New Amnesty International report calls for legalizing sex work

New Amnesty International report calls for legalizing sex work

It just couldn’t be clearer. “Amnesty International is opposed to the criminalization or punishment of activities related to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults.” Thus begins a recently leaked document from the famed human rights organization calling for an end to prohibitions on sex work. Ironically perhaps, the most important, and controversial portion of this document may be the definitions section.

The section defines the words “sex work,” sex worker,” “child,” and “criminalization.” Amnesty International in a few sentences does what few other “human rights” organizations working in the sex work and human trafficking sphere seem to be unable to do. Amnesty here defines sex work as work, making a clear delineation between employment and slavery.

Human trafficking is a very real problem. But when it comes to trafficking for the purpose of sex, proponents of legislation have left the definition of trafficking purposefully murky. Definitions frequently include anyone who travels to do sex work.

This is because many of the prominent activists and organizations behind anti-trafficking efforts are opposed to sex work and/or migration. As Maggie McNeill details, anti-prostitution campaigners paint the typical sex worker as a child slave, while governments use anti-trafficking laws to restrict migration. And that ill-intended confusion muddies the entire debate.

The debate is worth having, as “Individuals make transactional arrangements with regard to sexual relationships that are not always a matter of direct coercion, but rather a reflection of limited options.” But in our well-meaning attempts to recognize the structural and cultural limits women face as they try to better themselves, we cannot lose sight of the admittedly limited choices women can make. We cannot open doors for women by further limiting their available options or denying them agency by calling their choices coercion.

The fact is, as Amnesty International points out, “Criminalizing or otherwise punishing people for their choices in selling or buying consensual sex in any way fails to address these structural inequalities, and rather serves to further disempower individuals.”

In other words, to help poor women we “must focus on empowering the disenfranchised and directly addressing structural disadvantages such as poverty, not on devaluing their decisions and choices or criminalizing the contexts in which they live their lives.”

The document calls for sex workers to be engaged in any legislating on their behalf. This is in part due to the fact that, thus far, laws which restrict the sex trade have only one result which can be empirically demonstrated over time and wherever they’re implemented. Sex work regulations drive the sex trade further underground. This inhibits the ability of NGOs and law enforcement to work with sex workers to find and rescue victims of force, fraud, or coercion.

The Amnesty International document states: “We believe human rights principles requires policy-makers to value the voices of those who are directly affected by inequality and discrimination.”

Along similar lines, the UN Human Rights Council last year published a report from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women which criticizes anti-trafficking measures which restrict sex workers.

According to the report, “Sex workers are negatively impacted by anti-trafficking measures.” Specifically, “The criminalisation of clients has not reduced trafficking or sex work, but has increased sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, harmed HIV responses, and infringed on sex workers’ rights.”

Furthermore, “Anti-trafficking discussions on demand have historically been stymied by anti-prostitution efforts to eradicate the sex work sector by criminalising clients, despite protests from sex workers rights groups and growing evidence that such approaches do not work.”

Amnesty International and the UN are just two of the latest human rights organizations who have been able to see through the appeals to emotion and hidden agendas around human trafficking. Looking at the actual effects of legislation for women and men in the sex trade reveals that legalization and decriminalization are the only humane and right-respecting ways forward.

This post originally appeared at the Daily Caller.

Will Businesses Ditch Credit Cards for Cryptocurrency?

Will Businesses Ditch Credit Cards for Cryptocurrency?

Days after discovering that Target’s latest security breach left 40 million credit and debit cards and sensitive data on 70 million customers in the hands of thieves, it’s been discovered that Neiman Marcus was also hit. Technology aimed at making the internet safer has advanced far beyond what credit card companies seem to be willing or capable of implementing. Many are wondering whether Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which take fuller advantage of these security innovations, will soon replace credit cards as the default method for transacting on the web.

While transacting in Bitcoin is already, by default, more secure than a credit card transaction, full adoption will require the development of vital infrastructure already available for credit cards purchases.

What’s Wrong With Credit Cards?

Credit card transactions are slow, insecure and error-prone. Since they were developed before ecommerce was the norm, they have been clumsily retrofitted to work online.

Chargebacks are a huge problem for retailers. When a credit cardholder contacts their bank to initiate a refund, whether they changed their mind or were a victim of fraud, retailers firstly don’t get paid for the items, but also usually get stuck with an administration fee for processing the chargeback, which can range from $25 to $100 per occurrence.

LexisNexis describes this additional cost of fraud shouldered by merchants as the fraud multiplier. In 2013 the fraud multiplier increased, mainly driven by a spike in fraud happening online. On average, merchants pay a whopping $3.10 for each dollar of fraud losses incurred online. According to LexisNexis, online fraud represents merchants’ greatest liability, again because credit cards weren’t designed for this use.

Data security and theft-protection always come down to an arms race between service providers and thieves. Unfortunately, credit card companies are running with their feet bound.

One big disadvantage to credit cards is that responsibility for detecting and dealing with fraud becomes diffused amongst retailers, banks and users. A recent snafu Tim Berners-Lee described in the Washington Post highlights the deleterious effects of this diffusion. While planning a trip to Asia, Berners-Lee had three separate transactions preemptively flagged as fraudulent by his credit card company, despite three separate calls to the company assuring them they were not.

As Marc Andreessen wrote for the New York Times:

Credit card fraud is such a big deal for merchants, credit card processors, and banks, that online fraud detection systems are hair-trigger wired to stop transactions that look even slightly suspicious, whether or not they are actually fraud. As a result, many online merchants are forced to turn away between 5 to 10 percent of incoming orders, which they could have taken without fear had the customers been paying with Bitcoin, since such fraud wouldn’t be possible. And since these are orders that were already coming in, they are inherently the highest margin orders a merchant can get. So being able to accept them would dramatically boost many merchants’ profit margins.

Another impediment to credit card innovation are the hundreds of pages of regulations governing transaction disputes.

As a result, thieves find low-tech tactics, such as wrapping aluminum foil around the satellite antenna used to communicate with credit card companies, rather effective. In addition, credit card companies are still battling card skimmers, malware and network breaches like the ones that affected Target and Neiman Marcus.

Where Bitcoin Can And Can’t Help

Unlike credit cards, Bitcoin transactions are made for the web. Their transactions are irreversible and require only one step.

Cryptocurrencies work like cash in that they don’t need third-party verification. Once the money is transferred, merchants are assured of payment and don’t need to worry about chargebacks.

In assuring merchants of payment, however, Bitcoin puts all of the liability on the payer. As Tim Berners-Lee explained:

If you get tricked into sending a payment to the wrong person or hackers steal your bitcoins, you have no recourse. Many of the regulations that govern Visa and Mastercard are designed to prevent misuse of the network and to protect consumers. Bitcoin operates on a buyer-beware basis.

However, that may be changing. Bitcoin researcher Alvin Lee spoke recently with Jon Holmquist, founder of BitcoinBlackFriday.com. “There is always a risk of losing the BTC, due to a MITM attack or exchange hack, also exchange risk,” Holmquist said. “All the payment processors have been stepping up and absorbing that risk though.”

Then there’s another barrier to entry to accepting Bitcoin. “It takes a bit of knowhow to integrate it into your webshop, although a lot of plugins have made that easier,’ Holmquist said. “It takes a bit of explanation to understand Bitcoin.”

One thing that attracts merchants is the low fees. Ruggero Montalto, co-founder of 79s.com, which does accept Bitcoin, noted “the high transaction costs for credit cards/paypal transactions,” as one reason for accepting the cryptocurrency.

However, while merchants pay when customers use credit cards, customers end up having to pay any fees incurred with Bitcoin.

Berners-Lee predicts that if Bitcoiners want to attract enough users to make Bitcoin-based payments mainstream, they will have to figure out how to shift fees back onto merchants. In addition, a major benefit for retail stores to accept credit cards is all of the valuable information they will gain about their customers. This isn’t the case with Bitcoin right now.

“My general guidance is: Bitcoin is an option,” Holmquist said, “an alternative. You don’t need to hold any, you take zero risks if you accept it through a payment processor. They’ll automatically convert it for you. The upside of accepting Bitcoin is that you’ll attract Bitcoin customers, you’ll reduce your fraud rates, and you’ll pay less in fees. It takes less than 15 minutes to get setup and it can easily double your business revenues (if you’re a smaller shop!).”

Bitcoin has many inherent advantages over credit cards. It’s safer and easier, and the fees are much lower. However, total domination will most likely require more infrastructure. Safety and convenience measures, such as a way to shift even low fees off of customers and onto merchants, and a risk-absorbing function for customers will be required. And merchants will need a new way to gain valuable data from their customers, perhaps through pumped-up customer rewards programs.

These are not high hurdles to overcome. And at the very least their feasibility should prompt credit card companies to step up their game to better compete with Bitcoin. The Target and Neiman Marcus breaches, along with the rising fraud multiplier, demonstrate how and why the industry is in desperate need of competition. If nothing else, Bitcoin may turn out to be just that.

Open Letter to President Obama Re: SOTU

Open Letter to President Obama Re: SOTU

We’ve got another awesome Sex and the State guest post! If you would like to submit a guest post, please fill out my contact form with an brief outline of what you want to write about.

Mr. President –

To say that I have low expectations for the State of the Union address would be putting it mildly. It, frankly, deserves to be approached with a certain level of cynicism. With every passing year, it has devolved from a platform to launch and promote new policy initiatives to a reality distortion matrix and majority party circlejerk. It would be naïve to expect any President to declare the state of our Union as anything but strong, to present the nation anything but the rosiest portrait of the status quo, or to remind voters of the failures or shortcomings of the executive.

I expected your nauseating rhetorical devices – when you say, “Let me be clear,” you can be certain that whatever follows will absolutely not be. You’ve mastered the Norman-Rockwell-esque portraits of americana romanticizing a reality far less pristine – the selflessly sacrificing public school teacher, the hard-working auto factory line worker ground by the gears of globalism, the night-shift single-parents dreaming of a better life for their children. I wasn’t surprised by your misleading use of statistics – the maximally optimistic figures that try to paint the ObamaCare rollout as anything but a clusterfuck, or the long-ago debunked claim that women are paid 77 cents for what men are paid a dollar for.

Like anybody who has paid close attention to your administration’s record, I’ve come to expect your doublespeak – when you state a value or policy objective as if that’s the star guiding your administration’s policies and actions, and then actually do the exact opposite – and it really doesn’t bother me most of the time like it should. You said in your address, “Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known,” but I’d wager Angela Merkel and other European leaders would disagree strongly. You extolled our opportunities to, “do good and promote understanding around the globe… to free people from fear and want,” but your record achievements in drone strikes with expansively inclusive target definitions have sown more fear than they have freed people from. And I know you may want us to believe you’re pro-immigration, as you said “it is time to heed the call… and fix our broken immigration system,” but you do realize you’ve deported more people and broken up more families in doing so than even your predecessor, Mr. Bush, right? Doublespeak is your stock in trade. I understand that.

But Mr. President, you just had to go and talk about inequality and opportunity.

You see, we Americans with libertarian leanings will generally agree that free-market capitalism, on its way to being the most potent engine for creating abundance, value, and quality of life, necessarily includes a measure of inequality; that this is a feature, and not a bug, because the possibility of enriching oneself is motivational. However, we also concede that for this inequality to be just, we must design our society with maximal equality of opportunity; that your station and circumstances at birth are, to whatever extent as human nature allows, not determinative of your potential; that you’re not defined by privilege or lack thereof. The injustice of inequality is negated when the marketplace ensures good ideas, executed well, will win out in the marketplace, regardless of who had them.

So when you said, “Inequality has deepened,” you’re correct, without a doubt. You also said, “Upward mobility has stalled,” which pretty much everybody else agrees hasn’t, but let’s just go ahead and agree that it could be better. You might expect me to be cheering on your stated interest to create more equality of opportunity. But instead, I found myself livid, yelling at my television set, incredulous at your audacity, because on this point, your doublespeak and outright hypocrisy are just too much.

The war on drugs stifles economic mobility more than other cause. Executing this war has condemned people to poverty or recidivism, has institutionalized the oppression of minorities, has broken stable family units, and has pushed America into leading the world in incarceration.

But you smoked weed, sir.  You’ve done cocaine, sir. You’ve gone on late night television and joked about it in order to appear “cool”. You said in your address that, “I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us ” and extolled an America in which, referring to yourself, “the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth.” But to be frank, sir, you got lucky in a way that the current generation of young men of your complexion do not. One recent study found nearly half of black men have been arrested by age 23, and for Hispanics, that number only falls to 44%. The FBI reports over 1.5 million drug arrests a year. Those young men, who get arrested for mere possession of the drugs you admit to having used, have massively diminished prospects for success. They have a harder time getting a job, as background checks turn up even arrests. They are ineligible for financial aid to go to school. Some can no longer get professional licenses. Some can no longer vote. If they’re seeking citizenship or a work permit, a mere arrest can dash those hopes. And those drug laws are grossly disproportionately enforced against minorities – worst of all in New York City, where 90% of those arrested on drug charges are minorities. There are hundreds of thousands of Americans currently incarcerated for drug law violations. These are non-violent crimes, crimes without victims, crimes you yourself found no moral wrong in committing nor shame in admitting.

And yet your administration engages in the same deceptive doublespeak. Out of one side of your mouth, you state marijuana enforcement is a low priority for your administration and that you favor treatment versus prosecution. Yet your Department of Justice conducted more raids on medical marijuana clinics and patients and levied more drug charges than your predecessor’s, leaving Congress-critters from these districts to plead with your U.S. Attorneys to simply stop. You, sir, had opportunity despite your recreational drug use, and that’s a privilege literally half of young black men are flat out denied.

And the solutions you did trot out for addressing inequality and for promoting economic mobility? – those solutions were the same, tired waves of the hand that would borrow more dollars to hand down to your favored special interests – who consistently fail to use them to create any public good: public sector, teachers, and manufacturing unions; and green energy companies.

Really, it doesn’t take all of that. All you have to do is reclassify drugs to different “schedule” levels in the Controlled Substances Act. I’d even just settle for rescheduling only marijuana. It’s currently a Schedule I drug, which means you believe it has no medicinal purpose whatsoever, despite the 20 states and the District of Columbia that have passed laws condoning medical use. The Controlled Substances Act permits you through your Attorney General to reclassify any drug you wish. You could do this today.

I have to offer you rare but sincere praise for your Attorney General’s new directive to U.S. Attorneys on avoiding triggering mandatory minimums for low-level, non-violent drug offenders. That’s a tremendous step toward justice and liberty in this country. So why not take it to the logical next step and commute the sentences of every federal prisoner who was slammed with a draconian mandatory minimum sentence who would not have merited it under this policy?

See, you don’t have to waste more of our money trying to solve a problem that you’re actually exacerbating. You can simply stop implementing a misguided policy that gets people killed, destroys futures, breaks families, and perpetuates state-sponsored racism.

But you’re not going to do that. Despite knowing fully well that your own drug use constituted a felony that would have kept you from college, law school, and public office you are perfectly happy to criticize, hunt, arrest, and prosecute those who did no more than you did. Despite knowing fully well that America would support you in that decision and that it would be more of a political risk for you to endorse the theory of evolution. And instead you’re using the damage caused by this failed prohibition to justify dumping more money into special interest labor groups that overwhelmingly donate to the Democratic Party.

Creating greater equality of opportunity by ending a drug war whose only victims are those prosecuted by it, overwhelmingly poor and minorities; not pouncing eagerly on the opportunity to use the carnage to justify favors to your party’s supporters; having the humility to recognize how crushed and destroyed your own life would be had you felt the full force of the power of the state – this would be leadership and courage. You, sir, have neither.

So with all due respect, fuck you, Mr. President. It’s remarkable that a cynic like me with the lowest of expectations from national politicians, especially during an event that is the apex of political theater, can be so incensed as to be compelled to put pen to paper to tell you so. You’re a hypocrite in the most vile of ways, you’re an opportunist in the most crass political fashion, and you’re a coward unfit to lead the ship of state. I look forward to your Presidency ending soon and to it being even sooner forgotten.

joshua

Joshua Ginsberg is a software architect living in Washington, DC. He is a machine that transforms bacon, beer, bourbon, and coffee into wit, shenanigans, and the occasional profanity.

My Fireside Chat With Austin Petersen of The Libertarian Republic

My Fireside Chat With Austin Petersen of The Libertarian Republic

Last week I sat down with Austin Petersen, owner and editor of The Libertarian Republic, to talk about Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton, feminism, privilege and more.

Cut into two videos.

Video 2

Had a great time and I appreciate Austin having me over!

Smart Property’s Promise for the Poor

Smart Property’s Promise for the Poor

Renting an apartment or buying a car requires an income and good credit. Getting a legal job generally requires a permanent residence and a vehicle. Millions of Americans are caught up in this chicken/egg dilemma. But what if it were much easier for folks with bad credit to gain access to the bare necessities to work toward entry to the middle-class? And what if it could actually be done with less risk or burden to lenders and rental agencies than under the current system? Enter Smart Property.

Risk is what makes it difficult for people with blemished credit records to rent apartments or buy cars. Renting or lending to someone who’s shown a propensity to not make payments on time is a risk. Even worse, various consumer protection regulations make recouping losses more difficult than necessary. For this reason, leasing offices and car salespeople are forced to either decline high-risk individuals, or charge them extraordinary rents or interest rates. The same is true for lending money. A bad credit score generally means you either don’t get the chance to prove you’ve changed, or you do, but pay dearly for it.

Imperfect credit (scores)

And while credit scores are the best way lenders and their ilk have to determine someone’s risk level, they are far from perfect.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has a great report on some of the limitations of credit scores. They point to an extensive study conducted by the National Credit Reporting Agency and the Consumer Federal of America, which revealed that 29% of individuals had significant errors in their credit report that translated into a 50-point or more error in their credit score.

In fact, according to a study the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one out of five consumers will see a meaningfully different score on their purchased credit report than their lender sees. This is in part due to things like banks withholding positive information about their customers so that competitor banks would not offer them better credit terms. It’s also not helped by the fact that, according to EPIC, “Credit scoring models have long been shrouded in secrecy. Individuals and consumer advocates have found it difficult to ascertain information regarding what factors the models consider, and to what degree.”

Unfortunately as well, correcting those errors is a long and tedious process. Credit reporting agencies do not devote the resources necessary to properly address complaints.

Lastly, there’s evidence that the outright discrimination on the basis of sex and race of the past has simply been replaced with a more subtle form of discrimination. Somehow the way in programmers have chosen which factors to consider, and the amount of weight assigned to these factors, has resulted in little change in who is discriminated against.

Protecting consumers (from opportunities)

Well-meaning consumer protection regulations further increase risk for landlords and lenders. It’s extraordinarily difficult to evict a renter, even for obvious lease violations such as not paying rent. Failing to follow all steps and in the correct order will likely mean your case is thrown out and you will get sued by your renter. Even repossessing a car, already a costly endeavor, is made more difficult throughconsumer protection laws. The result of all this of course is that it further disincentivizes landlords and lenders renting and lending to “risky” propositions.

Promise of smart property

Now, imagine if we could take someone’s, better yet, anyone’s, risk level down to near-zero? That’s the promise of Smart Property.

Both credit scores and consumer protections exist due to historic and ongoing power imbalances, both real and perceived. A shortage of housing relative to demand, especially in cities, required laws which helped shield renters from racist, abusive and mercurial landlords. Credit scores are how lenders discriminate when using race, sex and other factors is illegal.

But Smart Property obviates the need for trust, and its proxy, discrimination.

Smart Property makes it possible for locks to change automatically the moment a renter violates their lease agreement. And makes it possible for a car to refuse to start the moment a payment is late. Most importantly, it does so on a trustless basis. Because the Bitcoin protocol distributes transactions across the web, it offers transactions in which it’s nearly impossible to falsify who owns what and why.

With smart contracts, the consequences for violating the agreement are implemented automatically, with no need for human judgment. Essentially, it doesn’t matter that the landlord can’t trust a renter to pay. And it doesn’t matter that a renter can’t trust a landlord not to kick her out without good reason. Both parties are fully aware of both the terms of the contract and the immediate consequences of violation. The promise of this innovation should be clear to anyone, but it will impact people who have traditionally suffered from a paucity of trust the most.

Barriers to entry

Computer Scientist Philihp Busby describes some of the obstacles Smart Property will need to overcome for mass adoption. “There are two big barriers in the way of this going mainstream,” Busby said.

He describes a social barrier. Like with most things, the Americans with the most sway, the early adopters, aren’t particularly plagued by the limitations of the current system. Even though “It’s hard to find a notary on a weekend, handwritten signatures can be forged, lawyers are needed to draw up contracts and even better lawyers can be paid to find holes within contracts to circumvent them,” Busby explains, these aren’t exactly issues clearly dying for innovation.

Busby goes on, “This is somewhat a marketing problem too, since most people have been promoting Bitcoin as either a Ponzi scheme or as electronic gold. Instead of what it really is, which is a decentralized payments and contracts network whose unit of currency happens to be a bitcoin.”

He also refers to the shrinking technological barrier. “There aren’t any “Smart” cars that talk to your smartphone to ask it if you’re the owner,” Busby said. “We have RFID key fobs that do this, but what if my key fob is lost or stolen? The dealership would be happy to mint a new set of keys for a few hundred dollars. With a “Smart” car, I could just transfer ownership to a new Bitcoin address. For free. While sitting at home in my underpants.”

When imagining what Smart Property could do for a generation of Americans currently shut out of the rental, job and car market, it’s difficult to not get excited. This could represent waves of people finally offered the opportunity to succeed. Indeed, separating the ability to obtain property from one’s birth or social station is the very foundation of the American Dream. Smart Property may just make that Dream more possible for more people than ever before.

This post originally appeared at Bitcoin Magazine.