Nel's New Day

December 22, 2020

DDT Creates More Chaos in Budget, Pardons

In the morning, news looks fairly calm. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) looks petulant or demanding while he hides in the White House, no events on his calendar, and the countdown to his departure continues—four weeks! By late afternoon, the bombshells drop.

One is the granting of 15 pardons and five commutations for a variety of killers and felons, some of whom can donate to his future campaigns. A sampling of “clemency” from the self-professed “law and order” leader:

The first two men convicted in Robert Mueller’s investigation between Russia and DDT’s campaign during his 2016 campaign: Serving 14 days in prison, DDT’s foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos had pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with a London-based professor claiming Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Serving 30 days in prison, Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan pled guilty to lying about his work with Paul Manafort, DDT’s former campaign chair, in efforts related to Ukraine.

Four lawmakers convicted of insider trading and other crimes: Former Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA), using hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for vacations, theater tickets, etc., had faced 11 months in federal prison. Former Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), caught in an insider-trading scheme while he was at a White House event, was serving 26 months in prison. Former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), convicted of conspiring to take thousands of dollars in donations meant for charity and voter education, was two years into a ten-year sentence. Lawyer Sidney Powell, fired by DDT’s campaign, had sought clemency for Stockman. Utah state Rep. Phil Lyman was sentenced to ten days in jail for participating in a 2014 ATV demonstration protesting federal land management.

Four Blackwater private security contractors, former veterans, murdering and wounding civilians in an unprovoked  massacre: The killers worked for Erik Prince, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ brother, when they used sniper fire, machine guns, and grenade launchers on people in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square.

Two former Border Patrol agents convicted of killing a suspected drug smuggler: George W. Bush had already commuted their sentences.

Four men and women recommended by Alice Johnson, whose prison sentence for a drug conviction had been commuted: Johnson was a speaker at DDT’s summer GOP convention and soon received a full pardon.

A former healthcare mogul convicted of being central in one of the biggest Medicare fraud cases in the U.S. and paying bribes for favors: Philip Esformes was required to pay $44 million to the government after a 2019 trial in Miami sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) summarized DDT’s pardons and commutations:

“If you lie to cover up for the President, you get a pardon. If you are a corrupt politician who endorsed Trump, you get a pardon. If you murder civilians while at war, you get a pardon.It goes to show, if you elect a corrupt man as President of the United States, you get corruption—and lots of it.”

Another bombshell was DDT’s threat to veto the stimulus relief bill. Following the bill’s passage, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, DDT’s negotiator who proposed the $600 relief checks for people, lauded the measure, but relief was short lived. DDT wants to make individual checks $2,000 instead of $600 and to strike provisions he dislikes:

“I’m also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a Covid relief package. And maybe that administration will be me, and we will get it done.”

Confusing the stimulus bill with the budget, he trashed such items in the spending bill as approximately $2 billion for foreign aid, $1 billion for the Smithsonian, $154 million for the National Gallery of Art, and $40 million for the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. That last amount is equivalent to 13 of DDT’s trips to Mar-a-Lago.

The bill originally passed with a veto-proof vote, but Republicans may join House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) who said he won’t vote against DDT’s veto. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) took DDT’s threats in stride, saying the House would pass the increased amount for stimulus checks. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tweeted Democrats would try to pass a separate bill on Thursday for $2,000 direct payments. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stated that Democrats wanted the $2,000 payments only to face opposition by DDT’s own party members.The stimulus bill is part of the spending bill; vetoing the bill would drive the country into a shutdown next Monday without a Continuing Resolution—again.

In addition to items I gave yesterday for the $900 billion stimulus bill, $35 billion was provided for renewable energies and calls for cutting greenhouse gases. The money includes $4 billion for research and development of wind, solar, and geothermal; $1.7 billion expanding access to renewables to low-income Americans; and $2.6 billion for the Energy Department’s sustainable transportation project. The Energy Department is also required to prioritize funding for research in powering the U.S. with 100 percent “clean, renewable, or zero-emission energy sources. The EPA will begin phasing out hydrofluorocarbons, HFCs, in air conditioners by 85 percent before 2035.

Another $7 billion was assigned for high-speed internet and payment for monthly bills, almost half the money going to low-income families to help them stay online after losing their jobs. The funding also expands internet service in hard-to-read regions, upgrade infrastructure with security flaws, and map connectivity for future funding.

Another provision of the stimulus measure creates a small claims court where online content creators can take on infringers of the copyright law instead of the federal courts to receive damages. The measure streamlines court actions and saves creators money. Only one independent, Justin Amash (MI), and five Republicans voted against it:  Warren Davidson (OH), Greg Gianforte (MT), Trent Kelly (MS), Thomas Massie (KY), and Ralph Norman (SC). The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act (CASE) uses “Copyright Claims Officers” to work with both parties to resolve lawsuit claims. Damages would be capped at $15,000 for each infringed work, topping out at $30,000. Infringements of creative work have been greatly simplified by the internet.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) successfully stopped the requirement for employers to pay sick leave to workers who get infected with COVID-19.

For conservatives, the spending bill provides $110 billion in tax breaks for special interest groups—liquor producers, motorsports entertainment, and electric motorcycle manufacturers. People receive about $1.5 billion in annual tax breaks, either part of the code or supposedly annual advantages renewed year after year because of lobbying. The Space Force also received $2.4 billion, and sexual-abstinence programs, proved to be useless, received $35 million. The Navy got $4 billion for weapons procurement, above the defense act giving the military $741 billion.

One positive provision granted a Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum and a National Museum of the American Latino. Earlier, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) had blocked this issue; he claims it the basis that it polarized people.

Instead of the ten percent increase in the medical expense deduction for 2021, the percentage was stayed at 7.5 percent permanently. Thus all medical expenses over 7.5 percent of the adjusted gross income can be deducted for everyone. Only seniors had benefited from the lower percentage since the Affordable Care Act was passed ten years ago until DDT’s “tax cuts” bill of 2017 brought the percentage for everyone back to 7.5 percent on an annual basis.

DDT is still meeting with people to orchestrate the overturn of President-elect Joe Biden’s win, the latest one with a dozen House GOP members. They spent over three hours planning strategy for January 6. DDT has been lobbying Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), to be sworn in on January 3, to join the representatives for protest to electoral votes by populations of swing states. For success, the Democratic-controlled House would have to vote to take the legitimate election win from Democrats Joe Biden and VP-elect Kamala Harris. The process can still be messy, perhaps going into January 7. Republicans feasted on pigs in a blanket at the White House.

Deteriorating from his election loss, DDT has turned on more allies, starting with VP Mike Pence, who will run the January 6 joint congressional session to announce the electoral votes. He is also attacking Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and McConnell for not fighting for his overturning the election and won’t ask state legislatures to reverse the electoral votes for him instead of the people’s choice. DDT bases his paranoia on an anti-DDT Lincoln Project TV ad stating Pence will be responsible for certifying Biden’s victory and run against him for president. 

DDT also attacked Sen. John Thune (R-SD), declaring his “political career [is] over!” There was no explanation for DDT’s anger, but Thune disagreed with DDT fighting Biden’s win in the January 6 joint congressional session. Even televangelist Pat Robertson no longer supports DDT. He called on DDT to concede and said he lives in an “alternative reality.”

Officials have finally found a case of voter fraud so frantically sought for by DDT’s supporters. Bruce Bartman, 70, pretended to be his dead mother to vote in Delaware County (PA). The vote was for DDT. Bartman was charged with unlawful voting and perjury. A database has found 193 convicted cases of voter fraud between 1000 and 2020, when 250 million votes were cast.

June 15, 2016

Court Rules for Net Neutrality – Yea!

Filed under: Net neutrality — trp2011 @ 9:48 PM
Tags: , ,

Like many other people, I do a lot of searching on the internet, and my partner thoroughly enjoys watching Netflix movies. We have friends who have abandoned their cable television in our small Oregon coast town for watching programs via their computers. Yesterday was a big victory that prevents big business from slowing down downloads from the internet onto our computers. allows us to continue with our computer access.

Donald Trump’s outrageous comments about Muslims and the president monopolizing the media means that the net neutrality decision got little press when a three-judge panel of the DC District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the people in the United States. The issue was the Federal Communication Commission’s  (FCC) authority to regulate the internet as a “common carrier,” similar to telephone service and frequently called “net neutrality.” Huge corporations want to charge for higher speed and access on the internet, but the Washington, DC court said they may not do so.

As usual big companies may appeal, but this court ruling is significant. The court decision gives the FCC authority to regulate broadband service as a utility, much like telephone service, instead of a luxury. It applies equally to wired broadband providers like cable companies and mobile ones such as Verizon.

The struggle goes back about 15 years as consumer groups and internet companies have fought to keep the internet from being a corporate medium like cable television. Corporations such as Comcast and AT&T want unequal treatment for online traffic like Netflix and cute videos about animals. Without net neutrality, internet service providers can favor their own services and disadvantage all others, block sites and apps, and force video and other data services to pay extra for their “fast lanes.”

Robert Malcolm McDowell, appointed to the FCC by George W. Bush in 2006, fought unfettered public use of the internet until he left in 2013. Congress then dived into the fray with a bill written by corporations designed to strip FCC’s ability to set regulations. If that bill had passed, the FCC would be left with no responsibilities except to adjudicate disputes. Ambiguous terms in the proposed bill such as “specialized services” and “reasonable network management” created huge loopholes for corporations and failed to address newer technology. Despite the payments that the industry gave politicians, however, the bill failed. Instead, the FCC passed rules that reclassified the internet in “common carrier” service, the same category for telephone service, under Title II of the Communications Act.

The FCC Open Internet Order provides these protections to access and free speech on the net, according to the FCC news release:

No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.

No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.

No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—in other words, no “fast lanes.” This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.

If an appeal from large broadband carriers takes the issue to the full DC Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, the rules could still be struck down. The industry has huge financial power. For example, Comcast, which started as a cable TV provider, now owns Comcast Internet, NBC/MSNBC, Universal Pictures and other companies. Its $74.5 billion in sales during 2015 was an eight percent increase from the year before and gives them assets of more than $149 billion.

As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) point out, Comcast provides internet content as well as services. “Comcast-Funded Website [Vox] Plugs Comcast-Owned TV Show [The Tonight Show] Promoting Comcast-Backed Trade Pact [Trans-Pacific Partnership].” Even “common carrier” regulations cannot prevent this situation. But at least they cannot discriminate against smaller sites and those with large bandwidths—at least as long as the court ruling isn’t overturn.

Until that time, internet can no longer ignore some former expectations when the FCC did not declare them telecommunications carriers. At this time, telephone companies must get consumers’ explicit consent before sharing their names, phone numbers, addresses, or other personal information with marketers. Internet providers have not been required to get consent, but a pending proposal at the FCC would seek to extend a similar set of expectations to broadband companies.

Incensed by the court ruling, a Senate committee, led by Republicans, voted today to weaken the FCC net neutrality rules. They voted to exempt small broadband providers from rules requiring them to provide their customers with information about network performance, network management practices, and other issues. The purpose of the rules is to give customers information about actual speed as compared to advertised speeds as well as potentially controversial congestion management practices.

Joshua Stager, policy counsel at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, said that the Senate bill “creates a needless loophole” in the net neutrality rules. He explained, “The transparency rules help ensure a level playing field for small businesses to compete in the online marketplace—which is why so many small businesses asked the FCC to create these rules in the first place.” Since the FCC’s 2015 rules over a year ago, GOP lawmakers have failed to pass over a dozen bills or amendments to weaken or kill the regulations. None so far has succeeded.

Two years ago, John Oliver provided a great segment on what net neutrality actually is and took on the GOP congressional members who opposed the ruling. One of these naysayers was Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), who described net neutrality as the idea that “the latest cat video is of equal importance to a teleconference consultation to a heart patient.” Oliver gave this wonderful response:

“You are misunderstanding what net neutrality is. Cat videos are part of the point. [The policy is about keeping internet service providers from] picking a choosing whose voices get heard, ensuring that the internet remains a democratic space for all messages. And that goes for cat videos, too.”

Oliver was so successful in awakening people to the importance of net neutrality that the tens of thousands of responses immediately crashed the “Comment” section of the FCC website. Millions of more comments followed, once the website was back up.

The conservatives are being very grumpy about the court decision, which indicates that it’s probably a very good idea. Thanks to the FCC, two of the three judges on the DC Circuit Court panel—and perhaps John Oliver–big business won’t be slowing my downloads, and huge corporations won’t be charging for faster speeds. At least for now.

March 4, 2015

Net Neutrality: What Democracy Looks Like

Filed under: Net neutrality — trp2011 @ 8:06 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

A miracle happened last week. After big broadband providers flooded the media threatening huge problems caused by net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission voted to reclassify broadband as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Their action will keep broadband providers from blocking or slowing traffic on the Internet. The fight isn’t over because the same providers will pour millions into lobbying Congress for laws to eliminate equal access to the Internet. At this time, they may not be successful, considering the dysfunctional nature of a Congress that almost sent the DHS into shutdown. The Fox network made its usual outrageously false comments. Read at your own risk.

What big business broadband providers wanted was the right to collect payment from Web businesses for delivering content with higher speed and quality. Open Internet advocates said that the providers shouldn’t be able to manipulate traffic in a way that smacks of blackmail. New rules reclassify broadband Internet services from an “information service” to a “telecommunications service.” The change holds companies such as Comcast and AT&T to the higher and necessary standard of operating in the public interest.

As a fact sheet from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler states, “For the first time the Commission would have authority to hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if necessary” if it finds that interconnection deals between internet service providers and content providers fail to meet Title II’s “just and reasonable” standard. Under the new FCC definition of high-speed broadband, 82 percent of consumers in the nation have one or fewer options of high speed internet providers. No competition meets no free market advantage for the consumer who is charged unreasonable rates, receives bad service, or suffers from “fast lane” deals that make some parts of the internet more accessible than others. Free online speech is another advantage of the FCC ruling: everyone’s voice can be heard regardless of economic status.

The potential of the FCC change is amazing. State regulations can no longer limit local internet services; for example, cities that petition the FCC can provide high speed internet to their residents. As such, the FCC overturned laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that prevent local governments from expanding services in Chattanooga and Wilson (NC). Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) have already filed legislation to overturn the FCC’s municipal broadband ruling.

The rules ban Internet providers from blocking or slowing down services such as Netflix and from speeding up traffic even in exchange for money. Wireless carriers such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile, which provide Internet service to tens of millions of smartphones and tablets are included in the regulation. Sprint, one of the four major wireless providers, “commends the FCC for its hard work in arriving at a thoughtful, measured approach on this important issue.” CEO Dane Jasper wrote, “It is important to draw the distinction between regulation of the Internet, and regulation of carriers. The FCC’s order will disallow carriers from discriminating against sources of traffic that their customers choose to access via the Internet. This is common carriage at its core, and as a carrier, I am supportive of being regulated as a common carrier by the FCC.”

On the other hand, Verizon is so furious about the FCC decision that the company issued its protest in Morse code, guaranteeing that almost no one could read its statement without going to a PDF of its arguments against net neutrality.

Verizon_Morse_Code (1)

Verizon is partly to blame for the FCC ruling because it sued to overturn much weaker rules passed in 2010, leading to today’s ruling. Other providers are blaming Verizon for its action.

The FCC made no changes to consumer services or any additional fees. That is the reason for the FCC ruling–to keep the Internet functioning as it is now. The FCC was very cautious in its ruling—no regulation of “unbundling, tariffs, or other forms of rate regulation.” That means people in the United States will continue to pay far more than most other countries for their Internet access.

Net neutrality doesn’t stop big business from making big money. If the FCC approves Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable, Comcast will control over half the U.S. cable and Internet market with 63 percent of U.S. consumers having only one choice of broadband provider. Generating $68 billion in 2014, Comcast owns NBC and Universal pictures, has consolidated internet, cable television and phone services, and made huge profits from investing in fiber optic cables and buy smaller providers. In that way, the company has successfully increased consumer monthly charges, including jacked-up prices for faster speeds, as shown in “Time Warner Cable’s 97 Percent Profit Margin on High-Speed Internet Service Exposed.”

Because FCC has not issue exact language about the change, specifics won’t be made public for weeks. That’s when providers will begin taking legal action against the FCC rules and lobby sympathetic conservative legislators for votes to supersede the regulations. House and Senate Republicans have already invited providers for a meeting in their plan to remove broadband from classification as a utility service.

Marvin Ammori wrote about the victory of the people in the FCC decision:

“The vote is already touted as among the biggest public interest victories in history and arguably the biggest Internet freedom victory ever. ‘Ever’ means: this victory is even bigger than the victory over the Stop Online Piracy Act in 2012, a copyright bill that could have censored our favorite websites but went down in flames when Wikipedia, reddit, Google and others joined in an Internet-wide blackout for one day.”

Popular victories like today’s are so unusual that three Congressional committees are investigating how this happened,” said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, a group that supports net neutrality. This miracle came from a grassroots effort in opposition to big money from big business. People camped out in front of the FCC and picketed FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s home. Almost 4 million people left comments on the FCC website, at one point crashing it. In return, providers donated heavily to civil rights organizations to bring them in line with big business. With Comcast and Verizon trustees on its board and $2 million in donations during 2012 and 2013, the Urban League widely publicized Comcast’s arguments against net neutrality. The response was a coalition of almost 100 other civil rights organizations such as Color of Change and Hispanic Media Coalition calling on the FCC to reclassify broadband.

As Craig Aaron wrote, “This is what democracy looks like.”

July 20, 2013

Arrival of ‘1984’ & More

As a news junkie, I love the odd pieces from around the country. The most amazing story of the week is that new technology permits cable companies to install cameras and microphones in their cable boxes that allow companies to watch people while they watch television. For a long time, comedians have joked about looking at their television audience; now it’s possible. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) has introduced a bill, the We Are Watching You Act, to prohibit this technology on boxes without consumer permission. George Orwell’s 1984 has arrived. People afraid of airport scanners might want to take notice.

Although many people think that the media surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman exaggerated the importance of this tragedy, the conservative Internet source The Daily Caller carried its aftermath to a new dimension. The oddity began when the website sent 16-year-old Gabe Finger as its correspondent at the White House press conference.  When Jay Carney, WH press secretary, called on Finger, he asked this question:

“Because of the death threats being received by George Zimmerman and his parents, is the president going to take any action for their security or are they on their own?”

Carney respectfully answered Finger:

“Well, I think I would refer you to Florida authorities.  I’m not aware of that story.  But the President has called for echoing the statements of Trayvon Martin’s family for a calm reflection in the wake of the verdict.  And that continues to be his position.  He certainly would oppose any violence of any kind.”

Finger didn’t quit. “So they’re on their own?” he asked. Finger is sure to be preening about the attention that he received, not knowing that he has reduced any respect that this conservative site might have.

Last week Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade matched Finger’s stupidity with what he said after he hit a two-year-old boy in the face with a basketball. After a YouTube video showed Titus’s prowess with the hoop, he was invited on the program to demonstrate his ability. Kilmeade made a bad pass and caused Titus to cry and responded to the toddler’s distress by asking a co-host, “Do you really feel that I was at fault there or should have Titus had his hands up?”

Fox needs to stick with two-year-olds, though, because they fail with politics. Carl Cameron told Bill O’Reilly on Wednesday that Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) Oversight Committee hearing was going to result in important news tying the IRS scandals to the White House. The primary news from the hearing was J. Russell George’s admission that the IRS had also targeted “progressive” and “Occupy” groups for audits–no political motivation in also using “Tea Party,” “9/11,” and “Patriot.” Back-to-back hearings with five IRS officials proved no IRS auditing connection with President Obama. Issa’s investigation shows that George omitted critical information in his initial report about the so-called targeting. We’ll wait for Issa’s next manufactured scandal; the last three have failed miserably.

Columnist George Will is another person who should hang up his hat and quit. In a column earlier this month about the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg during the first three days of July 150 years ago, he talked about how “choices matter.” His reasoning led nowhere, but his descriptions were terrible. For example, he refers to Pickett’s Charge as “mostly a brisk 19-minute walk”—without explaining that this “walk” killed almost two-thirds of the Confederate soldiers at a rate of 2.33 per second.

From McDonalds and Visa come a ridiculous website to show low-wage workers making an average of $8.25 an hour or less how they can comfortably live in poverty. It even shows that they can save $100 a month. The process, however, has a few holes. First, their survival requires a second job of about 38 hours a week, making a 78-hour work week. Then the budget had no money for heating, food, or clothing. The monthly amount budgeted for health care was $20. McDonalds provides some full-time employees a $14 per week health plan, but the cap is for $10,000 a year. The budget for rent is $600 which doesn’t provide any place in New York which now has an average rent of $3,000 per month.

The website concludes, “You can have almost anything you want as long as you plan ahead and save for it.” Bloomberg News reported that the average McDonalds worker would have to work 1 million hours to match what the company’s CEO makes in one year. In the United States, the wealthiest 400 people have the same assets and income as the bottom 50 percent of those in the country. Worldwide, the assets and income of the wealthiest 300 is equal to the lowest 3 billion people. That’s the state of the country and the world.

Even if you can afford Internet access in Florida, it may be illegal. In an attempt to declare a ban on gaming in Internet cafes, the law defined these illegal slot machines as any “system or network of devices” that may be used in a game of chance. A lawsuit from a business owner shut down by the ban claims that it covers every smartphone and computer. The legislature may need to drag its focus away from “stand your ground” and voting restriction laws to allow the use of Internet in the state.

butter cowPeople who attend the Iowa State Fair on August 8-18 are in for quite a treat—even better than deep-fat fried butter on a stick. This year the butter cow sculpture has company: a depiction of Abraham Lincoln and the cross-country Lincoln Highway in Tama.

250px-Lincoln_Highway_Bridge,_Tama,_IAIt’s a 150-year celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address with the 100th anniversary of the opening the road from New York to San Francisco, one of the first transcontinental roads in the United States. The sculptures will require over 1,000 pounds of butter. I wonder how many people that would feed.

Even with their fixation on butter, white people in Iowa live healthier into old age than those in the South. Most maps show a dramatic difference between southern states and those in the rest of the country. This map shows how many years people can expect to be healthy after age 65. The extremes go from over 16 in Hawaii to fewer than 11 in Mississippi. Black Iowans have only seven years, one fewer year than blacks in Mississippi.


I’m glad I live in Oregon!

April 26, 2012

House Votes Yes on CISPA, Erases Rights

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:24 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Such a benign reason for passing a bill, protecting online companies from cyber attack. Everyone thinks that protection is good. But the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) allows these online companies to further erode everyone’s civil rights. And the House of Representatives passed CISPA today.

According to Anjali Dalal, a resident fellow with the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, “CISPA seems to place constitutionally suspect behavior outside of judicial review. The bill immunizes all participating entities ‘acting in good faith.’ So what happens when an ISP hands over mountains of data under the encouragement and appreciation of the federal government? We can’t sue the government, because they didn’t do anything. And we can’t sue the ISP because the bill forbids it.”

If CISPA passes the Senate, the government will no longer need to go through courts to fight “enemies” on U.S. soil in the Internet arena, and we know that the government considers everyone in this country a potential “enemy.” The United States is in a perpetual war.

Currently the courts distinguish between public and private aspects of online activity. For example, e-mail addresses, subject lines, and traffic patterns are public in the same way as addresses on the outside of a paper envelope are. Just as the contents of a letter are private, however, so are the contents of electronic communication, requiring a search warrant for courts to examine these details. Yet private companies doing government work don’t have the same restrictions.

CISPA deputizes tech companies to share everything–online activities, history, searches, transactions, mail—with the government. In addition, Internet firms would not be required to tell clients when the companies give this information to the government. The result is no legal recourse for these companies’ actions and no limits on the government’s use and retention of any information gained from them. In CISPA Congress will free private firms from liability.

CISPA guarantees than any private action involved with the Internet will be potentially public. As the San Jose Mercury News, the daily newspaper of Silicon Valley, pointed out, “Personal privacy protection is all but nonexistent.” To the people who claim that they don’t have anything to hide, I say, that’s not the point. The point is that people in a free world should have the right to privacy.

“I think our First and Fourth Amendment rights aren’t being adequately considered,” said Yale Law School’s Dalal. “We have a right to be free from government intrusion into our private thoughts, actions, and effects without a warrant. We also have a right to speak freely without government interference. Authorizing private surveillance of everything we do on the Internet with the understanding that government can be a recipient of that surveillance information threatens our right to speak freely, and to be free from unlawful search and seizure.”

As they did with the immunity granted to the telecom industry three years ago for warrantless wiretapping of all our phones, Congress explains to the nation’s citizens that passing this law will make us safer, that we have to make compromises for our safety. They don’t explain that passing CISPA makes the Constitution smaller.

The House passed CISPA with a 248-168 vote, 42 Democrats supporting it and 28 Republicans opposing it. The bill had a stronger bipartisan support before President Obama promised to veto it. “Legislation should address core critical infrastructure vulnerabilities without sacrificing the fundamental values of privacy and civil liberties for our citizens, especially at a time our Nation is facing challenges to our economic well-being and national security,” the White House said.

Passing CISPA may be a moot point: National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower William Binney estimates the NSA has assembled 20 trillion “transactions”–phone calls, emails and other forms of data—from people in this country. The information likely includes copies of almost all of the emails sent and received from most people living in the United States although NSA Director Keith Alexander asserts that the NSA is not intercepting information about U.S. citizens.

Big Business strongly supports CISPA. Their letters of support praise the information sharing for “successful public-private cybersecurity collaboration.” The ACLU differs from their perspective, giving this example of how CISPA works.

“Imagine you are emailing your doctor from your Gmail account about a medical condition. Your doctor pulls up your medical records from his cloud storage server and sends them your way. Somewhere in that communication, a virus crops up. Under CISPA, Google could send your emails, including the electronic copy of your medical records, to the NSA, so they can gather information on the virus. But, Google would be under no obligation whatsoever to scrub out your private details–which have nothing to do with the virus. And now your medical records are in government hands indefinitely–and the government can use them for all sorts of unrelated purposes like the undefined ‘national security.’”

CISPA will destroy all privacy on the Internet, it will make all whistleblowers and journalists public, it will provide unaccountable spying freedom for the government. Even worse, CISPA will give the government the ability to close down free and open access to the Internet. Dictators delight in this control; that’s what they did in Iran during the recent revolution.

This bill is what happens when the people who make the laws don’t understand the way that technology works. Some of the people voting for this will want the total control, but the discussion about the Stop Online Piracy Act late last year showed lawmakers’ ignorance. They need to have a test before they are allowed to vote on any subject.

December 17, 2011

Conservatives Ambivalent about Controlling Internet

Net neutrality was a big story a month ago when the Senate Democrats, in a 52 to 46 vote, stopped a Republican attempt to repeal rules that prohibit Internet service providers from slowing down or blocking access to legitimate websites. Even FCC spokesman said the vote was “a win for consumers and businesses.”

Republicans use the typical excuse in their votes to  give advantages to big business by saying that these rules are an unnecessary burden on businesses and an attempt for the government to control the Internet. Except for two absences, all Senate Republicans voted to repeal the rules, and all Democrats voted to maintain them.

Verizon has since filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the FCC overstepped its authority by trying to regulate broadband Internet service. The same court that ruled against Comcast last year, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, will hear the Verizon case. Comcast sued after FCC sanctioned Comcast for slowing down users’ access to file-sharing site BitTorrent, arguing it violated an FCC policy statement. If the court strikes down the net-neutrality rules, the FCC could choose to re-classify broadband Internet as a “telephone service” as opposed to an “information service.” The FCC has a much broader authority to regulate telephone companies.

The month before Republicans, who moaned about “government control of the Internet,” decided to control the Internet. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), demands that search engines, Internet providers, and ad networks cut ties with websites “dedicated” to copyright infringement.

SOPA would create a “blacklist” of websites that infringe on copyrights. Private companies who allege that a site is unlawfully publishing their copyrighted content could, with a judge’s signature, demand that ad networks and companies such as PayPal and Visa stop doing business with such sites. Internet service providers would need to prevent Americans from visiting them. Prosecution would result from just suspicion of wrongdoing—just like the new law stating that U.S. citizens can be indefinitely imprisoned without a trial on suspicion of terrorist activities.

A website that deliberately acts “to avoid confirming a high probability of the use…of the site” to commit infringements” faces getting shut down by a lawsuit from a rightsholder, or having its credit card and ad funding pulled by a court order. Terms like “high probability” and “avoid confirming” aren’t defined, making prosecution—even of innocent people—far easier. SOPA adds a new violation to copyright infringement called “lacking sufficient zeal to prevent copyright infringement.”

SOPA would “criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself,” according to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and effectively break the Internet. It would punish web firms, including search engines, that link to foreign websites dedicated to online piracy. Schmidt compared SOPA to the censorship practiced by repressive foreign governments like China. He also criticized SOPA for targeting the Domain Name System, which experts have warned could undermine the security of the Web.

The House bill states that any online service provider who has a DNS server has to generally “take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers” to the targeted site. This includes DNS redirecting, but also can include any number of unspecified actions. What they are is completely unknown.

Supporters of  SOPA include the Motion Picture Association of America (not surprising), the pharmaceutical industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even the International Association of Firefighters, who say that piracy saps the tax dollars that support emergency services.

Opponents run the gamut from progressive rights groups who say the bill could stifle free expression online to tea party activists who say that the measure gives far too much business-strangling power to the government. Wikipedia said they may temporarily blank out its pages in protest; other websites including Tumblr, Reddit and Firefox already have.

Even librarians are riled about SOPA. Representatives of 139,000 libraries stated that this bill “could threaten important library and educational activities.” If  SOPA passed, the court could find a person guilty even if the person believed the actions were legal. The new law would impose “ both misdemeanor and felony penalties for non-commercial public performances.” In addition, the proposed law would make colleges and universities far more liable to criminal prosecution even if they are operating under the assumption that their use of materials is reasonable.

Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law expert at Harvard Law School, argued that SOPA violates the First Amendment because it amounts to illegal “prior restraint,” suppressing speech without a judicial hearing. He also wrote to House members that the law’s definition of a rogue website is unconstitutionally vague:  “Conceivably, an entire website containing tens of thousands of pages could be targeted if only a single page were accused of infringement. Such an approach would create severe practical problems for sites with substantial user-generated content, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and for blogs that allow users to post videos, photos, and other materials.” In addition Tribe argued that  SOPA undermines the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which protected websites from being held responsible for the actions of their users.

A competing legal analysis by constitutional law expert Floyd Abrams claimed that the First Amendment does not protect copyright infringement and the bill’s protections are sufficient to not cause a chilling effect on protected speech. Abrams wrote the analysis on behalf of a coalition of movie and television associations which support the legislation.

SOPA is a great way for the entertainment industry to destroy the Internet and force people to go back the movie theater or sit in front of a small screen to watch reality shows. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) took the lead in the Senate to support SOPA with the Protect IP Act and might have succeeded with no debate if Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) had not put a hold on it and promised a filibuster. (Occasionally these are good!)

The House Judiciary Committee spent 12 hours Thursday debating SOPA and adjourned yesterday without a vote to move it onto the House and without a revised schedule for any vote. The bill’s sponsors were continually exposed for knowing almost nothing about how the Internet functions. During Thursday’s session, more than one lawmaker insisted that Congress could pass the measure without understanding the architecture of the Internet and how the bill could change the way the web works.

The committee also heard no testimony from experts on internet engineering or network infrastructure, even as it faces widespread opposition from the Internet industry. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who opposes SOPA, has confirmed that talks regarding SOPA will continue Dec. 21. It’s my guess that very few representatives will be there for the meeting so soon before their holiday; their recess was scheduled to begin on December 8.

Basically the bill is about copyright infringement. The United States has laws against copyright infringement. Congress just wants to make the search engines be the police to watch for this infringement—and make them take the blame if someone else infringes copyrights.

If the bill doesn’t pass before December 31, 2011, sponsors have to start from scratch in 2012. It’s a guarantee that millions of Internet lovers will provide lots of scrutiny for the destruction of the Internet.  

Thanks to the Internet, people can track the committee’s efforts to do away with the Internet. Enjoy! (At least as long as it exists.)


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