Posts Tagged politics

Political Positions for Sale or Rent

In the wake of SOPA/PIPA (still ongoing of course) it has become apparent to even those who are apolitical that the positions our legislators take are primarily (if not exclusively) driven by they money they get rather than their constituents desires. Case in point is the almost comically corrupt Texas representative Lamar Smith who mysteriously decided that the interests of the handful of media conglomerates based in Hollywood, NYC, etc was significantly more important than anything he could do to represent his actual constituents and introduced SOPA (covered elsewhere on this blog and basically the rest of the internet). One the other side of the aisle you have Senator Franken representing a large contingent of high-tech industry workers in Minnesota. This man has been a hero to the left and the tech industry in general but we watched him confound everyone to fall in line with his previous bosses (and current bosses if you believe as I do that most of our legislators view their campaign contributors as their true masters)  in show business to unconditionally support this deeply flawed legislation with a serious of increasingly bizarre and uncharacteristically ignorant essays.

Mysterious, that is, until you check out who is funding Lamar Smith. Not a surprise, the top industry contributing to him is the TV/Movies/Music industry. A significant portion of his funding also comes from the Beer and Tobacco industry which seems to account for his adamant opposition to even allowing the Judiciary committee to consider a bill to decriminalize marijuana (there nothing the beer and tobacco industry fears more than this, for obvious reasons).

A more recent and egregious example of blatant corruption is Florida Governor Rick Scott. What can you say about a man who starts a string of urgent care facilities (after being forced to step down as CEO of a healthcare company involved in the one of the largest medical frauds in US history) only to then become Governor and push through a law requiring mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients to benefit his company? The program itself is an abysmal failure, catching almost nobody but costing the taxpayers to pay for the testing. Where does the money go? Coincidentally to the care facilities that represent the largest chunk of Scott and his wife’s finances. He claims to technically not be guilty of a blatant conflict of interest because he quickly transferred the controlling ownership of the company to his wife and believes this magically makes him immune to any conflict of interest concerns. In the account/auditing industry they call this an independence violation and is cause for immediate termination. The standards should really be higher in government.

The point of all of this isn’t to point out how nearly all legislators and government leaders are bought and sold like so many streetwalkers (although even streetwalkers often have standards), I could fill another dozen blog posts with these examples and still not scratch the surface of how corrupt our government is. Our own Congress’s refusal to change the law exempting themselves from insider trading laws (until a recent 60 minutes story made this public knowledge) tells you all you need to know about true motivations. My point though is that it is impossible to have a debate or even rational discussion as to the merits of these laws with someone who is directly benefiting financially from them. Their actions up to this point have proven a total lack of integrity at all levels. Any argument they make, any evidence they introduce, any commercials they run or talking points they spout are suspect. It is a shame because the issues of copyright in the internet age, drug policy, welfare policy, and all other major issues our government is facing are worthy of public debate and examination. But this is impossible when so many of the decision makers are on the take, and selling their positions and integrity to the highest bidder. The only accurate measure of what a politician believes today is to find out who is funding them, or what business interests they own, and know that their positions will always align with that, public interest be damned.

 

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Forget SOPA/PIPA – This is the root of the problem

It is rare that a single short Reddit comment so perfectly defines the problem, but this says it about as good as I have ever heard anyone put it.

“As much as I hate the role that the entertainment industry played in the creation of SOPA and PIPA, they are simply taking advantage of a much deeper problem. As long as corporations are allowed to buy politicians, bills like SOPA and PIPA will continue to be written, for the benefit of all sorts of industries.

Those bills may have been more blatant than most, but that is likely due to the fact that the film, television, and music publishers are extraordinarily desperate at this point, as the internet is threatening to make their entire business model obsolete, and we have seen equally harmful government policy adopted for the benefit of the telecommunications industry, the financial sector, oil companies, defense contractors…”

I really fear the US is about at the end of its time being an innovator in the world. There is a perfect storm of supremely corrupt politicians more than willing to sell their vote for a dollar and several large conglomerates interested in doing everything possible to maintain the current status quo including buying politicians to make it illegal for their business model to never not be profitable, or to prevent competition. We see it today with industries such as Pharmaceutical, Telecommunications, and Entertainment who outwardly pretend to bemoan government interference. In reality depend on the FDA, FTC, and their pet congresspeople to design regulations that keep barriers to entry in their fields to prevent new competition and maintain their monopolies or oligopolies.

Look around, we might become a static civilization here. The last several decades of rapidly advancing technologies could continue forward into the future we all dream of, but today any new technology, any new major advancement or breakthrough in any field poses a direct threat to existing corporate interests and will be actively fought with near unlimited money. Money that now purchases congress and the whitehouse to introduce, vote for, and sign laws that will prevent anything from happening that could risk the current earnings. The US as effectively stopped R&D on a mass scale and now we want everything to remain exactly as it is. When we look around and wonder how the rest of the world passed us up so thoroughly in physics, information technology, space exploration, biology, medicine, etc. we should know that it was because we consciously decided to stop and focus our efforts on keeping things exactly the way they are.

As an example, look to the pharmaceutical industry. Significantly more money is spent on marketing and lobbying than on actual R&D. A conscious decision was made to focus on increasing the profitability of existing medicines through research and development in complex legal ways of extending patents and locking out generics rather than research and development into new medicines. The lack of new drugs on the market is not because of an over reaching or draconian FDA (the pharmaceutical conglomerates effectively own them anyway), it is because that is more risky and less profitable than just purchasing government protection for your business model and existing products.

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SOPA Wrap up

So we had our fun, 19 senators who previously supported PIPA (the Senate’s SOPA) dropped support for it, including several co-sponsors. Actual people influenced congress against a wall of money. But it isn’t over, Disney, Time Warner, Viacom,  etc. paid for this law and they are not going home until they get what they paid for. Watch for it to be slipped into a “protect the children” act which would be impossible for a senator to vote against because the campaign commercials against that senator write themselves.

Hopefully what everyone learned from this was that congress does not work like Schoolhouse Rock taught us. Congressmen do not write the laws, special interests or companies do, then shop around for a congressman to submit it . They do this using a short list of congressmen they have previously funneled millions in campaign donations (or if you don’t speak politicaldouche: bribes) to and who are eager to repay the favor with a demonstration of loyalty which will hopefully lead to a lucrative job after congress. The Supreme Court has ruled this is “free speech” and protected by the first amendment. Actual free speech (such as yesterday) scares the crap out of these people and labeled abuse of power and dangerous.

For examples of this look no further than what they are saying. Remember everyone, bribing elected officials and writing legislation for them to advance your failing distribution model is just good democracy. As is suing grandmothers and poor people who have never had a computer for “filesharing”. Websites (non-profit ones like Wikipedia) informing the public as to the latest legislation being crammed through by the MPAA/RIAA and linking to the full text of the bill to inform people is “abuse of power”, “dangerous”, and “turning us into corporate pawns”. Money is speech, actual speech (if you don’t have a lot of money) is abuse.

It takes balls to claim that this is an abuse of power. I guess it is only abuse of power when sites willingly shut down to raise awareness, not when the MPAA requests the right to shut down any site without going through courts. It is only abuse of power when lowly citizens influence the way our elected representatives vote instead of unlimited corporate bribery.
These media tools need to be called out on their unfounded (and proven false) claims of piracy affecting profits, of loss of jobs, and their iron grip on Congress needs to stop. Roll back copyright to the constitutional 14+14 years, roll back the draconian DMCA, and let the Tech Sector (one of the few sectors keeping our failing economy afloat) innovate, create, and deliver what customers want rather than chaining everything to the MPAA/RIAA sinking ship. This is the horse and buggy industry holding back the automobile industry because of some misguided belief of a “right to profits” no matter how flawed your business model. And Congress is playing right along for the free money.

‎”Dodd accused blackout participants of skewing the facts “in order to further their corporate interests.””

Is that anything like the media mogul owned news sources doing everything in their power to not report at all on SOPA/PIPA? You want abuse of power? It is CNN, FoxNews, NBC, CBS, ABC, etc refusing to report or acknowledge the existence of these bills until forced to by grassroots movements. Social networking is the ONLY reason most people have ever heard of this. If the dwindling supporters of SOPA/PIPA have a complaint with the summaries and analysis that Google, Reddit, and others have done then say it. I have not seen anyone on this side give a reasoned counter argument, only vague accusations of skewing the facts. This just underscores the fact that they HAVE no counter argument and were hoping (and by virtue of owning nearly all news medium almost succeeded)  that it would go under the radar. The media conglomerates are angry that we became an informed population, that the text of this bill has been spread far and wide despite their best efforts at a “media blackout” on it. It becomes obvious why they are demanding full control over the internet, and this is not over by a long shot.

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SOPA/PIPA: Showdown Between Hollywood and Silicon Valley

I’m not going to get into a detailed discussion of what SOPA/PIPA is and why it is a horribly written piece of legislation, developed by people who have no understanding of how the internet and computers actually work and supported by congressman who are little better than cheap whores of the entertainment industry. You could just type “sopa pipa” into google and find a lot of explanations (as well some good spanish soup recipes, yum). Or you could just follow this helpful graphical explanation.

But there is an aspect of this debate beyond the technical that intrigues me. Proponents of the bill who even admit to a lack of understanding of the implications still point out that if there is some collateral damage to the internet as a whole or significant hampering of our technical industries that is ok because we have to protect the media companies. But aren’t we over coddling them at this point as it is? The small handful of media conglomerates who own the majority of media companies (news, music, movies, etc) are already practically a protected class in politics, second maybe only to investment banking in the preferential treatment they are able to get from their pet Congressmen. They have had several poorly written (and heavily abused) laws written specifically to protect their outdated and approaching-obsolete business model (DMCA comes to mind) and they are able to treat local and federal law enforcement as their own private army (they are having a UK student extradited because he put up a website with LINKS to other websites where copyright infringement was taking place).

What is more head scratching, they have been able to bully congress into extending the copyright law effectively indefinitely, completely destroying its original purpose to allow content creators to financially gain from their creative works then allow the works to become public domain. The largest media company of them all (Disney) has effectively made the argument that it would be disastrous for their copyright on Mickey Mouse to enter the public domain and so every time the copyright comes up for expiration on that silly mouse, congress cashes their bribes campaign donation checks and extends copyright law to prevent that from happening. In doing so we are actually destroying much of our creative heritage as many of the copyright owners of the music, movies, and books from that era have died and their works entered into a limbo where they cannot be copied or digitized owing to copyright law. They will instead eventually vanish forever as film, tape, and such degrade. Make no mistake, the movies, music, and books that our media conglomerates make all of their money from have value solely because the government says they do and gives the copyright holder a legal monopoly to distribute and sell these works. Without that government enforcement, the works would be free to copy and suddenly have no economic value. The extension of this government granted monopoly (that is now leading a legislative effort that would be disastrous for out tech sector) is tied to the age of a cartoon mouse. It is hard to take this seriously sometimes.

But copyright infringement (or piracy, if you feel the need to equate copying of media created since Walt Disney created Steamboat Willy with murder and theft of physical goods on the high seas) is a real concern from an economic sense. Hollywood and the music companies (MPAA and RIAA) will argue that our country’s economic interests are threatened by copyright infringement overseas and work very heavily behind the scenes to combat this. Normally the usual process is to pass a draconian law in one country, then work to establish a “treaty” with other countries to bring their copyright laws into parity. This is convenient because it allows for laws to be created while bypassing that complicated process of actually going through the legislative process. This time though they are launching a frontal assault, and they might have bought enough congressmen who care more about campaign dollars and promises of cushy jobs in the private sector than representing their constituents (spoiler alert: that is about all of them).

Even with it being a real economic concern, do we want to decimate the tech sector to protect a failing business model? The media industry has a long and distinguished history of fighting technology (even technology that turned out to be beneficial to them) like a horse and buggy trade group struggling to outlaw the automobile. Between a hyperbole filled campaign to attempt to outlaw the VCR in the 80s (“‘I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.” President of the MPAA), and the endless onslaught against the internet for the last 20 years you would think Hollywood would be happy if the tech industry just vanished. Today Media Mogul/Illegal Wiretapper Rupert Murdock weighed in like a befuddled senile old man ranting against that magic voice box receiving AM stations and destroying vaudeville with this these gems. His ignorance of how any of this stuff works is amusing if he didn’t command so much influence.

At the end of the day, all things being equal if the government has to step in and decide who it will legislatively favor, I’m hoping it is the tech industry. America is and for a long time has been losing its place in the world. We cannot compete with third world manufacturing, we have deliberately sacrificed our spot as a scientific leader by diverting funds away from a physics supercollider (The Large Hadron Collider in Europe is where future breakthroughs will occur while we now watch on the sidelines), we have given up NASA and future space exploration will be spearheaded by China and India, and we are dumbing down our science, math, and literacy education while the rest of the world ups their game.

America, we basically have two things left, we are leaders in information technology, and leaders in making Lady Gaga CDs and Chipmunk movie sequels. Which do you believe is doing to be the best industry to foster a friendly environment for to maintain the relevance of America in the world?  The media industry exists on the whim of the US government and other governments going along with our endless copyright extensions. Should they decide to stop, there is no value in what they create. Media can be copied for free, there is no scarcity of resources in the distribution, the basic rules of economics don’t work here.

I’m not suggesting that the whole concept of intellectual property is null and void. It has its failings and certainly the way copyright is being handled is despicable (I also feel software patents are insane and detrimental to the information technology industry). But I do know that if this is to be a showdown between two industries, I want the one to win that actually produces something of economic, societal, and tangible value. If Hollywood and the music industry are simply incompatible with technology, then I think we can do without the next Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, but I don’t think we can do without the next Google, Microsoft, or IBM. Do we want to be a country of technical leaders advancing civilization along, or do we want to be the court jesters, a diversion for the Chinese and other emerging technologies to get some cheap laughs from while they surpass us in all other areas?

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Coming War on General Computation

Everyone should watch this, Cory lays out very clearly the dangers facing computing by incompetent lawmakers owned by media conglomerates bent on controlling every aspect of computing to bring about a “pay per view” world.

I met Cory at the 2003 Digital ID World convention and played pool with him and the then-head of Microsoft’s Palladium (trusted computing) initiative. Listening to them debate the issues around the newly emerging trusted computing field got me very interested in this and I’ve followed it ever since. At the time I had no idea Cory was a famous blogger, author, and expert who speaks around the world, which probably worked out in my favor since I would have probably been a bit intimidated otherwise.

In layman’s terms, the concept is that your computer (or any hardware really) would only allow cryptographically signed operating systems to run on it, which in turn only allow cryptographically signed programs to run and (in the extreme case) remote attestation would mean that servers would only communicate with your computer if the above cases were true. This would turn general purpose computers into glorified iPhones (which only allow you to install apps which Apple has approved). The media companies love this idea because then it allows them to insist hardware be “locked down” becoming nothing more than media boxes. The danger here is that computing has primarily advanced over the decades by hobbyists and small companies pushing the envelope and innovating (think Linux for example, which in a DRM/Trusted Computing world could not exist). By taking control over what can and cannot run on your computer away from the owner, and giving it to the manufacturers and media companies, computers as we know them could no longer exist.

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