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Further Dissemination of the Lie

April 15th, 2014 1 comment

On April 4, I blogged on misleading reports about North Carolina stats on “voter fraud.”

[A]fter months have gone by, the same people will have seen many other reports of the same nature, with the same results, and bullshit piled on to bullshit will come across as even more convincing. Because few people dismiss total bullshit completely, and when they see variations of the same bullshit enough times, they begin to believe that at least some (probably most) has got to be true.

Indeed, PolitiFact reports on exactly that trend:

The pursuit of voter fraud is a running theme among Republicans and the latest numbers out of North Carolina made the conservative websites pop with alarming headlines. “Oh My: Audit Finds Evidence of Widespread Voter Fraud in North Carolina,” wrote Townhall.com. The National Review had “N.C. State Board Finds More than 35K Incidents of ‘Double Voting’ in 2012.”

Fox “News” contributor Dick Morris ramped it up:

“It’s most important data I’ve read in a year,” Morris said on Fox News’ Hannity. “The elections commissioner there, Kim Strach, did a study of those who voted in North Carolina who also voted in another state in 2012 and she found 35,500 people voted in North Carolina and voted in some other state.

”And only 27 states pool that data. Texas, California, New York and Florida did not pool their data. So you’re talking about probably over a million people that voted twice in this election. This is the first concrete evidence we’ve ever had of massive voter fraud. We’ve talked about it ad nauseam. This proves it.“ [emphasis mine]

See? Now it’s a million false votes. (Undoubtedly all for Obama!) And as Morris said, it’s now proven! Concretely!

Where does Morris get that number? Well, more specifically than the obvious ”straight from his ass,“ what he did was to take the 35,500 (35,570 actually) number and extrapolate that to the entire population of the United States. Which brings him roughly to the 1 million number, meaning that 1 of every 126 votes cast is fraudulent. Most Fox viewers will doubtlessly conclude that this is rock-solid proof that Obama actually lost in 2012, not reflecting even on the fact that Obama won by 5 million votes.

Still, a million votes is a lot! Shouldn’t we be worried about this alarming concrete proof Morris has pointed out?

The problem is that the 35,570 number is even more bogus than a Florida felon purge list. It only counts matching first, last names, and birth dates only. Meaning that John Alex Smith born on January 1 voting in North Carolina and John Brett Smith born on January 1 voting in Alaska are counted here as voter fraud. It may even count votes in more than one election by the same paired-name voters as separate cases of fraud. Worse, Morris’ 1 million number counts the supposed vote happening both in North Carolina and Alaska as two separate cases of fraud.

This list is, essentially, meaningless, as proved by the accompanying statistic that when Social Security numbers are added to the comparison, the 35,570 number dwindles to a paltry 765.

Still, maybe you could argue that 765 extrapolated into the whole population is 10,971 cases of voter fraud (21,943 divided by 2 because we’re assuming 2 votes per one act of fraud).

Unfortunately, this is still bogus. In any election, there are innumerable cases of clerical error. For example, you go to the polls to vote, and the worker at the station crosses your name off the list. However, he did not cross off your name, but the name just below it—the name of your neighbor who moved three years ago, who is also voting in another state this year. Or, more likely, the worker confused you with your brother who also moved out of state to go to college.

Out of 126,000,000 votes cast in 2012, you would only need this kind of error to happen once every 11,500 votes to get the number reported in the North Carolina list. In other words, almost all of the cases reported will turn out to be exactly this kind of error, and the actual cases of fraud will sink to single- or low-double-digits.

Not, however, in the minds of people who saw the story on Fox, then read about it in The National Review, and then heard Morris talk about it, and saw their local, state, and Congressional representatives mention it in emails, and then maybe noticed stories on WND and a half dozen blogs. These people will see the story, be inclined to believe it, and simply assume it is true. Golly! A million fraudulent votes! And they will never see the follow-up story about how the list of 765 names got whittled down to almost nothing, because it won’t be covered on Fox, or, sadly, on almost any other news service either. It just won’t be a sexy story.

This is how you disseminate lies in the modern age.

Categories: Corruption, Right-Wing Lies Tags:

Voter Suppression Continues

September 25th, 2012 3 comments

Republicans, now motivated more than ever to suppress the vote for Obama, are continuing their fight to implement laws which purport to stop a form of voter fraud which has been clearly shown not to exist, asking courts to ignore the obvious intent of the laws to depress voter turnout for partisan political reasons.

How plainly evident this all is only emphasizes how galling it is. This is not “thinly disguised” voter suppression; it is clear-cut and outright. Many of the people directly behind these movements have made public statements clearly noting the intent and purpose. This follows many efforts by the same party (e.g., voter caging, or movements to shut down voter registration, all by conservatives and all against liberal voting blocks) which were clearly illicit, and clearly political attacks against voter’s rights. They have simply taken the dirty-tricks vote suppression tactics to the legislative level.

And yet, somehow, it continues, and is taken seriously by the courts. How obvious does it need to be before courts and the media simply say, “Jesus, you assholes, you can’t just stop the other side from voting!” I’m serious. All Republicans have to do, apparently, is to make a separate appearance in court or in public, baldly claim that they are not being partisan about it, and their claims are accepted as honest.

Imagine that I have a history of fighting with my neighbor. For whatever reason, I hate his guts, so I do all kinds of nasty stuff. I order pizzas and other COD items in his name all the time in order to harass him. I step that up to cancel his water, power, telephone, and gas subscriptions. When that doesn’t get rid of him, I even try to get his name on pedophile and terrorist watch lists. All of this traceable back to me, it is clear what I have been doing to anyone who looks. Then I get myself elected to the city council, and submit a law that would build a street through his house. I even state publicly that “This law should help me get rid of that goddamned neighbor.” When he challenges me in court, can I get my law backed simply by claiming that I have no intent to harm him and the law is really for the public good? Of course not; hearing the history and my public statements, the judge would probably have me thrown in jail on top of throwing out the law. In this situation, reason would prevail—or at least we hope. If the judge were to accept my obvious dissembling and rubber-stamp the law, anyone in sight would be disgusted at the decision. Unless they also hated the neighbor.

How has it come to this, where there can be such a brazen, open attempt to suppress the vote on such plainly partisan grounds, built upon a foundation which is 100% proven to be fictional—and yet it is not being called for what it plainly is? How can any judge see this and not be compelled to call bullshit for bullshit? How can the media report this and not say the blindingly obvious?

The answer: because half the nation is in favor of it, whether actively or passively. Perhaps because they believe that politics is a contact sport, and if you can’t defend yourself, you don’t deserve the power to control. Or perhaps because it’s one of those many things which you accept peripherally because it serves you and so you can easily just ignore it or divorce yourself from it. Either way, half the country is giving it credence—a half of the country which is willing to call “partisan politics” if it is publicly noted. This half of the populace has weight; they buy, they vote, they protest, they boycott. You do not take them lightly. You cannot dismiss them, and you cannot ignore them.

As a result, so long as even the most transparent of pretenses can be invoked, we have to pretend that the other side is not committing a grave crime, else we are somehow “biased.” In other words, the Republicans have worked the system so thoroughly—by, over time, raising the bar bit by bit, legitimizing corruption one small step at a time, using the media to push their point of view further and further—that they can now violate virtually any ethical boundary and hide behind the simple claim that they didn’t mean it in a bad way. It’s the same principle as a member of congress voting for a law that benefits a corporation while receiving huge campaign contributions from that company, and yet remaining pristine simply by claiming that there is no connection between the two.

The fact is, however, that it is simply wrong.

Any politician who forwards and/or fights for such legislation should be ashamed, because they have violated their oath of office and have failed to represent the people.

Any judge who does not dismiss such laws on their clearly groundless merits, or does not at least rule that they are forced to respect it but personally and professionally are repulsed by it and that such laws should all be repealed, should be ashamed, because they have failed to uphold their oath to the Constitution and to uphold the rights of the people.

Any reporter who considers themselves an actual journalist, who reports on this story and does not clearly state this these laws are an obvious attempt to subvert the legislative process so as to subvert the electoral process, should be ashamed, because they have failed to serve the highest, and frankly, the only important principle of journalism, which is to inform the public in a truthful manner, especially concerning issues which are of public import.

Any citizen who allows this kind of law to be passed because they don’t know any better should be ashamed, because they have failed in their highest civic duty, to be an informed voter.

Any citizen who is aware of these laws, sees what they are, and accepts them—especially in cases where it serves their personal interests—should be ashamed, because they have violated and abandoned the core principles of democracy, and thus no longer deserve its benefits or protection, even though democracy is bound to benefit and protect them regardless of whether they deserve it. They should be ashamed because they have selfishly corrupted the system they purport to live by.

All of these people should be deeply ashamed simply because they have done something that is wrong.

Categories: Corruption, Election 2012 Tags:

Republican Judge Affirms Vote Suppression Act

August 16th, 2012 1 comment

Welcome back, Mr. James Crow! You now have a wider audience to block, including the poor, the elderly, and students!

Thanks to a Republican judge, the Republican law in Pennsylvania requiring specific types of photo ID to be presented for voting is now sustained, and due to his careful wording, it may be hard to overturn, despite the clear bias inherent in the ruling itself.

Fact: there is no evidence of any kind whatsoever indicating that vote fraud even exists beyond a few scattered cases, while it is a statistical certainty that at the very least, thousands–possibly tens of thousands–of legal, eligible Democratic voters, some of whom have voted regularly for decades, will be unable to vote because of this law.

Fact: as many as 11% of all voters lack the correct ID, and some will be forced to go to unusual efforts to acquire them, while other will have been misinformed, even by the Republican governor himself, as to whether their current ID is valid or not. As many as 1 million voters in Pennsylvania lack the right ID, and 379,000 do not have the documents required to get that ID. Many in the state would have to travel to state offices in other counties which are only open once a week, and there are only funds for 1/10th of the number of people who need IDs–meaning that hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians would be subject to a poll tax. The only solution is absentee voting, which would require a visit to a doctor and a doctor’s note and then an application process, clearly an unusual hurdle just to vote.

Fact: the laws disproportionately affect Democratic voters to a great degree, and were pushed through on a wholly partisan basis by the party that stands to win the vote–a party which has already performed heavy redistricting in that state to tilt the vote further in their favor.

Fact: Republican Mike Turzai, Speaker of the House in Pennsylvania, stated outright, in a checklist of partisan goals, that Pennsylvania’s voter ID law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” This bolsters the proof that state Republicans had a partisan goal in pushing through the law.

And yet, the Republican judge ruling on the case decided that none of this “clearly showed” that the voter suppression act “denied voters’ rights.”

Right, judge, it doesn’t deny voters’ rights, except for those tens or even hundreds of thousands of young, elderly, poor, and minority voters which your Republican-tinted goggles make invisible to you. And of course, those same goggles make the clear-as-day partisan vote-rigging going on also invisible to your eyes. Because we all know that Republicans are actually concerned about voter fraud and are completely unaware that the problem is in fact non-existent, and just happened to introduce a law which completely coincidentally disenfranchises hordes of voters from the other party, and statements made about how this will help Republicans win elections were completely honest mistakes and misunderstandings.

Really, how fracking blind do you have to be to take even a cursory, much less a detailed, look at this issue and not see the painfully obvious fact that this is election fraud writ large?

Those are quite some goggles, judge. Quite some goggles, indeed.

Is Reid Out of Line? And Are We Tolerating It?

August 3rd, 2012 2 comments

It’s been a subject of discussion. Jon Stewart tore him a new one (whilst properly pointing out that Fox News, which also castigated Reid, does the exact same thing on a regular basis). Andrew Sullivan is asking whether or not we let our own guys cheat. That’s a meaningful question, actually; after all, we see conservatives allow blatant lying go on all the time. If we accept Reid’s behavior on this, what’s the difference?

I think there is a difference, and a significant one: few if any on the left believe Reid, or pretend to believe Reid, or are spreading Reid’s claim. That’s a huge difference with what would be happening were the same charge to come from the other direction. If this thing were done on the opposite side of the aisle, half of the conservative community would believe it and most everybody would be spreading it as if it were legit. Now, as it happens on the left, everybody is recoiling from it–while at the same time noting that Reid is playing dirty on a legitimate topic.

Few on the left approve of Reid, but everybody takes note that if Romney is not going to release his tax returns, the topic is open for exactly this kind of shenanigan.

But what of the issue itself? What of claimed similarities to birthers and demands for a long-form birth certificate?

Clearly not equivalent: tax returns are a normal disclosure, have been for three decades, and there are excellent reasons for demanding them; quite frankly, I would approve of a law requiring all federal political candidates releasing at least eight years of tax returns as well as their criminal records beyond the age of 18. These are extremely relevant to the employment of an individual to an office from which they could literally destroy the entire world. Birth certificates, on the other hand, are not the same thing, more of a technicality than an assurance, and candidate Obama not only provided his basic certificate but also was confirmed officially by the state, and had substantiating documentation in the form of news reports and eyewitness accounts. Not to mention, as we witnessed, releasing the long-form certificates did not go very far in assuaging the doubters in any case. There could have been Super-8 footage of the live birth, then a seamless walk to a window clearly showing the Hawaiian landscape, and still the birthers would not have been satisfied, claiming the whole thing was faked on a soundstage where they filmed the moon landings. College records are also not in the same league; they don’t show much more than scholarship skills, and frankly, right-wingers don’t honestly want that to be an issue.

Meanwhile, the precedent for tax releases is fairly well-established. Since 1980, only Reagan released just one year of returns, and it was relatively new then. Since then, all candidates except for McCain (who grudgingly let go of only 2) released at least 5 years of returns. Even Kerry, married into wealth, released 20 years; Bob Dole released 30. Obama released 7 in 2008 (now he’s up to 12), Gore 8. Even Dubya released 9.

Romney is even more relevant in these concerns than anyone else, considering (1) the fact that everyone, including Romney himself, has made great hay about his personal finances and how relevant they are to the campaign; and (2) that personal taxation and the fairness of the tax system are more an issue in this campaign than in any other before.

In fact, it’s not just Romney–recently, most Republican candidates have been stingy about letting us know about their personal finances. While Obama now has 12 years of records available and Biden 14, Romney and Gingrich both released only 1 year, Santorum 4, and McCain and Palin each 2 years. The actual records are online here.

Does this make Reid’s comment fair, or at least acceptable politics? Nope. In fact, I am pretty sure that most liberals want Reid to shut the hell up, as this is exactly the kind of bullcrap that Romney can use to paint himself as the victim, thus excusing himself from having to do anything–like Bush 43 got out of the National Guard AWOL morass because Dan Rather bought into a false document.

In fact, I think the one person who wants Reid to double down and keep talking more than anyone else is Romney himself.

Categories: Corruption, Election 2012 Tags:

SOPA, PIPA, and the Erosion of the Separation of Corporate and State Police

January 18th, 2012 3 comments

While it’s a slightly encouraging sign that the White House has signaled its opposition to the SOPA and PIPA legislation, it does so only on some technical grounds, not on what I would think are the more fundamental grounds, leading to the distinct possibility that the worst of these acts will eventually pass.

If you get a copy of the legislation (PDF file), you’ll note an entire section (starting on page 34) which allows a “qualifying plaintiff”–effectively a corporation holding copyrights–broad powers to act against anyone they feel is infringing on those rights. All they have to do is try to send mail (pages 35-36), if any addresses are available, and the action has started. If there’s no mail or if no one responds in seven days (page 38), then their powers expand considerably. The corporation can then get a court order which will go into effect in any jurisdiction (no more of this filing individual actions in each district) which will, within 5 days, shut down the web site’s account, force financial services (e.g., VISA or PayPal) to cut off their accounts (page 38-39), force advertisers to cut off all ads for the site which could include normal search engine results (page 40), and allow the corporation to send threatening messages to the site’s users (page 41). If the site owner still hasn’t shown up, the corporation can get a court to force them to comply and fine them (page 42).

Let’s say you have a monetized blog and a music label doesn’t like how you quoted lyrics from a song they own. They can not only send you a cease-and-desist order, but now that is backed up by an effective nuclear arsenal of legal weapons which, within 12 days, can utterly destroy your web site. You might be on vacation, or simply didn’t post an email address. Too bad, sucker–Sony Music just had your site taken down, all your links struck, all your accounts shut down, and sent threatening messages to everyone who left comments on your site or whose IP got any content from you.

Or let’s say you have an online business selling items, which may include items which make fair use of copyrighted material, say in the form of satire, protest, or other protected speech. If the corporation which owns that content wants to, they can take you down–and your powers to fight back are now excruciatingly limited, considering that they can smother your livelihood virtually at will.

More to the point, they can threaten you with all this–unless you do exactly what they tell you immediately. If you want to fight it, you might have to travel a great distance at great expense on a very short timetable, hauling your attorney along with you–while the corporation threatening you has to exert only minimal effort and expense. This could make for the mother of all nuisance lawsuit runs.

The proposed laws would effectively give the music and movie industries a host of powers they have tried to abuse in the past but could not. Instead of having to threaten lawsuits in which people could defend themselves, they can now threaten immediate action which could cost the accused even more if they tried to defend themselves. No more “pay us $3000 or we’ll sue you” nonsense–now we’ll start hearing about threats where people are forced to cough up much more, once the amount of damage they can incur with only minimal expense has increased greatly.

Note also that these copyright holders are being given similar powers as law enforcement. I can’t be the only one concerned about this as a trend, can I?

The same copyright holders who routinely sue people for outrageous amounts based only upon an IP address, when it is clear the targets had nothing to do with the infringement? The same copyright holders who have made a habit of shaking down individuals for thousands of dollars apiece against the threat of costing ten times more to fight what may be specious allegations in a court of law–in effect, hundreds of thousands of sham nuisance lawsuits? The same copyright holders who then opened the door for innumerable scam artists to wield the same legal weapons as means for even greater shakedowns of the general public?

The same copyright holders who paid off politicians to get the DMCA, and made it the law of the land that stealing one song could incur fines of up to $150,000?

These same people are now paying money (let’s face it, our government was up for sale long before Citizen’s United) for legislation to get these new acts passed, ones where the copyright holders are given access to similar powers as law enforcement? Where they will be able to, with the same flimsy standards of “proof” that they have abused for years now, have any person they choose lose their web site and possibly their livelihood, have their access to advertising shut down, close off any methods of receiving income, and even force search engines to erase any sign that they exist? Even lead to their imprisonment?

Yes, yes, I know they will not start doing this to everyone. But from their past actions, it is clear they will cast a wide net and will not hesitate to ruin people who are clearly innocent in order to maintain the illusion that they don’t make mistakes because their system of collecting evidence is a sham. And yes, I know they are not becoming a new armed police force who can act independently and with impunity. But they are beginning to take on roles that traditionally have been wholly in the realm of public law enforcement.

This is what concerns me most: the precedent that is being set. The precedent that corporations are now active participants not only in creation of absurdly lopsided legislation (which gives then extraordinary awards for pedestrian crimes, the effects of said infringements being in fact very much debatable), but are also becoming active participants in the process of enforcement of these laws. Corporations as police, corporations which can act not just to sue people but to immediately erase their businesses in an age where many businesses are based on the web. And then, later, sort things out and maybe impoverish them or send them to jail for a few years. Based upon legislation they wrote to their advantage and then paid lawmakers to make into the law of the land.

Surely I cannot be the only one who sees this not only as an exercise in rabid plutocracy, but also as a trial balloon for future expansion?

Republican Fingers on the Scale (More Election Fraud & Theft)

September 14th, 2011 10 comments

Republicans are set to steal more votes again, this time in Pennsylvania.

It has been true for some time that for Republicans, winning elections trumps everything else. Will a government shutdown or default on the debt wreck the nation’s economy? Who cares, so long as it trashes the Democratic president and gives Republicans a better chance to win the White House? Create jobs for American workers? Not now dude, if employment gets better before election day, Republicans won’t be able to play off it as much. Country First? Nation First? Don’t make us laugh–if it’s not run by Republicans, then it’s not worth it; if it’s not Republican, then screw the nation.

Republicans put winning first, over everything else, over the people and their welfare. And they will try to win however they can. If you lose, then try to force a recall. If you can, impeach the Democrat. However, these methods are hard to implement and don’t often work. Better to win by hook and crook. Steal the election any way you can, and, to deflect criticism and win points, accuse the other side of trying to steal it.

It’s not enough to try to get Republicans to vote–they need to stop Democrats from voting. Minorities vote Democrat most of the time, so how can we stop them? (Remember the Michigan Republican who was a bit too candid about suppressing the 88%-black “Detroit” vote?) In 2000, the answer in Florida was to create an inflated “felon’s list,” unilaterally stripping tens of thousands of people of their voting rights without informing them, tipping the scales toward disenfranchising Democrats via generalizing name selection on the list–felons are disproportionately minorities, so indiscriminate voter-roll washing of anyone with a name similar to a felon’s is a good way to steal votes from Democrats. That one act of election fraud put Bush in the White House and helped to cripple the nation.

There are many other tricks, employed with the same fervor and corruption as was common under Nixon. Voter caging is a popular one–find people who commonly vote Democrat and then try to get them kicked off voting lists. Students vote Democrat–so send registered mail to their dorms during summer vacation and then claim they don’t live there when they don’t receive the mail. (The guy who led that drive in Wisconsin now runs the GOP, by the way.) People who have lost their homes to foreclosure often vote Democratic, so get them kicked off voter lists on the basis of their not having a home any more.

Add to that nationwide efforts at forcing people to use special ID cards at the voting booth, along with a host of other schemes designed to maximize obstacles for Democratic voters.

And then there’s a classic: redistricting. This is an old one, going way back, and Republicans love it. They won a lot of state houses on a census cycle, and they are now salivating at all the seats they can steal by gerrymandering the lines. No census? No problem, gerrymander between censuses, like they did in Texas!

And if gerrymandering isn’t enough, then see if you can’t screw around with electoral votes. Remember in California, which currently is a Democratic stronghold, they tried to split the electoral vote so that as many votes as possible could be funneled to the Republican candidate? Now, if Republicans were trying to do that everywhere, I wouldn’t have so much problem with it–but they would rail against any attempts to do such a thing in a state like Texas. Bottom line, they only want this in big states that go Democratic–not for fairness, but for tipping the scales against the actual will of the people.

Well, now they are working on Pennsylvania, and they might actually be able to do it this time. Not satisfied with just gerrymandering the House seats, they want to restructure the electoral vote system so that electoral votes are awarded, not by winner-takes-all, not even by the number of votes cast for each candidate–but by how many gerrymandered districts Republicans can artificially generate. The more districts the Republicans can swing to Republican by redistricting, the more votes go to the Republican candidate.

The move in Pennsylvania would win Republicans as many as ten electoral votes, maybe more if they can gerrymander really well. This would be similar to Republicans simply stealing the whole state of Massachusetts and dropping it in their column.

All this would be accomplished without winning a single vote. Not one American would change their mind to vote Republican. Nothing would be earned, nothing would be deserved.

Taking the system as a whole, it is equivalent to Republicans grabbing and running off with, at a minimum, nearly six million votes–without any of those people actually voting Republican.

Now, THAT is “election fraud.”

Opening the Doors to the Sausage Factory

May 28th, 2011 Comments off

Right-wingers are showing their colors again in this:

Republicans are working on multiple fronts to stop President Barack Obama from making companies bidding on federal contracts disclose their donations to third-party political groups.

Gee, I wonder why? But here’s a quote I found interesting:

Issa said the legislation “preempts an executive order designed to silence and intimidate job creators….”

“Job creators”? But we’re talking about companies that use money spent by the federal government. And Republicans have made it eminently clear that such money never, ever, ever creates any jobs. Ever. Remember when Obama was pushing the stimulus? That’s what they insisted. But suddenly, federal money is feeding “job creators.” Interesting.

That’s not all they’re being dishonest about, though. You have to question assumptions: exactly why would it “intimidate” federal contractors if they are required to disclose their contributions to third-party political groups? Note, however, that Issa did not just say “intimidate,” he also said “silence.” Silence them how? What exactly are they saying, and why would they feel it necessary to stop saying these things if they were exposed? Apparently, these are corporations spending millions of dollars to attack politicians who don’t steer as much federal spending their way. So if letting the public know what they are doing will silence and intimidate them, why is that? Because the public would become upset if they knew how the political system was being bought? Why, of course not!

In fact, the Center for Competitive Politics, a right-wing organization which vehemently opposes campaign finance regulation and reform, claims that the Republican bills to stop the requirement of such disclosures constitute a

strong rebuke to the executive branch’s effort to bring politics into the federal contracting process and enable the creation of a Nixon-style Enemies List.

Wow. Federal contractors secretly spending millions of dollars to influence elections and support the campaigns of politicians who will give them billion-dollar contracts is not “bringing politics into the process,” but allowing the public to know what they are doing is “bringing politics into the process”? That’s fascinating.

Also, we all know that Obama is so corrupt that he wants nothing more than to compile enemies lists all day long and then make evil plots to attack groups which support his political opponents. Because we all know there is a long list of right-wing organizations which have been attacked or even killed off by Obama and other liberals in acts of purely political retribution. Organizations like ACORN, SEIU, unions in general, Planned Parenthood, the TIDES–oh, wait, those are liberal groups attacked by right-wingers with enemies lists.

Come to think of it, I can’t really come up with any right-wing groups which have faced such concerted efforts to bring them down. The “enemies list” thing is yet another case of right-wing projection–accusing the other side of your own worst practices. If you recall, the “Obama’s enemies list” canard is nothing new; right-wingers have applied that conspiracy theory to all kinds of things, including the decennial census.

Of course, the disclosure would do nothing than to show the American people exactly who is buying influence in their government. Which is what the right-wingers really don’t want you to see.

Categories: Corruption, Right-Wing Hypocrisy Tags:

There’s Selling Out, and Then There’s Selling Out Big Time

May 12th, 2011 2 comments

Wow. Even for D.C., this is corrupt:

Meredith Attwell Baker, one of the two Republican Commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission, plans to step down—and right into a top lobbying job at Comcast-NBC.

The news, reported this afternoon by the Wall Street Journal, The Hill, and Politico, comes after the hugely controversial merger of Comcast and NBC earlier this year. At the time, Baker objected to FCC attempts to impose conditions on the deal and argued that the “complex and significant transaction” could “bring exciting benefits to consumers that outweigh potential harms.”

Four months after approving the massive transaction, Attwell Baker will take a top DC lobbying job for the new Comcast-NBC entity, according to reports.

Exactly how blatant does bribery and influence peddling have to become before somebody gets arrested for it? Ka-ching! Sorry, Americans–another Republican sold you out, big-time.

Yes, it’s on both sides–but the Baker case was about as barefaced as it gets. Democrat Christopher Dodd stepping into an executive role at the MPAA was used as an example of what one would call “equivalence,” but Dodd did not shove through a controversial jackpot for the movie industry and then step into the MPAA job a few months later. As far as I can tell, Dodd did not really do anything in particular for the entertainment industry. His hiring was more about connections, skills, and clout.

Baker, on the other hand, is a very different case. She went to work for an organization she very recently ruled over. Not only that, she ruled very much in their favor, to their great profit. Even more, she fought especially hard to make the deal even sweeter for them than was supposed to be, arguing on behalf of the corporate giant against the interests of the American people. And then almost immediately, she quits the government job she used to enrich them and gets enriched herself.

Similarly, another FCC Republican, Michael Powell, now earns millions of dollars a year for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which he was supposed to be in charge of regulating when he “served” in his government position as head of the FCC.

Next to these two, Dodd’s sell-out comes across as the very model of propriety. False equivalency strikes again.

Categories: Corruption Tags:

Legal Shakedowns

November 27th, 2010 Comments off

The RIAA claims it has stopped, but certain movie producers have not, and this is a practice that goes way back: large corporations, suspecting piracy, send out mass mailings to people accusing them of stealing, and demand thousands of dollars in “settlement” money or else they will be taken to court. Even if the defendants win, it winds up costing them more than the settlement would have cost–even just if measured in time lost and hassle caused.

I remember when it started back in the 1980′s. Then, it was pay TV broadcast via microwave signals that you needed a special satellite dish to receive, and a special box to decode. Back then, there were pirate kits to unscramble the signal. The media companies took a similar slant to today’s: they assumed guilt. They sent people around neighborhoods to see if they could spot parabolic dishes on houses, and if they found any, checked them against subscriber rolls. If there was no subscription, then whammo–you get a letter threatening a lawsuit unless you cough up three hundred bucks, or whatever.

A key point in demanding such a settlement is that it is a lesser amount than one would spend in legal fees in one’s defense. While this could, in one respect, seem lenient, as it allows violators to get off lightly, it is, in another very important sense, highly unethical: it essentially forces people innocent of any violation to choose between paying a large amount of cash which also is a de facto admission of guilt, or paying a much larger amount of cash to defend their innocence–and risk losing and paying crushing amounts. Either way, innocent people–many who cannot afford any such expenditure–are give no choice, no recourse, and are forced to pay money to avoid prosecution.

Should this kind of lawsuit be legal? It seems to be the very definition of extortion, the classic case of the powerful shaking down the little guy. Yes, many of the targets are legitimate–but what about the ones who are not? Are they simply “acceptable losses” in such cases?

The US Copyright Group (USCG), representing certain movie producers, has “sued” 16,000 people without even naming a single one–all they have are IP addresses, and are guessing at who owns them. And as we have seen in the past, this is far from an exact science.

Organizations like the USCG don’t care–they see all people they charge as guilty, or at least want to because otherwise they can do nothing. They don’t want to be held to the standard of proving guilt, they want to try people in civil court simply because they might be stealing. They have gotten around the sticky issue of being incapable of definite identification by simply not giving a damn, and use the legal system as a club to make people pay.

Even just asking the courts to issue an order allowing the plaintiff to demand ISPs hand over detailed records of IP addresses is objectionable. Most ISPs do hand out this data, though they should never do so to anyone except law enforcement. The ISPs that hold out do so not because of principle, but because it’s too much trouble for them. They should refuse simply on the grounds of not betraying customer expectations of privacy–but if that is not good enough, then because many networks are unprotected or could be hacked, and so identifications could lead to false prosecution.

Not to mention that the plaintiffs here don’t give a damn about who is innocent and who is not–they’re like the Medieval crusaders who said, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” Not a legal practice I would think we should allow.

Imagine that a newspaper distributor has a newspaper vending machine. He notices that after stocking 100 copies in a machine, only 66 payments were made–meaning that perhaps half of the people who got newspapers took an extra one for free. The vendor got video of everyone who used the machine, but could not identify them or say from the video who took one copy and who took two–however, they did get license plates. If the vendor went to court demanding the judge issue an order for the DMV to release all the names and addresses of the vehicles in the video so that the vendor could threaten them all with lawsuits unless they paid exorbitant “settlements,” would a judge grant such a request?

I would hope not.

Without proof, it is doubtful such a plaintiff would win–and the attempt to shake down people like that would not exactly be seen as kosher. And yet, that is exactly what the RIAA has been doing, and what the USCG is picking up on. They are guessing as to who is stealing their stuff, we know that they are wrong in many cases, and with unprotected WiFi networks and wardriving being a factor, even a correct IP identification is not conclusive. Were the industry one which reacted more with caution, dropping suits that even seem improbable–like the paralyzed stroke victim in Florida accused of downloading music in Michigan–or dropping cases against people who are sympathetic and clearly unable to pay, like the disabled single mother from Oregon–they would at least come across as slightly more legitimate. And although they do drop some of the more ludicrous suits, like the one against the 66-year-old grandmother who supposedly downloaded rap songs on a computer that couldn’t even run the software, their usual stand is to stick to their guns, and demand the $3000–or else.

Technically, I suppose it is legal for these people to send out these mass settlement “offers.” The question I have is, shouldn’t there be a law that protects individuals from the legal shakedown now happening on massive scales?

A recent case which highlights the real agenda these people have is their lawsuit against a lawyer who sells $20 legal kits to people included in the mass-extortion cases, like the 5,000 anonymous defendants in the Hurt Locker suit. The legal kit includes several motions and an affidavit with meticulous instructions on how to fill them out correctly and serve them to the court.

Why is the lawsuit against this lawyer telling? Because the forms would allow potential defendants to defend themselves much more cheaply, thus making the multi-thousand-dollar “settlement” payoff unlikely. Clearly they don’t want to see all the defendants coming back with lawyers, if they fight so hard against even preliminary attempts at a legal defense–something which would turn the tables as it would cost the plaintiffs more money than it would be worth to prosecute. Which means that they were expecting most of the defendants to simply pay the thousands of dollars like nice little extortion victims and not make a fuss.

Even if their actions were not so transparently flagrant, such mass suits should simply not be allowed.

Categories: Corruption, RIAA & Piracy Tags:

The 17th Amendment

July 13th, 2010 5 comments

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years…

There’s a push from right-wingers to repeal the 17th, along with some other amendments as well, not to mention some new amendments they want added. Curious, as the right wing has also been busy of late bashing Obama, Kagan, and Thurgood Marshall for saying that the Constitution, when written, was an “imperfect document.” Strange that they wish to tinker so with perfection.

In any case, I was curious as to why they 17th was a sore point with them. What’s wrong with the people electing senators directly? Well, according to the groups who want this, if the people elect senators directly, that means that the individual has less power. The only way to empower the individual is to take away their right to vote for a senator and put it into the hands of the state legislature. That makes sens–wait, huh? What?

Well, they do seem to have a point: they say that since public elections are driven by money, that means that senators don’t really listen to individuals from their state, and instead give their full time and attention to corporations who fund their elections. OK, fair enough, as far as it goes–but I don’t really see it as being that big a difference.

First, you have the illusion of a state legislator or a congressman paying more attention to you simply because they have smaller constituencies and they must be elected more often. But do they really pay any more attention to you than they do their financial backers, or does it just seem that way?

Second, the link between you and your senator through your legislator would still be removed. Your local legislators would have their own agendas, no doubt, and if they truly controlled the senators, they would be just as wont to abuse the power as anyone else. Not to mention that there would still be plenty of chances for others to get in the way. And that leads to the third objection to the change: money follows power. Instead of dealing out the money men, the money men would simply move to sway state legislators instead of senators directly, and you’d be back at square one.

No, there’s only one way to attack corruption of this kind, and that’s to directly address the issue of money and elections. Two things need to be changed–more descriptively, two obscenities must be erased from the law books. First, the concept that a corporation is an individual and has the same rights as one. The individual rights of a corporation rest in the rights of the people who make it up; the corporation itself is a legal fiction to serve an economic purpose. Giving corporations personhood creates super-powerful “individuals” whose psychological makeup is, by nature, that of a sociopath. The fact that they control large amounts of money and thus power in our government is at the heart of what is what is most wrong with us today.

The second obscenity is the concept that money equals free speech. No it doesn’t. If money equals free speech, then we live in a plutocracy. And that’s the current legal status. If money is free speech, then anyone who makes more money instantly has more power, which goes against the very idea of a republic which practices the principles of democracy:

Republic: a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.

In theory, a republic could be consistent with a plutocracy, but that’s not what we were brought up to believe. Maybe democracy has always been a fiction to placate us, but if we’re even going to pretend, then we must hold that the idea of money being equal to speech is poison to what we believe in.

What we need to do is to change politics in two ways, and they have to be doozies. The first is to limit the way elections are funded. The only money that should be allowed in an election must come from individual citizens and nowhere else. And each citizen may contribute no more than $20 to any one election (including their own–no personal fortunes) or specific issue. Why $20? Because more than that and the money of one individual starts to outweigh the money of others who cannot afford it. Either that, or do away with contributions altogether and make elections funded completely by the federal government. Whichever the case, the idea is to prevent large donations from making their way to politicians and thus corrupting the system.

The second way is the real game changer: political advertisements. This is where “speech” really comes into it. And this may require an amendment to that holiest of amendments, the First Amendment itself. Like it or not, political advertising sways elections, and those advertisements are bought with money. It must be made so that public advertisements which impact elections, either on issues or candidates, must be regulated. Not forbidden, but limited to those funded by the people directly. Each advertisement can only be funded by individuals giving no more than $20 each. Remember above, I mentioned the $20 limit applying not just to candidates but to issues as well; this is what I was talking about.

What’s more, the ads can only be paid for by groups that specifically assemble for the purpose of representing such issues or candidates; you can’t have unions or organizations assembled for any other purpose doing it, else you have people who gave money for something else suddenly finding their money spent on something they disagree with.

Again, either this, or nothing–no ads at all, and we assert the right to use the public airwaves, allowing politicians to make speeches, give presentations, and have debates for specified blocks of time. This does not obliterate free speech–in fact, many countries do it. In Japan, where I live, that’s how it’s done–no campaign commercials. Other countries limit advertising as well. It may go against the grain of free and unfettered speech, but it is the only way to remove the worst of poisons from the system.

Is this a curtailing of free speech? In a way, yes–but in a very fundamental way, no. Because free speech is not supposed to be about rich people having more say or a louder say than anyone else–it is supposed to be about all people having the right to say whatever they want, whenever or wherever they want. But the central principle of that is that everyone is equal, and money playing a part destroys that essential equality. The system I describe above would not prevent anyone from speaking freely–it would only prevent a few from drowning out the rest simply because they have more money than others.

We’ll never get around money buying power. Rich people will still own and control newspapers and media networks, and there are other ways to use money to influence the people as well. But just because money will always have a say doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do our damnedest to limit what influence it does have.

Categories: Corruption, Political Ranting Tags:

The Oil Is Not the Only Thing That’s Slick

June 18th, 2010 2 comments

Wow. Talk about slick. When Republicans slapped Barton’s wrist for saying aloud what they all felt, Boehner and the GOP leadership slipped in some pretty telling language. To quote a commenter from the previous post, “Behold”:

“The oil spill in the Gulf is this nation’s largest natural disaster and stopping the leak and cleaning up the region is our top priority,” said the leaders. “Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong. BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose.”

First, note that BP is painted as a responsible business: they are taking “responsibility” and “offered” and “pledged” to pay for economic damages. Nothing about Obama making them do this–no, it’s as if BP always intended to pay this much, and would naturally have done it without any outside pressure at all.

But look closer, and you’ll see something slicker than snot: the oil spill was a “natural disaster.” Got that? BP is not responsible for the disaster; no, they “acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them,” a significant difference in wording.

In a few short sentences, Boehner managed to (1) distance himself from Barton’s gaffe, (2) make it seem like he is attacking BP by castigating a party member for apologizing to them, therefore gaining props from the public, (3) take credit for trying to stop the leak, saying it was “our” top priority, (4) remove all credit from Obama for getting BP to pay when clearly BP was doing all it could to avoid that, (5) make BP seem like a beneficent good guy, a responsible business which pledged and offered and took responsibility when in fact nothing of the sort is true, and (6) remove all feeling of actual responsibility from BP by qualifying the nature of their responsibility (economic, not actual; volunteered, not legal or actual) and painting the spill as an act of god, a “natural disaster,” as if BP wasn’t to blame and was instead somehow the victim of it all.

That’s pretty breathtaking.

So much for high-level Republicans “not taking BP’s side” in this.

Coercion and Power

June 11th, 2010 1 comment

Imagine this scenario: you work at a non-union company, doesn’t matter which one or what you do, except that you are low in the ranks. There is someone who manages the security department, who understands the technical aspects of security really well, whereas you don’t know much about it at all. This person is high-ranking, very well-off, and has the resources of his entire department at his disposal. Additionally, this person is in tight with upper management, and is even allowed to write company policy.

Now, it appears that some people who work for the company have been stealing this person’s lunch from a refrigerator at work. Because of certain laws concerning workplace surveillance, video cameras were not an option to catch the perpetrators. Instead, the security guy claims to have acquired forensic evidence from the refrigerator and the trash, and claims that it points to dozens of people at the company–including you–as having stolen his lunches.

In retaliation, he demands that you and every other offender he identified pay the equivalent of the cost of lunch for him at a nice restaurant every day for two months–quite a hefty sum–on the accusation that you may have taken his lunch one day. If you don’t, then he will file a formal complaint against you, using the forensic evidence he claims to have collected. If the claim is successful, you will be fined, fired from your job, and have a stain on your employment record that will follow you for some time.

You may defend yourself, but you will have to hire experts in security and other people to help you make your defense, without which you don’t stand a chance–but they will cost a great deal more than paying the demanded “settlement.” And even with the hired team, you still might lose the challenge and pay the penalties anyway, in addition to the cost of the defense.

Disregarding the unlikelihood of this scenario, what would your assessment be? Is the manager abusing his power and influence? As he is in fact being robbed, is he justified in his response? Or would you simply consider him to be a petty, arrogant ass?

I see this as being roughly the equivalent of what innocent defendants face in the P2P mass-extortion nuisance lawsuit business (in which lawyers for movie producers are suing thousands of John-Doe defendants for downloading their bad movies). Even the ones who are guilty are being abused in the form of apallingly excessive fines. You don’t threaten to fine someone $100,000 for allegedly littering, or even for catching them doing it red-handed. And when a person’s guilt is ambiguous at best, extorting money from them is completely inexcusable.

Take this case of a elderly couple, both 69 years of age, accused by studio lawyers of having illegally downloaded, via BitTorrent, a schlocky violent-action film based on a first-person-shooter video game:

“My wife and I are both 69 years of age and the only occupants of this location,” wrote Wright. “Charter personnel installed the high speed equipment for our internet connection and we have made no modifications to it. If it had any features that made it vulnerable to ‘hacking,’ we had no knowledge of that. The technology is way above our abilities to deal with.”

In short, the couple’s WiFi signal was likely hijacked by a neighbor who downloaded the movie, and the couple had no way of knowing about this or preventing it. Rather than realize that a near-septuagenarian couple would not know how to download movies illegally and would never watch their crap movie in the first place, and rather than figure that continuing to attempt to extort them would result in bad press and make them look like complete schmucks, they instead smugly used legal maneuvering to essentially call the elderly couple idiots and persisted in their attempt to extort $1500 from the folks. It seems that in an attempt to give the court detailed information in their request to squash the lawyers’ subpoena, the couple accidentally invalidated their own motion–something a lawyer would know how to avoid, but the old folks wouldn’t.

The analogy I laid out at the top of this post holds true. A powerful entity–the entertainment industry–has bought off the government with bribes and essentially written the law themselves, in which they allow themselves huge rewards for what are in relative terms piffling offenses. They then use these laws in addition to the legal machinery at their disposal to extort exorbitant amounts from tens of thousands of people who may or may not be guilty of the offense and who mostly cannot afford to take the chance to defend themselves. True, offenses were committed; the lunches were indeed stolen. But the manner and method of the response is outrageously out of proportion (even for those in fact guilty), and in its scattershot attempt to nab offenders who cannot definitively be identified, they know that they are demanding huge amounts from people who are innocent and cannot afford to pay.

Read the Ars Technica article which details several cases of people who are likely innocent but fell victim either to IP address misidentification or WiFi leeching by neighbors, and are now facing the prospect of (a) paying dearly for an offense they did not commit, (b) paying more dearly to defend themselves, or (c) paying obscene amounts if their defense is unsuccessful. Worse, these people, often people who can’t afford much at all, are being forced to defend themselves in a court all the way across the country. Frankly, I think the judge should lay down these rules: that (1) the plaintiffs must sue each person individually in their district, (2) they must prove that the person in fact downloaded it and did not have their WiFi hijacked, and (3) if they fail, they must pay for the defense of the defendant.

So the question might become, how does the entertainment industry deal with piracy reasonably? Ideally, they should come clean and admit that piracy is in fact not costing them nearly as much as they claim, and that turning so viciously against the public is gaining them no sympathy from anyone. If they can truly make a case that they are losing some money from this–not the ridiculously inflated claims they publicly release–then do what most industries do in response to common cases of widespread theft: catch and punish those you can prove without doubt, otherwise just hike your prices a modest amount to compensate (something the industry is probably already doing, come to think of it). If they must take legal action, then stop with the “settlement offers,” which are little more than legal extortion–or else make the offers much more reasonable, like demanding the offender pay for the full retail value of the item, low enough that people would pay without much more than grousing.

As for the laws making the accused liable for penalties in the amount of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for downloading a $10-$20 piece of crap, they are unspeakable obscenities that do not belong on the law books, and should be stricken–and would be, if the politicians who write our laws actually worked for the people, like they’re supposed to, instead of being bought off by corporations.

The Lawsuit Locker

May 29th, 2010 2 comments

Voltage Pictures, makers of The Hurt Locker, have officially filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against “1 – 5000” John Doe defendants in “every jurisdiction in the United States” for illegally downloading and sharing their motion picture. In the suit (PDF), they allege “great and irreparable injury that cannot fully be compensated or measured in money.” Nevertheless, they are seeking to be compensated in money–specifically, pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504, at least between $750 and $30,000 per defendant, in addition to costs, attorney’s fees, and “other and further relief,” in addition to demanding that each defendant destroy all downloaded copies and never, ever even think of downloading any of their movies ever again.

In short, they have jumped on the RIAA bandwagon: file a massive, indistinct lawsuit against thousands of people in the hopes of (a) scaring file sharers into stopping their nefarious activities, and (b) raking in huge amounts of cash via what is essentially extortion writ large. It is expected that Voltage will offer “settlements” in the amount of $1500 per defendant, qualifying as extortion because, like any good nuisance lawsuit, the settlement will cost less than any defendant would pay in legal fees even if they successfully fight off the lawsuit. If all the defendants settled, Voltage would rake in $7.5 million. This assembly-line extortion is a new line of business for attorneys, just like class-action lawsuits as described in Grisham’s The King of Torts. They even go so far as to put the movies online themselves so they can more easily get the IP addresses of downloaders.

So, who are the defendants in the Hurt Locker case? Essentially, Voltage Pictures, makers of the film, have collected up to 5,000 external IP addresses, which identify only the general location of the people who downloaded the movie via BitTorrent, and have filed suit in hopes that this will allow them to legally obligate the ISPs serving those people to hand over the internal records which will provide enough information, they hope, to identify specific downloaders. ISPs who cooperate are not exactly innocent here–they make money off this as well, charging $32 to $60 for each IP address given to plaintiffs, citing costs for doing the search and notifying the address holder.

Voltage Pictures has the ability to carry out this kind of action this primarily because corporations were able to get laws passed which demand abusively large penalties for file sharing. The statute allows the plaintiff to “elect” (language used in the current suit) to take statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per infringement, even if it cannot be proved that the defendant willfully committed the offense–meaning that if it were simply their liability, if it happened over their connection even without their knowledge, they could be still be forced to pay. I presume that this covers not having a protected WiFi network and a neighbor downloads the movie over stolen bandwidth.

If the file sharing is found to be willful, the penalty jumps to $150,000.

For file-sharing a single movie file. Yeah, that’s “justice.” The law allowing this is obscene and must be rewritten.

Let’s call this out for what it is: extortion. Legal or not, it’s is nothing less than extortion, a grab for cash by unethical means. Today, a film’s profits are measure in terms of domestic and international box office, as well as DVD rentals and sales. How long before proceeds from nuisance lawsuits are added as an element in determining the total earnings of a film?

Isn’t It Rather Obvious By Now?

January 3rd, 2010 2 comments

In the fallout from the failed crotch-bomb plot over Detroit, many have pointed out the fact that right-wingers have been particularly dishonest and hypocritical. Conservatives have been putting outright blame on Obama for the failure to catch this beforehand, whereas they blamed Clinton for the 9/11 attacks, not Bush; where Obama is to blame for an intelligence agency ignoring the father’s warning, Bush was somehow not to blame for ignoring a plethora of warning signs, several of which were delivered directly to him. Where Bush was hailed as “keeping us safe” even while the Shoe Bomber, in almost identical a fashion to the Crotch Bomber, attempted to blow up a plane to the U.S., Obama is criticized for not keeping us safe. And while Republicans excoriate the Obama administration for the lack of security, they brazenly ignore the fact that they themselves voted down more funding for airport security. Not to mention the fact that criticizing Bush on terror or security was seen as near-treasonous, while criticizing the president today is apparently not at all a problem.

I look at these criticisms and reflect on why I don’t blog on politics quite as much now: it’s all trite. Of course they’re acting like that. Of course the facts don’t matter one bit. Of course Republicans are being hypocritical, lying bags of scum; hasn’t that been all too well established? Just like it’s been established that Democratic politicians are generally weak-kneed sissies afraid of their own shadows.

The pattern is pretty simple: anything a conservative does: good; anything a liberal does: bad–even if the two acts are identical. Just claim they’re different somehow, ignore logic and consistency, blame any evidence to the contrary as an artifact of the “Liberal Media,” and there you have it. The neoconservative narrative. Throw in some social religion for further control, a few more tax cuts for the rich, disregard a few more civil liberties (while always steering clear of the control-irrelevant gun ownership), deepen the dependence on corporations, and you’re getting close to seeing the overall sheep-herding architecture of the New Conservative Society. Within that twisted framework, even Sarah Palin makes perfect sense.

John McCain Still Trying Desperately to Kill Off the Internets

October 31st, 2009 Comments off

Frustrated that the FCC won’t respond to his threats, the Telecom-bought senator from Arizona introduced a bill that would make it so that the FCC could never “propose, promulgate, or issue any regulations regarding the Internet or IP-enabled services.” A bill introduced by a colleague in the House says the same thing. As is usual for politicians, they named the bills to sound like panacea: the Senate bill is the “Internet Freedom Act of 2009,” and the House’s is the “Real Stimulus Act of 2009” (snark!).

So, the best way to stimulate the economy is… deregulation! Because that has worked so well in the financial sector. In short, McCain wants to prevent the FCC from protecting consumers so that the Telecoms can charge anything they want, restrict anything they want, do anything they want, and create any cartels or monopolies they want, without any competition or accountability whatsoever.

Swell idea! The best part about the bill is that it is almost sure to die quickly.

Imagine if this guy were president.

Those Wacky Nigerians

August 13th, 2009 Comments off

Apparently, the scammers who seem to abound in Nigeria must be slowly catching on to the fact that their con involving Nigerian oil ministers and $10 million stuck in bank accounts which need your kind assistance is getting a bit stale. Maybe it’s because once nearly every person on the planet have received more than 100 variations of the same scam letter, it becomes a bit of a cliché.

So now the scammers have come up with a surprisingly clever step-up, where they scam people for much larger amounts–$700 a pop–in a much more believable scam than the Nigerian-prince-down-on-his-luck story.

The new scam: they list an apartment on Craigslist, one that looks like a great bargain, explaining that they had to move to West Africa for some reason (I would think that the missionary story would work to the best effect) and are trying to rent the place from there. Prospective buyers are allowed to drive by, they say, but they can’t trust anyone with the keys until they receive the deposit of $700. Of course, the house does not belong to them and anyone foolish enough to send the deposit will probably get nothing more than extra attempts to shake them down for more money until the well runs dry. While there are fishy elements to the story as presented–just the mention of Africa in regards to payment of funds before getting anything will raise flags with many–overall, the scam seems far more sellable than the prior scam.

Ars Technica has an article which explains how one of their staff members was caught up because the scammer used their house as the one being rented–they got drowned in potential renters coming up to their door asking for a walk-through (the Nigerians apparently were unable to find a house which was at the time unoccupied).

It’s sad that the entire country of Nigeria, perhaps a large portion of Africa in fact, are getting such a crappy reputation from these scammers. I would imagine that if I had to actually move to Nigeria for some reason and had to do transactions from there, I would have a lot of trouble doing so. I also have to wonder how this impacts legitimate businesses in that country, especially ones trying to market themselves electronically.

The Public Option

June 24th, 2009 4 comments

At his press conference today:

OBAMA: … As one of those options, for us to be able to say, here’s a public option that’s not profit-driven, that can keep down administrative costs, and that provides you good, quality care for a reasonable price as one of the options for you to choose, I think that makes sense.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t that drive private insurance out of business?

OBAMA: Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If — if private — if private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they’re offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can’t run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That’s not logical.

As people have said before, in answer to the criticism that a low-cost government plan will drive the private insurers out of business, one should say, “Good!” In this case, the anti-socialized-medicine crowd can’t win; they’ve painted themselves into a corner. If it’s an option to take the public insurance route, then if people don’t want it, they won’t take it. If government can’t run health care efficiently, then private health insurance should drive the public insurance out of business. And if the government can do health insurance better than private industry, then why shouldn’t it?

The right-wing criticism is that the government can’t run anything efficiently, but we’ve seen that proven false lots of times–until the Republicans get their hands on it and intentionally drive it into the ground, and then declare, “See!?”

Opponents of public health care ask snidely if people want politicians making your medical decisions for you. A stupid question, as politicians would meddle with your coverage far less than the insurance companies currently do; under a public plan, your doctor would have more control than now. And right now, lawyers working for the insurance companies are making your medical decisions based upon how much it profits them; how’s that working out?

The bottom line is this: health care should not be a lucrative, for-profit industry. We’ve seen close-up what happens when it is, when corporations can charge whatever the market can bear to save your life, and lie, cheat, and steal when it comes to living up to their end of the bargain. The whole reason there’s even a debate about this is because the private businesses have done such a horrific job. The insurance companies are running scared because they know that they can’t compete with a public health insurance option, not without cutting their profits to a reasonable margin, covering people the way they’re supposed to, and not denying them coverage at every possible excuse. They don’t want to lose all that.

Downloaded a song? Cough Up $80,000, You Criminal Scum

June 20th, 2009 Comments off

In what was probably music to the RIAA’s ears, a jury found in its favor and awarded it $1.9 million in damages in a file sharing retrial in Minnesota.

The bad news for the RIAA, even if they don’t realize it or don’t care, is that this verdict makes them look far worse then they ever did previously, which is saying a lot.

First, the evildoer they have crushed is a single mother of four. So, not exactly the poster girl for evildoers. She is low-income, so she is not likely to be able to pay even a fraction of the fine. Then there is the idea that this penalizes her kids just as it does her, and considering the relatively pedestrian nature of the “crime,” it comes across as chopping off someone’s hand for stealing a piece of penny candy. No, for stealing the discarded wrapper of a piece of penny candy.

Second, the judgment was so outrageous that most people will recoil: $80,000 per song, or $1,920,000. For downloading 24 songs, and maybe a few people downloaded them from her. Actual damages to the RIAA, at most, were probably well under a hundred bucks. Hard to imagine how the jury didn’t gag on that verdict–one can only assume that they were simply following a set of rules and did not allow reason to interfere.

And third, the verdict is likely to cause a legal challenge more powerful than before, under the proposition that such an award is “grossly excessive.” You can be sure that we haven’t seen the last of this case yet. After all, this was a retrial–the first trial ended with a $220,000 award for the RIAA, but the case was thrown out because the judged ruled that award to be “wholly disproportionate,” “unprecedented and oppressive.” The new punitive damages are roughly a hundred thousand times the actual damages. Frankly, I find the minimum penalty of $750 per song to be excessive–no doubt carrying the force of law only because RIAA lobbyists bribed enough congressmen.

With luck, a challenge will rule the standing law to be unconstitutional–the Eighth Amendment says, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” How many people think that an $80,000 fine for downloading a single $1 song is not excessive? In fact, the law allows for $150,000 per song. Perfectly reasonable, right?

But one can be fairly confident that the folks over at the RIAA are smugly patting themselves on the back right now, because they don’t give a crap about any of the above. What they wanted was to scare the hell out of file sharers, making it easier to shake them down, and to scare people into buying the overpriced music they monopolize. That they took someone who was about as inoffensive as they get and derailing their life, crushing them for a petty offense, means nothing to them. This verdict is likely to frighten more people into caving to the RIAA’s extortion and coughing up thousands of dollars to avoid this kind of trial–despite there being no real evidence that they did anything wrong.

One can only suppose that the RIAA has given up on presenting any semblance of having any good will or image; they have likely decided that people need their music, even if they have to buy it from scum-sucking fascist fat cats.

Categories: Corporate World, Corruption Tags:

Speaking of Values

May 23rd, 2009 3 comments

In the whole torture debate, I see a parallel to the death penalty debate: we should eliminate or avoid such things simply because they are wrong and we should not do them. As I like to say, it is not who we are.

In an earlier blog post, I outlined my opinions about the death penalty, and the bottom line for me was that, as a society, we should not kill when it is not absolutely necessary. The clear exception is self-defense, although all too often this exception is used as a loophole to escape the moral standard; those who wish to kill indiscriminately or at will simply trump up imagined threats and say that we must do horrible things in self-defense. As we saw the Democrats in Congress fold like a cheap suit this week, such scare tactics–even when they are as insipid and hollow as the Republicans’ terrorists-released-on-our-streets meme–work all too well. 9/11 did a better job of scaring us all, and the war advocates milked that for all it was worth. As a result, war is far too often abused as a tool. In fact, it can be argued that since WWII, no war we have engaged in meets the true self-defense standard.

The death penalty is easier to dismiss on this principle; there is no evidence whatsoever that the death penalty deters crime, we have secure enough prisons that escape and further crimes are not a true threat, and the cost of securing the death sentence is greater than that of incarceration. The only real value in the death penalty is vengeance, and I do not see that as a valid reason for society to kill. In short, the death penalty, like unnecessary war, should be banned simply because it is wrong, it is immoral–it is not who we are, or should be.

Torture just as easily falls under this principle. Torture is better suited for producing false statements, as the person being tortured will say anything to make it stop. (Something which now appears to be what Cheney was looking for–false evidence to prop up his war.) Non-torture interrogation is far more efficient as a means of producing reliable information. Therefore, torture is never appropriate for self-defense. Without that exception, torture is plainly wrong and should never be allowed.

In all three cases–torture, capital punishment, and war–our motivations are unhealthy. We do things things out of fear, anger, and vengeance. We drape these base drives with veils of false legitimacy, claiming self-defense, patriotism, and duty to those who have fallen. But the true reasons are clear to anyone who wishes to look.

In fact, it seems that as a nation, we have simply discarded the moral high ground we once treasured. With the coming of the Iraq War, so many–and not just on the pro-war side–quickly abandoned our long-held prohibition against pre-emptive strikes. We accepted the deaths of tens and even hundreds of thousands of foreign civilians with nothing more than a shrug, caring little even after it was clear that the actions in which they were killed were unnecessary and misled. We actually have debates where a fictional TV show is considered valid evidence of the facility of torture.

Where we once had pride, we now claim self-preservation. Where we once held principle and sacrifice over fear, we now hold fear over principle and sacrifice. In short, we no longer have values. Oh, go ahead and tell me otherwise, but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Show me an action in the past decade that we as a nation have taken in any of these areas which demonstrates true adherence to the values we once held. Even if you can find one, I will be able to show you so enough actions that contradict those values to drown the few, if any, actions which adhere to what we once held sacrosanct.

Honesty and the CIA

May 19th, 2009 Comments off

When Nancy Pelosi accused the CIA of fibbing on what they said to her about waterboarding, Republicans reacted with outrage. The CIA, lie? Preposterous!

“I think her accusations against our terror-fighters are irresponsible and, according to the CIA’s record, Speaker Pelosi was briefed on what had been done,” said Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, the senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “It’s outrageous that a member of Congress would call our terror-fighters liars.”

Of course, there is evidence that the CIA’s claims were less than accurate. For example, they also claimed to have briefed former Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida on three occasions; Graham, who takes careful notes and keeps his calendars and schedules, proved that he could not have attended briefings on those dates; the CIA relented and admitted the data was in error. Graham also insists that, according to his notes, he was also never briefed on waterboarding, despite the CIA claiming he was.

But what about Bond’s indignant protest that we not dare question the truthfulness of the CIA? Fact is, the CIA’s reputation has been pretty much torn down all on its own in the past years; the Bush administration pretty much decimated that. Sandy Goodman at HuffPo lists several prominent examples of the CIA misleading pretty much everyone–the U.N., the 9/11 Commission, reporters, Congress, you name it. And from a blog post I wrote exactly three years ago, here’s a quote from Harper’s on how the CIA presented information on Iraq:

A number of current and former intelligence officials have told me that the administration’s war on internal dissent has crippled the CIA’s ability to provide realistic assessments from Iraq. “The system of reporting is shut down,” said one person familiar with the situation. “You can’t write anything honest, only fairy tales.”

The New York Times and others have reported that in 2003, the CIA station chief in Baghdad authored several special field reports that offered extremely negative assessments of the situation on the ground in Iraq—assessments that later proved to be accurate. The field reports, known as “Aardwolfs,” were angrily rejected by the White House. Their author—who I’m told was a highly regarded agency veteran named Gerry Meyer—was soon pushed out of the CIA, in part because his reporting angered the See No Evil crowd within the Bush administration. “He was a good guy,” one recently retired CIA official said of Meyer, “well-wired in Baghdad, and he wrote a good report. But any time this administration gets bad news, they say the critics are assholes and defeatists, and off we go down the same path with more pressure on the accelerator.”

In 2004 Meyer was replaced with a new CIA station chief in Baghdad, who that year filed six Aardwolfs, which, sources told me, were collectively as pessimistic about the situation in Iraq as the ones sent by his predecessor. The station chief finished his assignment in December 2004; he was not fired, but according to one source is now “a pariah within the system.” Three other former intelligence officials gave me virtually identical accounts, with one saying the ex–station chief was “treated like shit” and “farmed out.” …

“The CIA’s ability to speak honestly is gone,” concluded the official, “which is extraordinarily dangerous to our country.”

So it is not exactly unreasonable to suggest that the CIA might be inaccurate.

Certainly it is no coincidence that the CIA released this information as Pelosi was calling for a truth commission that could potentially make the CIA look very bad–and that the Pelosi story has rocketed in the media despite its relative insignificance relative to other stories on the same topic. This is a chilling warning shot to those who would try to get the real truth out there: we will take you down with us.

Categories: Corruption Tags: