FreeColorado.com, a journal of politics and culture.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Abolish the FTC: New Blogging Rules

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has imposed unjust new rules -- "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising" -- that take effect today.

Eric Robinson summarizes the nature of the rules:

[The FTC's rules] suggest that bloggers or other consumers who "endorse" a product or service online may be liable for civil penalties if they make false or unsubstantiated claims about a product or fail to disclose "material connections" between themselves and an advertiser. (Although Richard Cleland, assistant director of the FTC's division of advertising practices, told Fast Company that the Commission will focus on warnings and cease-and-desist orders, rather than monetary fines, and told PRNewser that the Commission will target advertisers for violations, not bloggers. Another FTC official reiterated this.)


The new rules pose a variety of problems. The FTC has no legitimate authority to issue such rules, which defy the First Amendment and constitute censorship and the chilling of free speech. The rules are extremely broad, ranging from free review copies of books to Twitter posts. The rules are arbitrary and ambiguous, such that their precise requirements and penalties cannot be determined in advance. The rules thus open the door to political abuses. The rules are discriminatory in that they subject bloggers to different standards than print journalists.

The FTC is acting in blatant defiance of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and therefore the FTC should be abolished and its rules rescinded.

First I summarize the basic arguments against the FTC's rules. Then I link to other commentaries about those rules. Finally I review and analyze the rules in some detail.

FTC's Rules Overreach and Violate Rights

1. The FTC's rules constitute censorship and onerous controls.

Censorship consists not only of forcibly restricting what people may say and write, but forcing people to say and write things against their judgment. In this case, the FTC is forcing people to issue disclosures regarding communications that do not in any way violate anyone's rights.

Edward Champion points to an article by Caroline McCarthy for Cnet News indicating that the FTC rules apply to Facebook and Twitter posts as well. The FTC's Richard Cleland told McCarthy, "There are ways to abbreviate a disclosure that fit within 140 characters [Twitter's limit]. You may have to say a little bit of something else, but if you can't make the disclosure, you can't make the ad."

The FTC thus requires that any Twitter post that could be construed as an "endorsement" include a disclosure that meets the FTC's guidelines, within 140 characters. Such a policy limits the amount of information a user can post to Twitter or discourages the use of Twitter for certain purposes.

Champion notes that even an "Amazon Affiliates link" might trigger the FTC's disclosure requirements.

The FTC's rules constitute onerous controls in that they require bloggers and others to spend time complying with the FTC's rules. For example, the primary documentation of the rules runs 81 pages in length. The effort spent complying with the rules detracts from time available to write about other issues.

2. The FTC's rules are capricious and nonobjective.

The FTC's rules, by the agency's own admission, cannot be decided in advance in all cases. Instead, the FTC will "consider each use of these new media on a case-by-case basis for purposes of law enforcement" (page 8. Unless otherwise specified, page numbers refer to the FTC's documentation of the rules).

The FTC's rules depends on what "consumers are likely to believe" about a communication, a subjective guideline that cannot be determined in advance (e.g., page 4).

The rules also extend to those who supply free samples or review books. Using the example of a video game manufacturer who sends a free copy of a game to a reviewer, the FTC states, "The manufacturer should advise [the recipient] at the time it provides the gaming system that this connection should be disclosed, and it should have procedures in place to try to monitor his postings for compliance" (pages 79-80). What constitutes adequate compliance, and under what circumstances a supplier might be subject to enforcement, the FTC declines to detail.

In an interview with Edward Champion, the FTC's Richard Cleland offered only guesswork in answer to whether a free movie screening constitutes compensation: "The movie is not retainable. Obviously it's of some value. But I guess that my only answer is the extent that it is viewed as compensation as an individual who got to see a movie."

Cleland chose to "reserve judgment" on another matter. Champion writes, "In cases where a publisher is advertising one book and the blogger is reviewing another book by the same publisher, Cleland replied, 'I don't know. I would reserve judgment on that. My initial reaction to it is that it doesn't seem like a relationship.'"

Cleland further told Champion, "These are very complex situations that are going to have to looked at on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not there is a sufficient nexus, a sufficient compensation between the seller and the blogger, and so what we have done is to provide some guidance in this area. And some examples in this area where there's an endorsement."

Furthermore, as Champion reports, whether the FTC will target bloggers with fines -- and how much the fines might be -- remain points of ambiguity.

In other words, often there no objective way to determine when and how the FTC's rules apply prior to an enforcement action by the FTC.

As Walter Olson notes, "FTC enforcers will engage in their own fact-specific, and inevitably subjective, balancing before deciding whether to press for fines or other penalties. In other words, instead of knowing whether you're legally vulnerable, you have to guess."

Moreover, Olson notes, the receipt of freebies can "after some ill-defined point" create a relationship requiring a blogger "to disclose that relationship whenever writing about the institution in question."

Ann Athouse argues that the FTC has "deliberately made a grotesquely overbroad rule, enough to sweep so many of us into technical violations, but we're supposed to feel soothed by the knowledge that government agents will decide who among us gets fined. No, no, no. Overbreath itself is a problem. And so is selective enforcement."

The FTC's rules will therefore have a chilling effect on free speech. Those who are not part of an organization with legal representation -- and those who cannot independent afford to pay lawyers -- will now face a serious risk in publishing commentary.

Moreover, book publishers and others will face increased costs associated with complying with the rules, increasing the difficulty especially of small firms to publish works and advertise via review copies.

3. The FTC's rules open the door to further political abuses.

Political operatives inside government once turned to tax audits to punish ideological opponents. More recently campaign finance complaints have chilled free speech. The FTC's rules will provide yet another opportunity for political attack dogs to harass their opponents by filing complaints with the FTC based on perceived technical violations of the rules.

Even if the FTC clears the accused party, fighting such complaints can consume considerable money, energy, and worry. The possibility for such politically-motivated abuses will further chill free speech.

The FTC's Richard Cleland told Caroline McCarthy, "As a practical matter, we don't have the resources to look at 500,000 blogs. We don't even have the resources to monitor a thousand blogs. And if somebody reports violations then we might look at individual cases..."

McCarthy notes that "angry readers may use the regulations to attempt to get back at blogs they don't like." Ron Workman predicts that "the trolls will have a great time turning these offenders in."

4. The FTC's rules undermine the equal protection of the laws.

The FTC "acknowledges that bloggers may be subject to different disclosure
requirements than reviewers in traditional media" (page 47).

The FTC's Richard Cleland explicitly acknowledged that the FTC's rules subject bloggers to different standards than newspaper book reviewers.

5. The FTC's rules violate privacy.

A blogger properly has the right to choose what information to disclose and what information to keep private.

In some cases, the FTC's rules might require bloggers to disclose information that could compromise an individual's privacy or safety. For example, following in the footsteps of America's founders, someone might choose to write anonymously about a controversial political issue, such as abortion or homosexuality. A blogger with a material connection to the writer could not write about the anonymous work without disclosing personal information about the author.

The ability to write anonymously is central to the First Amendment, as it was central to American independence and the creation of the United States Constitution.

6. The FTC's rules are unnecessary.

In clear-cut cases of a seller paying somebody to promote a product, generally those parties do have a moral obligation to potential customers to disclose the nature of the relationship. However, most things that are moral obligations ought not be forced by law.

Publications large and small generally implement policies to assure readers or viewers that their material is free from financial incentive, or that any incentive is disclosed. Bloggers have an incentive to disclose relevant material connections in order to build trust with readers, and consumers tend to promote reputable sources of information. Producers and consumers of information tend to interact voluntarily to resolve potential problems of disclosure.

Those who hide a clear bias generally suffer exposure and ridicule, as John Lott discovered after posting positive comments about his own work under an assumed name.

The government does have a legal responsibility to crack down on fraud. For instance, if someone claims to be an uncompensated reviewer but is in fact paid to write positive reviews, that would constitute dishonest fraud, properly the target of a criminal or civil suit.

However, short of fraud and overt calls for violence, what people say and write, and how they say and write it, is properly none of the government's business.

The FTC's rules rest on the fallacious doctrine that material conditions determine ideas. Granted that some people express views because of financial incentives, generally what matters most is a person's ideological conclusions. While ideology is necessary to integrate ideas, it can adhere to the facts of reality or stray from them. Often the more dangerous bias arises not from financial incentives but from ideological blinders, and obviously no federal rule can address that vastly more serious problem.

Even a direct and substantial financial connection need not indicate any financial bias. Often a paid spokesperson already supported the product in question. The much weaker and distant material connections the FTC's rules may also cover, ranging from free books to Amazon links, don't pose any serious problem of bias, and certainly not any problem serious enough to warrant threats of federal enforcement actions.

Whether a substantial financial relationship is present or not, and whether it is disclosed or not, consumers of information and products have a responsibility to critically evaluate claims. A consumer who takes a single blogger's weakly substantiated word about some product is frankly an idiot, and no federal rule can compensate for that.

The FTC's rules continue the trend of infantilizing American adults. The FTC presumes that American consumers are just too stupid to check the facts for themselves and properly evaluate claims about products. Yet such rules tend to generate a self-fulfilling prophesy: they encourage consumers to rely on government bureaucrats to do their thinking for them. Such rules promote Homer Simpson's mentality: "The whole reason we have elected officials [and their legions of bureaucrats] is so we don't have to think all the time." Thus, such rules undercut the self-responsible individualism that is the backbone of America's success.

Links to Other Commentaries About the FTC's Rules

Regulating Speech to Death
by Diana Hsieh
October 5, 2009

A double standard for online speech
by Vincent Carroll
October 14, 2009

Interview with the FTC’s Richard Cleland
by Edward Champion
October 5, 2009

FTC: Bloggers Must Disclose Payments for Reviews (NYT)
by Ron Workman
October 5, 2009

Yes, new FTC guidelines extend to Facebook fan pages
by Caroline McCarthy
October 5, 2009

Where Did You Get That Keychain?
by Walter Olson
October 16, 2009

New FTC Rules Aim to Kill the Buzz on Blogs
by Eric P. Robinson
October 8, 2009

The FTC going after bloggers and social media is like "sending a government goon into Denny's to listen to the conversations in the corner booth and demand that you disclose that your Uncle Vinnie owns the pizzeria whose product you just endorsed."
by Ann Althouse
October 6, 2009

Letter to the FTC on Guides Governing Bloggers>
by Laura Sell, Senior Publicist, Duke University Press
October 7, 2009

Disclosures

The document, "Ari Armtrong's Disclosures Unjustly Compelled by the FTC," has now been published. I will update it from time to time in an attempt to comply with the FTC's unjust and rights-violating rules.

As I note in that document, "I do not expect that the FTC's rules will be ambitiously enforced in the short-term. Many bad laws (and authorized rules) have no noticeable impact when they are first implemented. Often such laws and rules remain on the books for years before bureaucrats and prosecutors take advantage of them to actively violate people's rights. That does not make their existence more comforting."

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Twitter Feed

Readers may notice a new feature on this web page: a Twitter feed for links to Colorado news of interest to free-market activists. I'll also post a few links to national stories. I'm devoting my Twitter account exclusively to such posts. I've also started tagging my Twitter entries with a single all-caps word to help categorize the issue.

Follow me on Twitter!

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Hello, 21st Century

FreeColorado.com (originally co-freedom.com) was founded near the end of the 20th Century, before the term "blog" was even coined. (I just switched the page over to a blog format last year; before that I hand-coded everything with help from my "HTML For Dummies" book.)

I figured it was time to join the 21st Century.

I now have a FaceBook page for "Free Colorado." So now there are two ways to track what's going on here (in addition to just checking the web page regularly): you can join the e-mail list (run through MailChimp -- see the link at right), or you can join the FaceBook group. (You can join both, though I plan to send basically the same material through both channels.)

Until this week, I'd uploaded all my photos and audio files straight to my server. The problem is that my server limits my disk space as well as my bandwidth. So I've been checking out alternative ways to host the bigger files.

I decided to set up a Flickr account for photos. I figured that this Yahoo-owned service would stick around.

Any audio recording under ten minutes can be turned into a YouTube video with stills: earlier in the week I posted four interviews this way.

I still don't have a good option for longer, straight mp3 files. Perhaps iTunes could handle them. I discovered VuloMedia.com, but a friend suggested that these small hosters might not stick around.

I contacted Jason Steele of SecretAgentBob.com about VuloMedia, and here's what he had to say:

Hey Ari,

I currently have no plans to earn money with VuloMedia. It doesn't cost much to host the site, and in order to make any sort of decent revenue I would have to add so many advertisements that the usability of the service would take a hit. Which is what made me launch the site in the first place - the file hosts I had been using became frustrating to deal with. I consider it a public service of sorts.

The site has been running for about three years now, and I plan on keeping it running as long as I can, hopefully for many many years to come.

As for your final question, yes, you retain full ownership of everything you upload.

- Jason


I did host one audio file through Vulo, though I left a copy with my server, too. Vulo, at least, is very easy to use and scores big points for elegance.

The rapid advances of computers and the internet are revolutionizing the ways that we record and share information. It has been deeply exciting to see the progress from my 300 baud modem connected to the kitchen phone jack by strings of wire running through the hall to my modern setup.

Perhaps this dinosaur can learn to sprout a few feathers.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

FreeColorado.com Wins Sam Adams Award

MEDIA RELEASE

FREECOLORADO.COM WINS SAM ADAMS AWARD

The Sam Adams Alliance announced that Ari Armstrong, publisher of FreeColorado.com, has received the 2009 "Modern-Day Sam Adams Award," the organization's top prize, for "his relentless -- and ubiquitous -- defense of free markets and individual liberty in the state of Colorado."

The organization's media release is available at
http://tinyurl.com/cyaltw

Armstrong will receive his "Golden Sammie" April 18 in Chicago. Presenting the awards will be Michelle Malkin, Stephen Moore, John Fund, Jonathan Hoenig, Mary Katharine, and Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher.

In his entry, Armstrong summarized his "food stamp" diets of 2007 and 2009, his fight against political correctness (as with the "bitch slap" controversy of 2008), his work on health policy, and various other projects.

Armstrong said, "I congratulate the other winners and look forward to learning from their example. I thank the Sam Adams Alliance for recognizing the important work for liberty done at the regional level. Finally, I thank my fellow liberty activists in Colorado -- especially my wife -- for teaching me so much about liberty, individual rights, and free markets, and how to advocate those values through intellectual activism. This award is for you, my brothers and sisters in liberty."

Armstrong founded FreeColorado.com (then co-freedom.com) in late 1998, before the term "blog" had been coined.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New New Mac

As I mentioned yesterday, my wife and I purchased a new iMac on Sunday. On Tuesday, Apple came out with a line of new iMacs consisting of better machines for less money. I appreciate the fact that there is a transition period between old and new product, but I felt slightly jilted that Apple neglected to tell me about the pending change, which obviously would have affected my purchase schedule.

But the Apple store was very good about exchanging the machine, though I did have to eat a ten percent "restocking" fee (even though they're not actually going to restock the computer). I had suggested that Apple simply incentivize me to keep the old machine, but that proposal was dismissed. However, now I'm glad that we actually did the upgrade; as good as Sunday's machine was, Tuesday's machine is a lot better. Now you can get a larger screen, bigger hard drive, and more and better RAM for less money. This again demonstrates the phenomenal success of the ongoing computer revolution.

The upshot for readers is that now is a great time to buy an iMac. These powerful, all-included machines start at $1200. That's less than what the Amiga sold for back in 1985 with its 256K of memory and floppy disk drive (never mind inflation). I did love my Amiga, but in retrospect is seems like a child's toy. Amazing.

Incidentally, last night we watched Joss Whedon's Dollhouse (Fox) online. The third episode, "Stage Fright," is especially well written and performed. If you haven't started watching the series, you're missing out. I remember the days when I strung a cable from the phone jack to my fancy new modem so I could chat with the locals. Now I'm watching "television" on my computer over a cable line. Again, amazing.

As easy as it is to get bummed out by the economic recession and the federal shenanigans, the advance of computers serves as a reminder of the magnificent productive force of the capitalist system, even one hampered by increasing political controls. We live in a glorious age. It makes you wonder what would be possible in a free, unfettered economy, doesn't it?

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

New Mac

Our G5 Mac lost its logic board over the weekend. Rather than pay to get it replaced, we decided to upgrade to stay current with the software. (As a graphic designer, my wife primarily uses Adobe products contained in that company's Creative Suite.)

Obviously it's no fun to go through a computer melt-down. I lost a couple days of time, then we had to buy a new machine. However, after the experience I'm a more loyal Mac user. The local Apple store diagnosed my machine at no cost, ruling out the hard drive and RAM as the problem. Then staff of the store answered extensive questions about the machines currently available, and we selected one that I think will fit our needs spectacularly. (We got an iMac, which is only slightly less beefy than our old machine at a considerably lower cost.) By the way, it's possible that a cause of the problem was dust in the machine that inhibited air flow. The old Motorola machines have a reputation for running hot -- which is primarily why Apple switched to Intel -- so if you have a Motorola tower I suggest you get it cleaned.

An Apple machine will cost you more than a comparable PC, but that's comparing apples to oranges (or lemons). With a Mac, you get a machine that works with fewer hassles, and you get real customer service.

I almost wish I'd saved all my old machines, just so we could show the next generation the rapid progress. My first computer was a Commodore 128, as in 128 kilobytes of RAM, double the memory of the popular 64. (The first Apple I used in school ran on a cassette tape drive.) The new machine has four gigabytes of RAM, or over 31,000 times the memory. It's such an obvious point that we rarely savor it: the computer revolution has improved our lives dramatically in countless ways. So, thanks, Steve and the gang.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

FreeColorado.com Celebrates Ten-Year Anniversary

Media Release: November 11, 2008

FreeColorado.com Celebrates Ten-Year Anniversary

Ari Armstrong's FreeColorado.com celebrates its ten year anniversary this month. Since November, 1998, the web page has become a leading, independent voice for free markets and individual rights in Colorado.

"While I'm amazed that it's been ten years since I started writing on the internet about politics, I'm pleased with the results. While I've lost many political battles, I've also helped to win some, and throughout I've provided a consistent voice for liberty in Colorado," Armstrong said.

"I've also had the privilege of meeting some of Colorado's leading politicians, journalists, and activists, some of whom have become friends, fellow travelers, or political adversaries -- and sometimes all three.

"I look forward to fighting for freedom for the next decade," Armstrong continued.

Following are a few of the highlights:

* Armstrong started his web page in November, 1998, a few months before the term "blog" was coined from "weblog" (see Wikipedia). Originally the web page, called the Colorado Freedom Report, used the domain co-freedom.com. Armstrong learned about web pages from the book "HTML for Dummies." Around 2003, he switched the domain to FreeColorado.com, and in January, 2008, he converted the page to a blog format.

* Armstrong has also written articles for the Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, and other newspapers, as well as for the Independence Institute. He wrote a column for Boulder Weekly from October, 2003, to March, 2007. Since July, 2005, he has co-authored a column for Grand Junction's Free Press.

* He has debated Tom Mauser on guns, John Suthers on drugs, and Andrew Romanoff on taxes.

* This year, Armstrong also came out with his first book, Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles (see ValuesOfHarryPotter.com).

* Armstrong has fought against the Referendum C net tax hike, the Blue Laws, corporate welfare, the smoking ban, eminent domain abuses, and Amendment 48 (defining a fertilized egg as a person). He has advocated legal abortion, free markets in medicine, domestic partnerships for gay couples, and the re-legalization of marijuana.

* In 2002, Armstrong joined a broad coalition to reform Colorado's asset forfeiture laws. The coalition included Shawn Mitchell, Bill Thiebaut, Terrance Carroll, Dave Kopel, the Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and the Colorado Progressive Coalition.

* In 2001 and 2004, Armstrong served as assistant editor for Sheriff Bill Masters's books critical of America's drug policy.

* While Armstrong once volunteered for the Libertarian Party of Colorado and worked on contract to produce its newsletter, by 2005 he had quit the party and left the libertarian movement.

* Armstrong has been praised as the "founding father of pro-freedom Colorado webbing," responsible for "great independent work."

* Armstrong has also been criticized as a "known misinformationist," a "gun rights zealot," "the Pied Piper of Colorado," a non-"legitimate reporter," "the self appointed Lord High Minister of Libertarian Purity," and a "felonious dick stepper onner." He has received one death threat.

Armstrong said, "I have angered nearly every political faction in Colorado, met some strange bedfellows, entered some heated battles, and earned some dear friends. I've made a few mistakes and grown from them. I've also been proud to advocate individual rights in this state."

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Take That, IE

The other day I checked my web page on a machine hooked up with Internet Explorer, which reminded me that I'd never fixed my page to work with that (idiotic) browser. Well, the fix was spectacularly simple. I just changed the alignment of the banner from "left" to "middle." So now I have to live with a centered banner, but at least the page works now for those of you still living in the technological dark ages. (I'm sure there are other ways to fix the problem, but at least I've found one of the ways.) If anybody still has problems viewing this page, please let me know. Thanks.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Internet Explorer Problems

It has come to my attention that this page does not load correctly on Internet Explorer. I tried a fix today that didn't work. If anybody knows how to fix this problem, please let me know.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Google Ads on Ann Coulter

As I've pointed out, Google's AdSense program requires, "Sites displaying Google ads may not include... advocacy against any individual, group, or organization." I just checked in with Google, and the restriction remains. However, I have since found definitive proof that Google doesn't take its own policies seriously. I was glancing at Ann Coulter's web page (don't worry -- I don't make a habit of it), and I noticed "Ads by Google."

Is there any person in America who "advocates against" individuals, groups, and organizations more forcefully than Ann Coulter? Clearly, if Google took its own stated policies seriously, it would not allow Coulter to display "Ads by Google."

But here's the kicker: Google's own ad "advocates against" a particular individual. Note that Google's system selects the content of the ad. An ad that appears on Coulter's web page states, "Who Can Defeat Hillary?" In other words, the ad includes "advocacy against" Clinton.

If Google flagrantly violates its own stated policy for ads, then clearly that particular policy is meaningless. However, if, as one of the comments on an earlier post alleges, Google has pulled its ads from another web page because of that page's arguments, is Google opening itself up to potential legal action?

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Links to Previous Commentary

I've just updated the archive of my columns at Boulder Weekly.

Also, because I decided to devote this blog to politics and culture and reserve AriArmstrong.com for commentary about religion, some of the early posts from the other blog fit better here. Following are some of those posts that I consider most interesting.

Forced Medicine and Parental Rights

New year's Resolutions for the Legislature

New year's Resolutions for the Legislature

Green Death

Drugs, Health, and Rights

Anonymous, Verifiable Voting

Green by Force

Assam's Semiautomatic Baretta

Government Property

Another Look at Blue Laws

What's Wrong With Libertarianism

Layout of the Denver Shootout

Sure-Fire Plan to Reduce Emissions by 80 Percent

Happy Halloween!

Investment by Force

CU's Brown Offends with "Ghetto" Remark

Beauprez Battles Liberty in Medicine

Belching Cows and Global Warming

Government Financing is Not "Private"

"An Extreme Free-Market View"

Subverting Free Speech in the Name of Free Speech

How to Access Dental Care Without Insurance

Human Health as a Pretext for Animal Rights

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Welcome Rocky Readers

Today my Speakout, "Loading the dice against responsibility: Columnist Campos' claims about racism riddled with confusions," ran in the Rocky Mountain News. Here are a few quotes:

Myriad economic controls, along with payroll taxes of 15 percent, make it hard for the poor to get ahead. Welfare programs have discouraged work, encouraged broken families, and displaced voluntary charity. Government-run schools and other programs often underserve the poor. ...

[S]ome people born into chronic poverty break the cycle, earn a decent education, and rise to the middle class or beyond. They are able to do it through strength of character. At the same time, others born to advantage waste their lives. ...

It makes a difference whether "you and I" rely on persuasion and voluntary interaction, or whether we bring to bear the force of government. I believe that it is precisely because political programs rely upon the forcible redistribution of wealth and the forcible restraint of voluntary interaction that such programs tend to miss their lofty aims.


If you're viewing this web page for the first time based on the reference in the News, this page is dedicated primarily to covering Colorado politics from a perspective of individual rights and free markets. I just recently converted the page to a blog format; feel free to check out the archived articles. I've also dedicated my blog at AriArmstrong.com to issues involving religion (from a perspective critical of religion). My plan is to add comments to both web pages nearly every day, so I hope you'll consider returning.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Colorado Politics, Blogging, and Ads with Google and Yahoo

Readers of this web page can expect updates about Colorado politics nearly every day.

In my announcement regarding the major reorganization of this web page as a blog, I wrote that FreeColorado.com will host "commentary mostly about politics, with an emphasis on Colorado." However, I added, the page "will tend to cover [a broad] range of issues" including "(infrequent) personal" notes.

However, a comment at BlogAds convinced me that I should always lead with Colorado politics:

Blogs without a laser-sharp focus on one topic or community AND an audience of 1000 readers a day usually do not attract advertisers. But some blogs with a sharp focus AND an audience of thousands a day do NOT get advertisers. One test: have more than a handful of companies expressed an interest in advertising on your blog?


I'm still going to post comments about national politics, cultural matters not directly related to politics, and an occasional note about my blog or activities. However, in the interest of sharpening the focus (if not to "laser-sharp" specifications), I decided to make sure that I post something about Colorado politics every day. (My main goal is not to attract possible advertisers, but to create an interesting web page that readers appreciate.) Note that most political issues involving Colorado also have national implications, so I do hope to attract some readers nationally. (Also note that occasionally I'll take a day off.)

Now to the secondary topic. I was checking out policies for blog ads after noticing the quite bizarre written policies of Google's AdSense program. Here's the most objectionable restriction: "Sites displaying Google ads may not include... advocacy against any individual, group, or organization." I wrote, "I suspect that the large majority of your AdSense users flagrantly violate the policy on a daily basis."

One reader suggested that I check into Yahoo's ad program. The policies of Yahoo are even worse. Yahoo's policies claim, "We will not show results on pages that contain problematic content, including but not limited to... material that advocates against any individual or group."

The top definition of "advocate" as provided by Dictionary.com, is "to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly." To "advocate against" something, then, is to speak or write against it and encourage others not to support it.

(As I've mentioned, I discourage the use of such constructions as "advocate for," "advocate on," and "advocate against.")

According to the explicit policies of the ad services by Google and Yahoo, then, people who run ads from those sources are forbidden from making comments such as the following:

* "The KKK is a horrible, morally evil organization that people should shun."
* "Don't vote for Candidate X."
* "Don't buy Product X, because it doesn't work very well."
* "Douglas Bruce was wrong to kick a photographer."
* "Store X charges too much for many of its products."
* "Neo-Nazis are morally despicable."
* "The ad policies of Google and Yahoo are ridiculous."
* "Corrupt Politician X should be ejected from office."
* "Career criminals should not be trusted."
* "Corporation X is wrong for cooking its books."
* "Don't buy season tickets for the Broncos, because they suck."
* "Tom Cruise is an oddball."
* "Bar Z's happy-hour prices and selection suck."
* "The band Korn plays horrible music."
* "George W. Bush has expanded state control over our lives."

All of these statements are examples of "advocating against" an individual, group, or organization. I wonder what fraction of web pages that display ads by Google or Yahoo don't violate this policy on a regular basis?

Both Google and Yahoo link by association reasonable, peaceable advocacy -- i.e., responsible free speech -- with the promotion of violence and racism. I am baffled as to how two major internet companies ended up paying somebody to write such idiotic policies (but there I go again, "advocating against" somebody).

However, Yahoo's policies get even worse. It forbids "Content related to human suffering or death." In other words, my blogs about Douglas Bruce kicking a photographer, a dumb kid shooting his friend, and the murders at New Life Church are forbidden by Yahoo's ad program. If a web page discusses "Weaponry, ammunition, fireworks or explosives," then it cannot display Yahoo ads. In other words, no user can discuss any crime or the Fourth of July. Also forbidden are "Political, religious or charitable organizations, issues or causes."

What exactly is allowed under Yahoo's ad policies? I suppose you could talk about kittens. Just don't "advocate against" the man who allegedly "threw [a kitten] against a wall in his mobile-home trailer," killing it.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Major Changes to AriArmstrong.com and FreeColorado.com

Henceforth, my blog at AriArmstrong.com will be dedicated to issues of religion and culture. Every topic and post will have some significant connection to religion (with the possible occasional exception of announcements regarding the blog) . As my readers know, my perspective is essentially critical of religion per se (though of course I recognize valuable contributions from various religious people).

At the same time, I am converting FreeColorado.com to a blog. All of the content created prior to the blog will remain intact. Every post that I write about politics and cultural issues not directly connected to religion will appear there. The old RSS feed for FreeColorado.com will be discontinued, so readers may switch to the RSS feed connected to the new blog.

Why the changes? I've found that my blogging lacks focus. At AriArmstrong.com, I've been writing about religion, national politics, local politics, films, and so on. While some readers appreciate the range of commentary, others probably favor a narrower range. Now readers who care only about religion and its impact on culture can stick with AriArmstrong.com. Readers interested only in my political commentary can turn to FreeColorado.com. (Hopefully some readers will frequent both blogs. I hope that the the hassle of reading two blogs is minimal, whereas the benefits of separating the content are substantial.) Even though religion is itself an extremely broad topic, my comments at FreeColorado.com will tend to cover an even broader range of issues. For that reason, I've decided to put any (infrequent) personal note there.

Since I started the blog at AriArmstrong.com, I haven't known quite what to do with FreeColorado.com. But it's a great domain name with nearly a decade of history behind it. However, the process of manually updating files has grown wearisome, especially when blogging is so much faster. Now FreeColorado.com will return to its original purpose: hosting commentary mostly about politics, with an emphasis on Colorado. Now, though, I'm more likely to post shorter comments along with more substantive articles, given that posting to a blog is so fast. The amount of commentary appearing at FreeColorado.com should increase substantially over recent weeks.

I plan to substantially change the look of FreeColorado.com over the coming weeks, and I may also make some updates to the design of AriArmstrong.com. Regardless of the look, I hope that readers find the content of both blogs to be interesting and considered (if often controversial).

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