We have only begun to digest the full implication of the assault on Sony pictures. Assuming it indeed was perpetrated by North Korea, (and evidence is building that it may have been, at least partly, an inside job) in order to block a movie it does not like, the hack, and the extortion of a private corporation is an assault on the very idea of civil society that we Americans cherish.
Archives for December 2014
A couple of years ago, Sprint rolled out a new advertising campaign touting the company’s unlimited data plan for the iPhone 5. The campaign, no doubt, reflected a well-researched judgment about what would resonate with Apple’s technology-savvy consumers. And what would resonate, apparently, was the desire (or temptation) to live one’s entire life online.
One particularly striking television commercial from that campaign begins with flashes of beauty—a leaf, a neuron, a cityscape, a boy greeting his mother in a scenic mountain setting—as the narrator explains that “the miraculous is everywhere: in our homes, our minds.” Yet simply appreciating and living with this pervading beauty is not enough: “We can share every second in data dressed in pixels.” Private life and private pursuits are things of the past.
As 2014 ends, prognosticators are busy making predictions for 2015. Perhaps the earliest controversy of the new year will concern Uber’s surge pricing on New Year’s Eve. Politicians use such occasions to call for laws to ban the practice of charging higher fares at times of peak demand. But surge pricing confers many benefits for reasons that provide a refresher in how basic economics should make us suspicious of political intervention in markets.
First, surge pricing is more likely to match scarce Uber drivers with riders who value their services most highly. At lower prices, the number of riders would exceed the number of drivers, and some people would be left without a ride, even if they were willing to pay a higher fare.
The relation between morality and law is (or ought to be) complex and subtle: the two are neither identical nor entirely separate. Once upon a time everyone seemed to understand this, as if by instinct; but the instinct, if it ever existed, has been lost. When someone says, by way of excuse for his bad behavior, that “There’s no law against it,” he implies that what is not legally forbidden is permissible in every other sense.
No one, incidentally, ever explained his good behavior by reference to this legal/illegal boundary. The misunderstanding is a motivated one.
A misunderstanding of the morality of punishment and its justification in law will not always be grounded in self-interest, however. We can see this from a brief column recently published in the Guardian by the philosopher Nigel Warburton. Warburton considered the case of a man called John Paul Burrows, a multimillionaire who worked in the City of London as the director of a very large investment company.
John McGinnis and I have an op ed on government shutdowns in today’s Wall Street Journal. We note that government shutdowns typically have involved Democratic Presidents and Republican Congresses, and that Republican Congresses have usually both lost the fight and borne the brunt of the blame. We note that “President Clinton faced off against House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995, and Mr. Clinton won. President Obama dueled with the Republican House in 2013 and Mr. Obama won.”
While politicians and the media have recognized that the Republicans generally lose these fights, what is not generally appreciated is that it is the current legal regime that has largely allowed the Democrats to win. At present, when there is a spending dispute and spending authority terminates, most government spending (with the exception of entitlement programs and essential services) ceases. As a result the public bears serious inconveniences, which are easily blamed on the Republicans, since their “smaller-government message” can be “portrayed as aiming to deprive the public of government services.”
Some of the families who survived the horror of the Newtown shooting are suing Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the AR-15 rifle that was used by the deranged gunman who murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The complaint actually reads more like an attempt at healing than a serious legal claim. To that extent, I am sympathetic. But the strictly legal issues and theory of recovery to be gleaned from it deserve comment.
The great social scientist Stephen Pinker has observed a long-term secular decline in violence, despite the relentless media attention given to killings at home and abroad. Domestically, our state and local governments can drive down the number of murders and assaults even more, if they will take further advantage of technology and strengthen the adherence to the rule of law. We need to continue to innovate but also protect our greatest legal inheritance.
Technology has already contributed significantly to the decline in violence in our cities. CompStat, a management system for police developed in New York City, deploys police officers at the optimal places and times to cut down on crime. This largely computerized service is now used by police departments around the country. And it will improve with ever better data and algorithms.
Surveillance cameras in public spaces not only help solve crimes but also help deter them because people know they are being watched.
I saw the movie over the Christmas holiday. While it is not the type of movie I normally watch, it is the type that my son often enjoys. He purchased it – to show support for the movie—and we watched it at home. The movie is similar to the other Seth Rogen/James Franco movie I had seen—“This Is the End” (to which my son had previously taken me). The movies are zany and juvenile, but do have their funny moments. One might wonder why The Interview occasioned such opposition from North Korea. Spoilers follow: I read somewhere that Kim Jong Un opposed…
Last Sunday in The New York Times two Yale law professors extolled the unilateral authority of lame duck presidents and urged President Obama to act unilaterally as much as possible. The President does have some unilateral powers in foreign affairs and a few unilateral domestic constitutional powers, like the pardon power, as well as his authority to supervise administrative agencies within their own bounds of legal authority.