Archive for the 'politics' Category

Stop mass surveillance. Just stop!

Friday, August 4th, 2017

Stop Mass Surveillance.  Just stop!
By John Gilmore.  Friday, August 4, 2017
(Inspired by Paul Rosenzweig’s suggestion to “Stop Leaking”.)

I get it.  You don’t like the terrorists.  I don’t either, so I understand.  But you, whoever you are, are doing as much damage, if not more, to the United States than they ever will. Really.

I assume you think you are doing the world a favor.  I assume you have the best intentions.  But stop.  Just stop mass surveillance.  Really.

Though it may be fun to give the President transcripts of citizens’ calls and emails, you gravely injure America in incalculable ways by doing what you are doing.  For one thing, you are embracing norm-destruction in a way that is no less disturbing than the terrorists’ aberrational behavior.  And you don’t even have their excuse that you don’t know better — you do.  For another, think of how this plays with other people worldwide — will any foreigner or American ever again have a candid phone call with any other American?  Why should they assume that this type of domestic spying will stop after Hoover, Nixon, Bush, Obama, Hillary and Trump are all gone?

Yes, I get it, there is a prurient interest in this stuff; and yes, I know you think the unclassified public are jerks.  But in doing this you lower yourself to their level and beyond.  If you are a reader of the Lawfare blog, or know someone who is, you have your own agency’s interests at heart.  But, trust me on this one, you aren’t doing America a service.  Stop mass surveillance.  Just Stop.

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

Friday, December 7th, 2012
  • 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.

Gov’t lying, as usual, about banning lightbulbs

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

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”

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

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?

Friday, January 28th, 2011

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.

On political education and international travel

Friday, January 14th, 2011

I suggest that any of you readers who have never actually traveled internationally, do so.  I’ve been surprised at the naivete of commenters on issues such as how Wikileaks volunteer Jake Appelbaum was treated at US Customs.

Not only will you learn how airports are physically arranged to control the movements of international travelers and their luggage.  You’ll learn how cellphone frequencies are jammed by the government in the customs area so your phone won’t work (but not out on the tarmac after the plane lands — so call or text your friends or relatives before getting off the plane, so they’ll know you landed). You’ll discover that the constitutional rights you expect inside the US do not work at the US border; you can’t just leave, or phone your lawyer, or not be searched.  There is more variety to life than the part you’ve experienced so far.

You’ll also get some experience transiting the borders of various countries, US and others.  If you’re a US citizen living in the US, you’ll encounter US customs more often than any other - every time you come home.

In my experience, and the experience of many others I have known, the US is the worst border in the world that I’ve crossed.  And I’m a citizen!  Try flying in to San Francisco from Amsterdam (because you like the service on th airline KLM, or because Schiphol airport is one of the best-organized in Europe).  You’ll discover that the incredibly intelligent people in Customs always presume you’re secretly smuggling hashish — as if there wasn’t 60x as much hashish in California as in the Netherlands, and at better prices, too.

The vast majority of border crossings in the world involve little or no paperwork, very few searches.  You are typically waved right through without even a question.  They stamp your passport and maybe collect a little squeeze (”departure tax”) and you’re on your way.  One big difference between the US and most countries is that in the US, you have more rights in theory; in the other countries, the governments have more power to harass you.  But in practice, US officials often harass you right up to the border of their power and beyond (pushing the limit), while most countries harass you far, far less than they theoretically could.  There’s something in the attitude and training of US cops/guards/etc that makes them much pushier, more robotic, more nasty, and less human than the cops in most countries.

I’ve visited at least 20 countries, on both business and vacation, and nobody took my luggage apart down to the individual items in the first-aid kit.  Nobody tried to strip-search me.  Nobody took away my innocuous water-bottle (until the US started demanding it of them).  Nobody recorded in their database about me what books I was carrying and what answers I’d made to their “idle” questions.  Nobody searched me fifty miles from the border, inside the country.  Except the Americans.

No government is 100% honest, just like no person or business is 100% honest.  Power corrupts.  You can often tell how honest a country’s government is by looking at how accountable government employees and politicians are.  Do they lose their jobs and get prosecuted, perhaps going to jail, when they screw up in a big way?  When they torture innocents (or even when they torture the guilty)?  Are they voted out of office when they start wars of aggression and bankrupt the country?  Do they go on to prestigious law school jobs after leaving their government job of advising the leaders that they can commit any crime and break any provision of the constitution because they’re the president?  Are there any viable political parties who actually disagree with each other on anything substantive (like the above issues)?  When the closer you get to the seat of executive power, the more corrupt and unaccountable everyone is, you start to get a clue about what degree of honesty is present in your government.

Every country has a different system for dealing with this sort of issues, and in case you hadn’t figured it out, the system in the United States is not automatically “the best”.  You actually have to look at, discuss, or live under the different systems, and compare them in your own mind to determine which is best.  (PS:  Don’t fret at your naivete; everybody is born ignorant and every country tells its citizens that it’s the best country.  Just get out of your country to somewhere else and see what you actually believe after you have some evidence.)