Category Archives: Current Affairs

Against SOPA and PIPA, for an open Internet

If you haven’t heard of SOPA and PIPA, you will today, as reddit, Wikipedia, Google, Craigslist, Free Software Foundation, and many other websites protest those Internet censorship bills today. The so-called Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a House bill (H.R.3261) and the so-called PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) is a Senate bill (S.968) (most recently renamed Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011). Both have nothing to do with promoting creativity and everything to do with giving a few large copyright holders priority over the Internet, requiring censorship of links to entire domains. Have you heard of the Great Firewall of China? That’s where the Chinese government censors entire domains such as facebook, youtube, and twitter because they contain some content that the Chinese government doesn’t want distributed. SOPA and PIPA would do the same thing, except putting Hollywood in charge of what would be censored. In a perfect example of the DC lobbying revolving door, former Senator Chris Dodd, now Chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, called the anti-SOPA blackout an “abuse of power”. Funny how it’s only an abuse of power when we fight back.

If you don’t believe me, listen to Mythbuster Adam Savage.

Here’s a technical explanation. And here’s a letter of objection many of the engineers who built the Internet.

Here’s where the anti-SOPA blackout started: Continue reading

a worldwide social network that has fomented revolution in multiple countries

Who would have thought that twitter and facebook could foment a revolution? Yet Wael Ghonim says it did. He’s one of the people behind the “We are all Khaled Said” facebook page, and he spent a dozen days in jail for it: Here’s his TED Talk:
“Because of the Internet, the truth prevailed.
And everyone knew the truth.
And everyone started to think that this guy can be my brother.”

Here’s a post from that facebook page on 3 March 2011:

“I really want you ALL to understand that your support to Free Egypt & Egyptians is vital. Don’t you ever think that sitting on FaceBook supporting & commenting help help Egypt. A whole revolution started on Facebook & is now bringing Freedom & starting a new modern Egypt.”

Other Egyptian organizers say similar things:

“Online organising is very important because activists have been able to discuss and take decisions without having to organise a meeting which could be broken up by the police,” he said.’
( “Internet role in Egypt’s protests,” by Anne Alexander, BBC, 9 February 2011.)

Many of the Egyptians involved were poor and not usually thought of as Internet users, but David D. Kirkpatrick expalined that in the NY Times 9 Feb 2011, Wired and Shrewd, Young Egyptians Guide Revolt:

The day of the protest, the group tried a feint to throw off the police. The organizers let it be known that they intended to gather at a mosque in an upscale neighborhood in central Cairo, and the police gathered there in force. But the …organizers set out instead for a poor neighborhood nearby, Mr. Elaimy recalled.

Starting in a poor neighborhood was itself an experiment. “We always start from the elite, with the same faces,” Mr. Lotfi said. “So this time we thought, let’s try.” ‘

The NY Times story goes into detail about how the online organizing interfaced with and instigated the initial meatspace protests.

And you don’t need a laptop or a desktop computer to use social media. As Reese Jones points out,

in 2010 75% of the population of Egypt had cell phones (60 million phones in service likely with SMS) possible to message via Facebook via SMS at
And this was all after similar efforts in Tunisia had successfully exiled their tyrant and inspired the Egyptians, who in turn inspired the Lybians, etc. And what inspired the Tunisians to start was Wikileaks posts of U.S. cables showing the U.S. thought the Tunisian dictator was just as clueless and corrupt as the Tunisians thought.

So yes, social networking on the Internet has fomented multiple revolutions.


Speeches: McCain and Obama, TV and the Internet

Al Gore’s home office.
(Time Magazine)
John McCain’s speech in Kenner 3 June 2008 got truncated by the news media when they switched to Obama’s speech that same night. The versions on YouTube reflect that problem, since they were made from TV. They also suffer from TV network labeling and chyrons chatting about the opposition.

Barack Obama’s speech that same night has network logos and chyrons, but at least it is complete. However, when Al Gore endorsed Obama on 17 June, the networks all cut away immediately after Gore finished talking, because only the endorsement was news, and they weren’t interested in what the candidate himself might have to say. But Gore sent out email to supporters earlier that day, and numerous blogs posted it (Huffington Post, DailyKos, Washington Post, etc.). And Obama’s campaign streamed the whole event live, so nobody had to watch network logos, chyrons, commercials, or talking heads, and they could see all of both speeches. Although, oddly, neither the Gore nor the Obama speech seems to be on YouTube yet.

Political campaigns can use the Internet to bypass the traditional media.


Who’s the Second Largest Contributor to U.S. Congress Members?

AT&T. Time Warner, Bellsouth, and MCI all show up in the same list.

Major AT&T recipients include Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV who is a big supporter of retroactive immunity for telco spying, and who recently (spring 2007, just as the telcos started pushing for that immunity) got a big spike in Verizon employee contributions, as well.

Also Sen. Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, gets significant AT&T contributions. This is the same Harry Reid who won’t honor Sen. Chris Dodd’s hold on the bill containing that amnesty.


Internet as Analysis Supplier: Is the Surge Working?

michael_greenstone.jpg Steven Levitt points out there are other ways to measure the effects of a military action than listening to politicians or generals, and the Internet can promote the production of such measures, and the analysis of them by multiple parties. On several measures, M.I.T. professor Michael Greenstone finds results of the U.S. “surge” in Iraq to be mixed. Then he brings in another measure:
The most interesting part of Greenstone’s paper is his analysis of the pricing of Iraqi government debt. The Iraq government has issued bonds in the past. These entitle the owner of the bond to a stream of payments over a set period of time, but only if the government does not default on the loan. If Iraq completely implodes, it is highly unlikely that these bonds will be paid off. How much someone would pay for the rights to that stream of payments depends on their estimate of the probability that Iraq will implode.

The bond data, unlike the other sources he examines, tell a clear story: the financial markets say the surge is not working. Since the surge started, the market’s estimate of the likelihood of default by the Iraqi government has increased by 40 percent.

Is the Surge Working? Ask the Data, Not the Politicians, By Steven D. Levitt, Freakonomics, September 15, 2007, 11:55 am

This kind of analysis seldom gets written for traditional channels because (2) there’s no academic incentive for it and (3) the only money in it is usually from special interests. Here’s the main point:
1. This paper shows how good economic analysis can contribute in a fundamental way to public policy. Anyone who reads Greenstone’s article will recognize that it is careful and thorough. It is even-handed and apolitical. It combines state-of-the-art data analysis techniques with economic logic (e.g., using market prices to draw conclusions about how things are going).

4. The internet can potentially solve both problems (2) and (3) above, leading to an increased supply of good, timely analysis. If people like Greenstone can immediately get their findings into the public debate through the internet, it gives a real purpose (not just an academic one) to doing the work. In addition, there are now online peer-reviewed academic journals that have greatly sped the time from submission to publication, potentially increasing the academic payoff to someone like Greenstone. With many respected economists now blogging, there is also a vehicle for these folks to weigh in on the quality of policy-related economic writings — like I am doing in this blog post.

If the Internet helps focus many eyes on bugs and make them shallow, why can’t it do the same with political and military actions?

Right now it can. Without net neutrality it wouldn’t be able to.


FCC Investigating Wiretapping?

ejm_crop.jpg Now this would be a good thing if it happened:
House telecom subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) repeated his call for the Federal Communications Commission to investigate widespread allegations of telecom privacy law violations by intelligence agencies that received cooperation from telecom carriers in anti-terrorist surveillance efforts.

Markey renews calls for FCC investigation into wiretapping, By Jeffrey Silva, RCCWireless News, September 12, 2007 – 2:13 pm EDT

That would be about as likely as Gonzales starting such an investigation.

Oh, wait:

After Markey wrote Martin in March to ask him to launch an investigation into whether telecom privacy laws have been broken, the FCC chairman wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to verify that the agency could not conduct such a probe because it would violate federal laws governing disclosure of state secrets. Gonzales, who recently announced his resignation, has yet to respond to Martin.
Markey points at a number of events since his first request, such as that it’s not a secret anymore that the government has been using telcos to wiretap.

It would be good if the FCC were to represent the public interest, rather than just the telco and cableco and the administration’s interest.


PS: Seen on Fergie’s tech blog.

Twaddle v. a Wonder of the World

goldengate.jpg It’s good to see a newspaper not mince words:
A free-for-all web (after normal monthly broadband charges have been paid) is one of the wonders of the world and a binding force for all communities.

The Federal Communications Commission has just been advised by the US department of justice, under heavy lobbying from the operators who stand to gain from higher data charges, that a neutral net might “prevent, rather than promote” investment and innovation. This is twaddle. An open-access net has produced one of the greatest surges of innovation ever recorded and has given an opportunity for people all over the world to communicate with each other and share knowledge on equal terms. Long may it continue to be so.

In praise of… a freely available internet, Leader, The Guardian, Tuesday September 11, 2007

The Guardian brings up a related point:

It has only become an issue because the US Congress is scrutinising the question of “net neutrality”, though why the US authorities – rather than an international body – should deem themselves to have jurisdiction over the internet is not clear.
The usual answer to that is that a properly constituted international body would do even worse. Although nowadays, it seems the otherwise unlateralist U.S. government is toeing the (pseudo-)capitalist international party line.


Duopoly Spies

Mike_McConnell.jpg Well, I had been waiting to post something about the telcos and domestic wiretapping until more news came out, since much of it was still hearsay. But now National Intelligence Director and former National Security Agency Director Mike McConnell has confirmed it:
Now the second part of the issue was under the president’s program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us. Because if you’re going to get access you’ve got to have a partner and they were being sued. Now if you play out the suits at the value they’re claimed, it would bankrupt these companies. So my position was we have to provide liability protection to these private sector entities.

Transcript: Debate on the foreign intelligence surveillance act, By Chris Roberts, ©El Paso Times, Article Launched: 08/22/2007 01:05:57 AM MDT

Ryan Singel points out in Wired’s Threat Level blog that this is even though the same McConnell signed a sworn declaration in April saying to reveal that NSA and Verizon had such a relationship “would cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security.” Continue reading

Achille’s Dark Heel

Raymond Kelly

John Arquilla

“The Internet is the new Afghanistan,” [New York police commissioner Raymond] Kelly said, as he released a New York Police Department (NYPD) report on the home-grown threat of attacks by Islamist extremists. “It is the de facto training ground. It’s an area of concern.”

The report found that the challenge for Western authorities was to identify, pre-empt and prevent home-grown threats, which was difficult because many of those who might undertake an attack often commit no crimes along the path to extremism.

The report identified the four stages to radicalization as pre-radicalization, self-identification, indoctrination, and jihadization, and said the Internet drove and enabled the process.

Internet is “the new Afghanistan”: NY police commissioner, By Michelle Nichols and Edith Honan, Reuters, Wed Aug 15, 3:51 PM ET

Nevermind that this makes about as much sense as saying “the telephone is the new Afghanistan” or “talking is the new Afghanistan”. Of course the Internet enables that process! The Internet enables every communication process.

Let’s look beyond communication and information to what people think they know because of those things:

As the information age deepens, a globe–circling realm of the mind is being created — the “noosphere” that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin identified 80 years ago. This will increasingly affect the nature of grand strategy and diplomacy. Traditional realpolitik, which ultimately relies on hard (principally military) power, will give way to the rise of noöpolitik (or noöspolitik), which relies on soft (principally ideational) power. This paper reiterates the authors’ views as initially stated in 1999, then adds an update for inclusion in a forthcoming handbook on public diplomacy. One key finding is that non–state actors — unfortunately, especially Al Qaeda and its affiliates — are using the Internet and other new media to practice noöpolitik more effectively than are state actors, such as the U.S. government. Whose story wins — the essence of noöpolitik — is at stake in the worldwide war of ideas.

The promise of noöpolitik, by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla, First Monday, volume 12, number 8 (August 2007)

This sounds almost like what the NYPD is saying. Continue reading

Heck of a Job, Stickler

Richard Sticker ((ABC 4 News))
What practical difference does it make when a president appoints political commissars as heads of departments and agencies, enforcing ideologicallines instead of doing their job?
Also coming to light, is the fact that Stickler’s nomination to head the mine administration was twice rejected by congress and rejected when republicans were still in charge. Rejected reportedly by senators who were concerned about Stickler’s safety record when he operated mines. After his nomination was twice rejected by the Senate, President Bush gave Richard Stickler the mine safety job with a recess appointment. That’s a presidential appointment made when congress is not in session.

Finally, congressional investigations and hearings are now expected to look at a key provision of federal mining law, one which requires the U.S. Government to be the main communicator when an accident occurs. ABC News now notes it took the mine safety administration two days to take public control of the Crandall Canyon Mine. ABC also adds, “Others were irate that [mine owner Bob] Murray was allowed to publicly predict success and contradict MSHA itself while agency officials quietly looked on.”

Federal mine safety official’s credentials questioned, Chris Vanocur, ABC 4 News, Last Update: 8/20 2007 8:00 pm

Dead people in mines. Dead people in Hurricane Katrina. Postal rate hikes for small publications. Wireless spectrum handed over to a few big companies. And of course massive consolidation of first mile Internet ISPs in the hands of companies that aren’t delivering on their promises and that indulge in repeated political censorship while cooperating with the government in wiretapping.

The stakes going forward are even higher, including economic competitiveness, control of information, and political discourse and with it the survival of a political system.

At least the traditional media finally noticed the problem with the appointment of the Mine and Health Safety Administrator. Imagine if we had more proactive investigative media that might have actually noticed his appointment when it happened. And imagine if we had none, which is a very real possibility with continuing media consolidation and increasing control over the Internet by a very small number of companies.