Hey, @RealDonaldTrump, Hands Off My Flag

English: SILVERDALE, Wash. (June 14, 2010) Mac...
English: SILVERDALE, Wash. (June 14, 2010) Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Scott T. Coykendall, an instructor at Trident Training Facility (TTF), salutes the burning remains of 14 national ensigns during a flag burning ceremony Naval Base Kitsap, Wash. Students and staff from TTF participated in the flag burning ceremony. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chantel M. Clayton/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag,” writes US president-elect Donald Trump in one of his patented incendiary (pun intended) tweets. “[I]f they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

You’ve probably heard all the arguments for and against a flag-burning ban, most of them variations of the maudlin “my ancestor died for that flag” or the obvious (and Supreme Court affirmed) fact that flag-burning is a form of political expression protected by the First Amendment. Let me throw another one at you:

Flags are property.

If someone wants to set fire to a brightly colored piece of cloth, it’s nobody else’s business unless the flag is stolen, the flag-burner is trespassing, or burning the flag endangers other people’s lives or property.

That’s true even if you’ve convinced yourself that your grandfather “died for” that brightly colored piece of cloth (hopefully he died for something more consequential than your favorite rectangular textile pattern).

It’s true even if you profoundly disagree with the point the flag-burner is trying to convey (or, as may well be the case, even if you can’t really tell what that point might be).

It’s true even if you’re Donald J. Trump.

You don’t have to like it. That’s how it is whether you like it or not.

It’s not that I don’t get the sentimental attachment many Americans have to the flag. I do.

In elementary school, one of my duties as a student crossing guard was raising, lowering and folding the flag each day. As a US Marine, I occasionally performed the same duties, and of course saluted the colors as appropriate. My brother still has the 48-star flag which covered the casket of my grandfather, a World War II veteran, and if my family so desires there will be a 50-star flag on my own casket one of these days (I’ll be dead, so I won’t really care, right?).

Even though my own political beliefs tend more toward the black flag of anarchy these days, I still have a soft spot for Old Glory.

But if Trump and the burning-banners get their way, I’ll be among the first to hit the pavement with a kerosene-soaked  American flag and a cigarette lighter. The proper and accepted method of disposal for a desecrated flag is burning it, and Trump’s off-the-cuff attempt to wrap himself in the stars and stripes with a proposed burning ban would, if successful, constitute desecration of the very value most Americans place on it.

Furthermore, neither my free speech rights nor my property rights are negotiable.  The author of The Art of the Deal has nothing to offer for them that I find tempting.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Will Trump Roll Back “Net Neutrality?”

Router Ports (by brainloc via rgbstock.com)

US president-elect Donald Trump will appoint a new Federal Communications  Commission chair in January. That chair will likely be inclined to undo the FCC’s 2015 “Net Neutrality” power grab and, to at least some degree, let markets settle how bandwidth gets priced and who pays.

Good. For the most part I’m no Trump fan, but Net Neutrality was a bad idea from the beginning — half crony capitalism, half stalking horse for a future Internet censorship regime, all economic nonsense. If he nips Net Neutrality in the bud, Trump will have done America at least one favor.

What’s wrong with Net Neutrality? To explain, let’s start with one irrefutable fact: There’s no such thing as free bandwidth.

Every bit of Internet data entering or leaving  your household flows through some kind of “pipe” — a cable TV or telephone line, a satellite or cellular signal — and those pipes cost money to create, maintain and expand. As people find more, newer and bulkier things to push through them they’re going to have to get bigger or the Internet as we know it will grind to a halt, the 24/7 equivalent of a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour.

Who pays for that infrastructure? Someone has to, contra the fantasies of current FCC head Tom Wheeler.  At Wheeler’s legally dubious urging, the FCC decreed that Internet Service Providers can’t charge bandwidth hogs (such as Netflix and Youtube) extra for the privilege of clogging up the pipes. Under Net Neutrality, all “legal content” (and creators/consumers) of same must be treated equally.

The “legal content” provision alone is incredibly dangerous. It puts the FCC’s unaccountable bureaucracy in the position of deciding  what content is legal and what isn’t. Under such a regime, eventually corporate lobbyists would show up demanding, and probably getting, illegalization of popular non-proprietary data formats (for example, Torrent files) “to combat piracy.”

Net Neutrality also means that your grandma who reads email and looks at pictures of cats will be forced to subsidize your Ultra HD movie habit with higher base monthly fees instead of you throwing an extra buck a month at Netflix to cover bandwidth payments it negotiates with the ISPs. It’s either that or the imposition of data caps with substantial charges for high bandwidth usage, which some ISPs are already going to.

Putting an end to the Net Neutrality scam would be at least one fine feather in Trump’s legacy cap.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


The End of Privacy is on Sale, and We’re Buying

A microphone
A microphone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like it or not, these days the reason for the season seems to mostly be: Shopping. Even if you weren’t among the millions lining up outside brick and mortar establishments on “Black Friday,” you’ve probably got your eyes peeled for holiday deals on the web.

The hottest bargains this year come with microphones and the promise that those microphones will put the world at your beck and call.

Amazon’s Alexa-powered line of devices and Google’s new Home appliance augur an increasingly voice-powered world. Adjust your thermostat, turn on the lights, pull up the movie you want to watch or the music you want to listen to, order a pizza — all by just saying it. Our phones have been conditioning us to that paradigm for several years. This is what’s next.

No, I don’t want to crush the buzz or put you off the idea. I’m in. I run an Android phone digital assistant app that listens for my voice command, and just grabbed up a Cyber Monday deal at Amazon myself ($29.99 for the Alexa-enabled Fire TV stick with voice remote — one reason I went that way is that it supposedly requires a button push to activate the mic instead of being “always on”).

But if you’re going the voice-controlled home appliance route, ask yourself one important question: Who’s listening, and how much are you comfortable with them knowing?

Ten years ago, you’d likely have considered that question an example of paranoid conspiracy theory. But unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard of Edward Snowden by now and have come to understand that yes, governments really HAVE been hoovering up our phone and Internet data for years.  Does anyone really expect that home microphones won’t become part of the continuously expanding surveillance state?

Governments aren’t the only bad actors — over the last couple of years we’ve seen hackers compromise everything from baby monitor webcams to automotive computer systems — but governments are undoubtedly more dangerous than assorted pranksters, stalkers and thieves in cyberspace just as they are in the real world. In the not too distant future, police may be automatically dispatched to your home based on one of your devices hearing something a computer program interprets as a domestic dispute — or a seditious conspiracy.

By all means, get your voice groove on at a discount. But when it comes to electronic ears, be sure you keep your eyes open.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.