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Internet Freedom in Dire Peril

June 27th, 2010 No comments

The latest developments in the battle over net neutrality do not look good at all. Tim Karr wrote a piece this week for the Huffington Post drawing attention to the fact that the FCC is now holding closed-door meetings with industry to make a deal.

The meetings include a small group of industry lobbyists representing the likes of AT&T, Verizon, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and Google. They reportedly met for two-and-a-half hours on Monday morning and will convene another meeting today. The goal according to insiders is to “reach consensus” on rules of the road for the Internet.

Karr points out that all of these groups have a financial interest in controlling information. They’ll want to be able to control which websites are able to load quickly and which would crawl along so slowly that nobody would have the patience to visit them. As of now, all websites are equal, and my crappy little blog loads just as fast the New York Times (faster, actually, because I have no ads).

Missing from these negotiations are the actual citizens of the United States, who might not want to give AT&T control over which websites are the easiest to access. In fact, over a six-month period in which ordinary people were invited to comment on the issue, 85% of all comments strongly favoured maintaining net neutrality.

And you’d think with such enormously high public support we’d be able to win on this issue, especially with a president who pledged his strong support:

But it’s looking more and more like the big corporations are going to get their way on this one too. It may seem like small potatoes, but this issue is actually far more significant than you might realize.

Just look at the kind of information you get from TV news as opposed to news online. Because TV airwaves are controlled by large corporations, you seldom hear any warnings about corporate consolidation of power. But on the internet, which is now controlled strictly by its users, the facts about corporate power-grabbing are still readily available and accessible.

But if we hand over that control, online news and blogs will gradually sink to the level of TV news and commentary, and before you know it there won’t be any more talk of the power elites controlling everything because by then they will control everything. And we know what happens when you give corporations unfettered control over everything. War, poverty, financial crises, the elimination of the middle-class, and short-sighted environmental rape for the sake of profit.

The internet, as I’ve written many times, is the last best hope for humanity. If we’re going to come together and forge a new path towards a peaceful, sustainable existence in this world, that conversation will have to be done through the internet. And if we hand control of the internet over to the corporations, they’ll make sure that conversation never takes place. Net Neutrality may seem like a small issue, but the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.

If Obama breaks his pledge and lets the corporations have their way on this one, he is dead to me. I’m still pissed off at him for letting them have their way with health care and financial reform, but this is the last straw. If he folds on this one, he deserves to be a one-term president no matter who runs against him. At that point it won’t matter anyway, because all hope will be lost.

Attention Facebook Friends!

June 27th, 2010 No comments

Dear current friends, college buddies, high school pals, middle school chums, former co-workers, teachers, college professors, estranged uncles and cousins, and random awesome people I’ve met in pubs: thank you for reading this.

Since you haven’t blocked my status updates, you obviously know that I have a blog, as I’m constantly bombarding you with links to it. I never wanted to be a blogger—it just kind of happened. I like writing, I’m addicted to politics, and I have loads of free time, so this was pretty much inevitable.

And now I’m finally embracing the borg and going all-in, writing every single day and making a serious attempt to build an audience. I’ve even begun Tweeting, God help me.

What I’m doing now is asking for your help. I’ve hesitated to do this for awhile because I hate asking people for help and I know it’s likely that this plea won’t get much response at all, and then I’ll feel simultaneously rejected by nearly everyone I’ve ever known. But if you’re on my friends list (and didn’t get there through FriendFinder) it means I’ve known you, I like you, and given the chance I’d want to spend time with every last one of you. I’ll seriously try this when I come back to visit the states, hopefully later this year. Even if we haven’t communicated in years, it would still be awesome to hear from you.

But right now I’m trying to generate a following, and it’s looking like this is impossible to do alone. Other bloggers, I’m sure, start with an audience of purely friends and family and those people spread the word and the audience slowly grows. I don’t think any of you are spreading the word about my blog, but why should I expect you to if I’ve never actually asked?

If you’re willing to help me out with this project, there are two things you can do. First, you can simply comment more frequently. I know that some of you read the blog regularly and some even drop an occasional comment, which I greatly appreciate. But I understand that less than 1 out of every 50 people who reads a blog post actually comments, and while I get between 50 and 150 readers to the site each day I almost never get comments and the blog looks completely dead. People usually tend to comment only if they think other people are going to read that comment, and from the looks of things you’d think that nobody ever comes to the site but me.

But more important than commenting is sharing. I’ve become so accustomed to the blogosphere that I forget most people my age or older still don’t know exactly how it works. If you click on the “Save/Share” button at the bottom of an entry, you can create a link to that post on Facebook, Twitter, or any one of many web-traffic sites, the most popular being Digg and Reddit.

Just a quick tutorial for the less web-savvy: Clicking on the Digg or Reddit buttons will redirect you to those web pages. You’ll have to create an account if you don’t have one, but it takes just a few seconds. You then post the link with a brief description (usually optional but the description always helps) and now web-surfers are a million times more likely to come to my blog.

Doing this myself feels disingenuous. It’s one thing if someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, you should read my book” and something completely different if another person comes up to you and says, “Hey, you should read this other guy’s book–it’s really good.” You’re much more likely to trust a recommendation from someone with no personal interest at stake.

That’s why I haven’t wanted to ask you directly for help, but also why I need it.

As I wrote in the margin, I’m not doing this for the sake of financial success. I’ve refused to include ads on the blog and I don’t ask for donations. I just want to have an influence.

Not that I haven’t been wrestling with the question of whether this is primarily about self-interest anyway. I want to feel like I have some sort of significance, that this blog isn’t just a waste of time and that I’m not just wasting my life. I feel this deep-seated need to somehow make the world better, and if I can reach people through my writing I can at least feel like I’m doing some good. I’ve concluded that even if the need to feel like I’m improving the world is a selfish one, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth cultivating.

If you think I’m wasting my time with this, please let me know. I put a lot of time into this, and it’s likely that time could be put to better use. Don’t hesitate to tell me it sucks if you think it sucks. The bruise to my ego will be well worth all that time I’ll be saving.

But if you like the blog, please help me to make it less of a waste of time by sharing it and helping me build an audience. I’m not asking you to comment on or share every entry, of course, but just the ones you’re most interested in. Eventually I’d like to have enough people reading for there to be multiple comments on each entry and people discussing the topics among themselves. We could create a little community of readers, and I’ll even put up guest-posts from time to time.

Thanks for letting me waste a moment of your time. Hopefully you didn’t see it that way.

Categories: Personal Tags:

Wall Street Wins Again

June 27th, 2010 No comments

Obama called the financial reform package that passed this week “the most sweeping reforms since the Great Depression”. Ha fucking ha.

I won’t bore you with the details, but if you want the basic facts just take two minutes to read Dylan Ratigan’s brief but spot-on piece on the Huffington Post.

The few reforms that actually made it through are pretty much window dressing. Banks are still Too Big to Fail, the regulators still have a financial incentive to not do actual regulation, and banks can still make risky bets backed up by taxpayer money. This is no more of a fix to our financial system than the health care bill was a fix to our health care system.

Wall Street owns Washington. Congressmen and senators on both sides of the aisle had to do a song and dance and pretend to fix the problem–and some genuinely tried–but ultimately the goal was to pass something called “financial reform” and score another political victory for Obama and the democrats.

What I can’t figure out is whether or not Obama just doesn’t understand the issues enough to know that these reforms aren’t nearly tough enough to prevent another crisis. He’s surrounded himself with people like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner who have Wall Street in their DNA, and they’ve been telling him all along to trust the bankers, don’t be too hard on them, they’ll make sure we won’t have another collapse.

But the structure of the system is such that it is guaranteed to collapse, and when it does our only recourse is still to bail them out with taxpayer money.

If you thought the Tea Party was mad now, just wait until the next crisis. They’ve been blaming Obama for the crisis and the bailouts already, but thus far we’ve at least been able to counter them with the undeniable fact that these things happened during the Bush administration. But when the next financial crisis hits, it really will be Obama’s fault.

File Sharing Fun

June 27th, 2010 No comments

Thanks to Twitter I came across this nice little piece about how the entertainment industry, by going after file-sharing websites instead of trying to work with them, has actually made things worse for itself.

They started by going after Napster, a company which actually really wanted to work with it legitimately. When they beat Napster, the file-sharing industry fragmented into smaller companies that were more difficult to work with but still willing to do so. They sued those companies out of business as well, paving the way for the rise of bittorrent sites which mostly operated out of the U.S. and had no interest in becoming a legitimate part of the entertainment industry at all.

So look at the progression here. There was really one company initially, which was entirely aboveboard and open to working with the entertainment industry. At every step down the ladder — each one pushed forward by the entertainment industry’s own lawsuits and regulatory efforts — the market becomes more fragmented and more underground, with less and less of an ability for the entertainment industry to embrace and work with them.

The entertainment industry–the music industry in particular–has been unbelievably stupid and greedy throughout the whole process and they deserve whatever financial difficulties they’re going through. They should have seen how the internet would revolutionize the way people obtain music and entertainment and been the first to legitimately offer their products available for download at a reasonable price.

Instead, they insisted on continuing to charge nearly $20 for a 2-cent CD which usually have only one or two tracks that the buyer actually wants to hear. And I’m supposed to feel guilty for illegally downloading music tracks after the hundreds upon hundreds of dollars I spent on CDs as a child? The way I see it, they owe me.

But look, I’m a reasonable guy. I know the entertainment industry can’t survive if everyone just gets their music, movies, and TV-shows for free online. I’d be willing to pay for an mp3 download–just not more than $1–or a subscription to watch movies or TV shows directly from the web. Many sites are already offering such services. Rather than sue them out of business, why not join the 21st century and do it too?

Categories: Political Tags: ,

Guantanamo Forever

June 27th, 2010 No comments

Remember when President Obama promised that he would have the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by the end of his first year as president?

WASHINGTON — Stymied by political opposition and focused on competing priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantánamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013.

Yes, the New York Times is now reporting that Obama has pretty much given up on that one. This symbol of America’s abuse of power, disregard for international law, and trampling of human rights will remain a scar on our national reputation forever now.

Until now we were able to just blame it on Bush. “It was just that one administration” we could say, but not anymore. Thanks to republicans playing political games–acting as though closing Guantanamo would mean unleashing hoards of blood-thirsty terrorists onto schoolyard playgrounds–this is a stain on our national honor that transcends the crimes of a single president. The rest of us either fought to keep it open, or didn’t fight hard enough to get it closed.

Al Qaeda, looks like you get to keep this one as a recruiting tool for a long time to come.