Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sarah Palin's Not Good, Very Bad Year - 2011 in Review

by Ennealogic

Does our favorite lipsticked demagogue exit public consciousness, not with a bang but a whimper? (Apologies to TS Eliot.) Sarah Palin has slowly but surely receded from the scene over 2011, to the relief of many and the grief of a few. Here is a sampling of how the year went. Hint: it didn't start out too well!

Image from Sarah Palin WTF 2011 Calendar

January 2011

Following the terrible tragedy in Tuscon where Gabrielle Giffords, members of her staff, and ordinary civilians were murdered or seriously wounded in a broad-daylight shooting, Sarah felt so victimized that she released a video (against best advice from her boss at Fox News) claiming she had been the subject of a blood libel. Nevermind that the image of crosshairs covering the Arizona congresswoman's district still remained on SarahPAC's website. Many observers condemned the misuse of the term 'blood libel' and regarded the speech as a lost opportunity to show leadership. Or compassion. Or decency.

The National Enquirer reported that Sarah's husband, Todd, was embroiled in a sex scandal involving a massage therapist who was charged with prostitution.  Sarah's lawyer was paid to write a 'press release' for the Anchorage PD that said not one scintilla of evidence was found linking Todd to a prostitution ring. Shailey Tripp, the massage therapist, spent many months in a quest to regain her computer, phone, and datebooks from the Anchorage police. She is reviewing and analyzing her records in order to present proof that she was paid for sex and pimped out by Todd.

February 2011

Rick Santorum suggested that Sarah is or should be too busy with "all these kids" as a way of excusing her second annual absence at CPAC, an important annual Republican affair for potential candidates. Palin retorted that her "kids don't hold [her] back from attending a conference," and proceeded to add, "I will not call him the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal. I'll let his wife call him that instead."

Sarah attended the Long Island Association's annual luncheon and in spite of her wish that this line wouldn't be the take-away, she snarked, "It’s no wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody you better breast-feed your baby – yeah, you better – because the price of milk is so high right now!" This would not be the only time in 2011 when Sarah fostered fear over grocery inflation.

Certain members of the 'major media' took a break from Sarah, and gave her the silent treatment. Her star faded a little more.

March 2011

"I've heard of her in an infamous way"
Sarah visited India and stayed in a hotel room from which she emerged only to speak at the India Today Conclave on "What America Means Today."  Excerpts from the speech didn't much make it into mainstream US news, and Indians didn't much seem to care about what she had to say. Arun Poorie did give her a rather hilarious introduction though!

Sarah also visited Israel this month, wearing her overlarge Star of David.  She aborted a trip to Bethlehem, apparently realizing that meant traveling into Palestinian lands, but managed to stop at the Western Wall.  She expressed her belief that Israel should continue to expand its settlements into the Palestinian territories. Even though she dined with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, it looks like she had zero effect on the Middle East peace process.

April 2011

Keeping up her incessant slurs against President Obama, Sarah claimed she isn't a birther but asserted (falsely) that Obama spent $2 million to keep his birth certificate from being made public and supported Donald Trump's efforts to investigate the issue.

Sarah visited Wisconsin to deliver some raw meat to the Tea Party and support Governor Scott Walker's anti-union legislation but ended up being booed loudly by union leaders and supporters, who made up the majority of the 6500-strong crowd. She also lambasted President Obama, screeching, "We didn't elect you just to rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic." At one time she didn't know what the Vice President does. Perhaps she doesn't know what the President does, either?

Her approval rating continued to fall as Kathleen noted in this PoliticalGates post.

May 2011

While the rest of the political world agreed that killing Osama Bin Laden was a brilliant feather in the President's foreign policy cap, Sarah instead criticized Obama for "pussy-footing around" because he chose not to release a photo of the corpse. Morbid much? I bet old Chuck would've loved to see it, too.

News emerged indicating Sarah may have purchased a luxury home in Arizona, encouraging pundits to wonder anew if she was preparing to enter the race for president.

"Think we can fake out the reporters if we veer off on this ramp at the last minute?"
Further tantalizing 2012 prognosticators, Sarah commenced her One Nation Tour at the end of the month, kicking it off at the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally, to which she had not been invited. She declined to publish an itinerary, instead letting paparazzi trail behind the giant We-the-People-wrapped bus, which arrived in New Hampshire just in time to steal a little thunder from Mitt Romney as he formally announced his entry into the 2012 race on June 2.

June 2011

Stephen Bannon announced the results of a secret project: "a two-hour-long, sweeping epic" of a film titled "The Undefeated," set to open in Iowa in July. If there ever was a sign that Sarah was going to run for president, this was it! If there ever was a documentary that would set the record straight about Sarah's record, here it was! (Box Office Mojo reported later, "Even before The Undefeated bottomed out in its second weekend, the movie was a bust in its first weekend...")

Sarah told Piper this was a family vacation, not a campaign tour
The One Nation Tour made an extended pit stop. It's not clear if Sarah's widely panned insistence that Paul Revere did too warn the British to keep their hands off our guns (CNN's anchor had a hard time keeping a straight face after playing the clip of a clueless Sarah rewriting history for us) played a part in short-circuiting the family vacation. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that someone else had trademarked the name One Nation for his own PAC.

As if that wasn't frustrating enough, Palin was snubbed by Margaret Thatcher aides this way: "Lady Thatcher will not be seeing Sarah Palin. That would be belittling for Margaret. Sarah Palin is nuts."

July 2011

A confident-she-could-win-the-Presidency-Sarah quoted Todd as she weighed in on the problem of grocery inflation again in an interview with Newsweek. She claimed the price of Slim Jims rose 169% "just recently." Politifact disagreed.

"I was ticked off at Todd yesterday," she said. "He walks into a gas station as we’re driving over from Minnesota. He buys a Slim Jim—we’re always eating that jerky stuff—for $2.69. I said, 'Todd, those used to be 99 cents, just recently!' And he says, 'Man, the dollar’s worth nothing anymore.' "

Sarah scheduled trip to Iowa for September 3, signaling to her diehard fans that she surely would announce something by then, since she had promised to make her decision known by August or early September. Meantime, SarahPAC treasurer Tim Crawford reported that the PAC had taken in $1.6 million during the first half of the year. Four percent of that ($65,000) went to actual candidates. Sarah probably had to keep the lion's share since the dollar was worth so little anymore.

August 2011

What, no bendy straw??
Sarah fired up the bus one more time to make a surprise trip to Iowa State Fair. Surely this was a sign of something. Oh right, all kinds of press would be there for the Republican debate and straw poll!

A projected Labor Day weekend Palin-O'Donnell Tea Party event created high drama at the end of the month. "First Sarah Palin was scheduled to attend the Tea Party of America's Iowa rally this weekend. Then Christine O'Donnell was invited. Then Christine O'Donnell was uninvited. Then she was re-invited. Now Palin is out. Maybe."

September 2011

Sarah (sans Christine) finally did make it to the Tea Party gathering where she announced she wouldn't be announcing, yet. She did proclaim that the US needed to eliminate all federal corporate income tax in order to cure the economy, though.

September also saw the release of Joe McGinniss' book, The Rogue. Sarah's attorney wrote a letter to McGinniss' publisher threatening to sue for publishing false statements. The Rogue revealed titillating details like Sarah's pre-marital trysting with basketball star Glenn Rice and snorting cocaine off 55-gallon drums, among other embarrassing tales. I can find no evidence that a lawsuit was filed.

October 2011

Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
On October 5 Sarah finally announced, on Mark Levin's third-rate radio show, that she wouldn't seek the Republican nomination for president, validating what Lawrence O'Donnell and others had been saying for months. This precipitated much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and breast-beating on the part of her faithful worshipers. They amount to 34% of the Tea Party, which is at most 49% of Republicans, who are in turn 33% of registered voters. Let's see, that makes Sarah's market share of the electorate somewhere around 5-6%.

Pretending to still be politically relevant, Sarah praised Newt Gingrich and bashed Rick Perry on Greta Van Susteren's show. She berated the October 18 Republican debate monitors for not pressing candidates harder for details, illustrating award-winning irony.

November 2011

Sarah let loose on pedophilia suspect Jerry Sandusky, declaring on another Greta show, "Hang him from the highest tree. I’ll bring the rope." Van Susteren had to remind Sarah that sentences are usually carried out only after the accused has been found guilty of the crime.

Piers Morgan commiserated with Mark Kelly, Gabby Giffords' husband, over how insensitive Sarah Palin had been during the aftermath of the January shooting. Mark had hoped they would have heard from Sarah so he could tell her they knew she wasn't responsible, but that she had been irresponsible. Sarah never got in touch, though—she was no doubt too busy insisting she was blameless.

December 2011

It's still December, of course, but possibly Sarah's biggest contribution to the national political discourse this month was her predictable disparaging of President Obama. Apparently the Obama's Christmas card was devoid of "family, faith and freedom," by featuring First Dog Bo lying in front of a cozy fireplace in a festive and traditionally-decorated room in the White House. I thought it was a really nice card that Americans of any religion (or no religion even) would appreciate.

And finally, an 'independent group' calling themselves "Sarah Palin's Earthquake" began running low-budget advertisments telling Iowans to vote rogue during the upcoming GOP caucuses. A Palin supporter was heard to exclaim, "Paul could run Librarian which would take votes from Obama, Romney will be the Rino pick and Obama for the liberals, and Palin for the American."

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Here's to a Happy New Year, dear Politicalgaters, and may all your earthquakes be small ones.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Rise of the American Police State

by Nomad
From Fiction to Fact

Here is a clip from that brilliant, strange but frightening film "Brazil." The film was a surreal tragic comedy involving a Dystopian authoritarian world where the last refuge of the common man is in his heroic dreams. Because of the threat of terrorism, the state relies on an aggressive policy of No-Questions-asked policy which soon becomes mere intimidation. 

Even then, sometimes things go wrong. 
But this was all fiction, you say. Just a harmless bit of entertainment. I mean, it couldn't happen in the free nations of the West. We have protections for our civil rights built into the system, after all. These have to be respected by authorities. Perhaps not in some third world banana republic, but in the US or in Europe, it's simply not possible. That is a proud notion based on a small degree of truth and a great deal of wishful thinking.
In fact, beginning with the war on drugs and dramatically increasing with the war on terror, the local police have become more and more aggressive in their assault on the rights of citizens. 

Because videotaped evidence can often be quite misleading, the details in this case are, therefore, important. 
Without the videotape, this is how the official story would read in your local gazette. 

Acting on a tip, SWAT police in Columbia Missouri arrested 25 year old Jonathan E. Whitworth on February 11, 2010 for drug possession. 
A police SWAT team entered Whitworth’s residence around 8:30 p.m. suspecting a large amount of marijuana at the location, police spokeswoman Officer Jessie Haden said. SWAT members encountered a pit bull upon entry, held back and then fatally shot the dog, which officers said was acting in an uncontrollably aggressive manner.
Quite predictably, most dogs tend to act in an aggressive manner when confronted with an uninvited squad of intruders bearing arms, breaking down doors and behaving in a threatening manner. It is what we train them to do. From the video, it doesn't appear that the dog actually attacked anybody and was reportedly caged during the intrusion.
Whitworth was arrested, and his wife and 7-year-old son were present during the SWAT raid, Haden said. A second dog, which Whitworth’s attorney Jeff Hilbrenner described as a corgi, also was shot but was not killed.
“The family is concerned with what happened,” Hilbrenner said. “We don’t feel like what happened in the home was appropriate. The priority right now for us is the misdemeanor charges.”
Based on information from two confidential sources (informants) law enforcement believed the man to be in possession of large amounts of the illegal substance. In fact, what the police found was a pipe with a small amount of pot- enough only for misdemeanor charges (under 35 grams).  
In order to justify their obvious failure in the matter, the police decided to charge Whitworth with second degree child endangerment, presumably in regard to the marijuana. Ironic, given the actions of the SWAT team.

Whatever one's own opinions on illegal drugs such as marijuana, one has to ask whether the police response matches the severity of the crime. Was this degree of aggression necessary to serve a warrant? Even if the police had found large qualities of marijuana on the premises, was this actually the best way to handle the situation?
After all, in the United States, in theory, suspects are presumed innocent until a judge or jury determines otherwise. This type of home invasion, destroying property and traumatizing children is not acceptable treatment of an innocent citizen and his family.
With a warrant in hand, the police could have easily entered the home without all the drama. Better yet, the suspect could have been picked up outside the home and the house could have been searched separately. The man and his family could have been an opportunity to peacefully evacuate the home with their pets restrained while police conducted a search of the home.  As you can clearly see, the family was given little time to answer the door and no time whatsoever to restrain their dogs. There were many alternatives but this heavy handed approach was the only one the local police considered.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and Warrants shall not be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Apparently a search warrant was obtained. Police authorities were able to persuade a judge that there was probable cause- incorrectly, as it turned out. How they could ever have persuaded a judge that possibly endangering a seven year old child was a necessary risk is hard to imagine.  And indeed they were well aware that a child was at the residence when they decided to send the SWAT team- as the statements of police demonstrate in the article.
Because the SWAT team acts on the most updated information available, the team wanted to enter the house before marijuana believed to be at the location could be distributed, she said.
Drug distributors traditionally have a history with firearms, which is why the SWAT team is used when executing such warrants, Haden said. If the SWAT team believed they could have executed the warrant successfully during the daytime when the wife and child were not present, they would have, she said.
“If you let too much time go by, then the drugs are not there,” she said.
The excuse is, therefore, expediency and yet nothing is given to corroborate the claim that it was a matter of urgency. According to the spokesperson, it simply was not possible to conduct this action during the day. End of story. We are expected to take her word for the fact. However, given the sheer number of police involved in this drama, it would have taken only one or two police officers to maintain a continual police surveillance of the home until a more appropriate time could be found. 
Was this type of "shock and awe" police action actually warranted? And purely from an economic standpoint, is it worth the expense to the taxpayers? All that equipment, all that training of so many SWAT members? 
But you know what? This event is merely one example.

From the War on Drugs to the War on Terror..and Beyond 
According to  Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, by Radley Balko a policy analyst specializing in civil liberties issues:
Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.
These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they're sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.
The real push to arm your local police to the level of military force standards began immediately after September 11 2001. According to Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Reporting, much of the funding of local police agencies for buying military equipment comes in federal government grants of more than $34 billion in the last ten years.
The federal grant spending, awarded with little oversight from Washington, has fueled a rapid, broad transformation of police operations ... in departments across the country. More than ever before, police rely on quasi-military tactics and equipment, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
No one can say exactly what has been purchased in total across the country or how it’s being used, because the federal government doesn’t keep close track. State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records. But a review of records from 41 states obtained through open-government requests, and interviews with more than two-dozen current and former police officials and terrorism experts, shows police departments around the U.S. have transformed into small army-like forces.
While it may be impossible to determine exactly how this money was spent, this interactive map can give one a general idea how much funding state police forces received. In 2011 California, for example, received $141,599,909 for something called Urban Areas Security Initiative.  As  Andrew Becker and   G.W. Schulz explain:
Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the UASI program allocates grant funding to help high-risk, high-density urban areas develop the capacity “to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism.”
With an annual budget of  $662,622,100, little oversight on spending and no clear definition of what is and what is not terrorism, the program is ripe for misapplication.

And keep in mind this is only one program of many under the auspices of Homeland Security which provides funding. among other anti-terrorism funding programs, there is State Homeland Security, which received $526,874,098 this year, and Emergency Management Performance Grant, $329,040,400 and Emergency Operations Center Grant,  $14,601,740. Again, these are only a few examples of the kind of funding. Justin Elliot for interviewed Becker and Schultz who explained:
What we learned over time is that it’s not just one grant program, it’s grant programs. There is a dizzying array of grants that local communities are eligible for from the Department of Homeland Security and sometimes the Justice Department. A few grants existed prior to 9/11. After DHS was created, Congress kept creating new programs to meet perceived needs around security. For example, “We need a bulletproof vehicle to send in our SWAT unit if a Mumbai-style attack occurs.” That led to a spree of spending on bulletproof vehicles. Each round of purchases is fueled by a what-if scenario.
You could be thinking that this is the price that we all have to pay in order to prevent acts of terrorism in the modern age. But even the General Accounting Office questions whether there is any proof that all the funding  has done anything to decrease the risks. FEMA reports claim that the program is effective but provides little in the way of evidence. David Muhlhausen for The Foundry reports:
Too frequently, the report asserts that the UASI program is effective without providing any quantifiable outcome measures. For example, the report asserts that the “UASI program is enhancing regional collaboration and coordination” without providing any quantitative evidence to support the conclusion. How much has collaboration and coordination increased in areas receiving funding? Other than stating that there has been an increase, the report does not provide any outcome measures. In a 2009 report that contradicts this finding, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that FEMA “does not have measures to assess how UASI regions’ collaborative efforts have built preparedness capabilities”—the primary goal of the program.
Of course, nobody would argue that the United States should not be prepared to deal with terrorist acts. The threats are not imaginary. However, , as we have seen recently in a number of cases, when this money is spent against citizens engaged in peaceful protest then it is only right and only fair to begin asking the hard questions. As the article on Center for Investigative Reporting points out:
No one can say exactly what has been purchased in total across the country or how it’s being used, because the federal government doesn’t keep close track. State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records. But a review of records from 41 states obtained through open-government requests, and interviews with more than two-dozen current and former police officials and terrorism experts, shows police departments around the U.S. have transformed into small army-like forces.
Since Occupy Wall Street and similar protests broke out this fall, confusion about how to respond has landed some police departments in national headlines for electing to use intimidating riot gear, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators. Observers have decried these aggressive tactics as more evidence that police are overly militarized....
Many police, including beat cops, now routinely carry assault rifles. Combined with body armor and other apparel, many officers look more and more like combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The list of equipment bought with the federal grants reads like a defense contractor catalog. High-tech gear fills the garages, locker rooms and patrol cars in departments across the country.
Although local officials say they have become more cautious about spending in recent years, police departments around the country are continually expanding the equipment and tactics of their jobs, despite, in many cases, the lack of an apparent need.
Not quite true. The apparent need has been found: the elimination of  freedom of speech and the right to peaceful dissent. Our local police, equipped with funds by large Homeland Security grants, are now being used, along with the Patriot Act, to quash all protests and intimidate non-violent protesters around the nation. All under the guise of fighting terrorism. As Conspiracy Watch notes:
The FBI has filed 164,000 suspicious activity reports written up on activists who did not follow government policies. For example, in California, 27 individuals are set to go on trial for protest actions. In Pennsylvania, activists even faced terrorism charges for writing slogans in chalk on sidewalks. But this is just the beginning of a frightening nationwide trend. 

Be sweet, please retweet.!/ANomadicView/status/152787813618810882!/ANomadicView/status/152789142957330434

I found this informative video (courtesy of InfoWars) that shows examples of brutality and excess by police departments. I admit that context is important but when a police officer arrests a teenage girl for blowing bubbles at him, or for selling lemonade then it is worth a second look. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

SOPA: The Trojan Horse of Censorship 2/2

by Nomad
Mischief and Cartwheels
In the previous post, we looked at the problem of selective enforcement of the proposed anti-piracy laws found in SOPA and PIPA. With so many possible violations (the Internet is a veritable nest of SOPA cases) the sheer number would overload the Justice system. With a limited budget, the possibility of selective enforcement by the Department of Justice, there are real questions whether SOPA could ever be applied constitutionally at all.

That shouldn't come as any surprise. Generally speaking, the problem of selective enforcement is what happens when poorly written, ill-conceived laws are created. Instead of serving a legitimate purpose, these laws become tools for extortion, intimidation and all manner of mischief. Moreover, they turn normally law-abiding citizens into felons. These anti-piracy laws are much more likely to create a new generation of Internet radicals and hackers. 
Most importantly, SOPA and PIPA are examples of a stupid and impossible policy of attempting to latch the door of an empty barn while the spirited mare named "Net" gallops off down the road. IBM estimates that by 2015, there will be 1 trillion devices connected to the Internet, constantly recording and sharing information. That's a hell of lot of policing and prosecuting of poorly-supervised 18-year-olds and gospel-loving grandmothers to do but law firms across the nation must be doing cartwheels at the prospect of SOPA and PIPA.

Despite the fact that SOPA is foolishness in writing, the entertainment industry seems hell-bent on imposing its self-serving regulations on the Internet and, in the process, destroy one of the best things to come along since the invention of writing. Only when the US begins to lose its competitive edge in Net-based innovation will misguided Congressmen realize that the dangers of allowing major corporations to set government policy.
Even without SOPA, the entertainment industry has attempted to use the laws already on the books to punish those who use downloading software, such as LimeWire, Kazaa and BitTorrent to illegally obtain material. 

Let's examine the case of Jammie Rasset Thomas. This Minnesota woman has been in and out of court since 2006 for illegally downloading 24 songs which she later shared online. The record industry sued her for damages to the tune of $1.5 million, quite a sum for a ordinary housewife from the Land of Sky Blue Waters. (That’s $62,500 for each song ) This is not the only case that Capitol Records has brought against downloaders, but it is one in which the accused has made an attempt to fight  back. 

In fact, by the beginning of 2005, with global sales in a five-year free fall, various music labels had filed 7,437 lawsuits against fans suspected of uploading copyrighted music. In nearly every case, the accused would naturally decide that it would be more economical in the long run to settle, rather than hire a lawyer and face the high-powered legal firms of corporations.

Whether you agree that copy infringement is a serious problem or not, there is still the matter of the punishment being  commensurate with the crime. This is not a small matter; in fact, it forms the basis of all law. 
In the case of BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, the Supreme Court ruled that excessively high punitive damages violate the Due Process clause of the Constitution. Punitive damages may not be "grossly excessive" and must be based on three main principles, most important of which is the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct. Meaning: Was the defendant displaying, for example, reckless disregard for health or safety, or  evidence of bad faith? How does a court determine what is truly reprehensible and what is merely harmful? The Supreme Court ruled that the degree of reprehensibility was governed by these factors:
  1. the type of harm; 
  2.  reckless disregard for health and safety of others; 
  3.  financially vulnerable targets; 
  4. repeated misconduct; and 
  5. intentional malice, trickery or deceit. 
In the Thomas case, none of these factors seem particularly compelling. There are other problems with the decision. According to the ruling of Philip Morris USA v. Williams (2007) the court decided that the degree of reprehensibility  is determined by direct harm the misconduct caused. The more reprehensible the misconduct the greater the justification for a larger punitive damage award. The key words, of course, are "direct harm."
For this Thomas verdict to stand in any fair court, it would seem that the recording industry association would have had to show the court how the distribution of those particular 24 songs cause direct harm to the industry. Not merely the general act of downloading and uploading music. Otherwise what is the meaning of "direct harm" ?
However, the Court also noted in the Philip Morris case, that these factors can be over-ridden if it is necessary "to deter future conduct." (One assumes that means the future conduct of that particular individual and not all law-abiding citizens. Otherwise it falls back into the area of selective enforcement.)
Let's return to the Thomas case. When the jury in Minneapolis ruled that she was indeed liable of the infringement, the Recording Industry Association of America- a trade group representing four major music labels- hailed the verdict. Thomas appealed the judgement in a US District Court and Judge Michael Davis eventually reduced the amount somewhat. (Later this decision was challenged) Obviously the court is in a mess and Thomas has since been ordered to pay varying amounts in statutory damages, ranging from $54,000 to $1.92 million.

No matter what the eventual outcome in the case, some might argue that for this person to be tied up in courts for the last six year facing the very real possibility of financial ruin- all for the sake of 24 songs- is in itself a form of excessive punishment. And it doesn't take a lawyer to see the injustice and bullying being done here.

Blurred Lines
The Thomas case is instructive if only because it shows exactly the kind of strong arm tactics that the corporate supporters of SOPA and PIPA have used in the past. There is no reason to think that the passage of SOPA will soften their hearts and convince them to forgo their intimidation against their potential customers.

Clearly innocent people have been caught up in the judicial nightmare as well. According to one source.
Sarah Ward, a 66-year-old dyslexic retired grandmother, was threatened with a lawsuit over allegedly pirating millions of dollars in hard-core rap. The record industry said Ward perpetrated the heist using KaZaA, a Windows-only program, despite the fact that Ward owned a Mac.
And here's another news item from a different source: 
Despite not owning a computer or even a router, a retired woman has been ordered by a court to pay compensation to a movie company. The woman had been pursued by a rightsholder who claimed she had illegally shared a violent movie about hooligans on the Internet, but the fact that she didn’t even have an email address proved of little interest to the court. Guilty until proven innocent is the formula in Germany. 
One of the problems with SOPA is that it mixes “real” substantial property with the more ephemeral digital form. That’s the reason why you find so many diverse corporations supporting the bill, companies with a legitimate quarrel with foreign ripoffs and counterfeit knock-offs of their merchandise. This is indeed a very real problem for many manufacturers, perhaps not of purses or shoes, but of patented equipment in which exact specifications are vital to safety and proper function, like engines and spare parts. Most people would not argue with the merit of that particular aspect of SOPA.

By quoting one CEO, writer Sarah Jacobsson Purewal  for PCWorld attempts to make a case for SOPA using counterfeit merchandise- rather than illegal downloading of music and films.
"Our mistake was allowing this romantic word--piracy--to take hold," Tim Rothman, Co-CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, told the New York Times last week. "It's really robbery--it's theft--and that theft is being combined with consumer fraud. Consumers are purchasing these goods, they're sending their credit card and information to these anonymous offshore companies, and they're receiving defective goods."
A valid point, no doubt. However, to mix the two forms of property is not particularly honest. For example, when a person copies an MP3, there is no actual loss of the original property. It is not like having your car stolen, for example, nobody is being "deprived" of anything. (More like having the magical power to duplicate your car.) 

And in the case of illegal downloading, there’s no question of defective goods. In fact, that's precisely the problem and it strikes fear in the heart of the film and music industry. The copy is identical and exactly as valuable as the original product. Relatively simple to do and free, the world wide practice of illegal copying and downloading has turned the industry on his head.

Of course the industry had the same objections to video recording technology when it was first introduced. When the long-time lobbyist for the U.S. movie industry Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America spoke to Congress about the problem in the 1970s, he told the credulous politicians:
[T]he VCR is stripping . . . those markets clean of our profit potential, you are going to have devastation in this marketplace. . . . We are going to bleed and bleed and hemorrhage, unless this Congress at least protects one industry that is able to retrieve a surplus balance of trade and whose total future depends on its protection from the savagery and the ravages of this machine.
If that were not enough, he went on to say, “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”
The publishing industry too has survived despite Xerox which is potentially a major copyright challenge. Prior to this, the outcry was against the phonograph. John Philip Sousa testified before Congress about the threat that recorded music posed:
When I was a boy . . . in front of every house in the summer evenings you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or the old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cords will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape”
So these hysterical over-reactions are nothing new. The Copyright laws are constantly being challenged by technological developments. Nobody is seriously arguing that creativity shouldn't be rewarded or protected. However, SOPA goes far beyond protection and rewards. Besides, isn't it only fair to ask: How much compensation is fair and how much is simply excessive and greed? 
In a notable bit of hypocrisy, when an anti-piracy group in Netherlands, BREIN, used a third party to supply a track for an anti-piracy film at local film festival, it was found that the music was used without the composer's permission. The composer claimed a million euro compensation for the unauthorized distribution of his work on DVDs. However, a board member of a royalty collection agency offered to help him recoup the money, but only in exchange of 33% cut. 

The way SOPA and PIPA can be applied- the way the copyright laws are presently being applied- appears to have a chilling effect on innovation and creativity- the opposite effect of goal of the original copyright laws.  
The Spanish courts have taken a less reactionary stand on this subject. Judges Ocariz, Gutierrez and Campillo, in a ruling on a possible copyright infringements of a file sharing site declared that sharing content is nothing new at all. It's been around for a long long time.
The difference now is mainly on the medium used -- previously it was paper or analog media and now everything is in a digital format which allows a much faster exchange of a higher quality and also with global reach through the Internet."
As Kevin Carson for the Center for a Stateless Society writes:
Back in the days of the old Soviet Union, the state licensed access to photocopiers and referred to people circulating Samizdat pamphlets as “pirates,” because they undermined the information control that the bureaucratic oligarchy and its system of exploitation depended on.
Twenty years after the Fall of Communism, it’s corporate capitalism that depends on information control as the basis of its power..Today “intellectual property” is the central monopoly on which the profits of global corporations depend. “Intellectual property” serves the same protectionist function for transnational corporate capitalism that tariffs did for the old national industries a century ago..
That definition of "intellectual property" is continually being revised to fit the needs of the manufacturer. For example, it might surprise you to learn that when you purchase a CD, you are not an owner of the music on that CD. You are merely the owner of the CD. According to law, The Copyright Act distinguishes between ownership of a copyright and ownership of a material object- that is, the CD. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), you only have a license to listen to the music on the CD. And this copyright concept confusion has also crossed the line in the opposite direction as well. 

As we reported earlier in the year, Sony Computer Entertainment America LLC attempted to sue a 21-year old George Hotz for violating his PlayStation3 owner's contract agreement by rewiring/ re-programming his equipment. Furthermore, they charge, by offering his instructions, methods, authorization keys and devices to other hackers Hotz violated the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The goal of this de-engineering project was to "jailbreak" the Sony game device- expanding the device’s capabilities beyond the manufacturer's specs. 

Suddenly, it seems, we are all allowed to purchase the right to use but not allowed to own the product.

In any case, there’s quite a bit of hypocrisy going on. For example, PCWorld magazine itself posted this MP3 how-to guide back in 2000. It walks a very fine line indeed in promoting Napster as a tool for downloading MP3s while noting its illegality in the same article.
A popular MP3-gathering tool is Napster, the infamous music sharing software that turns any computer into an audio file server. Though Napster has a clear policy of supporting the rights of copyright holders, there is no arguing the fact that Napster is used primarily as a piracy tool.
This link to Napster (found in the archives) would definitely be subject to felony charges if SOPA were adopted into law. And that is only the beginning of the headaches and unintended consequence of this legislation. Not by a long shot.

Hypocrisy on a Huge Scale
Allow me to introduce you to Mike Mozart, a fellow researcher who, after hours of intelligent sleuthing, has discovered a wondrous secret about SOPA; a revelation that is truly a game-changer when it comes to understanding the mentality of the people who have been pushing for anti-piracy legislation. It is an important piece of this anti-piracy puzzle. So I urge you to sit in a comfortable chair and play this enlightening - and entertaining- video. You may be in for a shock.

So, according to our friend here, the very people who have for a decade been promoting the software that allows people to download music, books and films for free (with exclusive rights to distribute it!) are the same people who are now demanding from the government the legal right to sue anybody who uses the software. And our "detective" is clearly able to produce thousands and thousands of pages of evidence of corporate collusion, examples to prove his case. Here is further conclusive proof of his claim.

This brings into play a very interesting situation indeed. 
Suppose this horrible piece of legislation somehow manages to sail through the Congress, succeeds in getting Obama's signature and becomes a law, doesn’t this mean that all of the companies that have gleefully distributed this software are now liable to be sued? 
What's really going on here?  

Corporate Conspiracy?
If one is of a suspicious frame of mind, it would hard not to see this push for legislation on copyright infringement as representing the latest attempt by corporations- not merely the entertainment industry- to control and essentially dismantle the Internet. Using the boogey man of piracy, are corporations using SOPA as a kind of Trojan horse in order to sieze control of the Internet?

You don’t need to be an alarmist to  see their motivation. The Internet with its ability to inform and to organize is one of the most formidable challenges to the power structure of the 1%.

Whether all this legal maneuvering is for the sake of profit or whether, as some so-called conspiracy theorists may claim, an attempt at a coup d’etet by corporations and the 1%, it is up to everybody to defend the Net as much as we are able. Imagine what the Internet would be without Facebook, Twitter and Google.. blogs like Politicalgates? 

If one wishes to launch a successful coup d’ete of a republic, one logical first step must not be overlooked. Without this, the toppling of a nation is most likely destined to failure.

Undoubtedly the absolute first thing you should do is to cut all forms of communcations with the outside world off at once. Be sure t include: Telephone, Telex, Wireless, Radio, etc. THIS IS MOST IMPORTANT. It will prevent the present government from mobilizing its forces, deploying their forces in strategic locations that are not normally guarded, etc. It will also prevent them from calling outside for emergency help, jeopardizing your hard work, not to mention your life. Soon the rest of the world will know something has happened, but they will not know who has taken the government, how the coup is progressing, and so forth. Make sure all forms of communications are completely cut.
Paramount to all forms of communication in this day and age is the Internet. This is one reason why many have looked upon the slow encroachment by corporations with grim misgivings. As the Geneva-based Internet Society (ISOC) with its more than 100 organisational members and over 50,000 individual members in over 80 Chapters in 72 countries, states:

The Internet challenges typically hierarchical structures, whether they are societal, economic or political in their nature. It is a tool that has evolved through empowered users and communities - its very existence encourages empowerment and its success is dependent upon it. Yes, empowerment can be threatening - but it is not Internet specific. Governments that undertake actions to quash empowerment or freedom on the Internet do so not because it is the Internet, but because that is the way they “manage” empowerment and freedom generally.

In this sense, all legislation designed to curtail the freedom of the Internet, whether intentionally or theoretically, is the opposite of “empowerment.” If that doesn’t motivate you to take action against SOPA and all other bills under discussion in Congress, then perhaps you have never really understood the true power of the Internet.

The Required Action
What is needed to prevent this bill from becoming law is a concerted public action. Some of those who have spoken out against SOPA have directed attention to the corporations that have openly supported the bill with lobbyists and campaign contributions.

While boycotts and threats of consumer retaliation might have some marginal success at waking up some of the supporting companies, most of the larger corporations, like Time Warner, are so diversified, that, unfortunately, they would be essentially unaffected by any kind of consumer revolt. Too big to care, you might say. Some simply do not value what you think about the Net. 
Others think that all energies should be directed at the Congress.

On Wednesday, January 18 2012, Congress will return to consider the bill. It is not at all a forgone conclusion so, thinking the matter is hopeless is really a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Below is a link to a chart of the thirty one co-sponsors of SOPA. I have tried to include the telephone numbers, twitter and Facebook accounts where available.

And here is a list of corporations who have came out in support.

Please be sure to tweet the video above:

Check this video out -- Be a HERO and Help STOP #SOPA Now!! I'll tell you How! 
...or for your convenience, you can retweet this instead:

That’s a good start, I think. Any other ideas? I hope we can all do our part to stop this wretched proposition from ever reaching the president's desk.
One last thing to add. Normally, in writing for Politicalgates, I have been content simply to inform and to join in on the discussion. Some here have gently criticised that the news is somewhat depressing. I agree with that. (Honestly I am a fun-loving guy) 
However, what would be even more depressing than bad news is not having any means of learning about the problems we face, and not being able to share this information without fear of reprisal. 
That would be a tragedy, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

SOPA: The Trojan Horse of Censorship 1/2

by Nomad
At a recent House Committee Meeting, Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, asked Department of Justice head Eric Holder an interesting question about Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), an Internet censorship bill currently under review.

If you don’t know already, SOPA is a proposal aimed at stopping online piracy of copyrighted material, such as films, books, and music, sheet music and many other kinds of intellectual property. SOPA is just one of a series many proposals recently introduced.

Notice how Polis skillfully questioned Holder about how the Justice Department planned to implement certain aspects of the bill, namely enforcement. It is no small matter given the sheer number of potential copyright infringement cases that the bill proposes to outlaw. To calculate how many sites would be adversely affected is impossible but the figure is bound to be astronomical. YouTube, Twitter, blogspot, Google would all be negatively affected by the law.
Despite the fact that the legislation has been demanded by many corporations and organizations in the entertainment industry, others have expressed their disapproval for the bill. Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe says SOPA violates the First Amendment and "should not be enacted by Congress."

However, another problem and the point that Polis astutely makes is that the Justice Department of any nation would never be able to find the budget required to prosecute every violation. Thus, in order to put the proposed anti-piracy laws into effect it would require a very selective process of prosecution. According to the Constitution, selective prosecution is a direct violation of the guarantee of equal protection for all person under the law. As one source puts it:
On the federal level, the requirement of equal protection is contained in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment extends the prohibition on selective prosecution to the states. The equal protection doctrine requires that persons in similar circumstances must receive similar treatment under the law.
As we see in the video clip, Holder immediately sees the problem that Polis is calling attention to and makes a quick attempt to dodge. Why is it so important?
Historically, selective enforcement is recognized as a sign of tyranny, and an abuse of power, because it violates the Rule of Law, allowing those in authority to apply justice only when they choose. Aside from this being inherently unjust, this almost inevitably leads to favoritism and extortion, with those empowered to choose being able to help their friends, take bribes, and threaten those from whom they desire favors.
Writing a bill and finding enough support to make it into law is not the problem- even in this political climate. Many have charged that this particular bill is poorly written and badly thought-out. Another real problem, as Polis also delicately pointed out, is enforcement. Relying solely on the discretion of the Justice Department prosecutor opens the door for all manner of injustice. In an interview with CNET, Polis stated:

I find this particularly hypocritical, this proposal, coming from many Republicans. (Not Darrell Issa, who's consistent and opposed to SOPA.)

Other Republicans have been very skeptical of the attorney general's leadership, of his use of discretion. And here we're going to give him enormous powers over the Internet and allow him to use them at his discretion in a selective way.

He's going to have to make some choices about enforcing it. And that raises the specter of that being colored by political considerations or economic considerations or ideological considerations--or who knows what considerations will be used by any attorney general when it comes to selective enforcement.
More than any other member of Congress, House Representative Jared Polis’ opinion has, perhaps, a bit more validity than other politicians. The Colorado Democrat has founded a series of successful Web-based businesses and has in-depth experience with both sides of the piracy debate. After examining the bill, Polis became a outspoken critic of the proposed legislation and has warned that the bill, if enacted, would “destroy the Internet as we know it.”  You should believe, he isn’t exaggerating.

The Wrong Medicine
And SOPA is not the only attempt to pass controversial legislation designed, at least, ostensibly at defending intellectual property and copyright rights. There’s also the PROTECT IP Act of 2011 (S.968) , sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat from Vermont. That bill was designed to establish:
a system for taking down websites that the Justice Department determines to be "dedicated to infringing activities." The DoJ or the copyright owner would be able to commence a legal action against the alleged infringer and the DoJ would be allowed to demand that search engines, social networking sites and domain name services block access to the targeted site. In some cases, action could be taken to block sites without first allowing the alleged infringer to defend themselves in court.
This bill is actually a second attempt by Leahy. Last year he and and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) sponsored S. 3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) which was to create a blacklist of Internet domain names which the Attorney General can add to with a court order. Internet service providers, financial transaction providers, and online ad vendors (everyone from Comcast to PayPal to Google AdSense) would be required to block any domains on the list. 

It should also be added that, according to the Leahy is recorded as having received a combined $772,250 in campaign donations from special interests supporting SOPA. Additionally Republican Rep. Howard Berman from California's 28th District was one of the co-sponsors of SOPA. He received campaign contributions worth $303,550 from groups that supported SOPA, significantly more than any other Representative. He was also the recipient of $376,600 in donations with groups in connection with PROTECT IP. Republican Eric Cantor of Virginia was a big winner with $462,292 in special interest contributions. The money is certainly flowing in from both sides of the debate. (For a breakdown of the money trail click here and here

Not everybody is convinced. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) said of last year’s COICA:
“It seems to me that online copyright infringement is a legitimate problem.,But it seems to me that COICA as written is the wrong medicine. Deploying this statute to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile.”
All of these proposals are fraught with problems. Problems with enforcement, possible problems with abuse by overzealous copyright lawyers and a poor understanding by politicians of the consequences and the effects that such a bill would produce. We have, for example, already witnessed how certain law firms are misusing the definition of copyrighted material in order to suppress undesirable information from becoming public. Under SOPA, blogs, like PoliticalGates, would be easily subjected to government closure, simply at the request of an unseen lawyer commissioned by unspecified multi-national corporate entity. 

The recent Citigroup memos are but one small instance of copyright laws being used to effectively threaten and intimidate. With SOPA, this kind of thing could become routine with very little opportunity for recourse.

Threats As A Tool 
The Citigroup memo case is by no means an isolated incident. In another case, Gary S. Friedlander, Vice President & Division General Counsel for Trans Union LLC, the third largest credit bureau in the United States, threatened to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement against a website, Public Intelligence. The documents in question originated from Trans Union Credit Report Training Guide, which the company claimed were highly confidential and therefore copyrighted. 

Friedlander threatened “Trans Union can file a lawsuit against you seeking among other things: preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, money damages, and attorneys’ fees”. Mr. Friedlander also demands that we “immediately destroy any and all copies of Trans Union copyrighted material in your possession and/or control”. The documents- which had been published elsewhere in various locations- revealed how TransUnion allegedly sold private credit information to one or more marketing companies- for which the company had settled a class-action lawsuit for $75 million. 

As the writers of Public Intelligence point out, this kind of thing, the copyright infringement threat, has become a common ploy
In fact, despite the more than fifteen threats and takedown notices we have received from governments, corporations, law enforcement and transnational military alliances, no document has ever been removed from this site. This is because the central focus of this site is to function as a secure repository of information in the public interest. We have no intention of harming TransUnion or of infringing on their copyrights. We simply posted freely available documents to help inform ourselves and others of the information contained in credit reports and collected by credit reporting companies. We feel we have a right to this. It is, after all, our information from which TransUnion makes its living. Our social security numbers, our houses, our cars, our family members and children are all the collective subjects of TransUnion’s credit reports.
(It is highly ironic that a company that easily sold the personal information of private individuals would have such illegitimate demand for its own privacy.)

Another noteworthy case involved Diebold, a $2 billion company that makes most of its money by manufacturing ATM machines but is more famous for its voting machines. Armed with copyright protection laws of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Diebold issued cease-and-desist letters to more than a dozen people who posted documents or links to documents that Diebold claims were stolen from its servers. The internal staff e-mails reveal Diebold knew about security flaws in its computerized voting machines but sold the devices to several states, including California, Maryland and Georgia. In a twist, two Swarthmore College students and an ISP filed a suit against the company in court for alleged abuse of copyright protections. According to the source:
"Copyright law must not become a tool of censorship," Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) legal director Cindy Cohn said in a statement following the one-hour hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose, California. "In this case," Cohn said, "Diebold used phony copyright claims to silence public debate about voting, the very foundation of our democratic process."
The verdict comes from Wikipedia:
United States District Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled that the plaintiffs' publishing of the e-mails was clearly a fair use, and that Diebold had misrepresented its copyright controls over the work, putting them in violation of section 512(f) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and leaving them liable for court costs and damages. This was the first time 512(f) had been enforced in court, and set a precedent.
For every case like this, there are a countless of numbers of cases that never reach the courts. The threat of legal action- whether legitimate or not- is more than enough. It is clear that the risk to copyright infringement must be secondary to the public’s right to know. As we have seen, when it comes to abusing the spirit of copyright protective, abuse of the laws presently on the books is rampant. Sadly SOPA and PIPA simply allow greater misuse and  will ultimately further damage freedom of the press privileges and hinder the free access to information.

Interestingly these bills, according to the experts, won't take down foreign sites or even prevent them from being accessed by the technically skilled. It would, however limit access to most Americans. And because of the potential for legal action, .it could, in turn, have a chilling effect on innovation What is and what is not a copyright violation has increasingly become a matter of opinion and few would want to risk crossing the line. Especially if that line is blurred and dictated by corporations and high powered legal firms with enough financial resources to ruin an individual and drive a smaller Web-based company into quick bankruptcy. It simply be easier to relocate outside of the US and forgo the risk.

Disastrous For the Internet
In the impossible pursue of absolute control over digital property, the solution is far worse than the cure. Moreover, this new “Great Wall” is exactly the thing that President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton warned other nations like China and Iran about. For example, speaking about the freedom afforded by the free Internet, he told an audience of young Chinese in Shanghai back on 16 November 2009.
"I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable.They can begin to think for themselves."

"These freedoms of expression, and worship, of access to information and political participation - we believe they are universal rights. They should be available to all people, including ethnic and religious minorities, whether they are in the United States, China or any nation."
Clinton for her part recently speaking at an Internet conference in The Hague, told her audience:
More government control will further constrict what people in repressive environments can do online. It would also be disastrous for the internet as a whole, because it would reduce the dynamism of the internet for everyone.
Passage of a bill like SOPA or the Protect IP (or whatever next year’s version might be) is ill-conceived, unconstitutional and simply a waste of time. On a darker note, these bills are the first uncertain step down a slippery slope of Internet censorship, a web in which corporate America will control exactly what Americans can and cannot access on the net.

In the end the question comes down to this: Do we really have to choose between a free and open Internet or an Internet that is severely limited by flexible definitions of what constitutes violations, an Internet content continually inspected by prosecutors hired by multi-billion dollar corporations? 

As Congressman Polis remarked:
Everyone agrees that we should do something. But we don't want a so-called solution that's worse than the problem. And this doesn't address the problem. I hope that we can declare this bill dead soon so we can actually do something, working with the valid stakeholders to ensure that intellectual property is better respected.