Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Iraq's New Government Is As Old As Time

Meet the new boss...

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The Iraqi people ought to be euphoric with anticipation of the new governing coalition, a change a lot like the one Barack Obama represents in this country. Now that the politicians have decided how to parcel out bureaucratic realms of authority, they can get to work on discharging the terminal duty within politics, apportionment of the country’s wealth and natural resources among the influential.

Party politics is a diversion, one of many like national security or some amorphous notion of the “common good” that are all subsumed within what Kevin Carson has phrased “ideological hegemony”; the dominant linguistic and cultural paradigm has succeeded in, for instance, making Americans think that someone like Nancy Pelosi, just another garden variety shill for corporatism, is situated on the far reaches of the ideological left. Notwithstanding the unsavory sport of politics, though, there are alternatives that survive, including a principled left that stands at variance with the barren, political left.


Two Scathing Dissents on the FCC's Illegal, Unnecessary & Harmful Net Neutrality Order

Federal Communications Commissioners Rob McDowell and Meredith Baker speak their minds.

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The FCC’s order still isn’t out (just a news release in .DOC form), but the Commissioner’s accompanying statements are. Anyone interested in net neutrality regulation or the coming political, legal and constitutional fights over it must read the scathing dissents by Commissioners Rob McDowell and Meredith Baker.

Commissioner McDowell summarizes his dissent beautifully:

  1. Nothing is broken in the Internet access market that needs fixing;

  2. The FCC does not have the legal authority to issue these rules;

  3. The proposed rules are likely to cause irreparable harm; and

  4. Existing law and Internet governance structures provide  ample consumer protection in the event a systemic market failure occurs.

Did societies evolve to be corrupt?

Corruption is how the privileged share their privilege (Latin for "private law") with the un-privileged. Sharing is good, right?

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Corruption is as old as human history. For as long as people have organized themselves into groups with powerful leaders, those leaders have sometimes abused their power. But evolutionary biologists say corruption might actually be holding societies together.

Their findings make a lot of intuitive sense - most people will continue to cooperate to keep their society together, in part because they don't want to be punished by law enforcers. People will tolerate a certain amount of corruption from their leaders and law enforcers as long as there isn't too much of it. Above a certain level of corruption, people stop seeing the point of cooperating and society begins to break down.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Preserving the Open Internet by Changing Everything

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It doesn’t matter how well-meaning these rules may be, but as a non-legislative body, the FCC must have been granted the authority to regulate in this area specifically from a legislative body (Congress) and it has not received such authority. As Commissioner McDowell pointed out, why would have Congress introduced legislation just a few months ago addressing this very issue if the FCC already had direct regulatory authority in this manner?


Get a Taste of Some Nutritious Freedom

Speak out on the Food Safety Modernization Act:

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Debate over the Food Safety Modernization Act reflects a broader discussion about the American food supply. While tweaks to the regulatory system could improve things, a shift away from industrial agriculture and lobbying toward a more consumer-driven approach should be the long term goal.

Government regulation of food production encourages centralization.  Government focuses on enforcing minimum standards, not encouraging best practices. It requires costly procedures that drive small producers out of the market without necessarily improving the quality of food.

Any regulatory regime will be implemented by the Food and Drug Administration, a federal bureaucracy with connections to large producers. A nice illustration of the revolving door between government and business lobbies is provided by Judith McGeary of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, in comments on “FDA is staffed by people who come from within the industrial food system, many of whom are looking to get jobs in that food system when they leave the agency.”


Net Neutrality: A Christmas Gift for Washington Lawyers & Lobbyists

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I can’t help but to be amused by all the delightfully naive talk on Twitter and in the blogosphere about how the FCC’s move to impose Net Neutrality regulation is about “standing up for the little guy,” “putting consumers first” or “preserving Net freedom and openness.”  It all reminds me of a line from those rock-n’-roll sages Guns N’ Roses: “I’ve worked too hard for my illusions just to throw them all away.”   But I can’t help but be jaded by actual history, in which special interests and Washington insiders co-opt each and every regulatory process in this field for their own ends.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Energy at the Speed of Thought: Part I

From Alex Epstein, fellow at the Ayn Rand Center: This four-part post examines the innovation and creative destruction of the early oil market.

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The most important and most overlooked energy issue today is the growing statist threat to global energy supply.

There is no substitute for available, affordable, and reliable supply. Cheap, industrial-scale energy is essential to building, transporting, and operating everything we use, from refrigerators to Internet server farms to hospitals. It is desperately needed in the undeveloped world, where 1.6 billion people lack electricity, which contributes to untold suffering and death. And it is needed in ever-greater, more-affordable quantities in the industrialized world: Energy usage and standard of living are directly correlated.1


Red Tape Under the Tree: FCC Plans Internet Regulation for Christmas

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

~ George Orwell's "Animal Farm"

By stealing the authority from the people who actually do the work to provide internet services and the people who pay the money for internet services, Julius Genachowski sets himself up for a long, profitable wallow in the mud pits of corruption. Usurping sole authority in the guise of "Net Neutrality" J.G. assures his FCC an endless supply of milk and apples courtesy of corporate lobbyists seeking to make their clients "more neutral" than others.

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Should regulators in Washington, D.C., set the rules for the Internet? Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), thinks so. He has crafted a plan to impose so-called “net neutrality” rules on Internet service providers, setting an FCC vote on the proposal for next Tuesday.[2]

Details of the plan are not yet known outside the commission and will likely not be released until after the commission votes. It is reportedly based on a net neutrality plan floated a month ago in Congress. That plan, however, was soundly rejected by Congress. The Genachowski plan—which would end-run Congress—should be rejected as well.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

YouTube’s Terrorism Flag

I know more than one hacktivist who's up to the task, but do we dare risk violating YouTube's Community Guidelines? >shudder<

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Well, once again Joe “kill switch” Lieberman is leading the charge on internet censorship, under yet a new offensive. My money is on LiveLeak rising to the occasion whenever a controversial video is deleted and I would be giddy if some browser plugin dude with some skills and a hankering for lulz would write a Firefox plugin that would just auto-flag everything I ever come across with with Joe Lieberman’s name as “promotes terrorism” and leaving an automated YouTube comment explaining how he really and truly is a terror upon free speech.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Lawmakers and Legal Experts Call For Restraint in Wikileaks Hearing

EFF wrap-up of the House Judiciary Committee Wikileaks' hearing.

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The House Judiciary Committee held a surprisingly subdued hearing this morning on the legal and constitutional issues surrounding Wikileaks' publication activities. Committee members repeatedly emphasized the importance of protecting First Amendment rights and cautioned against overreaction to Wikileaks. The seven legal experts called to testify agreed, almost all of them noting that:

  • Excessive government secrecy is a serious problem that needs to be fixed,
  • It's critically important to protect freedom of expression and the press, and
  • The government should be extremely cautious about pursuing any prosecutions under the Espionage Act or any legislation that would expand that law, which is already poorly written and could easily be applied in ways that would be unconstitutional.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Human Rights Organizations Worldwide Decry Attacks on Freedom of Expression

EFF provides highlights from the position statements of human rights organizations.

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It has been almost two weeks since, the website hosting leaked US diplomatic cables, was taken down, and the right of Wikileaks to publish truthful information was immediately besieged. Since then, human rights organizations around the world have condemned the attacks on WikiLeaks and have raised their voices to protect freedom of expression online.

To help illustrate what human rights and other organizations are saying internationally, we have highlighted some excerpts from their own institutional statements over this David-Goliath style battle.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WikiLeaks Contender ‘Promising’, Analysts Say

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A new transparency site being launched by WikiLeaks defectors is a promising alternative, according to media and government transparency analysts, but its true value will depend on whether it can garner the trust and interest of sources with valuable documents to leak.

The new site,, is set to launch this week and promises an equally secure and anonymous channel for leaking important documents to journalists and other recipients. However, it also aims to avoid the “cult of personality” that has arisen around WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and the various controversies and legal pressures that his leadership has attracted, by placing editorial control of leaks in the hands of established journalists, rather than acting as a publisher itself.


Court Rebuffs White House on Warrantless Cell-Site Tracking

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The decision (.pdf) by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is one in a string of court decisions boosting Americans’ privacy in the digital age — rulings the government fought against. The most significant and recent decision came Tuesday, when a different federal appeals court said for the first time the government must obtain a court warrant for an internet service provider to grant the authorities access to a suspect’s e-mail.


Decentralizing Twitter – And the Rest of the Web, Too

Interesting interview from Technoccult

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I just interviewed J Chris Anderson, the CFO of CouchOne, for ReadWriteWeb. CouchOne is the corporate sponsor of an open source database and programming language called CouchDB. Anderson recently started hosting a demo/proof of concept app called Twebz – a decentralized Twitter Client – built with CouchDB and node.js. Anderson explains how CouchDB could be used to decentralize not only Twitter, but most other web applications as well. It’s pretty geeky but could have big ramifications: This tech could help build a more resilient Internet in the face of disasters, cyberwarfare and censorship.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Constructive Direct Action Against Censorship

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The past few weeks have highlighted the vulnerability of centralized
information systems to censorship: online
speech is only as strong as the weakest intermediary. Sites hosting
legitimate speech were caught
up in an anti-counterfeiting raid
by the Department of Homeland
Security, EveryDNS
stopped hosting’s DNS, Amazon
refused hosting service
to WikiLeaks, and independent protesters conducted
denial-of-service attacks on businesses
refusing service to WikiLeaks.
If the Combating Online Infringements
and Counterfeits Act
(COICA; the internet censorship bill introduced in
the US Senate) or something like it passes, the threat centralization poses
to First Amendment-protected speech may be unavoidable. Corrective action — designing, implementing, and deploying robust, fault-tolerant
architectures — will improve the security and availability of the internet
infrastructure generally, to the benefit of all.

What, then, can digital activists do to protect speech on the internet?
Fortunately, there are a bunch of technical projects dedicated to reducing
centralization in the internet infrastructure. Some are in the idea stage,
some are up and running, and some are in-between. All of them could use
help: development, documentation, security review, server infrastructure,
testing, and evangelizing. EFF urges technologists of all stripes and skill
levels to work on potential solutions to the centralization problem.


Law Profs: We Need FDA-Style Approval for Laws - Let A Thousand Nations Bloom

Change technology, change incentives: Napster-Kazaa / WikiLeaks-OpenLeaks

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After Napster was shut down as a company & a service, Kazaa was quickly written to address the central point of failure weakness.  With a pure P2P system, there is no concentration of liability – the liability of any one peer is vastly less than a company and removing them doesn’t stop the system, so the benefits are far less.  On the cost side, while the cost to sue one peer is less than suing a company,  the cost to sue every peer is vastly higher than the cost to sue one central company.

While WikiLeaks may have benefited from having a known leader who could fundraise and recruit, we can now see the weakness of that system.  When the US got angry enough, Julian Assange was the obvious target.  But you can’t take vengeance without teaching a lesson, and the movement to free information for public benefit can now simply reconstitute around a model robust to the “find a guy and throw him in jail” attack.  Already, next-generation solutions are in the works:


Friday, December 10, 2010

Secure Persons and Privacy

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Like anybody else, I want to be as safe as I can reasonably expect. I certainly don’t want my loved ones to suffer a terrorist attack. But I don’t believe that sacrificing liberty is going to make anyone safer. Compare the TSA-style measures’ effectiveness in thwarting terrorist plots to the effectiveness of good intelligence, thorough investigation, and the initiative of intended victims.

Government priorities mean that security checkpoints are not mainly looking out for bombs or terrorists. Checkpoint personnel are looking for people with immigration violations, drugs the government does not approve of, weapons carried without government approval, and whatever else will boost arrest stats and criminal justice revenue. The traveler will be confronted by militarized authoritarians who aren’t totally focused on passenger safety.

It should be clear that the loss of freedom doesn’t really make us safer. But we pay for the security state in other ways too. People are made late, travel time is increased and inconvenience leads to marginally less travel. As a result the economy becomes less dynamic. If people avoid public transportation there will be more highway traffic and more car accidents. Increased spending on fuel consumption and road repair is made at the expense of things people would otherwise desire more.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Amuse Your Way Through Life's Problems

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“What we think is happening,” said Mark Beeman, a neuroscientist who conducted the study with Karuna Subramaniam, a graduate student, “is that the humor, this positive mood, is lowering the brain’s threshold for detecting weaker or more remote connections” to solve puzzles.

“It’s imagination, it’s inference, it’s guessing; and much of it is happening subconsciously,” said Marcel Danesi, a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto and the author of “The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life.”

“It’s all about you, using your own mind, without any method or schema, to restore order from chaos,” Dr. Danesi said. “And once you have, you can sit back and say, ‘Hey, the rest of my life may be a disaster, but at least I have a solution.’ ”


California's Pension Crisis Needs Serious Reform

Adam Summers addresses California's pension crisis.

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California needs to switch to a defined-contribution system for all new employees, as the private sector has been doing for decades. This would work just like 401(k) retirement plans do for so many nongovernment workers. The state would contribute a certain percentage of the employee's pay, and possibly match up to an additional portion, to that employee's individual retirement account.

Since contributions are essentially a fixed percentage of payroll, they do not vary widely from year to year based on pension fund performance. Contributions must be paid in full every year so there is no such thing as an unfunded pension liability in a defined-contribution plan.

Politicians can't continue to merely nibble around the edges of the state's pension crisis. It's time to admit that the 401(k)-style retirement plans that are good enough for nearly every private sector worker are going to have to be good enough for state workers, too.


Monday, December 06, 2010

The State’s Corporate Wasteland

David D'Amato continues to expose the State-Corporate con game.

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The perceived inefficiency of government is often measured against the wholly unsubstantiated myth of the well-oiled corporate machine. The state’s many modules, thought of as shiftlessly unconcerned with the bottom line, are implored by the standard conservative philippic to be “run like a business,” as if real-world businesses are models of sleek efficiency.

The binary framework of American political folklore sees business interests as hermetically sealed from state interests, with the cold orderliness of “professionalism” defining our image of the corporate world. The state, by comparison, is thought to be the sanctum of all the good-hearted, underpaid crusaders for social justice, imprudent with the dollar but well-meaning. Just a passing glance at the actual corporation (as opposed to its idealized image), however, begs for a thorough reconsideration of the prevailing narrative.

And as vast, hierarchical institutions defined by a numbness to technological and social chance, corporations seem an especially appropriate analogy to the bureaucratic mammoths of state socialism. The largest and most powerful of them, rather than being the most avant-garde or the most reactive to the wants of the humble consumer, are the most inept and incapable of competing in the tempestuous world of untrammeled exchange. In his exhaustive treatise of economics Human Action, Ludwig von Mises counseled that a “successful corporation is ultimately never controlled by hired managers,” and in a free market that may be true.

In the state-corporate society, though, where status lives in job titles and climbing the corporate ladder, managerial elites enjoy a tight grip on the power; it is no coincidence that they run their companies in much the same way that the state functions, through gradations of authority and arbitrary administrative processes. It isn’t even as though there’s a societal balance between state and corporate interests, implying some polarity between the two; they are very simply elements of the same arrangement, whereby laws like the Williams Act — a securities rule that purports to protect shareholders — regulate away challenges to indolent suits in corner offices.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Unintended Humor in Wikileaks Criticism

The humor is dark, but it's there. I'm reminded of Mel Brooks' definitions of comedy and tragedy: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."