very dangerous game. Dangerous not only for yourself, but for the women you claim to represent.
Dworkin redefined sex workers as helpless, passive victims - whereas before they were viewed as fallen, evil women....
But as Ana Lopes, founder of the British Sex Workers Union and a committed feminist, explains: "That has not changed the conditions under which women perform sex work. It has done nothing to improve their lives. On the contrary, they [radical feminists] have been a huge barrier to sex workers' empowerment and self-organisation. Sex workers need the support of advocates and allies in order to gather enough resources to stand up for their rights successfully. The women's movement is one of the most obvious allies - but if feminists are busy protesting against prostitution and pornography as a concept, it is clear that sex workers cannot count on their help."
The American crusade against pornography went nowhere, and has now pretty much been abandoned. At the time, it was lustily mocked in Europe -- the land of Page 3 and even Page 1 girls -- as laughable puritanism, just as the fact that prostitution is illegal in 49 American states has been mocked in Europe as a sign of America's puritanical double-standards and refusal to acknowledge human nature.
But what do we see now in Europe? Iceland contemplating a ban on pornography, and a massive lobbying campaign by womens' groups to try to get the European Union to ban prostitution:
More than 200 women's rights groups are calling for laws to make paying for sex a crime across the European Union.
Campaigners presented key policy recommendations for legislation to MEPs in Brussels on Wednesday.
"Prostitution is a form of violence, an obstacle to gender equality and an open door for organised crime to develop," a campaign spokeswoman told the BBC.
But opponents say the move is likely to drive the prostitution industry further underground.
The European Women's Lobby (EWL), which leads the campaign, wants EU member states to implement six key policies, including the criminalisation of all forms of procuring, and the creation of effective exit programmes for sex workers.
"The most important thing to understand about prostitution is that imposing sexual intercourse with money is a form of violence that shouldn't be accepted," EWL spokeswoman Pierrette Pape told the BBC.
Yet more confirmation of Hammel's Maxim #14 of transatlantic cultural influence: The more vigorously an American trend is mocked by the European commentariat, the more likely it will be adopted by mainstream European society within 10-15 years.
Another bizarre threat served up by the United States federal criminal-justice system:
The shuttered Hump restaurant in Santa Monica and two of its sushi chefs have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges including selling sei whale meat, an announcement from the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles says.
Typhoon Restaurant Inc., the parent company of the Hump, and Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda were named in the nine-count indictment. Other charges include conspiracy to import and sell meat from the endangered sei whale and lying to federal investigators.
The Hump closed in 2010 after an associate producer of the documentary "The Cove," which investigated the killing of dolphins in Japan, orchestrated a video sting. The Times reported that two participating activists asked if they could order whale meat as part of an omakase meal and a waitress served eight pieces, according to a federal affidavit. DNA tests confirmed the meat came from a sei whale, which is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It's illegal to sell any kind of whale meat in the U.S.
If convicted, Yamamoto faces up to 67 years in prison, and Ueda faces a maximum 10-year term. Typhoon would face fines totaling $1.2 million.
Yes, you read that right: 67 years for selling whale meat, conspiracy to sell whale meat (which, in the wonderful world of American criminal justice, is actually a separate crime), and lying to federal investigators. So, a chef sells endangered whale meat once to undercover investigators, and now faces 67 years in prison.
To add some context, the chance of this fellow actually getting a 67-year-sentence is low. A federal judge will do the sentencing, and has discretion to impose a much lower sentence than the theoretical maximum. What's happening here is that prosecutors have stacked up as many separate charges as possible to terrorize this man into cutting a deal. If you were faced with this tactic, you would think as follows: There's probably a 90% chance I'll get a sentence of something like 5 years, a 9 percent chance I'll get no prison time, and a 1% chance of getting a sentence of 50+ years (this just an illustration, federal sentencing law is actually more complex than this).
What would you do to avoid even a slight possibility that the rest of your life will be utterly destroyed? A lot. You would take a deal for, say, 8 years. At least then you can be certain of the outcome. If you hadn't been threatened with 67 years in prison, you might have risked a trial, or at least insisted on a deal for 2 or 3 years in prison. But the prosecution can bludgeon you into throwing several extra years of your life away by threatening you with an insanely long sentence that is, at least, theoretically permissible.
And to think that Americans pride themselves on being rugged individualists with a distrust of government power.
The New York Times publishes an op-ed on sexism in Germany:
Yet thousands of German women have taken to social media in recent days to tell a radically different story — one of daily sexism experienced by female interns who are told that “hot girls” receive special treatment or a young woman being informed that she will not get a job because she might become pregnant....
A woman who gave her name as Gudrun Lux posted about seeing her application for a job rejected because, she was told, “the boss does not want any women of childbearing age.” Another calling herself Su-Shee recounted interviewing a young male applicant who asked to see “the real boss, the man.”
Nicole Simon, 42, a social media consultant in Germany who also contributed to the debate, described the outpouring as an example of the years of pent-up frustration over episodes that are so prevalent that women learn to simply block them out.
“Consensus online seemed to be, ‘I thought I could not share these stories, but reading all the other things, I am surprised at how much I have suppressed over the years,”’ Ms. Simon said in an e-mail.
According to ministry for women and families, 58 percent of German women say they have been subject to sexual harassment, with more than 42 percent of the cases happening on the job.
In Germany, this sort of thing provokes a lot of thumb-sucking about What it All Means, and warnings that we must change our priorities, etc.
In other words, ineffectual hand-waving.
The first thing to do is separate out the serious from the not-so-serious problem. The not-so-serious problem is occasional flirtatious remarks. This is something that women can, and should, handle themselves. If you don't like a co-worker's clumsy or creepy remarks, tell him that, to his face, with increasing levels of acidulousness. You don't get as much respect in this life as you deserve, you get as much as you demand. What use was feminism if it hasn't put women into a position to set boundaries and denounce misconduct?
The more serious problem is women being denied job opportunities or asked for sexual favors by superiors, etc. First, though, let me list the things that don't work:
None of these things will change ingrained attitudes and prejudices. What will change them is meaningful, painful financial penalties and public shaming. Germany has various laws that are designed to combat pregnancy and gender discrimination, but they're toothless, and therefore little-used. If someone in a position to hire people actually tells a woman she won't get the job because she might get pregnant, that should lead to a €10,000 penalty payable by the company and a public denunciation on a government webpage. Of course, the supervisor who made the remark will probably get fired for getting his company into so much trouble. Good! That's called accountability. Of course, the actual behavior will probably still continue underground, etc. But at least it won't be openly tolerated. And there are ways of rooting out even subtle discrimination.
To get an idea of what transparency and accountability looks like, just go here, to the website of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a government agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws. The agency boasts that it filed 100,000 lawsuits in 2012, and forced companies to pay $365 million in fines and compensation in 2012 alone. Also, as you can see, there is a running ticker on the webpage listing, by name, companies which have recently been forced to compensate people whom they discriminated against. It's not a perfect system, but it's certainly more effective than what Germany is doing.
I've been following with fascination the debate in the U.S. about the relationship between crime rates and early childhood lead exposure. One of my favorite bloggers, Kevin Drum, recently wrote a fantastic piece for Mother Jones arguing that America saw dropping crimes rates in the 1990s in part because the U.S. banned leaded gasoline in the 1970s, saving an entire generation of children from exposure to lead, a fiercely potent neurotoxin which permanently lowers intelligence and disrupts impulse control in children. Read it here. Drum reports on reactions to the article and takes on critics here.
And now for Europe:
Here's the latest crime news from the Guardian:
There has been a surprise 8% drop in crime across England and Wales, according to official figures, suggesting the long-term decline in crime since the mid-1990s has resumed.
As near as I can tell, crime declines are always a surprise to the folks who look for answers solely in social trends. But Britain's continuing decline isn't a surprise to everyone. Europe adopted unleaded gasoline in the mid-80s, and EU countries all showed drops in lead emissions in subsequent years. In Britain, lead emissions began to decline about a decade later than the United States, but they made up some of that gap via a much steeper drop. So, to the extent that the crime decline is a function of less lead exposure among children, they're about five years or so behind us. This means they probably still have a few years of crime decline ahead of them.
So, you might be wondering, if Germany began seriously reducing lead emissions in the the mid-1980s, what impact might that have had on teenage criminality in the late 1990s, when children born in the mid-1980s became adolescents? Here's the relevant graph for Germany, from this source (g, .pdf):
The top line shows total criminality, the middle line criminality among German adolescents, and the bottom line among immigrants. Interesting, isn't it? The much smaller decrease you see among non-German offenders could well be explained by the fact that some percentage of them probably did not grow up in Germany.
Of course, the standard caveats apply that correlation is not causation, other factors are at work (especially the crime increase following reunification), etc.. But if you want to be convinced that lead exposure is a powerful (though, of course, not the only) explanatory factor, read Drum's piece -- and, more importantly, the studies it links to.
If this theory holds, it has to be one of the best pieces of news in a long time: because of a wise policy choice made decades ago, we will enjoy less crime -- and less of all the social ills and expense it causes -- for years to come. Kind of restores your faith in humanity, doesn't it?
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