Short Truths about Marijuana (for those newly receptive after state legalization)

December 7th, 2012 by gnu
  • Use is not abuse.  Drug use is not drug abuse.  People use marijuana because they enjoy it, or for medical reasons.  That’s not drug abuse.  It’s drug use.
  • Marijuana is safer than alcohol.
  • Marijuana is more useful than harmful.
  • The worst harms from marijuana use come from being searched, arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned, and put on probation.  The worst harm comes not from the drug, but from the drug policy.
  • Marijuana is 3x as popular as all other illegal drugs combined.
  • Thus, fixing our marijuana policy would fix 75% of the illegal drug issue.
  • U.S. drug policy is the last bastion of official racism against black and latino people.
  • U.S. drug policy kills tens of thousands of people every year in Mexico.
  • U.S. drug policy destabilizes governments all over Latin America.
  • The U.S. imprisons far more people than any nation on earth — and a quarter of the problem is our drug laws.
  • Despite any child or adult being able to get marijuana, no independent medical studies of marijuana can legally be done in the U.S., due to deliberate and systematic blockage by half a dozen federal agencies.
  • The government is lying to us about drugs — particularly about marijuana.
  • Marijuana has been a medicine and a major fiber crop for thousands of years, all over the world.
  • Marijuana was a medicine and a major fiber crop in the U.S., until former Prohibitionists got Congress to outlaw it in 1937, after Repeal and the Depression threatened their jobs.

Inboxpad A8388 Android tablet unboxing

April 12th, 2012 by gnu

I recently ordered an Inboxpad A8388 10.1″ Android tablet from a Chinese export/import vendor.  These are grey market resales of a tablet designed around the original Pixel Qi sunlight-readable screen.  A limited number of these tablets are available, since they never went into mass production due to project cancellation.  Still, they are the only somewhat-available tablets with a PQ screen.  So I bought one and it arrived today.

The tablet came in working order.  On one side, it has a power button (which is somewhat flakey, neither powering on nor shutting down the tablet reliably), volume up and down buttons, and a slide switch for the backlight.  Along the next side are two ports, one for a MicroSD card (which you insert upside-down, with the contacts upright and inward), and the other for a SIM card (which you also insert upside-down, with the contacts up and inward).  But there’s no cellular radio (nor GPS) inside these units, so the SIM card slot is unused.  On another side is a MicroUSB socket.  On a fourth side are a power input port (12V, 2A, with a flakey connector that constantly needs re-seating) and a 3.5″ 4-section headphone jack.  It has a Home button centered Apple-style below the screen.  It also has touchable spots near the Home button for the classic Android Menu and Back functions.   It came with a US-style 110v power adapter and a headphone with a single pushbutton control (that seems to have no function).

It’s based on a Samsung S5PV210 ARM Cortex-A8, 1 GHz system-on-chip (SOC).

So far I have not reloaded the firmware inside it.  It was able to see a 4gb MicroSD card once I rebooted it.  I’m hoping to copy the existing flash partitions out, before trying to reflash them.
There are other tablets with the same SOC (HP TouchPad, Kobe Kyros 7015 and 7024, Dropad A8HD, CorePad 7, Ashiou A816, and many other, more generic tablets).  I don’t know if CyanogenMod is yet reliably running on any of them.  There was an early port to the Kobe Kyros 7015 with a lot of misc problems.

The power button is flakey, it’s hard to tell whether it has been noticed by the device, which is unfortunate because holding it down sometimes means something different from just pressing it.  I’ve been able to get the tablet to shut down (with “adb reboot”) and to boot back up.  When not booted, if you plug the power adapter into it, it briefly shows a screen with a battery image that shows the % charged.  I was once able to get it to do something interesting during booting, with a USB cable connected to a host Linux machine; I think I held the volume-down key (next to the power key) while pressing the power key to boot, leading to a screen with a picture of a USB plug and a message in Chinese that included the words “USB”, “PC”, and “PC”.

Privacy Advocates Meet In Mexico City

November 3rd, 2011 by annie

A coalition of civil society groups have been meeting in Mexico city this week to review the Madrid Privacy Declaration and look at international privacy laws.  The gathering was organized by The Public Voice and held in conjunction with the 33rd Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners Conference which took place today. The Public Voice event included a number of nonprofit organizations that promote privacy and free expression on the Internet. Katitza Rodriguez, International Rights Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), presented at the conference. Katitza and I wrote about the event on the EFF Deep Links blog.

The Madrid Declaration was drafted two years ago to set international standards for Internet privacy. The Public Voice gathering looked at strategies for expanding these protections and examined current privacy laws in Latin America and around the world. It reviewed surveillance technologies such as facial recognition applications, employment verification programs, automobile black boxes and smart meters that track electricity usage.

Privacy threats are particularly serious in Latin America where many democratically elected governments don’t respect basic human rights. Government officials and intelligence agencies conduct illegal surveillance and misuse interception technologies to spy on politicians, dissidents, judges, human rights organizations and activists. Katitza and I have been examining cases involving revealed surveillance systems in Paraguay, Panama and Colombia that are used to identify, control and stifle dissent.

Civil society must show the world how surveillance technologies impact human rights and freedom of expression. We can help pressure governments in Latin America and the rest of the world to pass laws that provide meaningful privacy protections.

The First Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference

October 26th, 2011 by annie

I spent the last two days listening to a series of interesting presentations at the first ever Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference. Organized by the nonprofit group Access and sponsored by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype, Mozilla and other major tech companies, the conference included activists who participated in the Arab Spring and business people who create the tools protesters have been using to circumvent censorship. This morning we watched a live video feed of pro-democracy protesters in Yemen who have been following the discussions with interest.

The conference offered a stark reminder about the pressures on human rights activists and the complicity of companies who yield to authoritarian regimes. The event began with talks by two activists who may go to prison for exercising their right to free speech online. Thai journalist Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who directs a popular Thai news portal, was charged with defaming the Thai royal family after pseudonymous comments were posted to the site that Thai authorities deemed inappropriate. Alaa Abd El-Fatah, an Egyptian blogger and software developer who cofounded the Egyptian blog aggregators Manala and Omraneya, is set to be tried by a military tribunal. El-Fatah noted that 12,000 Egyptian civilians are now being held in military prisons for participating in the revolution. He observed that rate limits on Twitter, real name policies on Facebook and the drive to monetize every online transaction limits the usefulness of technology for activists.

Maria Al-Masani, founder of the Yemen Rights Monitor human rights group, told participants how her fellow activists use common applications to circumvent censorship. She recalled that when Yemen decided to ban Al-Jazeera, activists there bridged the gap by recording videos on their phones, posting the footage to YouTube and Facebook, linking content directly to the Al Jazeera live stream, and then Tweeting the story.

While this strategy is effective, Bob Boorstin, the Director of Public Policy at Google, told participants that forty democratic and authoritarian regimes around the world are actively blocking free speech - and companies are not doing enough to promote human rights. He acknowleged that Google itself does not have a spotless record. “You’ve got to be ready to lose some money in order to protect human rights,” said Boorstin to applause. “And not a lot of companies are ready for that.”

El-Fatah noted that Vodafone offered no resistance to the Egyptian’s government’s request for a kill switch that shut down cell phone services during that country’s Arab Spring. El-Fatah said companies should resist having their products used to suppress dissent and must think carefully about the privacy rights of ordinary users. “We choose how to reveal who I am, on what terms and in what basis,” said El-Fatah. “When you restrict me from doing this, you violate my human rights.”

The conference offered some interesting discussions about pressuring companies to support basic human rights. It was well attended by a broad mix of government representatives, academics, civil society, private sector players, activists and human rights NGOs. I work for nonprofit technology organizations that support human rights activists and people I admire made strong presentations.

The final discussion of the gathering concerned the protection of emerging rights, especially the right to an unfiltered, uncensored and unmonitored Internet. If we want to establish and defend quality access, future discussions must focus on the edges of the Net, on the marginalized and excluded users whose freedom of speech is being criminalized.

Update on Reliance blank caps (water storage for emergencies and Burning Man)

August 16th, 2011 by gnu

My friends followed my recommendation and called Reliance to get blank caps for their newly bought Jumbo-Tainers.  When I called them a year or two ago, they were pleasant and even sent the caps without charge.  All but one of my original caps were leaking, and I’d tried numerous fixes on them without success.
Nowadays they have decided to be a pain in the ass.  Reliance now sells blank caps only in blocks of 4 cases of 144 caps/case.  They referred us to a dealer in Minnesota, who would only sell a full case of 144 caps at 70c per cap.  My friend tried calling several camping stores that sell Jumbo-Tainers, and they all refused to sell blank caps.

As my friend says, “I think we’re stuck with spigots unless we want to spend $100+shipping for a lifetime’s supply of blank caps.”

Therefore I have to disrecommend the Reliance water storage products.

It’s just amazing how companies shoot themselves in the foot in such trivial, stupid ways.

Water containers for long-term storage and/or for Burning Man

August 5th, 2011 by gnu

For post-earthquake survival in San Francisco, I keep 42 gallons of fresh drinking water handy.  I use the same containers to carry a week’s worth of water for four people to Burning Man.  Unfortunately the technology of portable potable storage is flawed.  You can’t use ordinary gallon or multigallon prefilled plastic water jugs; they’re expensive, produce a lot of trash, and they readily leak.  If you leave ten 1-gallon jugs sitting for a year you’ll discover that half of them have developed little leaks and let half the water out.  And the water in the other ones won’t taste very good.
I do recommend having four or five gallon jugs of storebought water along at Burning Man.  You can decant water from your larger containers into these, for easy use around the kitchen or camp.  Just don’t expect them to last more than a month or two.
I have a variety of long-term water containers: four Jumbo-Tainers, and three Aqua-Tainers, one with a filter.  None of them is really great.

The best I found was the “Jumbo-Tainer” by Reliance Products, a tall green “jerry can” with two handles, and that’s the one I recommend that you get.

It’s tall and thin, so it packs well, and has handles both for hauling and for pouring.  I can put at least four of them into each compartment under an RV (which is where they belong - heavy things go low down to lower the RV’s center of gravity).

However it has two major problems:

  • The cap contains a spigot which invariably breaks or leaks. Once it starts leaking I’ve found no way to seal it, having tried O-rings, plumber’s tape, and metal plumbing fixtures.
    • Fix: For each container you get, buy an extra “blank cap” from the company, which they don’t offer in stores nor on their web site, but they do actually have ‘em if you phone them up (customer service, +1 800 665 0258).  They’re in Manitoba so if you aren’t in Canada, the caps will have to cross customs to get to you; allow extra time.  Keep stored water covered with blank caps, and carry the spigot caps separately.  If and when you want to dispense water from a spigot, screw one onto a container, replacing and saving the blank cap.  Treat the spigot caps gently, and throw them out once they start to leak. Reliance does sell spare spigot caps for $7, but you won’t need the spares for a while, until all of your original removed spigot caps break.
  • The vent hole also leaks; it’s secured just by the friction between the plastic case and a plug you push in.
    • Circumvention:  Always store them with that corner upwards.

You can read some very mixed reviews on the REI Jumbo-Tainer product page.

I also have three Aqua-Tainers, the square blue ones, and it has similar problems with the cap and vent.  Some Aqua-tainers have a screw-on vent that actually seals, but apparently that version doesn’t have a separate name or product number from the one with the leaky friction vent (which they apparently continue to manufacture).  On the web sites like Amazon, REI, and Target, they mix up the photos of the good ones with the bad ones, apparently without even noticing that they’re showing two separate product designs.  This makes it risky to order them from a website or catalog, since you can’t tell whether you’ll get the leaky vents or the fixed ones, or a mix of both.

I don’t understand why Reliance Products of Manitoba continues to sell these defective products, when they’ve already engineered solutions to both sources of leakage!  They claim to be ISO-9001 quality certified, which shows just what crap that certification is, since any actual quality control program would’ve noticed all the customer reviews and complaints about leakage, and would’ve revised the products to not leak, by shipping them with blank caps and a separate spigot, and by molding all the vent holes to take a screw-on cap instead of a friction-fit plug.

The Aqua-Tainer stores as much water as the Jumbo-Tainer, but in an almost cubical form factor that’s hard to store.  They CANNOT be stacked when filled with water, despite misleading photos.  The Jumbo-Tainer fits into many places that the fat Aqua-Tainer won’t, like behind a seat in a car.  Aqua-Tainers are hard to pour from, since they only have one handle and it’s on top, next to the opening, not on the side.  I recommend avoiding the Aqua-Tainers if you can find Jumbo-Tainers, and also skipping any Aqua-Tainer that doesn’t have a screw-on vent cap.

There is an Aqua-tainer that comes with a filter, for twice the price. Don’t get it! The filter is useless. It doesn’t filter for drinkability, only for looks. And whatever idiot designed it put the filter INSIDE the jug cap, but the storage location exposed to the outside air. So do you put the dirty water inside the jug, and filter it as you pour it out? (Wrong answer - save your jug for clean water, since you can’t reach inside it to clean it.) Then if you filter it as you pour it in, your filter will be full of dust, crud, and particles that it’s picked up while it was in storage. You’ll have to insert that nice dirty filter into your nice clean water, because it’s misdesigned to be on the inside of the cap. The right answer? Don’t use the *($%(#$*# filter!  Get a real filter like a Katadyn, and run your dirty water through it before you ever let it into your jug.

It looks like the cheapest place to get the Jumbo-Tainer is Target, $15 each. Direct from Reliance they’re $20. REI also has them, for $17, and Amazon, for $18.60.

The country can afford to pay its debt; it can’t afford to waste money

July 27th, 2011 by gnu

If the 14th Amendment says the validity of the debt shall not be questioned, then I guess every newspaper is violating the 14th Amendment as it discusses what might happen “if” the government stops paying on its debts.  But the whole idea is foolish.
As with anybody responsible, you don’t just stop paying your creditors.  First you cut out the luxuries.  Then you start negotiating with your creditors while you work out how to cut back on the necessities too.  You keep paying your debts, if you ever want anyone to lend you money ever again.
I don’t think we need to spend a billion dollars this year on NIDA, which exists solely to “prove” that already-illegal drugs are bad for you.  I don’t think we need to spend a billion dollars on a subway that will only run 17 blocks under San Francisco to Chinatown.  I don’t think we need to spend billions and billions monthly on killing people in other countries that never did us any harm.  Federal employment is not a right, and a bunch of federal employees might need to find other jobs.  Subsidies for farmers, oil companies, tobacco growers, could all be cut tomorrow with few negative effects.  The federal government doesn’t have to pay top wages on every construction job as a handout to union labor, either.  We could even consider closing Guantanamo — legalized torture doesn’t come cheap either.  We can vastly reduce what we spend on such things before we will ever have a problem being able to pay the interest on the debt.  But up til now there was zero pressure to STOP spending money on all these “luxuries” (or “bad ideas” if you prefer).

I’m GLAD that the country is finally having a public debate over how to put our fiscal house in order.  Insane profligacy by Congress and the President spending “other peoples’ money” has gotten us here, and the only cure is to stop doing that.  It would’ve been smart to stop last year, or last decade, rather than trying to stop suddenly at the start of August, but that’s the idiocy of Washington for you.

Gov’t lying, as usual, about banning lightbulbs

July 12th, 2011 by gnu

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu manages to fit a few lies into his press release (also repeated at the White House blog) such as “The standards do NOT ban incandescent bulbs.”  As usual, when a high government official’s mouth is moving, lies are coming out.  Indeed the “standards”, i.e. the law, DOES ban the vast majority of incandescent bulbs.  Perhaps he meant to say “The standards do NOT ban ALL incandescent bulbs.”  They just ban all the common and cheap incandescent bulbs.

The government spends all its time telling us how great some new bulb products are, without deigning to answer why, if those things are so great, people have to be forced to buy them by banning competing products. They even have the gall to compare this transition to “the change from VCRs to DVDs” — a transition in which CONSUMERS decided which product to buy, rather than bureaucrats.

My own experience with LED bulbs is that these “long life” bulbs tend to fail within weeks.  The LEDs may be perfectly fine, but the electronics around them fail much more quickly than ordinary incandescent bulbs.  I’m a big fan of LEDs; I give away more than a thousand LED flashlights every year.  But after returning three successive LED bulbs to the manufacturer after each failed within a month, I swore off AC-powered LED bulbs until they debug the damn things.  And CFLs don’t work with dimmers — and my entire house is fitted with dimmers (which save energy).  I even got the “dimmable” CFLs; they failed within weeks as well.

Here’s another example of how the Energy Department lies by omission.  Their FAQ asks, “What is the cost difference between the new lights and my incandescent bulbs? How much money will I save when I switch to these new bulbs?“, then doesn’t answer the question, because the answer is politically incorrect.  The answer is that the banned bulbs are cheaper to buy than all the ones left after the ban.  So the real effect of the ban is to force consumers to pay more today, on the theory that if the bulbs last long enough and if the energy price is as projected, they’ll eventually perhaps save money.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the real impetus behind passing this law was campaign donations from companies that make these expensive bulbs. It’s “too hard” to compete with cheap, familiar products unless the government bans them to make the innovator’s life so much easier.

Consumers, stockpile incandescent bulbs!  It’ll be so much easier than getting a friend to illegally ship them to you from a free country later.  Meanwhile, work on removing the rats in Washington from having any power over the sinking ship of the United States.

Competitor access to telco fiber would fix “net neutrality”

March 2nd, 2011 by gnu

The Washington Post mistakenly editorialized:

FOR MORE THAN a decade, “net neutrality” — a commitment not to discriminate in the transmission of Internet content — has been a rule tacitly understood by Internet users and providers alike.

But in April, a court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission has no regulatory authority over Internet service providers. For many, this put the status quo in jeopardy Without the threat of enforcement, might service providers start shaping the flow of traffic in ways that threaten the online meritocracy, in which new and established Web sites are equally accessible and sites rise or fall on the basis of their ability to attract viewers?

So-called network neutrality isn’t a magic principle that somehow everyone followed because it hadn’t occurred to them to violate it yet. It didn’t exist only until April when the FCC found a limit on its powers. It’s much deeper than an enactment of Congress.

The “rule tacitly understood” has been enforced for more than a decade by customers, not by regulators. Any ISP that tried to restrict what its customers did, or to discriminate against its customers’ traffic, would lose those customers to a competing ISP.  AOL, MCI, Compuserve were all forced to open their walled gardens that only let you talk to their other customers. The same is true in shoes, in groceries, in cars, and every other free market. We consumers aren’t stuck with bad suppliers, we can pick better suppliers — or become a supplier ourselves. The government doesn’t have to sternly reform self-serving companies; we consumers do that for ourselves. They go out of business when their customers switch to somebody better.

What has changed in the last 15 years is that regulatory actions have eliminated competition in the broadband Internet market. Now that many customers have no serious opportunity to pick an ISP who offers better terms, of course the existing ISPs are going to maximize their own revenue and convenience at their customers’ expense.

It’s convenient that the telcos have locally-regulated cable companies around, since otherwise high speed access would be too obviously a monopoly. But a “duopoly” sounds much better — it sounds like competition even though it ain’t. It’s just as cushy for the duopolists, because anybody unhappy with BOTH providers doesn’t have a chance to start a third, fourth, fifth, or twentieth competitor. So of course both providers, who are benefiting from this situation, will evolve their terms in tandem, while making sure the rules remain that no new competitors can come in and upset their cozy deal.

The cure is easy, but apparently not obvious to most people. It is to re-establish competition in the ISP market just above the level of the wires and fibers. The wires and fibers can remain a monopoly, or duopoly, regulated by the government as they are today, as long as any ISP has the power to lease them at the same price. This is actually the law today, except for an exception that swallowed the rule for high speed access.

The thriving and competitive ISP market of 1995 existed because anyone could go into business as an ISP, leasing point-to-point wires and fibers and phone lines from telcos at non-discriminatory prices related to their cost-plus-regulated-profit. This was because of a long series of regulatory decisions starting from the Carterfone decision, requiring the companies who had a monopoly on wired infrastructure to lease those wires at a fixed price to anyone who wanted them. ISPs could buy phone lines, could buy leased lines (56K, T1, T3, etc), and could hook them together into an Internet.

When I didn’t like the terms available from early ISP’s, I made my own cooperative ISP with friends. When the nationwide ISP who connected us to the larger Internet threatened to cut us off (for violating their terms prohibiting sharing of our connection), we found another nationwide ISP who was happy to connect us to the Internet. Ultimately our network, “The Little Garden”, connected fifty or sixty little mom-and-pop ISPs, and hundreds of other customers, with the backbones of several large international ISPs. We had customers and partners all over the West Coast. We offered reasonable prices and great terms, which meant that any national ISP who wanted to compete in our service area also had to offer great terms. We were happy to take any customers who the big ISPs wanted to drive away with discriminatory terms.

And thus the “rule tacitly understood” was enforced — not by a regulator, but by free competition for the business of consumers free to choose a supplier. But this only worked because new suppliers — like me — were free to jump into the market whenever the existing suppliers started pissing off their customers with bad terms. And if I became a bad supplier, YOU were free to jump in and serve my customers with better terms, better prices, faster service. Yes, you, the reader. Starting a business isn’t rocket science; millions do it every year.

Indeed, the speed and cost of DSL technology outcompeted our low-speed Internet market. Again this happened because the monopoly telcos were required to make their wires available to competing DSL companies, and customers were free to choose any DSL company they wanted. When customers deserted low speed telco ISPs in droves, these new competitors forced the telcos to offer DSL themselves, which they had not previously offered. (The telcos also played dirty tricks against those competing companies, such as cross-subsidizing their DSL service with telephone revenues.)

At that point the telcos finally noticed what was happening, and deployed their lobbyists to make sure it wouldn’t happen again in the next generation. They knew the FCC wanted fiber deployed widely. Optical fiber had been invented by AT&T’s Bell Labs, and the Bell and ex-Bell system was already deploying it as fast as economically possible, throughout their whole network. They were putting in fiber everywhere, because it was cheaper than copper, and upgradeable to much higher future speeds at the endpoints rather than by ripping out the whole length and replacing it. Competing long-distance fiber had already overturned the telcos’ cushy long-distance market. But their lobbyists convinced gullible FCC regulators that they would stop putting in fiber unless the FCC exempted fiber from the rule that said the monopolists had to share their facilities with competitors. (This was a Big Lie on par with Hollywood claiming that they’d stop releasing movies if the government didn’t prohibit consumers from copying them.)

The FCC bought the Big Lie, and exempted fiber from the general rule. The result is today’s “duopoly”, in which you have no choice among competitive ISPs. Oh, you can pick a dialup provider, or start up a new dialup provider. You can pick a DSL provider, or start up a new DSL provider. But you can’t pick a provider with speeds higher than what copper wires can carry — nor can you start up a competing higher-speed-than-DSL provider. Your monopoly telco has already installed a huge amount of “dark fiber” in your neighborhood. (There are four almost-empty 100+-fiber cables within three blocks of my house: two owned by the city, one by AT&T, one by Comcast. I can’t get access to any of them.) Your telco doesn’t have to let anyone use that fiber to compete with them. The FCC told them so.

Fixing this in the 2010 market would be pretty simple. Get the regulators at the FCC to rescind their ruling that exempts fiber from the standard rule that monopoly telcos have to lease out their facilities to competitors at their cost plus regulated profit.

Now, listen up, you people who think the FCC should be regulating “the Internet” to protect you from rapacious monopolists. The FCC already has the well-established power to fix this problem. They created the problem in the first place and they can fix it. It’s a regulatory problem at the wires-and-fibers level, not a problem at “the Internet” level.

Why do you think that the FCC hasn’t already noticed and fixed this problem?

Why do you think that the FCC would regulate “the Internet” to serve YOU instead of to serve the companies who have spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars learning exactly how to manipulate regulators?

It’s because you don’t even know what to ask the FCC for. Instead of asking them for the simple fix to your real problem, you ended up asking that they be given NEW powers to manipulate things at much higher levels in the communications infrastructure. The FCC won’t bother correcting you — they love it when you call for giving them more power. They don’t really care about how good your communications are; like any regulator, or anybody else really, their job is to make their own lives cushy. And the monopoly telcos will be happy to help them with that. The telcos would love it if the FCC had more power to regulate their competitors higher up in the protocol stack. Because any power you hand to the FCC is power you’re handing to the telcos, the world’s experts on pulling the strings at the FCC.

You’ve been duped into this Network Neutrality sideshow, and you’re now begging Congress for larger chains and bigger fetters. All you really had to do was lobby the FCC for a simple change that is already within the power of the FCC. Yes, of course, the telcos will oppose such a change with all their might. But if you as consumers and Internet experts and activists can’t get the FCC to deliver a wide open competitive unrestricted broadband market with a power it already has, merely enforcing the general rule for telcos that it already enforces on every other aspect of telco behavior, why do you think you’ll be able to get the FCC to do that with brand new powers?

(This note was originally written by John Gilmore on 26 August 2010, and posted to Dave Farber’s Interesting-People mailing list and Lauren Weinstein’s NNSquad mailing list.)

Do we owe anything to the released Guantanamo innocents?

January 28th, 2011 by gnu

Speaking of rights and remedies, let’s talk about the hundreds of people who have been released from Guantanamo over the years.  No credible judge or court has ever cleared them of the US Government’s allegations that they were “the worst of the worst” or that they “returned to the battle”.  None of them have, so far, been able to get even a declaration that their captors have wronged them — let alone any apologies or damages.  None of the US or foreign personnel who seized these innocents and imprisoned them for years, outside the fundamental protections of US and foreign legal traditions, have suffered anything but the pangs of their own consciences.  The designers of the Guantanamo regime deliberately strategized to escape a legal reckoning, and have so far succeeded.  When there is zero accountability for error, similar errors are likely to recur, harming further innocents, and harming centuries of painstakingly built legal protection cherished by every person who hasn’t yet been thrown into prison without hope, mercy, or reason.  There may be real terrorists in Guantanamo, and we can argue about whether those people deserved the treatment we’ve given them.  But it is undisputed that there are hundreds there who suffered, and yet were and are not terrorists.

What do we as a people owe to the innocent victims of our spasm of rage after 9/11?  An apology.

And we owe them what comes after a heartfelt apology:  restitution, and a commitment to not repeat the error.

My corrupt government refuses to admit error, apologize, or make these people whole.  Canada showed more honor.  But America is not merely our government.  America is a people and a society.  And frequently the American people uphold higher honor and morals than the American government.  The American people can do what their government won’t.

The American private legal profession has stepped forward and ably represented every prisoner in Guantanamo, for free, for years.  They came forward at a time when everyone else was drawing away.  These lawyers are among our proudest patriots.  If we have any remnant of rule of law rather than fiat dictatorship, it is because these people heeded their instinct to rise up in defense of the detainees.  But legal defense is only part of what the victims of Guantanamo need.

Many released former detainees are living in primitive conditions, in countries where they have no friends, no family, and frequently don’t even speak local languages.  Through coordination with their lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, I have provided university scholarships to a few such detainees.  Universities provide a haven where you can focus your energies on the future rather than the past; where many people are newcomers and foreigners; where your time can profitably be spent in improving the remainder of your life.  Colleges come with social services and opportunities that are much better than sitting at home contemplating your mental illness, or morosely working at a menial job in a culture not your own.  But there are hundreds more detainees who nobody is sponsoring, who could use that apology and that restitution today.

If you or your readers believe that error has been done at Guantanamo, don’t wait for a statesman to show up and fix it.  The generous spirit of American philanthropy can go a long way to salve the wounds that official action has opened.  And it’s cheap.  You, yourself, can afford to support an undergraduate student in a third world country for a few years.  (Even the student who attended the London School of Economics only required a few thousand pounds per year from me.)  Ignore political stalemate.  Bypass quisling judges and spineless orators.  Transcend official secrecy, scumbag DOJ lawyers, and complicity in torture.  You can take a simple personal action to heal the ugliness of Guantanamo.  Donate to a former detainee’s education or living expenses today.