Monday, May 27, 2013

Legislation to demand malware be installed on every computer

The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property has proposed Legislation to give corporations the right to install malware on your computers and media devices that give them the ability to "monitor activity on the network, detect anomalous behavior, and trigger intrusion alarms that initiate both network and physical actions immediately."

Could this be yet another seminal example of what happens when a government ensconces a corporation as an extraordinary citizen that is able to lobby legislators with a fervor and financial voracity an individual could never hope to match?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Congress abandons SOPA and PIPA

The effect of the Jan 18 blackout protest was dramatic. 
162 million  people viewed the Wikipedia blackout page. 
7 million people signed Google's petition on its homepage.  
US lawmakers have abandoned the flawed SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy bills, delivering a stunning win for the Internet companies and millions of online protesters.

On December 15, the protests began in ernest with scathing open letters signed by hundreds of Internet moguls, including  Sergey Brin, Arianna Huffington, Marc Andreessen and Jack Dorsey. This was followed by a legal opinion from 108 law professors from 31 states and an International human rights submission by 40 civil rights organisations.

The Internet giants AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga joined ranks as the Net Coalition in an unprecedented united front against the bills. The only major Internet company on the other side of the argument, GoDaddy quickly changed tack after it lost more than 20,000 accounts in the last week of December.
  “While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” -- White House response to SOPA and PIPA, January 14
Politicians who supported the SOPA and PIPA legislation received $1,983,596 in campaign contributions from the movie, music, and TV entertainment industries, four times more than their opponents. Chris Dodd, the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) told Fox News on Friday that recipients of Hollywood campaign funding, including President Obama, should tread carefully.
Former Senator Chris Dodd — now a  Hollywood lobbyist
for the MPAA with a $100 million lobbying budget.
“I would caution people don’t make the assumption that because the quote ‘Hollywood community’ has been historically supportive of Democrats, which they have, don’t make the false assumptions this year that because we did in years past, we will do it this year,” Dodd threatened. “The issues before us—this is the only issue that goes right to the heart of this industry.”
Such threats are to be taken seriously. Google has already hired 15 lobbyist companies to keep pressure on the politicians. Fighting the MPAA and RIAA lobbying budgets may just be another cost corporations need to pay as a direct result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC that opened the way for powerful businesses to become super-people, with an extraordinary form of speech.

The question of whether the well funded lobby can find another way to subjugate the will of the masses is still open. In the meantime I thank all those who have been active in defending our rights to free speech, from big corporations, fellow bloggers to courageous lawmakers — and I sincerely hope we are not called back to arms any time soon.

Monday, January 2, 2012

America's war on Liberty

Will the war on terror continue to
errode the one thing that is truly
worth fighting for?
Unlike past conflicts of shock and awe, the war on liberty is an ostensibly silent one. On December 31 2011, President Obama signed the NDAA for 2012, making it possible for American citizens to be detained indefinitely without trial or due process, simply because of suspicion of terrorist activities. The SOPA and PIPA acts currently moving through the US legislature with strong support from both parties will give the US government authority to censor or remove any website on the Internet, again without any form of trial or due process. A congressional report on the National Defense Authorization Act H.R 1540  released on December 12, 2011, affirms that the US Department of Defense has the capability to conduct clandestine cyberspace activities and upon direction by the President can conduct offensive cyberspace activities in support of military operations pursuant to the same policy, principles, and legal regimes that pertain to kinetic capabilities.

With unlimited censorship and authorization to act militarily against its own citizenry, the US government lacks only the ability for unconstrained surveillance of its own populous to complete a disturbingly totalitarian annihilation of civil liberty. Is this why the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2011 are met with such strong opposition from the Justice department and waning interest from a President who made this a cornerstone of his campaign? In this election year, will Obama side with a congress that has a vanishingly small mandate and favor legislation that diminishes civil liberties? This piece of history remains for the moment unwritten. The pen is in your hands, Mr President.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sex, Lies and the Economy

The recent politico sex scandal surrounding Rep. Anthony Wiener, as distasteful as it is; to me is actually comforting, not just because another scummy politician has been caught in a lie and is facing its consequences, but because this event is just the latest in a long tawdry history of public deception that can be unmasked by the facts. With notably few exceptions, the prima facie nature of being caught metaphorically or otherwise with their pants down overwhelms even the most elaborate lies told by the most seasoned politicians.

But what if even given all of the facts, the nature of the lie is still not evident? The term "butterfly-effect" is often used to describe small changes in one part of a system that result in large and unpredictable changes in another. In science this is known as nonlinear or chaotic behavior and is usually associated with dynamical systems such as the weather. Because the same mathematical principles of nonlinearity apply to the global economy: knowing all of the facts provides little predictive power. To understand global economics an individual must not only possess the facts and a great deal of expertise, but also must have a massive amount of computational power to solve the nonlinear equations. Currently this amount of processing power is only in the possession of small number of government, academic and military institutions.  

Unfortunately, even if such a system exists, there are no publicly accessible computational models of the global economy, so we, the people cannot determine if proposed economic policy is anything other than elaborate lies told for political advantage.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Freethinker Sunday Sermonette: we imagine

Posted on Effect Measure, a forum for public health discussion.

The Editors of Effect Measure are senior public health scientists and practitioners. Paul Revere was a member of the first local Board of Health in the United States (Boston, 1799). The Editors sign their posts "Revere" to recognize the public service of a professional forerunner better known for other things.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

America's wars

The phrase "War On..." anything implies a brute force, heedless confrontation. History has taught us that wars rarely if ever solve the underlying problems that they are invoked to solve. Killing the "enemy", and especially their figureheads, may be emotionally gratifying to the aggressor — but in reality slows, but never stops the real causes that underlie the problem; and in some cases may even accelerate the very thing the war is trying to prevent.

War is an ideal environment for injustice and corruption, and for those bent on wealth or empire; to leverage the "fog of war" for their own gain. We must put an end to warmongering at any level in society by refusing to accede to this language of war. We must not fight a "war on drugs" or a "war on terror" or anything else; what we must instead do is inspire change where it is necessary. As with both wars, the target for change rests surely with US government policy.

The war on drugs

Treating drug takers as criminals, and not as people who need help to escape the clutches of the drug industry is the root cause of the crisis; and only serves to relegate an entire population of citizens to an underclass where they are doomed to be counter-productive addicts; while at the same time strengthening the power of the drug cartels who profit from their illegitimacy.

There is actually a very simple, very rational solution to these problems if viewed outside the mindset of "war". Decriminalize drugs: Regulate and tax them through the FDA. Allow drugs to be prescribed by specialist rehabilitation clinics, which provide counseling, treatment and withdrawal therapy to addicts as a prerequisite to supply. Invest in national media and education programs targeted at prevention. The cost of this will be measured in millions in comparison to the half trillion dollars the US has spent with no gain since the "War on Drugs" was conceived by President Nixon.

No dealer, no cartel will ever be able to undercut the legitimate supply chain; and no drug addict will resist the opportunity to accept the terms and conditions of rehabilitation if it means they can get cheap access to the substances they have become addicted to. Instantly you will see the drug industry vanish globally. Crime will plummet and the people who need help will get it when and where needed.

These are not new ideas at all; but it will take brave champions to fight the "law and order" focussed "warmongering" ultra-conservative elements that have escalated the plague of drug addiction and have held the US hostage to the drug cartels for most of the last century.

The war on terror

Terrorism is without doubt a direct result of US government policy; in particular foreign policy related to countries of financial or strategic interest to the United States. The history of foreign policy mistakes can be traced back hundreds of years, and I do not need to restate this relatively common knowledge to make the point that in almost every case the enabling of one nation at the expense of another has always resulted in destabilization of US interests and has ultimately led to political backlashes. The less interference the US is seen to do on the world stage, the fewer extremists will be made: Educated, trained and armed by regimes hostile to perceived or actual mistreatment.

If the US government were to forgo the idiocy of using terror to fight terror and all of the hideous injustices that goes along with such hypocrisies, the focus can instead be shifted to building relationships and resolving differences, rather than constantly replaying this mindset of "warmongering" on the world stage. To paraphrase the search engine giant Google's philosophy: "You can run a nation without doing evil."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007

Congress is currently considering Senate Bill 1959 designed to establish a commission to review and make appropriate recommendations on how the US should address the threat of domestic terrorism.

Commentary: The language used in this legislation is concerning; as is the broad scope and lack of transparency.

Even the title "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism" is highly evocative, conveying and 'drumming up' a perception of peril or threat that is at odds with evidence and experience. Seemingly justified by this strong language alone, the definitions in the Bill give the commission an overly broad scope and opaqueness to public scrutiny. These are worrying trends in legislation produced under the highly emotive umbrella of "terrorism."

‘homegrown terrorism’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

‘ideologically based violence’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual’s political, religious, or social beliefs.

The definitions also seem to be at odds with rights protected by the first and second amendments. While the legislation does stress that constitutional rights will be upheld, definitions and principles enshrined here- in combination with other acts- could be used to undermine protection of rights by the constitution. Constitutional protection of rights may not apply, for example, to those branded as 'terrorist' as we have seen happen with the writ of Habeas Corpus.

‘violent radicalization’ means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.

The Bill ultimately begs the question, "What homegrown terrorism has there been since 9/11?" And further more: "What evidential basis is there to claim such sweeping definitions and broad scope for such a commission?"

The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.

What evidence is there for such a grand claim? Is this some kind of prelude to a justification of censorship or increased surveillance on US citizens?

While the United States must continue its vigilant efforts to combat international terrorism, it must also strengthen efforts to combat the threat posed by homegrown terrorists based and operating within the United States.

Is this a real threat or part of a program to maintain the perception of imminent danger for political purposes? Please, let's see the evidence for local homegrown terror since 9/11.

IN GENERAL.—The Commission shall hold public hearings and meetings to the extent appropriate.

Any public hearings of the Commission shall be conducted in a manner consistent with the protection of information provided to or developed for or by the Commission as required by any applicable statute, regulation, or Executive order.

There is no compulsion for the commission to act in an open and transparent way. While I agree that the commission should not be required to disclose information that would compromise national security; the current abuses of the nature and scope of state secrecy privileges by the administration raises enough of a flag to carefully define the scope and nature of what the commission is able to consider behind closed doors.

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