NYT endorses brutal, secret, Internet-destroying corporatist TPP trade-deal; write to your lawmaker to fight it

The New York Times has endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership; a trade deal negotiated in utmost secrecy, without public participation, whose text is still not public. From leaks, we know that TPP wasn't just anti-democratic in its process -- it also contains numerous anti-democratic provisions that allow private offshore companies to overturn domestic law, especially laws that allow for free speech and privacy online. TPP is slated for fast-tracking through Congress, minimizing any scrutiny of a deal negotiated behind closed doors before it is turned into law. From what we've seen of TPP, it recapitulates all the worst elements of ACTA and then some. The Electronic Frontier Foundation needs you to write to your lawmaker demanding full and public debate on TPP. Read the rest

Debating the Great Firewall of Cameron in the NYT

The NYT's "Room for Debate" section asked a variety of people for positions on the UK's Great Firewall of Cameron -- a new rule whereby ISPs must slap an "adult content" filter on every Internet connection in the land, which is meant to stop everything from porn to gambling sites to "esoteric material" (whatever that is). I wrote one of the pieces, as did many others. Read the rest

Raising a daughter not to be 'nice'

In a stirring NYT op-ed, author Catherine Newman talks about the kind of girl her daughter has become and who she may yet be. Her daughter, Birdy, is intensely moral, unconcerned with being "pretty," indifferent or hostile to strangers who want to strike up conversations about her appearance. She is polite about things like second helpings of food or asking for assistance in locating her rain-boots, but doesn't care if you know that she thinks gendered toy-aisles are stupid. It's a delicate balance, but an important one. Read the rest

Secret rulings from America's shadow Supreme Court legalizes spying in one-sided hearings

America's 11-judge Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has made more than a dozen classified rulings that vastly expanded the powers of America's spy agencies, operating under an obscure legal doctrine called "special needs." Under this doctrine, established in 1989 in a Supreme Court case over drug testing railway workers, a "minimal intrusion on privacy" is allowed in order to help the state mitigate "overriding public danger." FISC's rulings have widened this ruling to allow for wholesale spying in the name of preventing "nuclear proliferation," as well as terrorism. The NYT calls this a "shadow Supreme Court" but notes that FISC proceedings only hear from the government -- no one presents alternatives to the government's arguments. Much of the expansion of surveillance turns on whether metadata collection is intrusive (I think it is):

The officials said one central concept connects a number of the court’s opinions. The judges have concluded that the mere collection of enormous volumes of “metadata” — facts like the time of phone calls and the numbers dialed, but not the content of conversations — does not violate the Fourth Amendment, as long as the government establishes a valid reason under national security regulations before taking the next step of actually examining the contents of an American’s communications.

This concept is rooted partly in the “special needs” provision the court has embraced. “The basic idea is that it’s O.K. to create this huge pond of data,” a third official said, “but you have to establish a reason to stick your pole in the water and start fishing.”

Under the new procedures passed by Congress in 2008 in the FISA Amendments Act, even the collection of metadata must be considered “relevant” to a terrorism investigation or other intelligence activities.

Read the rest

Tortured junk-food pushers bare all

A long, investigative feature on junk food, health and the processed food industry in yesterday's NYT consists primarily of interviews with tortured and semi-tortured junk food scientists and execs who have perfected the art of getting you to eat food that makes you sick. It's quite a read:

Eventually, a line of the trays, appropriately called Maxed Out, was released that had as many as nine grams of saturated fat, or nearly an entire day’s recommended maximum for kids, with up to two-thirds of the max for sodium and 13 teaspoons of sugar.

When I asked Geoffrey Bible, former C.E.O. of Philip Morris, about this shift toward more salt, sugar and fat in meals for kids, he smiled and noted that even in its earliest incarnation, Lunchables was held up for criticism. “One article said something like, ‘If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin.’ ”

Well, they did have a good bit of fat, I offered. “You bet,” he said. “Plus cookies.”

The prevailing attitude among the company’s food managers — through the 1990s, at least, before obesity became a more pressing concern — was one of supply and demand. “People could point to these things and say, ‘They’ve got too much sugar, they’ve got too much salt,’ ” Bible said. “Well, that’s what the consumer wants, and we’re not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That’s what they want. If we give them less, they’ll buy less, and the competitor will get our market.

Read the rest

NYT, 1924: Hitler's tamed by prison, "no longer to be feared"

From the Dec 20, 1924 issue of the New York Times: Adolph Hitler's rehabilitation is now complete, and he is "no longer to be feared."

Hitler Tamed By Prison Read the rest

Susan Crawford should run the FCC!

Andrew Rasiej sez, "If you're disappointed in the speed, quality, and cost of broadband service in the US you should learn about Susan Crawford who is the greatest US expert on the state of broadband and how the Federal Communications Commission has failed to properly regulate and spur competition or innovation in the marketplace. She has just published an OpEd in the New York Times which could easily be titled 'If I were Chairwoman of the FCC' and she published a book called Captive Audience which details the way various incumbent broadband related companies have gamed the political process and behaved unfairly in protecting their turf. Those who would like to see her actually named should sign this White House petition and send the same to their friends and colleagues. She is like the Elizabeth Warren of telecom and would fundamentally change the status quo."

To get there, the federal government needs to pursue three goals. First, it must remove barriers to investment in local fiber networks. Republican and Democratic mayors around the country are rightly jealous of the new, Google-built fiber network in Kansas City, Mo., which is luring start-ups from across the country. And yet in nearly 20 states, laws sponsored by incumbent network operators have raised barriers for cities wanting to foster competitive networks.

In response, Congress must act to restore local communities’ right to self-determination by pre-empting these unfair and anticompetitive state laws. We must also create infrastructure banks that provide long-term, low-interest financing to support the initial costs of building these networks.

Read the rest

More on "Escape From Tomorrow," the guerrilla art-house movie shot at Walt Disney World and Disneyland

The New York Times's Brooks Barnes has some tantalizing details on "Escape From Tomorrow," the art-house movie I blogged about yesterday, which was shot in part at Walt Disney World and Disneyland:

His cast and crew spent about 10 days filming at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and two weeks at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., he said. The end credits cite the involvement of over 200 cast and crew members, although only small groups entered the Disney parks at one time to avoid drawing attention.

Still, there were moments during filming that Disney clearly knew something was up, Mr. Moore said. “I think they probably just thought we were crazy fans making a YouTube video, which is something that happens a fair amount,” he said. He added, “Look, I have amazing memories as a kid from going to the parks. I think Walt Disney was a genius. I just wish his vision hadn’t grown into something quite so corporate.”

Barnes (and the headline writer) focus on whether this infringes Disney's copyright. Judging from what I've read about the film, this sounds like fair use to me. Film insurers routinely require that filmmakers go far beyond what copyright demands and act as though fair use doesn't exist, but the Stanford Fair Use Center has an insurer that will extend coverage to any film that complies with its broad, sensible fair use guidelines.

There's a possible trademark claim, and I suppose that Disney could conceivable bring suit for violating the park's terms of use, but these are much harder cases to make than copyright, and don't have built-in, easy Internet censorship in the form of DMCA takedown notices. Read the rest

Stolen wallet recovered 40 years later is a miniature time-capsule

A 2011 piece from the NYT's David W. Dunlap tells the story of the recovery of a long-lost wallet that was stolen from a Times art director in 1970, and which was recovered from "a void between an old unused window on the second floor and the masonry seal behind it" in fall of 2010. The wallet is a miniature time-capsule of iconic and odd items from the era, collected in this Retronaut set.

Mr. Rodriguez happened to be on duty at the security desk and seized his opportunity. He showed the wallet to Mr. Thompson. Mr. Thompson called this reporter, who's something of a Times historian. This reporter called Mr. Resta, who retired in 1999 but still lives in New York. Mr. Resta, laying aside his understandable suspicions, agreed to meet all of us at 229 West 43rd Street, share some memories and get his wallet back.

When Mr. Cisneros handed the wallet to him, Mr. Resta opened it gingerly and turned away for a moment, overcome by the tide of memory. After composing himself, he gave Mr. Cisneros a grateful kiss. And he didn't lose a moment showing off the glamor-puss shot of Mrs. Resta from 1963. ''She still is glamorous,'' he said, with evident pride and pleasure.

Before coming into Manhattan on the morning of our meeting in November, Mr. Resta told his wife that he knew he'd find a clipping in the wallet from 1968 - Senator Edward M. Kennedy's eulogy for his brother, Senator Robert F.

Read the rest

Neo-Nazi MEP from Hungary discovers he is Jewish

A Hungarian neo-Nazi leader has had to retire from professional antisemitism because he discovered he was Jewish. Csanad Szegedi, who had decried "Jewishness" in Hungary's political class, and referred to Jews as "lice-infested, dirty murderers," was outed by a rival within the neo-Nazi movement, who revealed that Szegedi's maternal grandmother was a Jewish Auschwitz survivor, making him Jewish as well. From an AP story in the NYT:

The fallout of Szegedi's ancestry saga has extended to his business interests. Jobbik executive director Gabor Szabo is pulling out of an Internet site selling nationalist Hungarian merchandise that he owns with Szegedi. Szabo said his sister has resigned as Szegedi's personal assistant.

In the 2010 tape, former convict Zoltan Ambrus is heard telling Szegedi that he has documents proving Szegedi is Jewish. The right-wing politician seems genuinely surprised by the news — and offers EU funds and a possible EU job to Ambrus to hush it up.

Ambrus, who served time in prison on a weapons and explosives conviction, apparently rejected the bribes. He said he secretly taped the conversation as part of an internal Jobbik power struggle aimed at ousting Szegedi from a local party leadership post. The party's reaction was swift.

Hungary Far-Right Leader Discovers Jewish Roots Read the rest

Norway's foreign minister on why Breivik didn't have a special, secret trial

Jonas Gahr Store, Norway's foreign minister, has written a NYT op-ed explaining why his country refused to treat the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik any differently from other criminals -- because Breivik's cause is served by treating him as a sort of criminal superman whose crimes are so special that normal justice can't apply to them.

Confronting and undermining the narratives and ideas of extremism must therefore be one of our key tasks. To do this, we must retain the courage of our convictions in the face of extremism.

Virtually all modern forms of extremism accuse liberal Western democratic systems of being hypocritical and, ultimately, weak. Al Qaeda portrays the West as anti-Islamic imperialists masquerading as promoters of democracy. Right wing extremism suggests the West is committing cultural suicide through its lax judicial system and naïve multiculturalism.

Both have committed horrific acts designed to bait us into betraying our values and making them martyrs. In fact, it is remarkable to see the many similarities between these two sorts of extremism in their disdain for diversity and their indiscriminate violence against civilians.

In this context, it is a mistake to treat crimes committed by extremists as exceptions, subject to special processes. They must be held accountable in accordance with and to the full extent of the law. Hiding suspects from public view merely dehumanizes the perpetrators and undermines any moral or judicial lessons.

Learning From Norway’s Tragedy

(via Making Light) Read the rest

Austerity creates an organlegging bubble

As economic collapse and austerity settle over Europe, criminal gangs have found a lucrative trade in brokering the sale of organs from the desperate poor to the dying rich. In his New York Times feature, Dan Bilefsky opens with the story of Pavle Mircov and his partner Daniella, Serbians who are trying to sell their kidneys so that they can feed and educate their teenage children. The sale of "kidneys, lungs, bone marrow or corneas" is rampant in former Soviet states, but it's also booming in Spain, Italy and Greece -- countries where mandated austerity has stripped away the social safety net at the very moment in which the economy has collapsed and unemployment has spiked (in Spain, youth unemployment is over 50 percent).

I really came to understand this subject better through my reading of The Red Market, by Scott Carney, an excellent book on the sale of human tissues around the world. Though it seems like Mr Carney may have to write a new chapter for the econopocalypse.

Trade in organs in Serbia is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison. But that is not deterring the people of Doljevac, a poor municipality of 19,000 people in southern Serbia, where the government refused an attempt by residents to register a local agency to sell their organs and blood abroad for profit.

Violeta Cavac, a homemaker advocating for the network, said that the unemployment rate in Doljevac was 50 percent and that more than 3,000 people had wanted to participate.

Read the rest

Richard Clark: the President should create customs inspections for data leaving American cyberspace

Zartan sez, "This might be the single stupidest thing I've read all year. Richard Clark advocates that the president take action to 'increase cyber security' in the absence of congressional action, including literally hilarious (if not so scary) ideas like the following: 'If given the proper authorization, the United States government could stop files in the process of being stolen from getting to the Chinese hackers. If government agencies were authorized to create a major program to grab stolen data leaving the country, they could drastically reduce today’s wholesale theft of American corporate secrets.' 'Under Customs authority, the Department of Homeland Security could inspect what enters and exits the United States in cyberspace... And under the Intelligence Act, the president could issue a finding that would authorize agencies to scan Internet traffic outside the United States and seize sensitive files stolen from within our borders.' I would love to know how he would propose Homeland Security could 'inspect' what is leaving the US in 'cyberspace' and 'seize' sensitive files outside our borders. Unfortunately this guy is somewhat influential." Read the rest

Christian card counters

In the NYT, Mary Pilon profiles a (now defunct) ring of Christian blackjack card-counters who lead Bible-study classes and youth groups when they're not scoring millions at the casinos. One such Christian counter, Colin Jones, has branched out into running for-pay card-counting workshops for would-be sharps. One of the team has produced a documentary on the team's activities, called Holy Rollers.

But first Jones and his group had to wrestle with the apparent moral paradox: Should Christians be counting cards?

“My father-in-law flipped out about it,” Jones said. “I remember Ben and I discussing everything. Are we being dishonest to the casinos? Is money an evil thing?”

Group members believed what they were doing was consistent with their faith because they felt they were taking money away from an evil enterprise. Further, they did not believe that counting cards was inherently a bad thing; rather, it was merely using math skills in a game of chance. They treated their winnings as income from a job and used it for all manner of expenses.

Read the rest

NYT publishes "infringement is theft" column and rips off another paper's article in the same weekend

The Boston Phoenix's Carly Carioli points out that on the same weekend that the New York Times carried a column from Bill Keller decrying piracy as a war on creative people, the Times's op-ed page pirated an article to which the Phoenix holds the copyright. And of course, the Times is the same corporation that claimed that aggregating its RSS-feed headlines in a mobile app was piracy, and shut down an app called Pulse.

(Thanks, Light Bulb!) Read the rest

On the horrors of getting approval for an ice-cream parlour in San Francisco

The NYT's Scott James recounts the insane red-tape endured by Juliet Pries, an entrepreneur who decided to open an ice-cream parlour in San Francisco's Cole Valley. She had to pay rent on an empty storefront for over two years while the necessary permits were processed, and tens of thousands of dollars in fees (including the cost of producing a detailed map of nearby businesses, which the city itself seemed not to have). If the story sounds familiar, it's because it was the subject of a notorious Xtranormal-produced Hello City Planner video that used it as an example to lampoon the planning bureaucracy in San Francisco.

Pries's restaurant, the Ice Cream Bar, is a popular hit, and employs 14 people, but “Many times it almost didn’t happen," as she says, due to the incredibly administrative hurdles she faced in opening it.

Ms. Pries said she had to endure months of runaround and pay a lawyer to determine whether her location (a former grocery, vacant for years) was eligible to become a restaurant. There were permit fees of $20,000; a demand that she create a detailed map of all existing area businesses (the city didn’t have one); and an $11,000 charge just to turn on the water.

The ice cream shop’s travails are at odds with the frequent promises made by the mayor and many supervisors that small businesses and job creation are top priorities.

The matter has also alarmed some business leaders, who point out that few small ventures could survive such long delays.

Read the rest

Testament of humanitarian aid worker who spent seven years being held and tortured in Gitmo

The NYT gives space to Lakhdar Boumediene, a humanitarian aid worker who was arrested on secret evidence that he was planning to blow up the US embassy in Sarajevo. Despite the fact that the case was found without merit by Bosnia's highest court, he was kidnapped to Guantanamo Bay by US forces and held for seven years, subjected to torture and isolation from his family. A US court finally freed him. You remember when they started releasing Gitmo prisoners and there was all that hand-wringing on how these dangerous,dangerous people couldn't possibly be released because they were all jihadis? Yeah, that.

I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.

When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo.

Read the rest

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