Harry Reid on the Koch Brothers' agenda

Senate majority leader Harry Reid gave a hell of a speech in Congress about the agenda of the billionaire Koch brothers, carbon barons who are the prime beneficiaries of Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that ruled that corporate persons had the free speech right to engage in unlimited campaign finance spending.

The Facts About The Koch Brothers (via Hacker News)

Video explainer: why open spectrum matters, and why you're about to lose it

Harold Feld from Public Knowledge writes, "One of the hardest problems I face advocating for more open, shared 'unlicensed' spectrum is trying to explain exactly what 'spectrum' is and why decisions about it made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) matter. My organization, Public Knowledge, now has a two minute video animation 'Wireless Spectrum: How To Use It And Why You Might Lose It' that explains for those new to these issues. The video ties in to our effort to save the newest unlicensed spectrum, 'TV white spaces,' from being auctioned away to the biggest wireless companies. If you agree after watching the video that we need to protect and promote open spectrum as well as get more licensed spectrum to AT&T and Verizon, please click through to our petition."

Wireless Spectrum: How To Use It And Why You Might Lose It (Thanks, Harold!)

Obama whirls the copyright lobbyist/government official revolving door

The Obama administration has a new negotiator in its effort to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretly negotiated treaty that includes broad powers to censor and surveil the Internet: Robert Holleyman, one of the chief SOPA lobbyists. Holleyman just retired from serving as head of the Business Software Alliance. His successor is Victoria Espinel, who just quit the Obama administration, where she served as "IP Czar." Obama promised to shut down the revolving door between lobbyists and government, but it's spinning quicker than ever. Cory 54

Full NHS hospital records uploaded to Google servers, "infinitely worse" story to come

PA Consulting, a management consulting firm, obtained the entire English and Welsh hospital episode statistics database and uploaded it to Google's Bigquery service. The stats filled 27 DVDs and took "a couple of weeks" to transfer to Google's service, which is hosted in non-EU data centres. This is spectacularly illegal. The NHS dataset includes each patient's NHS number, post code, address, date of birth and gender, as well as all their inpatient, outpatient and emergency hospital records. Google's Bigquery service allows for full data-set sharing with one click.

The news of the breach comes after the collapse of a scheme under which the NHS would sell patient records to pharma companies, insurers and others (there was no easy way to opt out of the scheme, until members of the public created the independent Fax Your GP service).

According to researcher and epidemiologist Ben Goldacre, this story is just the beginning: there's an "infinitely worse" story that is coming shortly.

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US Trade Rep can't figure out if Trans-Pacific Partnership will protect the environment


The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a secretly negotiated trade agreement let by the USA. Though the text is secret, enough drafts have leaked to make it clear that one of its goals is to ensure that foreign corporations can sue governments over laws that impact their profits, especially when it comes to the environment.

The US Trade Representative and the Obama administration have asked Congress to "fast track" the treaty, passing it without any debate or revisions. Naturally, Congress wants to know what the treaty is likely to say before they agree to this.

So in a hearing on Jan 28, Rep Mark Pocan (D-WI) asked Michael Froman -- the US Trade Rep running the TPP show -- about the environmental standards in TPP. Froman listed four areas in TPP that were "absolutely non-negotiable from a US standpoint," including "tough new environmental standards."

When the meeting ended, Pocan asked "So does that mean that if we give you fast track, you won't send us a deal that doesn't have that stuff in it?' At which point, we learned that the US Trade Rep uses a highly specialized meaning for the phrase "absolutely non-negotiable," meaning "totally up for grabs," because he immediately said, "I didn't say that."

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Mall cops freak out over steampunk meetup, call the real cops


A group of steampunk cosplayers arranged to meet up at Westfield Plaza Camino Real near San Diego to ride the mall's Victorian carousel. But Westfield's mall cops were terrified of the cosplayers and evicted them all, escorting them to the door, calling the cops, and making them wait until the police arrived (the police basically shrugged and said, "Look, it's stupid, but it's their mall").

The mall cops -- and their corporate overlords -- cited a variety of dumb policies in support of the action, including a ban on wearing costumes that obscured the wearer's face (which didn't describe the cosplayers' outfits), a ban on gathering in groups larger than three (ORLY), a ban on photography without the subjects' permission (the steampunks, having gathered to have their photos taken, can be presumed to have consented to the pictures). Basically, it's a case of mall cop authoritarianism followed by the usual bland corporate doubling-down.

Of course, kids -- especially kids who happen to be brown -- already know that malls are capricious and fraught replacements for the public square. Mall cops basically hate anything that doesn't accord with their view of what a shopper should be and relentlessly discriminate against anyone they don't like. Back when I was in high school, more than half of my school had been banned from College Park, the mall in Toronto that was across the street from the school, by sneering jerks from Intercon security, who had the full backing of their management and the mall management.

The irony of ejecting people for wearing steampunk clothes in rich: malls are full of steampunk-inflected clothing, as the commodification mills of the fashion industry relentlessly mine subculture for new looks to put under glass. And here, too, is another parallel to the much more widespread discrimination against brown kids, who are often ejected on the pretense of wearing "gang" clothes -- clothes whose styles have been snaffled up, denatured, and repackaged for sale in the stores whose rent keeps the mall in business.

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Dems appoints RIAA's man in Congress to House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet

One of the RIAA's best friends in congress, Jerry Nadler, has been appointed to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet by Obama Congressional Democrats. The history of this committee is nothing short of grotesque: every time it looks like a copyright moderate/friend of the Internet might get appointed to it, it is declared redundant and shut down. Then, once the danger has passed and there's another loony, Internet-hating, censorship-happy copyright maximialist in place to fill a vacant seat, the committee once again becomes relevant and is resurrected. Cory 9

Toxic Avenger's brilliant rant about the importance of Net Neutrality

Lloyd Kaufman, cofounder of Troma Entertainment (the people who brought us such films as the Toxic Avenger) has a brilliant, profane, and stirring editorial in support of Net Neutrality on Techdirt. Kaufman explains how an open Internet is the only competitve hedge against the communications giants that own "cinemas, newspapers, T.V. stations, radio and even Broadway 'legitimate' theaters." Thanks to the failure of the FCC to give Net Neutrality their full protection, and the court ruling that gutted the FCC's weak protections, Net Neutrality is in real trouble. Kaufman's editorial a great arguments for its preservation.

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Middle class brands collapse, 1% brands thrive

Evidence of the widening wealth gap: Across America, brands that serve middle class customers are shutting down, while businesses that serve the rich are thriving. Good bye $16.50 dinners at Olive Garden, hello $71 checks at Capital Grille. (via Mitch Wagner) Cory 63

Not just Environment and Health: Canadian government attacks libraries from 12 ministries

Canada's Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has led a brutal attack on government libraries: literally burning the country's environmental records and doing such damage to the Health Canada libraries that scientists have set up clandestine libraries in the basements of their offices. But that was just for starters. In all, the Harper government has demolished the library collections of twelve ministries, including:

The Canada Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration, Employment and Social Development Canada, Environment Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada, the Public Service Commission, Public Works and Government Services, and Transport Canada.

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Writers Guild of America tells US government that copyright shouldn't trump free expression

The Writers Guild of America submitted an exemplary set of comments to the U.S. Government's Internet Policy Task Force green paper on the future of American copyright. The WGA calls for balance in copyright law, and stresses that censorship, surveillance and chilling of critical speech have no place in copyright policy. It's amazing to see artists' groups taking a stand for free expression when it comes to copyright -- far too often, arts groups are staunch free speech defenders except when it comes to unproven accusations of copyright infringement, which they hold to be sufficient grounds for arbitrary censorship.

But artists who think the issue through know that communications policies like copyright can't do their job if they compromise free expression. Artists have a wide variety of business-models and commercial opportunities, but if you're making art in a way that requires total surveillance and arbitrary censorship, you're doing art wrong.

Torrentfreak summarizes the best of the WGA submission. It's an important read: it shows that the entertainment industry's regulatory agenda doesn't serve the creators they employ (and exploit).

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Candy Quest: a text-adventure in defiance of the stupid Candy Crush trademark

Inspired by the news that King.com -- creators of the game "Candy Crush" -- had received a trademark on the use of the words "candy" and "saga" in connection with video games (and other things) and were using it to censor its competition, Michael Brough's created a fun -- and trenchant -- text-adventure called Candy Quest 3: Edge of Sweetness. It's part of The Candy Jam, an indie game-jam created entirely to troll the butthead corporate overlords at King.com.

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Bletchley Park's new management chucks out long-term volunteers

Here's more bad news from historic computing site Bletchley Park, where a new, slick museum is being put together with enormous corporate and state funding. Last month, it was the fact that McAfee had apparently banned any mention of Edward Snowden in a cybersecurity exhibit.

Now there's this heartrending BBC report on how volunteers who've given decades of service to Bletchley have been summarily dismissed because they don't fit in with the new plan. The museum of Churchill memoribilia that shared the Bletchley site has been evicted.

For people like me who've donated over the years, fundraised for it, and joined the Friends of Bletchley, this is really distressing news. I've always dreamt of Bletchley getting enough funding to do the site and its collection justice, but if it comes at the expense of decency and integrity, they may as well have left it as Churchill did -- abandoned and forgotten.

Update: Bletchley Trust has clarified to me that while this volunteer was dismissed from guiding tours because he refused to conduct the tour to the new spec, he still volunteers with the Trust in its educational department.

BBC News Bletchley Park s bitter dispute over its future (via /.)

Why the hyper-rich turn into crybabies when "one percent" is invoked

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a letter by Tom Perkins (the "Perkins" in the venture capital firm "Kleiner Perkins") in which he compared rhetoric about the unjust riches of the "1 percent" to the events of Kristallnacht, the overture to the Holocaust. In a terrific editorial, Josh Marshall explains why the hyper-rich turn into such crybabies when it's pointed out that they've gamed the system so that they grow richer and richer while everyone else gets poorer:

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Word games with the "make your own Coke label" promo


Robbo sez, "Coke has set up a web site where you can design and share your own branded can of Coke. The idea, of course, was to have people slap their own name on the iconic can image and send it flying around the net to further embellish the Coke brand. But many are making use of the web page to insert a myriad of unintended messages. Everything from 'Boycott Coke' to 'Puck Futin' - that one is because the web app doesn't allow you to use the words 'Fuck' or 'Putin'. But the English language is a remarkably wonderful and versatile thing - and it's only a matter of time before Coke realizes they've opened the door very wide for a lot of very angry people to reach their foot in and kick 'em hard in the nads. Enjoy it, and share it, while you can."


Update: Art writes, "Using the word 'gay" in your Coke label results in the following message: 'Oops. Let's pretend you didn't just type that.' The word 'straight' is, however, perfectly okay to use. Americablog has been quite vocal about Coke's hands-off policy when it comes to gay rights and the Sochi Olympics. For example, when security guards wearing Coke logos on their uniforms took down a protester holding a small rainbow flag. Coke's response was essentially 'meh.'"


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