What America needs now is …. Pirates??

Logo of the United States Pirate Party

This Pittsburgh hometown girl is already there.  My first complete sentence was “Beat’em Bucs!”

Many of us might have missed this little bit of hopeful news, what with our seasonal preparations for the next GOP presidential candidates’ debate already underway, but it appears there has been what is being called a rout in the political makeup of the German parliament.  The Pirate Party won enough seats in parliament in the elections a couple of days ago that now they have to be taken seriously.  Even the Pirates were surprised:

As Berlin election results came in on Sunday evening, sweaty members of the Pirate Party danced arm in arm beneath a disco ball at popular club in the city’s Kreuzberg district. The smell of marijuana spread through the informal party, where guests made their own sandwiches and drank bottled beer.

“I can’t believe it,” said newly elected parliamentarian Christopher Lauer as he fell onto a sofa, sending a message of thanks out via his Twitter account for the 8.9 percent of voter support. “It is breathtaking, a surreal feeling, because there is nothing that compares to this.”

Standing before the television screen, the leader of the Pirate Party, Sebastian Nerz, called the historic moment “cool.”

“It’s the first time since the 1980s that a new political power has come onto the stage,” he said.

Indeed, the support for the party — founded in 2006 on a civil liberties platform that focused on Internet freedoms — was sensational. Not only will the Pirate Party enter a regional government for the first time, but its results far surpassed the five percent hurdle needed for parliamentary representation. The success was so unexpected that the party had only put 15 candidates on its list of nominations. Had their support been just a little higher, some of their seats would have remained empty because post-election nominations of candidates isn’t allowed.

With the addition of the unexpected victory of the Pirate Party in Germany to the unexpected victory of the NDP in Canada, we have two points towards a correlation.   Is it too early to predict a break in the stranglehold that traditional party systems have in many countries?  We may also be seeing the demise of the Green Party.  It doesn’t seem to be able to break out and, let’s face it, when it comes to voting next year, do we really want to vote Green?  They pick candidates that no one has ever heard of and their platform is almost alien to many American voters.  I still consider myself a Democrat, albeit one that is in exile.  I’m quite proud of the Democrats that preceded the current bunch.  But this current bunch is scared of its own shadow and after years and years of choosing the least offensive, machine candidates to run, we have a very uninspiring and ineffective party.  The Pirate party could provide  that little bit of random craziness and energy that we need in the political landscape.

And think of the possibilities.  The Pirates are tech geeks.  They’re into net neutrality and expanding access to digital media.  Could we also expect an American Pirate party to put modernization and de-monopolization of broadband on the top of its agenda?  Who’s to say that’s not the right thing to focus our attention on?  We spend so much time on deficits and social spending but maybe what we really need is to protect our first amendment rights from the relentless creep of corporatization.  How many times have we gnashed our teeth in frustration that the media wasn’t covering something we felt was important or had the ability to slow our messages down or curtail them altogether?  If you want to change your country and create a movement, you have to first be able to spread your message.  So, maybe the Pirates are on to something.  Keep it simple, stupid.

The other cool thing about having an American Pirate party is that it might be easier to find it on a ballot where third parties can not land in a consistent position from county to county.  The name and concept are easy enough to grasp that a motivated voter wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time looking for it.  It could appeal to the very people the parties are trying to reach but who are now disaffected – those of us who were young enough to have spent much of our working lives in the high tech and internet age.  We’ve given up on the old fogeys who are running the Democratic party, along with their weird attitudes towards women, and have a hard time reconciling the Republican party with, um, reality as we know it.  It’s time to go marauding for big political booty.

There is a Pirate party in the US.  It’s in its infancy and is currently represented by the Florida Pirate Party.  It’s registered as a recognized party in Massachusetts and Florida but considering how low the bar is to getting on the ballot in many states (even if you’re relegated to an obscure location on it), starting a legitimate Pirate party movement here in the US isn’t as crazy as it sounds.  It just might work.  And 8.9% of 535 is, hang on, let me get my calculator… 47.6.  Round it up to 48 to include the arms and head of one representative.  48 is a number that should put fear into both parties.  Works for me!

 

Wednesday News – Net (Non)Neutrality Edition

Good Morning Conflucians!!

Big news this week is the FCC ruling on net neutrality or in this case, the lack of net neutrality. Yet another case of Obama handing over what is the people’s to the few rich and powerful. But before we get to that, another cowardly Obama move deserves notice. Namely how the administration is preparing for their own indefinite dentition order for “terrorists”:

The Obama administration is preparing an executive order that would formalize indefinite detention without trial for some detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but allow those detainees and their lawyers to challenge the basis for continued incarceration, U.S. officials said.

The administration has long signaled that the use of prolonged detention, preferably at a facility in the United States, was one element of its plan to close Guantanamo. An interagency task force found that 48 of the 174 detainees remaining at the facility would have to be held in what the administration calls prolonged detention.

“We have a plan to close Guantanamo, and this detainee review process is one element,” said an administration official who discussed the order on the condition of anonymity because it has yet to reach the president.

So nice of them to add that bit about they can still “challenge” their continued incarceration. That doesn’t mean those don’t get put into the “circular file” of course. Another bit of information from the same article relates to what was in the defense authorization bill:

Provisions in the defense authorization bill, which has passed the House and is before the Senate, would effectively ban the transfer of any detainee to the United States for any purpose. That rules out civilian trials for all Guantanamo detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His potential prosecution had remained possible even though the administration had balked in the face of political opposition to a trial in New York.

The defense bill, if it passes the Senate, would effectively force the administration to conduct only military commissions and at Guantanamo Bay, which would also have to remain open to house those held indefinitely. The bill would also create new requirements before the administration could repatriate or resettle detainees who were cleared for release by the interagency task force.

So much kabuki theater. Notice that this is still a large majority Democratic congress doing this. And notice Guantanamo never closed. But I’m sure the president will be really disappointed in all this. As it turned out the bill didn’t pass (see below on the stop gap bill for even worse news).


OK, so back to possibly loosing the ability to watch Netflix online. What everyone not on the side of the big telco’s and cable companies wanted was a pretty simple net neutrality ruling that basically said you can’t discriminate network traffic based on its starting point or its end point. Clean, simple, and to the point. But that’s not what we got. What we got instead was a watered down “we really don’t think you should do that”, mostly. And some big loopholes you could drive a truck through. And on top of that, big exceptions. Really big exceptions. Basically the future of all internet, wireless, has no limitations whatsoever. So telco’s running wireless services are now free to charge different rates depending on where traffic is coming from or where it’s going. That is what Obama did today.

Let’s see some of the coverage. First from ars technica:

The Federal Communications Commission is releasing the details of its new net neutrality Order in stages. Although the FCC’s new ban on “unreasonable discrimination” for wired ISPs allows certain kinds of traffic discrimination (not all bits need be equal), the agency made clear after today’s meeting that “paid prioritization” deals with Internet companies are unlikely to be allowed. Critics had worried that the new Order would only affect outright website blocking, leaving paid prioritization untouched (or even implicitly sanctioned).

“Pay for Priority Unlikely to Satisfy ‘No Unreasonable Discrimination’ Rule,” advises one subheading of the new net neutrality rules. Ed Whitacre’s dream of directly charging Google and Yahoo to “use his pipes”—a key event in starting the entire net neutrality debate—appears to be dashed.

[...]

As we’ve reported, the FCC’s new rules forbid Internet providers from blocking lawful content and they require transparency from ISPs. They also require that network management and packet discrimination to be “reasonable,” but that only applies to wireline broadband. Wireless operators gets a free pass on rationality; they’re limited only to the transparency and blocking provisions.

[...]

“Specialized services” like IPTV (think AT&T”s U-Verse) will also be allowed over the last-mile broadband connection, although the FCC insists it will watch their deployment for anti-competitive behavior. But the Order rather strongly suggests that priority deals are “unlikely” to fit into this “reasonable” framework.

Let’s look at some of that closer. First there is some attempt to say it’s bad in normal, reasonable situations to have priority deals for either end of the internet connection. That is, it would be bad in normal situations to charge a starting point like a department store or netflix or a blogger different rates for different bit rate or quality of service priorities. And similarly in normal, reasonable situations it would be bad to charge end users or even low level ISPs different rates for different levels of priority traffic. OK. So what does normal and reasonable mean?

Well, it turns out they say some things aren’t normal and reasonable, and that includes things like video. So Netflix or Youtube or similar starting points can be charged more than others. And you as a user can be charged more to receive those. Don’t confuse that with prioritizing based on the type of data or “packet” which could reasonably say video is a bit lower priority (because it’s so big). Those types of rules are reasonable and effect data of certain shapes regardless of what video, who’s sending it, and who’s receiving it. In this case they don’t say that, they say that’s a special case and you can let, say, Comcast charge Netflix more to send data or you more more to receive Netflix data.

And look what else they say, they say wireless, e.g., cell, is exempt for the most part. They do say they should play nice, and they’ll be watching. You know, kind of like how the administration watched BP in the gulf. And remember, when you hear that about cell, keep in mind that’s very possibly the future of the internet as we move to 4G and then 5G cell systems; those will be faster than the alternatives. And by this ruling, those will already have unfair practices well in place. And you know how hard that is to get mega corporations to give up something. Kind of like how hard it will be to get any administration and congress to give up sucking 100M a year from social security and medicare after Obama pushed through that tax bill. So through your cell service, be prepared to pay different rates based on who you are and what you receive.

Two days ago, over on huff and puff, Al Franken had a column about the issue. Here’s a snippet from that:

This Tuesday is an important day in the fight to save the Internet.

As a source of innovation, an engine of our economy, and a forum for our political discourse, the Internet can only work if it’s a truly level playing field. Small businesses should have the same ability to reach customers as powerful corporations. A blogger should have the same ability to find an audience as a media conglomerate.

This principle is called “net neutrality” — and it’s under attack. Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it.

The good news is that the Federal Communications Commission has the power to issue regulations that protect net neutrality. The bad news is that draft regulations written by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski don’t do that at all. They’re worse than nothing.

And sadly, we learned they did worse than nothing indeed. Here’s a follow up article at huff and puff on what eventually passed (emphasis mine):

Late Monday, a majority of the FCC’s commissioners indicated that they’re going to vote with Chairman Julius Genachowski for a toothless Net Neutrality rule.

According to all reports, the rule, which will be voted on during tomorrow’s FCC meeting, falls drastically short of earlier pledges by President Obama and the FCC Chairman to protect the free and open Internet.

The rule is so riddled with loopholes that it’s become clear that this FCC chairman crafted it with the sole purpose of winning the endorsement of AT&T and cable lobbyists, and not defending the interests of the tens of millions of Internet users.

For the first time in history of telecommunications law the FCC has given its stamp of approval to online discrimination.

Instead of a rule to protect Internet users’ freedom to choose, the Commission has opened the door for broadband payola – letting phone and cable companies charge steep tolls to favor the content and services of a select group of corporate partners, relegating everyone else to the cyber-equivalent of a winding dirt road.

[...]

Internet users deserve far better, and we thought we were going to get it from a president who promised to “take a backseat to no one in my commitment to Net Neutrality.” Watch now as he and his FCC chairman try to spin tomorrow’s betrayal as another “mission accomplished.”

Don’t believe it. This bogus victory has become all too familiar to those watching the Obama administration and its appointees squander opportunities for real change. The reality is that reform is just a rhetorical front for industry compromises that reward the biggest players and K-Street lobbyists while giving the public nothing.

Say it with me everyone: we told you so. He’s a stooge for the mega pro monopoly corporations. What else do you have to see to finally not say he failed, because he did exactly what he wanted to do, and finally not say, well he’s intelligent and he means well, because he does exactly what he means. What more needs to happen people. Well, at least they’re noticing he’s not on their side. Mostly. Got hope?


And speaking of faux messiahs like Obama or Assange on the left or similar ones on the right, why is it that some percentage of people on both sides of the political spectrum will follow someone like that? Here’s a nice quote from a early socialist and labor leader, Eugene Debs:

I don’t want you to follow me or anyone else. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, somebody else would lead you out.

I wish people could keep that in mind when they mostly blindly follow a leader.


Let’s see what else is in the news. Oh yes, after a year or so of skyrocketing health insurance premium costs (mine when up nearly 100%, and that’s with no doctor visits as an excuse even), the Obama administration is looking into it. It looks like they’ll be writing some really stern letters again (emphasis mine):

Moving to restrain skyrocketing health insurance premiums, the Obama administration is proposing rules requiring insurers to justify increases of more than 10% a year in 2011.

At the same time, administration officials plan to step up federal review of premiums if state regulators cannot adequately protect consumers, a move cheered by many leading consumer advocates.

The increased oversight comes as consumers nationwide struggle with rate hikes that have exceeded 30% in some places, even as insurance industry profits have swelled.

In the lead-up to passage of the new law, the soaring rates fueled calls to give state and federal regulators more power to scrutinize premiums and even deny increases that appear unjustified. Only some states currently have such authority.

The draft regulations unveiled Tuesday would not give state or federal officials the ability to deny rate hikes. Instead, the administration is relying on state regulators to scrutinize proposed hikes and to assess if they are justified by increases in the cost of care or other factors.

Yep, mission accomplished again.


Oh yea, the large majority of Democrats in congress couldn’t get together on a spending bill, so they punted for a stop gap until March when the Repubs, sill a minority in the senate, will of course be in complete control and will demand massive cuts:

Congress passed a stopgap funding bill last night to keep the government open into March, when Republicans will have greater power to cut federal spending.

On a 193-to-165 vote, the House backed a stripped-down measure that would freeze pay for federal employees, provide $160 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and head off cuts in Pell grants for college tuition. The Senate approved the bill hours earlier, 79-16.

[...]

The measure is needed because the Democratic-controlled Congress — in an unprecedented breakdown of the budget process — has failed to pass a single one of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the day-to-day operations of every federal agency.

It’s a feature not a bug as a certain klown likes to say. Let’s start placing bets on what will be cut next year.


The other big news of late was the results of the census showing some shifts in congressional seats. Two states lost two seats each, New York and Ohio. And a number of states, mostly in the northeast lost one seat each. And a number of states in the south and west gained seats. Here’s some general coverage at Bloomberg, local coverages at the NYTimes and the Miami Herald for some sampling of results.

That’s a bit of what’s happening. Chime in with what you’re seeing.

Net neutrality, Google, and Verizon

You’ve all heard by now that Google and Verizon will take care of it. They will come to an agreement between them that will ensure the best use of bandwidth for everyone.

And what we’re arguing about is whether their agreement preserves enough net neutrality.

Green horrified face. By Jeremy Brooks.

Net neutrality is a question of rights. Who determines the content of the public airwaves? Who determines the extent of your right to see or hear what you choose? Who determines what you can choose to see and hear?

Since when do businesses decide questions of rights? That is a function of government.

Does the government fit into such a tiny tub by now that we no longer have any idea what it’s for?

(Crossposted at Acid Test.)

This just in: Google decides to do evil

From the NYTimes, Google and Verizon Near Deal on Pay Tiers for Web:

WASHINGTON — Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.

The charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.

Such an agreement could overthrow a once-sacred tenet of Internet policy known as net neutrality, in which no form of content is favored over another. In its place, consumers could soon see a new, tiered system, which, like cable television, imposes higher costs for premium levels of service.

Any agreement between Verizon and Google could also upend the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission to assert its authority over broadband service, which was severely restricted by a federal appeals court decision in April.

Ahhh, yes, let’s not make the ISPs upgrade their infrastructure, which we pay additional fees and taxes for them to do anyway.  No, let’s fork even MORE of our money over to them so we can read our favorite blogs and news.

But here’s the really evil part of the arrangement. The parties involved say they are only referring to cell phone transmission, not regular ethernet.
Except that the future is in iPad type devices, which are just big cell phones. Oh, sure, you can still use wifi with them but their big draw is that you can take them anywhere.
THAT’S where this deal is going to bite us in the ass. I already spend far too much on cell service between my iPad and iPhone. Now, not only will android phones have to pay more, their content will stream differently. This is not a slippery slope we want to go down.

Net neutrality has been stabbed in the back over a cell phone war.

THE most serious question at Sotomayor’s hearing was asked by… Franken?

Holy Hemiola, Republicans are a repetitive bunch.  Did any one of them ever have an independent thought?  The way they zeroed in on her “wise latina” word combination was like some SETI scientists looking for meaningful patterns in vast field of verbal graffitti, like none of the other billions of words Sotomayor has ever uttered made sense.  In some very no-so-subtle ways, they managed to communicate that a latina woman should show more deference to a southern white gentleman, that life experiences are strictly forbidden for Democrats but perfectly OK for Republican nominees like Concerned Alumni of Princeton Alito and “high tech lynching” Thomas, and that with 7 white men out of 9 members of the court (that’s 78% for those of you who are keeping track), this is a population that needs to be protected, the poor things.  Let me get this straight:  white males are the downtrodden of the earth, put upon and underpriveleged and that’s why we need so many of them on the court.  Women?  ehhhhh, not so much.  I would hope that women voters in Republican districts would keep this in mind when they go to the polls in 2010 but as my mom says, people have short memories.  They will forget what empty headed, arrogant, clueless, condescending jerks Jeff Sessions and Lindsay Graham were.

Franken, on the other hand, will be known for his Perry Mason moment instead of the most important question asked at the hearings.  Here’s the question:

Now, you may be wondering why Franken would be concerned with “net neutrality”.  I’m going to take a guess here that it’s for the same reason he was a founding member of Air America.  Back in 2003, corporate media controlled the horizontal and the vertical.  Well, it still does.  The propaganda might be coming from a pseudo-Democratic White House but it’s still propaganda and there are precious few sources of push back.

Air America’s flagship station was a tiny station in NYC, WLIB, with a very weak signal.  In central NJ, just 36 miles away, I could barely pick it up on my car radio.  During some of the more critical news stories of 2003-2004, I couldn’t get it at all.  There was a competing station from Indiana, of all places, that was a superbroadcaster.  The Indiana station would crank up the volume up to 11 and blast right wing talking points, overwhelming that tiny whisper from Air America.  I noticed that Indiana wouldn’t always be blasting away.  It only happened when I wanted to hear a different opinion on an important news story.

That left me with live streaming Air America from the internet.  Now, I might live right in the heart of telecommunications R&D central, not far from ATT and Lucent and all the rest.  But my internet providers are very, VERY limited.  There are days that I swear they are blocking access or slowing down the download speeds to sites I want to access.  I’m sure I’m just being paranoid but isn’t this Franken’s point?

Who owns the internet?  Is it the corporations who laid the cables or us?  Do we have a right to access it to exercise our first amendment rights or is it possible for a Supreme Court judge to say, “I said you have a right to free speech.  I didn’t say Verizon FIOS had an obligation to carry your words to the rest of the world.  If you want to be heard, buy a megaphone and try not to get arrested for disturbing the peace”

The corporations might say they own the cables but *WE* paid for them.  Everytime we made a phone call or emailed our mothers or purchased that electric raclette grill from amazon or downloaded Lady Gaga from iTunes, we pay for laying down new lines through the hefty fees added to our bills every month.  Isn’t that the excuse that these companies are always making for raising the rates?  They have to add new lines, update the technology?  Ok, we paid for that.  Did we forfeit our right of free speech when we entered into an agreement with these companies?  That is essentially the question Al Franken asks.  Sotomayor responds that it depends on the policy established by Congress.

Ahhh, back to those bastards.  So, if Congress gives away the store to ATT, FIOS, Embarq and the like, is our only recourse to vote them out of office?  And if we want to run alternative candidates, how to we make sure these candidates get a fair hearing?  The internet has the capacity to change the electoral landscape by allowing candidates to circumvent the corporate media gatekeepers.  But if you don’t have free, unfettered access, is this really possible?  Is it possible that in 2010, we will see candidates who want to primary incumbents blocked by service providers from doing so?

The problem is not a hypothetical “maybe”.  It could happen now.  The question goes to the very heart of our system of democracy.  The right to free speech, to be heard, to foment insurrection if necessary, was the first right that was granted to us in the Constitution by people who knew what it means to need to overthrow your government.  These days, we would prefer to overthrow our government at the ballot box. But if you can only make your voting decisions based on disinformation, if it is legal for corporations to promote disinformation for its own benefit and if those corporations are granted the protection of “personhood”, doesn’t this infringe on the rights of the individual to be heard and have the power of full citizenship?

We need only look to Iran for the answer to this question.  Their election was highly questionable, so highly questionable that they demanded a recount or a new election.  Instead, the government cut off their access to the internet, their ability to organize and then ruthlessly suppressed the protestors.  Could it happen here?  Hell, yes.  All we need is a bunch of hyperbolic blowhards on cable news networks terrifying people into thinking it could provoke another 9/11 and we’re there, baby.

How do we prevent that from happening?  That’s essentially what Franken is asking.  How do we exercise our free speech when someone else has our voice and can turn down the volume?  Does that old playground boast, “It’s a free country, I can say whatever I like” still have any real meaning?  Sotomayor’s answer, to me, was less than satisfying.  I think she will be deferential to the corporation’s lawyers when the issue finally makes it to the USSC.  I’ve been wrong before but let’s just call it a hunch.  It’s like her answer on abortion.  Yes, women have a right to privacy with their doctors- under certain circumstances.  Maybe I’m dense or something but if someone else is setting the “circumstances” under which you have a right to privacy, then there isn’t much privacy.  But I digress.

The more important issue is freedom of speech.  It precedes all others.  It allows you to question authority and persuade your fellow citizens.  Without it, there would be no discussion of abortion or gun rights or health care.  Or at least, no competing opinions.  And as technology has changed the way we access our information, allowing us to benefit from the internet’s advantages of speed and relational information, those of us who do not control that access will be at a severe disadvantage as citizens.  We might as well be wearing a gag.

Which is just how the monopolies like it.

Podcast of the day: Control of the media has been going on ever since there was a printing press.  Check out Melvyn Bragg In Our Time’s Seventeenth Century Print Culture.  King Henry VIII was one of the first to crack down on the press by banning the vernacular bible and forbidding women and servants from reading it.  They might get the notion that they knew what it meant.  Sounds like Lindsay Graham’s kind of guy.


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