Monday, December 27, 2010

Democrats Force Legislation before 2011

As the year comes to close, the Democrats are working extra hard to ram through a gaggle of bills before they lose their majority in the House come January. Despite the fact that lame duck sessions are usually,well, lame, the Democrats have had quite a successful run so far.

Don't ask, Don't tell was successfully repealed; and a joyous Nancy Pelosi gloated  like a drunken Caesar after another country fell to the power of Rome. The bill itself was just a tad bit confusing from the start, but now that it's gone I have to wonder what the point was in the first place. The only instance in which I can see this being an issue is if in the coming months, soldiers now openly serving find themselves the victims of assault or god forbid, murder. If such incidents arise, we can all point at Nancy Pelosi and  laugh, otherwise, a quick golf clap for a job well done and we move on.

The next contestant on the "bill is passed" is the START treaty. This is a new arms control treaty with Russia, that for some  reason the president was just itching to pass. I don't even know why. Anyone else  think that Russia is such a major  threat that we should try and get them to reduce the size of their nuclear arsenal? With the exception of a couple of small  incidents in the Eastern Bloc, all of Russia's problems  have been internal and nothing anyone should  care about.

We do have Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, a string of Dictatorships in Africa,the list goes on  and  on. None of these countries are major super powers, but  it's not  for  lack of trying. North Korea  and Iran both have nuclear ambitions, and seem quite intent  on using them on their neighbors. If Russia was a threat, we would already have seen quite a few of those Cyrillic branded missiles in the hands of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Kim Jong  Il.

Congress  was able to pass a bill updating the FDA's  powers  and  authorities. I'm confident this bill will allow the FDA to continue to approve death inducing  pharmaceuticals that  they deem safe, only to ban a few years later. Continue their push to ignore any product on the market that didn't come from Pfizer, or another laboratory willing to throw billions of dollars at them. They will also continue to warn us(along  with the DEA) about any substance that  people find to be  'fun' or 'beneficial'. They will do 'studies' that deem the product unsafe, despite six studies to the contrary, all the while managing to allowing medications whose side-effects are things that we have already released drugs to treat, thus insuring we will be medicated to death so pharma's  can continue to get rich.

We finally saw some health care for the 9/11 first responders. Many of whom have been suffering and dying due to the toxic cocktail of chemicals they inhaled while saving lives so almost 10 years later our government can  deny that we are fighting  Islamic Extremists, and the liberal nut jobs can smear their good name by spewing ridiculous conspiracy theories and ignoring the facts all for the sake of making George Bush look bad. I am not going to go on any long tirade here, I am glad that this bill got passed. The Republicans who were trying to block this need to be  booted out of office as badly as the ones who side with the Democrats on the  issues that Conservatives  feel most strongly against. 

Everyone has heard already about the passage of the Bush Tax cut extension coupled with more unemployment relief. There are many critics of this bill, I for one found it to be a win/win situation. Keeping taxes low will help the economy recover, whereas the tax hikes we are facing will slow economic  growth  to a halt. The unemployment extension, I feel was a necessary evil. I lost  my job with a major defense contractor in February, and I just now at the  end  of December will be returning to a lower rate of pay, and with a  larger workload than my previous job. Hey guys, I''m one of you!, by blocking unemployment, you f***ed me too!

On a happier note, the DREAM act was rejected. Since it  is near impossible for an American citizen to travel across borders, or even board a plane without being sexually assaulted, I feel that passing this bill sends the signal that obeying the law will be  punished, but breaking it will get you a scooby snack. I have no problem with immigrants, I do however have a problem with criminals, drunks, and violent, drug selling gang members invading this country on a daily basis and our government refusing to stop it, and actually encouraging it by trying to pass laws that vindicate the law breakers.

As the new year approaches I have a mixed reaction to what I am expecting to see in 2011. I am disillusioned by the Republicans, the Democrats, and even the Libertarians. No one seems to be getting anything of any use done, and we continue to allow our Republic to crumble all for the sake of a fake sense of progress. If we can not reconcile our differences and get this country back on track, pretty soon all the 'Tea Parties' in the world won't  be able to right this sinking ship. Did I mention the ship is filled with rats, and some of them are carrying diseases?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Internet Censorship and the War On Wikileaks

There are politicians on both sides of the aisle who seem content to dabble in the notion that the internet is the 'exception to the rule' and if therefore ripe for exploitation. Exploitation in the form of ubiquitous, or infringing legislation in the guise of protecting the American people from bad things that they have no control over. In recent years we have seen several pieces of proposed censorship..err, I mean legislation that in one way of the other gave the United States, or some arm thereof, the power to dictate how business is conducted, and information is transmitted across the internet.

The first piece that most of you hear about now and again is 'Net Neutrality'.  Net neutrality is defined as free and equal access for all. The bill is designed to block service providers from limiting or restricting access to sites or applications for any reason so that all internet users are treated equally. This would include P2P applications, torrents, and a host of other applications like instant messaging, or even email. On the surface this sounds like a great idea, however opponents of the bill have a different take on it.
From Wikipedia:
Network neutrality regulations are opposed by noted Internet engineers, such as professor David Farber and TCP inventor Bob Kahn.[8][51] Robert Pepper is senior managing director, global advanced technology policy, at Cisco Systems, and is the former FCC chief of policy development. He says: "The supporters of net neutrality regulation believe that more rules are necessary. In their view, without greater regulation, service providers might parcel out bandwidth or services, creating a bifurcated world in which the wealthy enjoy first-class Internet access, while everyone else is left with slow connections and degraded content. That scenario, however, is a false paradigm. Such an all-or-nothing world doesn't exist today, nor will it exist in the future. Without additional regulation, service providers are likely to continue doing what they are doing. They will continue to offer a variety of broadband service plans at a variety of price points to suit every type of consumer."[52]
Bob Kahn, one of the fathers of the Internet, has said net neutrality is a slogan that would freeze innovation in the core of the Internet.[8]
What I gather from these arguments is this: A seemingly innocuous bill that on the surface appears to be a striking victory for free internet advocates, P2P enthusiasts, and torrent aficionados, is actually designed to guarantee that these technologies stagnate, and that the propagation of new technologies is stunted or altogether halted. I would love to believe this bill on it's surface, I really would. I truly believe that it is inherently wrong for Internet Service Providers to limited bandwidth or access to any technology because of possible legal concerns that may arise from it's use.

Usenet, P2P, torrents, websites, forums, and file storage sites all can and are used to spread illegal or copyrighted materials across the internet.Your ISP may attempt to block one of more of these avenues, but in the end, the information still gets found. The real problem is that legitimate information is passed around using these technologies as well, so blocking one, blocks the other and now you are committing censorship. Linux and game manufacturers have been using torrent to distribute their products for years, and will continue to do so for as long as the technology is viable.

The second initiative on the table is ACTA(Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is a proposed agreement that would establish an international network of countries, who could voluntarily join to establish standards for intellectual property rights. This organization would operate outside of existing standards organizations such as
World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or the United Nations. This new organization would not be held to the same standards of checks and balances as would other groups of this nature. EFF(Electronic Frontier Foundation)has expressed concerns as to the possible effect of this agreement being forged.
From EFF:
While little information has been made available by the governments negotiating ACTA, a document recently leaked to the public entitled "Discussion Paper on a Possible Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement" from an unknown source gives an indication of what content industry rightsholder groups appear to be asking for – including new legal regimes to "encourage ISPs to cooperate with right holders in the removal of infringing material", criminal measures, and increased border search powers. The Discussion Paper leaves open how Internet Service Providers should be encouraged to identify and remove allegedly infringing material from the Internet. However the same industry rightsholder groups that support the creation of ACTA have also called for mandatory network-level filtering by Internet Service Providers and for Internet Service Providers to terminate citizens' Internet connection on repeat allegation of copyright infringement (the "Three Strikes" /Graduated Response), so there is reason to believe that ACTA will seek to increase intermediary liability and require these things of Internet Service Providers.
 It seems abundantly clear, at least according to the leaked document that this organization could have powers far beyond what most Americans would consider favorable in the context of the liberties provided by our Constitution. This clearly degrades our own sovereignty, and leaves the ability to access information on the internet in the hands of an international organization that doesn't necessarily have to obey the laws of any one of it's host nations. Kind of the failure we now have with the United Nations, one of the most worthless piles of tripe ever conceived. Let's hope this monstrosity never gets off the ground.

The third piece of unholy censorship is S. 3804 Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. This bill has so far overcome all hurdles, including bi-partisan opposition to be passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill, which essentially allows the attorney general to turn off any website he so chooses, and gives Homeland Security, and ICE unprecedented over internet websites and their owners.  Even before the bill got this far, Homeland Security/ICE had shut down dozens of websites, and caused many torrent sites to scurry to web hosts outside the United States.

Opponents of this bill have made it clear that it is such a bad piece of legislation that Obamacare could be considered an epic piece of awesomeness compared to CIOCA. Detractors say the bill is unconstitutional, is outright censorship, gives to much power to the government, and would stifle innovation. Some even claim that this bill could effectively "break" the internet. EFF and other online advocates for internet freedom are up in arms over this horrendous piece of sludge. If you haven't figured out what COICA could do, just look at the case of Wikileaks.

Since Wikileaks lost it's hosting on Amazon, had their donation accounts on PayPal and moneybookers suspended, and Mastercard also shut down any kind of monies going to Wikileaks through their financial network, the online community responded in kind, launching attacks on some of these sites, and having some success. The reason this online war is waging is solely because groups like Amazon and Paypal denied Wikileaks their rights to operate and receive donations based solely on a perceived notion that they were committing illegal acts. Under COICA, the United States government could shut down any website they want based on those same conceived notions. 

In my opinion, this is a war that will not be cut and dry. Their is actually a faction of hackers that attacked wikileaks for posting those secret cables online. This attack, couple with the actions of Amazon and Paypal caused another group, known as "Anonymous" to launch a counter-attack. In the end, Wikileaks is now operating on 1697 mirror sites across the internet(As of 2010-12-10) and it's supporters are continuing to donate money and do everything they can to keep Wikileaks operational. While I disagree with much of the community surrounding Wikileaks(mostly anti-war liberal nutjobs)I am torn because I myself believe that the internet, and the free flow of information it represents should not, under any circumstances be controlled by any group or government, and that it is the duty of those of use who believe in those principles to rise up and to thwart any such attacks on the greatest bastion of free thought the world has ever known.

Wikipedia:Network Neutrality
Electronic Frontier Foundation:ACTA