Stop the Great Firewall of America: When Can the President Assassinate Americans? And More…
…Compliance with the Stop Online Piracy Act would require huge overhead spending by Internet companies for staff and technologies dedicated to monitoring users and censoring any infringing material from being posted or transmitted. This in turn would create daunting financial burdens and legal risks for start-up companies, making it much harder for brilliant young entrepreneurs with limited resources to create small and innovative Internet companies that empower citizens and change the world.
Adding to the threat to free speech, recent academic research on global Internet censorship has found that in countries where heavy legal liability is imposed on companies, employees tasked with day-to-day censorship jobs have a strong incentive to play it safe and over-censor — even in the case of content whose legality might stand a good chance of holding up in a court of law. Why invite legal hassle when you can just hit “delete”?
The potential for abuse of power through digital networks — upon which we as citizens now depend for nearly everything, including our politics — is one of the most insidious threats to democracy in the Internet age. We live in a time of tremendous political polarization. Public trust in both government and corporations is low, and deservedly so. This is no time for politicians and industry lobbyists in Washington to be devising new Internet censorship mechanisms, adding new opportunities for abuse of corporate and government power over online speech. While American intellectual property deserves protection, that protection must be won and defended in a manner that does not stifle innovation, erode due process under the law, and weaken the protection of political and civil rights on the Internet…
By invoking the acronym SOPA right at the get-go, I may be daring many of you to check the next column over for something a little less chewy. After all, SOPA, which stands for Stop Online Piracy Act, sounds like a piece of arcane Internet government regulation — legislation that entertainment companies desperately care about and that leaves Web nation and free-speech crusaders frothing at the mouth. The rest of us? What were we talking about again?
Stay with me here.
SOPA deals with technical digital issues that may seem to be a sideshow but could become crucial to American media and technology businesses and the people who consume their products. The legislation is the rare broadly bipartisan piece of apple pie. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to resume hearings on it this month and all indications are that it will approve the measure, setting up a vote in the full chamber. The Senate is also expected to vote on its own version of the bill when it returns from the holiday break.
Virtually every traditional media company in the United States loudly and enthusiastically supports SOPA, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the rest of us. The open consumer Web has been a motor of American innovation and the attempt to curtail some of its excesses could throw sand in the works of a big machine on which we have all come to rely.
Rather than launch into a long-winded argument about why the legislation is a bad idea — it is, as currently written — I thought it might be worthwhile to boil SOPA down into a series of questions.
A NONEXISTENT PROBLEM?
Hardly. Regardless of what Web evangelists tell you, SOPA is an effort to get at the very real problem of rogue Web sites — most operating from overseas — offering illicit downloads of movies, music and more. The Motion Picture Association of America cites figures saying that piracy costs the United States $58 billion annually.
Mark Elliot, an executive from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a letter to The New York Times that such piracy threatened 19 million American jobs. Those figures surely include some politically motivated hyperbole, but anybody who has spent time around a twentysomething consumer knows that piracy is a thorny fact of life for content companies.
In an effort to stanch the flow, on Oct. 26 Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, introduced the legislation that has come to be known as SOPA. The Senate version,called the Protect IP Act, is seen by tech companies as less onerous because it targets domain name providers and ad networks and not Internet service providers. Both bills seek to create remedies to pirated content because most of the foreign-based sites operate outside of the United States’ legal system.
WOULD IT FIX THE PROBLEM?
Probably not, and even if it made some progress toward reining in rogue sites, the collateral damage would be significant. Under the terms of each proposed bill, the federal Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, could seek a court order against a Web site that illegally hosts copyrighted content and then wall off the site permanently.
Under the House version, private companies would be allowed to sue Internet service providers for hosting content that they say infringes on copyright. That represents a very big change in the current law as codified in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which grants immunity to Web sites as long as they act in good faith to take down infringing content upon notification.
WHY ALL THE ALARM?
The bill has exposed a growing fracture between technology and entertainment companies. Digitally oriented companies see SOPA as dangerous and potentially destructive to the open Web and a step toward the kind of intrusive Internet regulation that has made China a global villain to citizens of the Web.
Entertainment companies think that technology companies are aiding and abetting thieves on a broad scale, but the legislation is alarming in its reach, potentially creating a blacklist of sites and taking aim at others for unknowingly hosting a small fraction of copyrighted material. In a joint letter to Congress, Google, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Yahoo, eBay and many other companies made it clear that they perceived a broader threat in the effort to thwart pirate sites.
“We support the bills’ stated goals — providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign ‘rogue’ Web sites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting,” the letter read, which was published in a full page ad in The Times.
“Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action and technology mandates that would require monitoring of Web sites.”
Laurence H. Tribe, the noted First Amendment lawyer, said in an open letter on the Web that SOPA would “undermine the openness and free exchange of information at the heart of the Internet. And it would violate the First Amendment.”
You can see why big Internet guys are upset by SOPA. Maybe you and I should be, too.
WHY THE POLITICAL SUPPORT?
Various amendments intended to tone down SOPA or limit its damage were voted down by large majorities in the House Judiciary Committee in mid-December, an indication that the indignation of various constituencies on the Web is having little impact.
That’s partly because entertainment companies have deep and long-lasting relationships inside the Beltway. Maplight, a site that researches the influence of money in politics, reported that the 32 sponsors of the legislation received four times as much in contributions from the entertainment industry as they did from software and Internet companies.
There is also a cultural divide at work, according to Yancey Strickler, one of the founders of Kickstarter, a Web site that helps raise funds for creative projects, and a critic of SOPA.
“The schism between content creators and platforms like Kickstarter, Tumblr and YouTube is generational,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It’s people who grew up on the Web versus people who still don’t use it. In Washington, they simply don’t see the way that the Web has completely reconfigured society across classes, education and race. The Internet isn’t real to them yet.”
The debate has highlighted how little Congress knows about the Internet they are proposing to re-tool. In a piece often cited on the Web, the computer culture journalist Joshua Kopstein watched the debate in Congress in which members bragged about their online ignorance, and he wrote an open letter on the technology Web site Motherboard titled, “Dear Congress, It’s No Longer O.K. to Not Know How the Internet Works.”
Whether they know what they are doing or not, lawmakers seem intent on moving forward.
Congressional supporters of piracy legislation have been in a big hurry because the Web is starting to come alive with opposition — nearly 90,000 Tumblr users have phoned members of Congress and more than a million people have signed an online petition protesting the legislation.
Last week, in a much talked about blog post, Declan McCullagh of CNet speculated that even though big Web companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook are outgunned in terms of political connections, they have the capability to turn their sites into billboards denouncing SOPA and utilizing their close, constant relationship with consumers.
I like my movies (and music and television) as much as the next couch potato, probably more. And I wouldn’t steal content for any reason, in part because I make a living generating a fair amount of it. But it’s worth remembering that the film industry initially opposed the video cassette recorder and the introduction of DVDs, platforms that became very lucrative businesses for them and remarkable conveniences for the rest of us.
Given both Congress’s and the entertainment industry’s historically wobbly grasp of technology, I don’t think they should be the ones re-engineering the Internet. The rest of us might have to just hold our noses and learn enough about SOPA to school them in why it’s a bad idea.
Under intense pressure from an Internet-wide boycott, domain registrar GoDaddy has given the open Internet an early Christmas present: It's dropping its support for the Stop Online Piracy Act.
Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica
Google, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, PayPal and other big-name sites are contemplating a complete, coordinated blackout in an attempt to call users to arms over , the Stop Online Privacy Act. “There have been some serious discussions about that” Markham Erickson, head of the group of anti-SOPA organizations told , with the so-called ‘nuclear option’ also being considered by Wikipedia and others.
When Can the President Assassinate Americans?January 03, 2011 "American Conservative" -- The New York Times puts this question to the GOP contenders. Sophistry ensues. “Under what circumstances, if any, would the Constitution permit the president to authorize the targeted killing of a United States citizen who has not been sentenced to death by a court,” the paper asks. Gingrich, Huntsman, Perry, and Romney take the same line: “Under wartime circumstances” says Newt; “If such an individual is engaged on a battlefield,” says Huntsman; “Due process permits the use of deadly force against all enemy combatants, including citizens,” Romney avers; and “The President would be so authorized … where a citizen has joined or is associated with a nation or group engaged in hostilities against the United States” according to Perry. Only Ron Paul describes the conditions in which extrajudicial targeted killing of Americans is permitted as “none.”
By Daniel McCarthy
The others engage in Orwellian obfuscation, claiming that “battlefield” circumstances permit this — as if the situation the Times is asking about is one in which some American terrorist is shooting away at U.S. troops in combat or about to detonate a bomb on American soil. But that isn’t “targeted” killing. The practice Huntsman, Gingrich, Romney, and Perry — and President Obama — defend includes the assassination of Americans who are, in Perry’s words, only “associated with a nation or group engaged in hostilities.” In fact, the power claimed by these men goes far beyond that since, again, this is extrajudicial killing, in which there is no obligation for the executive to provide evidence to a judge or anyone else that the murdered man is guilty of what Uncle Sam accuses him of.
Stripped of the evasions, what they are saying is that you or anyone else can be killed if the president thinks — or claims to think — that you are “associated” with “a nation or group” that is engaged in hostilities with the United States. Janet Reno would approve. This doctrine would have saved her some crocodile tears over the slaughter of the Branch Davidians at Waco. Even the unarmed women and children there, after all, were “associated” with a group engaged in hostilities with the United States.
Needless to say, there are Americans who join extremist groups, but existing law-enforcement powers and military doctrines already permit killing them when they are actually engaged in acts of deadly violence. The Republicans’ invocations of a “battlefield” might sound reassuring, until you realize that the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, according to two of its supporters, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), designates even the U.S. itself as a battlefield. The whole world is one.
I have trouble taking these claims to more-than-royal power seriously; more precisely, I have trouble ascribing good faith to the intellectuals who try to justify an omnipotent presidency. But it’s a nominally free country, so let them have their say, in elections as well as op-ed pages and the corridors of our think tanks and universities. It seems to me, though, that we ought to hear from those who believe in a limited and law-bound executive as well.
Ron Paul shouldn’t be alone in this. The public needs to know what’s at stake here and just how few political leaders think there should be any restraints at all on the power of the president to kill.
Jury selection began this morning in a trial against protesters arrested inside the U.S. House of Representatives gallery this summer while demonstrating against funding for the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
Under Obama, an emerging global apparatus for drone killingIn the space of three years, the [Obama] administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in at least six countries on two continents. No president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals. Lethal operations are increasingly assembled a la carte, piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force. In Yemen, for instance, the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command pursue the same adversary with nearly identical aircraft. But they alternate taking the lead on strikes to exploit their separate authorities, and they maintain separate kill lists that overlap but don’t match. CIA and military strikes this fall killed three U.S. citizens, two of whom were suspected al-Qaeda operatives. Although human rights advocates and others are increasingly critical of the drone program, the level of public debate remains muted. [One] reason for the lack of extensive debate is secrecy. The White House has refused to divulge details about the structure of the drone program or, with rare exceptions, who has been killed.
December 27, 2011, Washington Post
Note: Not that the US citizens killed were not given their constitutional rights for a fair trail before being assassinated. For lots more from major media sources on government secrecy, click here.
After Struggle on Detainees, Obama Signs Defense BillPresident Obama, after objecting to provisions of a military spending bill that would have forced him to try terrorism suspects in military courts ... signed the bill on [New Year's Eve]. The White House had said that the legislation could lead to an improper military role in overseeing detention and court proceedings and could infringe on the president’s authority in dealing with terrorism suspects. But it said that Mr. Obama could interpret the statute in a way that would preserve his authority. The president, for example, said that he would never authorize the indefinite military detention of American citizens, because “doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.” He also said he would reject a “rigid across-the-board requirement” that suspects be tried in military courts rather than civilian courts. Congress dropped a provision in the House version of the bill that would have banned using civilian courts to prosecute those suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda. It also dropped a new authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda and its allies. Civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, still oppose the law, in part because of its authorization of military detention camps overseas.
January 1, 2012, New York Times
Note: This New York Times article amazingly fails to mention that civil liberties groups oppose this law primarily because it eliminates habeus corpus, Posse Comitatus and Bill of Rights protections, and enables the military to arrest and imprison American citizens on American soil and subject them to military tribunals without due judicial process. These protections are what Pres. Obama was referring to when he mentioned "our most important traditions and values as a nation." Is his statement that he will not use the new powers the law gives him sufficiently reassuring?
Occupy Wall Street Condemns the NDAA | The Dissenter
By Kevin Gosztola
Occupy Wall Street held a press conference on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law by President Barack Obama on New Year's.Firedoglake
ALEC - America's Secret Political Power
Olivia Ward, The Star: "As the coming federal election sucks all the oxygen out of America's political room, it's easy to ignore the power of the states, and the changes that are quietly taking place across the country independent of - and often hostile to - the federal government. But, for understanding grassroots America, ALEC, here in God's golf country, is a good place to start."
Read the Article
Super PACs, Occupy Iowa Protests and a Surging Rick Santorum: Iowa GOP Caucus Begins 2012 Race (Video)
Amy Goodman, Democracy NOW!: "Iowa is awash in millions of dollars of negative campaign ads funded by so-called Super PACs as voters head to their caucuses in the first real test of the 2012 election. 'If you want to see the future of politics in America, turn on the television in Iowa,' says John Nichols, correspondent for The Nation magazine."
Watch the Video and Read the Transcript
John Pilger | First Signs of an Indian Spring
John Pilger, Truthout: "In Kashmir, a forgotten India barely reported abroad, a peaceful resistance as inspiring as Tahrir Square has arisen in the most militarized region on earth. As the victims of Partition, Muslim Kashmiris have known none of Nehru's noble legacies."
Read the Article
Seven Years After Sieges, Fallujah Struggles
Dahr Jamail, Al Jazeera: "Fallujah still bears the scars of war; skeletons continue to be pulled from the rubble of bombed buildings, and, worse, rates of birth defects and childhood malformations have skyrocketed. There is evidence of reconstruction, but shortages of electricity and clean water remain prevalent. The overall mood in the city is one of anger, hopelessness, and fear."
Read the Article
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Montana's Supreme Court Blocks Citizens United Decision From Applying to State Election Laws, and More
In today's On the News segment: The Occupy Wall Street movement celebrated the New Year by reoccupying Zuccotti Park, natural gas "franking" just caused an earthquake in Ohio, the Supreme Court of Montana blocked the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision from applying to state election laws, as many as 5,000 blackbirds fell out of the sky in a small town in Arkansas just as the calendar year turned over into 2012, and more.
Watch the Video and Read the Transcript
Robert Reich | The Roots of the Republican Party Crack-Up
Robert Reich, San Francisco Chronicle: "The underlying conflict lies deep in the nature and structure of the Republican Party. And its roots are very old.... It's no coincidence that the states responsible for putting the most Tea Party representatives in the House are all former members of the Confederacy. Others are from border states with significant Southern populations and Southern ties."
Read the Article
As Big Bank Stocks Plunge, CEOs Continue to Reap Huge Salaries
Zaid Jilani, ThinkProgress: "Wall Street Pit's Ron Haruni points out that as the banking industry's stocks plunged this year - with major megabanks like Bank of America facing uncertain fates - their executives have walked away with sky-high salaries."
Read the Article
New Graphic Novel Reveals the Orwellian Underworld of the Iranian Theocratic Regime
Rose Aguilar, Truthout: "Over the past few years, Amir, an Iranian human rights activist and documentary filmmaker living in the United States, struggled to tell anyone who would listen why three million people put their lives on the line by taking to the streets of Tehran on June 15, 2009, chanting, 'Where is my vote?'"
Read the Article
Panetta to Offer Strategy for Cutting Military Budget
Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, The New York Times News Service: "Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is set this week to reveal his strategy that will guide the Pentagon in cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from its budget, and with it the Obama administration's vision of the military that the United States needs to meet 21st-century threats, according to senior officials."
Read the Article
Nineteen Million Jobs for US Workers
Robert Pollin, James Heintz, Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Political Economy Research Institute: "Amid the ongoing employment crisis in the US economy, US commercial banks and large corporations are sitting on huge hoards of cash and other liquid assets. The banks are carrying $1.6 trillion in cash in their accounts at the Federal Reserve while the corporations are carrying about $2 trillion in liquid assets. In combination, these holdings amount to about 23 percent of US GDP."
Read the Article
Paul Krugman | When Economics Gets Political
Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co.: "These days, you constantly see articles that make it seem as if there was a great debate in the 1930s between the economists John Maynard Keynes and Mr. Hayek, and that this debate has continued through the generations."
Read the Article
Debacle! How Two Wars in the Greater Middle East Revealed the Weakness of the Global Superpower
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch: "It was to be the war that would establish empire as an American fact. It would result in a thousand-year Pax Americana. It was to be 'mission accomplished' all the way. And then, of course, it wasn't. And then, almost nine dismal years later, it was over (sorta)."
Read the Article
The Last Thing Medicare Needs Is More Privatization
Richard Kirsch, New Deal 2.0: "The big hype in federal health care politics last week was the announcement of a joint proposal to mostly-privatize Medicare from Republican House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. But all the hubbub about bipartisanship won't mask the truth: the plan takes Medicare in the wrong direction, building on the program's failures and undercutting its most promising reforms."
Read the Article