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Some of America's worst copyright laws were passed through a profoundly undemocratic process called "policy laundering." This is what happens when an administration can't get Congress to pass a bad copyright law, so the US Trade Representative instead signs the US up to international treaties requiring America to pass the unpopular law. The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act is one of the policy-laundered laws that has done enormous harm to the country.
Now the USTR is busy again, signing America up to treaties that undermine attempts by Congress to make phone unlocking and jailbreaking legal. America's official representative is going to other countries and telling them, "If you want to do business with America, you must ban jailbreaking and phone unlocking, and in return, we promise to keep those activities on the banned list, too."
In other words, America's trade reps are cramming a massively unpopular, harmful policy down the throats of its trading partners, while simultaneously locking America into the same policy, undermining Congress at the same time.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation wants you to take action on this. Maira Sutton and Parker Higgins have written a good article explaining policy laundering in depth.
U.S. wireless carriers claim that unlocking your phone to change carriers is illegal under Section 1201 of the DMCA, which prohibits the removal of digital rights management (DRM) technology. Section 1201 of the DMCA also set up a triennial rulemaking procedure, whereby the public can ask for exceptions to the rule that you cannot remove DRM from your devices. Phone unlocking was not approved in the last round of DMCA rulemaking, raising the specter of lawsuits against phone owners.
In light of public outrage over this, several members of Congress have introduced legislation to legalize phone unlocking. Already, opponents are saying that an effective narrow fix—a permanent phone-unlocking exemption from Section 1201—may violate the Korea-US trade agreement. Regardless of whether such a claim is true, such chatter can be enough to slow down the pace of change, and make any political reformers of the DMCA more cautious than they might otherwise be.
Big Content interest groups like the Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America, and International Federation of the Phonographic Industry—just to name a few—continue to have a strong influence on US trade negotiators. They are lobbying hard for our government to promote international policies to strengthen their control over how and when the public can interact and experience their creative products.
[S]he also helped run the CIA’s detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and signed off on the 2005 decision to destroy videotapes of prisoners being subjected to treatment critics have called torture. The woman, who remains undercover and cannot be named, was put in the top position on an acting basis when the previous chief retired last month. The question of whether to give her the job permanently poses an early quandary for [CIA Director John] Brennan, who is already struggling to distance the agency from the decade-old controversies.More: "CIA director faces a quandary over clandestine service appointment". [The Washington Post, via @dabeard]
There's some speculation it's this person. [Gawker]
Two weeks ago, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was accused of drunkenly groping and propositioning former mayoral race rival Sarah Thomson at a Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee charity event. He denied it, and smeared Thomson on his radio show.
Now, many people have come forward to say that Ford had become drunk and disorderly at military charity event called the Garrison Ball. These are just the latest in a series of incidents of public drunkenness for the mayor, who is a horrible embarrassment to the city of my birth.
The Toronto Star has a long account of Ford's frequent bouts of public drunkenness and brawling, including events that he lied about at the time and later had to apologise for.
However, over the next hour, people in attendance noticed that the mayor seemed impaired. According to interviews, he was “incoherent,” “stumbling,” “rambling,” “intoxicated,” “slurring,” “seemed to be drunk,” “was nervous, excited, sweaty, out of it.”
Military guests were offended at the mayor’s behaviour, according to guests interviewed by the Star. “It felt disrespectful to the event,” said one organizer.
The six guests who provided accounts of the mayor’s condition spoke on condition of anonymity. The Star found that while these guests were concerned with the mayor’s condition, they did not want to be identified for two reasons. First, they did not want to be linked to a story that would cast a poor light on the annual Garrison Ball, which raises money for Wounded Warriors, a federally registered charity. Second, these guests, who all have prominent positions in the community, feared they would somehow be blacklisted for speaking out about the mayor.
Rob Ford: ‘Intoxicated’ Toronto mayor asked to leave military ball [Toronto Star/Robyn Doolittle & Kevin Donovan]
The idea of forcing Congresscritters to wear NASCAR-style coveralls with the logos of their financial backers has been bandied about before, but here it is in official White House petition form.
Since most politicians' campaigns are largely funded by wealthy companies and individuals, it would give voters a better sense of who the candidate they are voting for is actually representing if the company's logo, or individual's name, was prominently displayed upon the candidate's clothing at all public appearances and campaign events. Once elected, the candidate would be required to continue to wear those "sponsor's" names during all official duties and visits to constituents. The size of a logo or name would vary with the size of a donation. For example, a $1 million dollar contribution would warrant a patch of about 4" by 8" on the chest, while a free meal from a lobbyist would be represented by a quarter-sized button. Individual donations under $1000 are exempt.
As funny as this is, it would be easy-ish to turn this into a browser plugin that looked for politicians' names in the pages you looked at, and automatically surrounded them with a semi-opaque halo of corporate logos that you could click on to see more.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is one of the key figures in the political wrangle over whether undocumented immigrants in the USA will be legalized or deported. He's also the recipient of over $100,000 in campaign contributions from the private prison industry, whose profits would skyrocket if his push for prison for all those people is successful.
Chuck Schumer is the lead Senate Democrat working on immigration reform--he gets to decide whether millions of undocumented immigrants will be imprisoned or legalized. Yet he’s also taken over $100,000 in campaign contributions from the private prison industry. Is it any surprise he’s pushing for billions more dollars spent on increased enforcement and detention of immigrants?
We can’t trust Sen. Schumer to push for fair legislation when he’s accepting money from private prison companies that have a strong interest in jailing as many immigrants as possible. How much of an interest? The two corporations from which Sen. Schumer took money, GEO Group and CCA, made $296.9 million in profits from the jailing of immigrants last year.
Tell Sen. Schumer to return this money immediately.
If 15,000 people sign, we'll personally deliver your petitions to Sen. Schumer and demand a response.
Adam Young sez,
A developer made a game that's a spin on the old "waterworks"/"pipe mania" type game with an oil pipeline theme... complete with pixel-art anti-pipeline protesters. Like most indie developers, they were eligible and applied for funding from a variety of sources. They are donating a portion of the proceeds to the David Suzuki Foundation.
Apparently this made some blowhards angry, who think that "tax dollars funded the game" and shouldn't fund a game about blowing up pipelines, and that the developer donating to a non-profit charity somehow constitutes an ethics violation, having received so-called "tax-dollar funding". Tax breaks and grants and things are available to all sorts of content and media producers in Canada. Game development and film production and the like are industries that are very active here. It's also not illegal to donate proceeds to non-profit charities.
Tim Wu's New Yorker piece on Aaron Swartz and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act explains how Obama could, with one speech, fix the worst problem with the worst law in technology. The CFAA makes it a felony to "exceed your authorization" on a computer system, and fed prosecutors have taken the view that this means that if you violate terms of service, you're a felon, and they can put you in jail. As Wu points out, Obama doesn't need Congress to pass a law to fix this, he could just tell the DoJ that they should stop doing this. There's plenty of precedent, and it would be excellent policy.
When judges or academics say that it is wrong to interpret a law in such a way that everyone is a felon, the Justice Department has usually replied by saying, roughly, that federal prosecutors don’t bother with minor cases—they only go after the really bad guys. That has always been a lame excuse—repulsive to anyone who takes seriously the idea of a “a government of laws, not men.” After Aaron Swartz’s suicide, the era of trusting prosecutors with unlimited power in this area should officially be over...
There is a much more immediate and effective remedy: the Justice Department should announce a change in its criminal-enforcement policy. It should no longer consider terms-of-service violations to be criminal. It can join more than a dozen federal judges and scholars, like Kerr, who adopt a reasonable and more limited interpretation. The Obama Administration’s policy will have no effect on civil litigation, so firms like Oracle will retain their civil remedies. President Obama’s DREAM Act enforcement policy, under which the Administration does not deport certain illegal immigrants despite Congress’s inability to make the act a law, should be the model. Where Congress is unlikely to solve a problem, the Administration should take care of business itself.
All the Administration needs to do is to rely on the ancient common-law principle called the “rule of lenity.” This states that ambiguous criminal laws should be construed in favor of a defendant. As the Supreme Court puts it, “When choice has to be made between two readings of what conduct Congress has made a crime, it is appropriate, before we choose the harsher alternative, to require that Congress should have spoken in language that is clear and definite.” So far, at least thirteen federal judges have rejected the Justice Department’s interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. If that’s not a sign that the law is unclear and should be interpreted with lenity, I don’t know what is.
The Conservative council in Mid-Devon, England has mooted a proposal to remove apostrophes from street signs, claiming they cause "potential confusion." I live on a street in East London with an on-again/off-again apostrophe whose presence depends on which database you're using. But given that all serious UK navigation and geocoding is done by postcode, this just seems like a bit of silliness.
The council communications manager Andrew Lacey said: "Our proposed policy on street naming and numbering covers a whole host of practical issues, many of which are aimed at reducing potential confusion over street names.
"Although there is no national guidance that stops apostrophes being used, for many years the convention we have followed here is for new street names not to be given apostrophes.
"In fact, there are currently only three official street names in Mid Devon which include them: Beck's Square and Blundell's Avenue, both in Tiverton, and St George's Well in Cullompton – all named many, many years ago. No final decision has yet been made and the proposed policy will be discussed at cabinet."
The science fiction legend Damon Knight used to semi-seriously advocate for the abolition of the apostrophe altogether. I remember thinking he had a point at the time.
Council considers ban on apostrophes in street signs [Press Association]
The New Statesman has compiled a collection of reviews of classic books that were published in its pages contemporaneous with their publication. The review of Nineteen Eighty-Four by VS Pritchett is a revealing look at the way that Orwell as perceived and received in his lifetime:
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a book that goes through the reader like an east wind, cracking the skin, opening the sores; hope has died in Mr Orwell's wintry mind, and only pain is known. I do not think I have ever read a novel more frightening and depressing; and yet, such are the originality, the suspense, the speed of writing and withering indignation that it is impossible to put the book down. The faults of Orwell as a writer - monotony, nagging, the lonely schoolboy shambling down the one dispiriting track - are transformed now he rises to a large subject. He is the most devastating pamphleteer alive because he is the plainest and most individual - there is none of Koestler's lurid journalism - and because, with steady misanthropy, he knows exactly where on the new Jesuitism to apply the Protestant whip...
...Mr Orwell's book is a satirical pamphlet. I notice that some critics have said that his prophecy is not probable. Neither was Swift's Modest Proposal nor Wells's Island of Dr Moreau. Probability is not a necessary condition of satire which, when it pretends to draw the future, is, in fact, scourging the present. The purges in Russia and, later, in the Russian satellites, the dreary seediness of London in the worst days of the war, the pockets of 19th-century life in decaying England, the sordidness of bad flats, bad food, the native and whining streak of domestic sluttishness which have sickened English satirists since Smollett - all these have given Mr Orwell his material. The duty of the satirist is to go one worse than reality; and it might be objected that Mr Orwell is too literal, that he is too oppressed by what he sees, to exceed it. In one or two incidents where he does exceed, notably in the torture scenes, he is merely melodramatic: he introduces those rather grotesque machines which used to appear in terror stories for boys. In one place - I mean the moment when Winston's Inquisitor drives him to call out for the death of his girl, by threatening to set a cageful of famished rats on him - we reach a peak of imaginative excess in terror, but it is superfluous because mental terrorism is his real subject.
(Image: Lawrence Person)
Philippe Sands, a professor of international law and prominent practicing lawyer, has resigned from the UK Liberal Democrats party. He is the third well-known party member to leave the LibDems this month. Dinah Rose, a respected human rights lawyer who represented Guantánamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, quit last week, and Jo Shaw, who ran for the LibDems in 2010 resigned from the party after giving a speech at the party conference in Brighton last weekend.
These principled people have quit over the LibDems' support of the "justice and security bill," which establishes a system of secret courts in Britain in which people who sue the government over torture and kidnapping will not be able to see the government evidence offered against them. The LibDem leadership supported this law, whipped their MPs to vote for it, and all but seven of the sitting LibDem MPs did, despite the enormous public outcry against it, including a condemnation from Lord Neuberger, the country's most senior judge.
The Lords -- a chamber full of senior lawyers and judges -- has rejected this legislation and sent it back, calling for a system of safeguards to be put in place before upsetting the principle of open justice going back to the Magna Carta. Parliament has ripped up the Lords' amendments, refusing even the most basic of safeguards in this legislation.
We voted for the LibDems to be the "party of liberty," but they've been anything but. With this latest betrayal of party principles, the leadership has scuttled any credibility it had left. There is simply no case for this measure. The proponents of the law act as though there is a flood of baseless claims of torture and kidnapping that the government has had to settle in order to avoid revealing the secrets of Britain's spies. The truth is that the government has had to apologise for lying about its role in illegal torture and kidnapping, and that most of its victims are unable to get justice even today. Indeed, we don't know for sure that the practice has stopped, and we can't, because we've had more than a decade of "war on terror" nonsense that says that the public must be spied upon at all times, but that politicians and police must be able to operate in unaccountable secrecy.
Here is some of Professor Sands's resignation, published in the Guardian today:
This part of the bill is a messy and unhappy compromise. It is said to have been demanded by the US (which itself has stopped more or less any case that raises 'national security' issues from reaching court), on the basis that it won't share as much sensitive intelligence information if the UK doesn't rein in its courts. Important decisions on intelligence taken at the instigation of others are inherently unreliable. We remember Iraq, which broke a bond of trust between government and citizen.
There is no floodgate of cases, nothing in the coalition agreement, nor any widely supported call for such a draconian change. There is every chance that, if the bill is adopted, this and future governments will spend years defending the legislation in UK courts and Strasbourg. There will be claims that it violates rights of fair trial under the Human Rights Act and the European convention (no doubt giving rise to ever-more strident calls from Theresa May and Chris Grayling that both should be scrapped). Other countries with a less robust legal tradition favouring the rule of law and an independent judiciary will take their lead from the UK, as they did with torture and rendition.
I accept that there may be times when the country faces a threat of such gravity and imminence that the exceptional measure of closed material proceedings might be needed. This is not such a time, and the bill is not such a measure. Under conditions prevailing today, this part of the bill is not pragmatic or proportionate. It is wrong in principle, and will not deliver justice. It will be used to shield governmental wrongdoing from public and judicial scrutiny under conditions that are fair and just. The bill threatens greater corrosion of the rights of the individual in the UK, in the name of "national security".
I've read each of these peoples' resignations with growing unease. I am a member of the LibDems, raised funds for them in the last election, campaigned for them, endorsed them, and voted for them.
I cannot, in good conscience, remain a member or supporter of the LibDems. There comes a point where the broken promises and corruption overwhelms the pretty words in the party manifesto. Deeds speak louder than words. The LibDems are the party of talking about liberty and voting in tyranny.
I resign from the party.
Update: Mark Thomspon sez, "Me and a Labour friend Emma Burnell record a weekly podcast called 'House of Comments' which is an informal chat about the week's (mainly UK) politics. I thought you might be interested in the latest one. I couldn't make it but Emma chatted to former Lib Dem Jo Shaw and current Lib Dem Linda Jack about Secret Courts and having edited it yesterday I think we got some very interesting insights into what has been going on behind the scenes on this issue."
This is a fascinating analysis of the bubble of unreality that the LibDem leadership now inhabits.
Gmoke sez, "Former Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva and recent Green Party Presidential candidate (she came in third to force a run-off election) launched the Sustainability Network in Brasilia on 16 February, 2013 and seeks to collect the required 500,000 signatures by September 2013 to become a legally recognized political party. From Sustainability Network's political manifesto (PDF):
We believe that networks, as a means for meeting and organising, are an invention of the present that bridge to a better future. Therefore, it is through networking with society that we want to build a new political force, with alliances underpinned by an Ethics of Urgency, aiming to construct a new model of development: sustainable, inclusive, egalitarian and diverse.
(Image: José Cruz/Agencia Brasil (CC BY 3.0))