Mar 102013

GATE sign for United Flight 93 Gate 17I usually don’t jump too deeply into politics here but the TSA decision to allow small knives on airplanes is simply incomprehensible. I live in NYC, I was here when 9-11 happened. I don’t ever want to experience that again.

Perhaps we’ll never see a coordinated attack on our air transportation system in the same way, but for the sake of the cabin crews alone – who are spearheading the opposition to this totally illogical decision – we owe it anyone working in the airline industry to keep potential weapons out of the air.

A petition on the site has been set up. It needs a lot more signatures above what it has right now. Take a moment a sign it, if only to foster more discussion on the issue. Click on the petition link to go to the page and here’s some of the petition text:

Keep Knives Off the Plane. Block Transportation Security Administration Policy Decision to Accept Pre-9/11 Weapons
Before the morning of September 11, 2001, the threat of using commercial aircraft as a weapon was unknown. At great cost, we know better today. The TSA was created because blades on airplanes were used to cause this deadly attack on U.S. soil.

There’s no excuse for reversal on the policy to ban knives from the aircraft cabin. Multi-layered security, including prohibition of items that could pose a threat, ensures U.S. aviation is the safest in the world. The ban on dangerous objects is an integral layer in aviation security.

Flight Attendants serve as the last line of defense in aviation security – responsible for ensuring the safety, health and security of the passengers in our care. Join us in keeping our aircraft cabin safe. TELL THE TSA TO KEEP KNIVES OUT OF THE CABIN.

Created: Mar 06, 2013. Issues: Homeland Security and Disaster Relief, Regulatory Reform, Transportation and Infrastructure

Oct 172012

When politicians nearly come to a fistfight at a debate (forget Obama and Romney circling each other last night – that wasn’t even close), you know the end result will be a new political ad and this one is very effective. The episode was a forum for a very bitter race between two redistricted democrats in a congressional race in California, featuring Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA). You can find more details at the LA Times if you’re interested (and as you might expect, the candidates do not actually disagree that much).

You can almost get into each others face at a debate, but you cross a line when your arm goes around your opponent’s shoulder or neck. What next? Actual slug fests for those running for office? More than a few have noted that the American psyche has its coarse edges though other countries have had entire Parliaments descend into fistfights. Perhaps we should cherish our modicum of restraint before it completely disappears.

Oct 052012
Colleen Lachowicz’s self-created identity, Santiaga

Colleen Lachowicz’s self-created identity, Santiaga

You knew this was bound to happen – a politician linked to online gaming and their virtual persona. In a way, it’s odd that it took so long given the number of people playing World of Warcraft (WOW) and other online games as some might decide that being a politician is a useful real life role. But as people live part of their lives in online games, political opponents will try to turn their online personas against them in elections.

This instance involves Maine Democratic state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz who clearly spends a little time in World of Warcraft. But she talks a lot about her life online and how it differs from the “real” world. That’s all it took for the Maine GOP to do a quick attack mailing with quotes of her life as an orc assassin. Actually Lachowicz, aka Santiaga, sounds pretty good at WOW – not sure I’d want to meet her on the battlefield with a level of 85.

Whether this has wings or not really depends on how savvy Maine voters are in her district. It’s only a game, and a popular one at that, but for those uncomfortable with the digital revolution it just might resonate. For others, it just might get them to take a second look – hey, I can vote for an orc assassin – well, actually, I can vote for someone who has a life online. Only problem is that the younger generation does not go to the polls nearly as much as the older crowd. You can see the GOP attack site on Lachowicz at

The other problem for Lachowicz – and it’s one that many politicians trip over – is that she let her online world bleed into the broader political environment. The Maine GOP seems to have pulled her quotes from discussion areas on the popular DailyKos site and if you’re there talking about killing people online, someone is going to come across it. Had she kept her World of Warcraft in the game itself, chances are no one would have noticed. One can’t blame her for the spillover, but if you’re planning on being a public figure, misinterpretation and attacks come with the territory. Just like murderous orcs in World of Warcraft.

Like I said, we’ll see more of this in the future. But it’s a good URL, actually. Lachowicz should buy it from the GOP once the election is over.

A flier distributed by the Maine GOP attacks Democratic state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz for playing an orc assassin rogue in World of Warcraft

A flier distributed by the Maine GOP attacks Democratic state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz for playing an orc assassin rogue in World of Warcraft

Oct 012012

John Dennis campaigns against Nancy PelosiThis political ad by John Dennis (R) in his battle against Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has to be one of the most bizarre ever. Pelosi and zombies seem to be the ultimate target here. I’m not at all clear how effective this might be – or even the intended demographic – Republicans? Independents? Former Pelosi voters? I just don’t know.

Dennis is a sharp Libertarian so he is both to the left and right of Nancy Pelosi on the political spectrum. From the SF Weekly:

But John Dennis, who says he’s raised $2 million to unseat Pelosi, is a “Liberty” Republican. And for committed Libertarians, the notions left and right don’t have quite the same meaning as they might with traditional liberals such as Pelosi. Sure, Dennis supports Proposition 19, the marijuana initiative. But he also backs San Francisco left-wing anathema Proposition L, which would prohibit sitting or lying on public ways between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

“In a strictly Libertarian world, the roads and sidewalks would be private property,” Dennis explained. “If you’re obstructing private property, you should be able to get people out of the way.”

This is not the only strange political ad that Dennis has done but it definitely ranks as his most bizzare. Hard to imagine this builds support for a campaign – but definitely a 1:42 of unusual entertainment. From Politicalwire.

Sep 192012
Romney teleprompter meme


As the full Romney video of the infamous fundraising dinner talk is released, the campaign is in damage control mode. While the rest of the video is not as damning as the initial clips released, it does nothing to help his case and even adds a few other choice lines to an already full platter of them.

The main sign a campaign has derailed when figures in your own party turn against you. Here’s a selection of Republican barbs from Politico in an article by Katie Glueck, “The right’s many attacks on Mitt Romney“. 

Check out the piece for all the quotes on Romney and the additional criticisms of his foreign policy remarks:

Here’s a look at who’s keeping some distance from Romney…

On the “47 percent ” comment:

Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard: “… Romney’s comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant.”

David Brooks, The New York Times: “[As] a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.”

Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal: “It’s time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one.”

Kevin Glass, “Romney’s just wrong on the facts here.”

Jonah Goldberg, “The Corner” blog, National Review: “Ultimately Romney’s division of the electorate has an odd Marxist twang to it, as if those dependent on government are simply voting their naked economic self-interest.

“… Which raises the other, bigger, problem with the blanket derogation of people who don’t pay income taxes. Undoubtedly moochers and layabouts are overrepresented in the ranks of the non-filers of income taxes. But so are the working poor (thanks to, among other things, the Earned Income Tax Credit), retirees, college students, et al.”

David Frum, Newsweek/The Daily Beast: “Mitt Romney has just committed the worst presidential-candidate gaffe since Gerald Ford announced in 1976 that ‘there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.’

“Irreparable? To Romney’s image, yes; to his election chances … we’ll see.” 

. . . .

W. James Antle III, The Daily Caller News Foundation: “Since when has it been the job of Republicans and conservatives to make sure everyone has IRS obligations?”

Linda McMahon, GOP Senate candidate, Connecticut: “I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be. People today are struggling because the government has failed to keep America competitive, failed to support job creators, and failed to get our economy back on track.”

Ross Douthat, The New York Times: “… Romney finds himself conducting a winnable (yes, still) campaign from the weakest possible position.”

Reihan Salam, National Review: “We need conservative politicians who are willing to explain why low-income and middle-income parents should be removed from the tax rolls during the years they are making the biggest investments in their children, and who are willing to make the case for the EITC program as an alternative to worklessness and lifelong dependency.”

Susana Martinez, governor, New Mexico: “We have a lot of people that are at the poverty level in New Mexico, but they count just as much as anybody else.”

Scott Brown, U.S. Senator, Massachusetts: “As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in.”

Matt Welch, Reason: “This is economic determinism at its worst, going against the very message the Republican Party was trying to sell to the world during its quadrennial national convention last month.”

Dean Heller, U.S. Senator, Nevada: “You got to understand, I grew up with five brothers and sisters. My father was an automechanic. My mother was a school cook. I just don’t view the world the same way he does.”

Sep 182012

Romney video and quote

Whatever your political view, the Romney campaign is not in good shape this week. With rumors of a dysfunctional campaign staff and the too-quick remark on foreign policy, the secretly recorded video may prove to be one of those classic campaign moments, the kind that remain in the public’s consciousness for years to come.

A few have rushed to Romney’s defense, including Herman Cain, Erick Erickson of, and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. But you know things are in turmoil when major figures criticize their party’s candidate; Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said that Romney’s remarks were “stupid and arrogant” and David Brooks argued that:

It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney . . . He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. 

The Victims

What is so strange about the remarks – putting aside for a moment the question of what Romney actually believes – is that it reveals a deeply flawed political assessment of the voting public. A significant portion of the 47 percent who do not pay income taxes are in the military, working lower income people and those on social security – and probably a majority are inclined to vote Republican.  To speak of them as an entitlement group, or as Andrew Sullivan notes in his devastating analysis (recommended reading), to use the word “victim” with this group is astonishing.

Yes, there are people in this group with a victim mentality, just as – we should note – there are apparently a number of millionaires with a victim mentality. It’s hard to describe it as anything else when you think you’re entitled to something and that others are out to get you.

It’s hard to say what the ultimate fallout of the video will be, but you don’t elections by writing off the people already on your side. If you want a detailed analysis of who pays what in taxes, and who the 47% are, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a good place to start.

The Video

The video was done in Boca Raton, Florida at the home of Marc Leder, a private equity executive. More details are coming out and it seems the video was leaked by James Carter IV, former President Carter’s grandson. Is it legal? That’s not clear given that it was done in the State of Florida which stipulates that all parties must consent. On the other hand, it was (more or less) a public campaign event so it may very well be considered within the bounds of the law.

One can almost guarantee that more more details will come out on the making of the video and quite possibly some legal moves down the road.

The “YouTube Era”

In 2006, when then-Sen. George Allen singled out a man videotaping his talk and called him "Macaca," the video went viral and Allen's campaign for re-election collapsed.

In 2006, when then-Sen. George Allen singled out a man videotaping his talk and called him “Macaca,” the video went viral and Allen’s campaign for re-election collapsed.

I’m using Romney’s own words here. Seriously. This is not (was not?) a man like Anthony Weiner who had no understanding of technology except how to click the “Send” button. No, Romney himself has been quite aware that something like this can happen in our age of increasingly miniaturized electronics and the fact that every moment has the potential to be a public event. Listen to Romney talk about this possibility five long years ago:

Running for president in the YouTube era, you realize you have to be very judicious in what you say . . . . You have to be careful with your humor. You have to recognize that anytime you’re running for the presidency of the United States, you’re on.  (Daily Beast)

Well, Mitt, you were definitely on, and the “YouTube era” is much more pervasive now than it was in 2007 (when it was only two years old, though already popular).

But at least Marc Leder and his guests kept their clothes on for this event – now THAT is about the only thing that could top the video as it is – but they haven’t always been so modest.

Sep 152012
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff's vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California. September 15, 2012. REUTERS/Bret Hartman

As protests and demonstrations continue throughout the Arab world in reaction to the Muhammad video (I still will not dignify it with the term “film” or “movie” as some do), a number of developments and articles are worth noting. But most striking – outside of the scenes of the violence in the streets – are two unfolding dramas: the questioning of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula who may be the individual behind the video and the hidden drama of the Egyptian government as it negiotiates the complexities of creating a democracy.

The Mystery Man – Nakoula Basseley Nakoula

From Reuters: Nakoula Basseley Nakoula voluntarily went with officers to a meeting in a sheriff’s station in Cerritos, Los Angeles County. This was not an arrest but an “interview” – and he continues to deny involvement in the video. Officials are looking into possible parole violations – Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in prison (with five years of probation) for bank fraud. His release was contingent on not using aliases or accessing the Internet, both of which appear to have been done if he is the producer of the Muhammad video.

Nakoula will never end up back in jail for the video with the free speech rights in the United States, but he could for parole violations. Regardless, his name will go down as a waypoint in the history of the Internet for the havoc, destruction and death that could be brought about by a single video clip.

The Egyptian Government’s Drama Behind the Scenes

Egyptian Protestor Runs from Burning Car

Everyone is understandably focusing on the street protests in Egypt and rest of the Arab world, but there is another drama – a fundamental struggle going on behind the scenes as the Egyptian government comes to terms with a functioning democracy.

For decades,  the country lived under the iron fist of a dictatorship with protests and arrests at periodic intervals. But Mubarak could pretty much do what he wanted, with the ongoing calculation that he could only push his people to a certain point. He was a master of knowing where that (somewhat fluid boundary was).

Now that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi leads the country, it’s not so simple. For days, he has scored points with supporters and opposition parties (particularly with the radical Islamist party Salafi Al-Nour) by keeping security low and letting the protesters have the upper hand. But the very technology that keeps the video in front of peoples eyes – and helped support the overthrow of Mubarak – backfired on the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi who were saying one thing to the West and issuing statements with a radically different tone for domestic consumption.

Sometimes it seems like everything in the digital revolution is a boomerang - no matter how far it gets thrown, you’ll soon be ducking as it comes back at you. From the Wall Street Journal:

Until today, Mr. Morsi’s presidency had appeared less than contrite about the security lapse that allowed protesters to invade the fortress-like U.S. mission. On Thursday, the Brotherhood went so far as to call for nationwide “vigils” in front of “major mosques” throughout the country on Friday—a day in which protests in Egypt have become a ritual.

Though the call for demonstrations smacked of intentional escalation, Brotherhood leaders portrayed the call as a kind of contained catharsis that would move the focus of popular rage away from the volatile flashpoint that is the U.S. embassy.

Essam El Erian, the head of the FJP, said the Brotherhood firmly rejected any attacks on foreign missions and insisted that the continuing violence in downtown Cairo includes “mainly young men” and no politicians.

The Brotherhood’s mixed message was encapsulated by a Twitter exchange between the group and the U.S. Embassy. Just as the Brotherhood’s English-language Twitter account made earnest inquiries about the safety of U.S. diplomats in Cairo, its Arabic-language Twitter account praised Egyptian protesters for “rising to the defense of the Prophet.”

The @USEmbassyCairo Twitter handle replied: “By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.”

“I hope you know we read those too” – diplomacy these days gets carried out on Twitter.

Leading a democratically elected government is no simple task in a deeply interconnected world. Especially when what you say domestically (to an electorate with a widespread anti-American bias) is the opposite of what you say to people abroad. We can trip up on this ourselves – just witness how some campaign statements play differently here and overseas – but it’s even more difficult when a democracy is just getting underway. Just as the video has a viral quality about it in the Arab world, so do domestic statements for support of the protesters in the rest of the world. It’s a classic lose-lose situation, and yet, for Morsi to be a legitimate leader in the global community and the government an effective democracy at home, he will have to turn it into a win-win.

I don’t envy the challenge.

Sep 132012

Who is sam bacile?

The story behind the inflammatory Muhammad video, Muslim Innocence, gets stranger and stranger after the awful events in Libya and the demonstrations in Cairo which are now spreading to Yemen, Sudan and Tunisia. People are trying to uncover the identity of  the mysterious pseudonymous writer-director, Sam Bacile, who may or may not be an Israeli real estate mogul (whoever he is, he is now in hiding). An analysis of the video reveals that the controversial parts were dubbed in during post-production and now the actors are speaking out against the project.

Muhammad Video – A Question of Access

First, let’s note that what has plunged areas of the Middle East into turmoil is not the entire film (I’m not even sure it warrants that term), but a 14 minute trailer which has been translated into Arabic and is getting significant airplay, especially in Egypt. If you like, you can watch the trailer which has put Google into an incredibly difficult position. After the death of the Ambassador, they blocked access to it in Egypt and Libya, but it is still available elsewhere on YouTube. Blocking videos is not a road one goes down lightly – Google regularly gets take-down requests for videos for political reasons. On the other hand, once American lives have been lost, Google had to make an effort to limit access.

Badly Done – and then Dubbed

As for the movie itself, as Sarah Abdurrahman has noted in On the Media, the production values are film-student quality at best and show no evidence of a supposedly $5 million budget. The Prophet Muhammad is portrayed as essentially a dim-witted character and a pedophile, and it includes scene after scene of amateurish staging, lighting and camerawork with teenage-level insults directed at Muslims.

Now it turns out that key lines of the movies dialogue were dubbed in after the filming. Abdurrahman does a close analysis of the trailer and uncovers the following instances of dubbing:

1:25: The Islamic Egyptian police arrested 1400 christians.

2:30: His name is Mohammad. And we can call him “the father unknown.”

3:03: Mohammad! Mohammad the bastard! Your lady summons you!

5:14: I’ll help you, Khadija. I’ll make a book for him. It will be a mix of some version from the Torah, and some versions from the New Testament, and mix them into false verses.

6:30: Mohammad is Allah [sic] messenger, and the Koran is our constitution!

8:25: [not dubbed] It is not enough to believe in one God. [dubbed] You must say “God and Mohammad, his messenger.” Now, go read the Koran.

9:04: Is your Mohammad a child molester?

10:27: …[not dubbed] And in all my young life [dubbed] I have not seen such a murderous thug as Mohammad.

Angry Actors

With events spiraling out of control, now the actors are speaking up. Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress from Bakersfield, Calif. has said all of them were deceived about the project. Apparently much of the shooting was done in Los Angeles and green screened so that backgrounds could be added later. According to Garcia, there were no references to Muhammad in the script – he was called “Master George” and the working title was “Desert Warriors.”

The 80-member cast and crew have released a statement deploring the violence sparked by the video:

The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred. (from CNN)

You can see the original casting call which was posted on craigslist in July 2011 for an “historical desert drama set in Middle East” - there is no mention of Islam at all.

What Happens Next

The scary aspect of the Muhammad video is that the same digital environment that fosters greater connectivity and helped support an Arab Spring can also inflame false accusations and misunderstanding. The ideals of free speech in the United States are neither widely understood or supported in much of the world. Many of the protesters want the U.S. to “take down” the video – not something we can do. We are in the midst of a cultural/political dialogue – one that we have enough trouble dealing with at home – that is now spreading globally. One has to have a certain Jeffersonian faith that the truth and reason will triumph in the end, but this particular moment seems far removed from that ideal. According to Abdurrahman, Ambassador Stevens was “. . . kind, warm and welcoming. . . genuinely excited to be working in Libya at such a historic moment.” His death is profoundly disturbing. Sadly, it may not be the last consequence of this video.

When we talk about the openness of the Internet, we seldom consider all of the implications of what that concept actually means. We tend to look at the ideal through our own rose-colored glasses, not realizing that openness can serve the purpose of deeply closed minds on all sides.

Sep 062012

Twitter Political Index

The complex relationship between elections and social media continues its rapid evolvution during 2012 election. Where we once measured media interest in TV viewers, we increasingly look to data in social media to assess interest in a supporter or candidate’s performance. Of course not everyone uses Twitter and other social platforms, but the immediacy of the feedback makes them all but impossible to ignore.

Witness the current assessment of the speeches at the Republican and Democratic conventions.  If  Ann Romney speech generated a little over 6,000 tweets a minute, Mrs. Obama shot up to 28,000 tweets per minute during her speech yesterday evening in Charlotte. The well-received speech trounced Mitt Romney’s own performance at the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, which tallied some 14,000 tweets per minute last week.

Tweets per minute do not equal votes, but they do gauge the interest of a generally younger, high technology user demographic. And Twitter trending lines now tend to closely follow Gallup poll popularity ratings. No doubt, we’ll have a better understanding of this by the 2016 election, but it’s worth watching even now.

Bloomberg News notes how dramatically it has changed in just the past four years:

Four years ago, the term “social media” wasn’t widely used. On Election Day in 2008, there were 1.8 million tweets; now that many tweets are sent every six minutes, said Rachael Horwitz, a Twitter spokeswoman. In 2008, Facebook was popular mostly among college students. This year, there are more than 110,000 political Facebook pages in the U.S. and 11,000 pages for politicians, said Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy and communication for Facebook.

From a full election day to an equivalent number of tweets in six minutes today – with that rate of growth, picture the political environment in four years.

So, if you’re interested in elections and social media – or perhaps just one or the other – it’s worth following the new Twitter Political Index, or Twindex, put together by Twitter, the Topsy data analysis firm, and two polling outfits. Here’s the details offered by Adam Sharp, head of government, news and social innovation at Twitter:

We believe the Twitter political index reinforces the transitional models of research,” explained Mr. Sharp. “By providing more signals, more dials — that can agree or disagree — these new technologies give a more complete picture of crafting a political forecast.”

On a company blog post, Twitter said the Twindex was built in partnership with a data analysis team from Topsy, an online search and analytics company, and two polling firms, the Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research.

Topsy sifts through Twitter messages and uses advanced semantic analysis software to determine if someone is in support of a candidate, or a detractor.

Mr. Sharp said the index had a database of thousand of words to understand if these Twitter messages were for or against a candidate. As these messages are being shared by millions of people on Twitter, the software also takes into account colloquialisms.

Mr. Sharp noted that “bad,” for instance, could mean bad, or it be slang for good. He said that Topsy could differentiate between these words in a sentence and if they are positive or negative. 

As I write this, President Clinton just peaked at 22, 087 tweets per minute. Not quite what the First Lady did but far above everyone else. As there’s no embed option, you’ll need to visit Twindex to see the data in action, but here’s a snapshot of the historical data:

Twindex Historical Data

Aug 312012

Eastwood Debates ObamaThe Invisible Obama. An empty chair. This is why I love our era – a disjointed-never-should-have-happened convention speech by a well-known actor, an “interview” with an empty chair, and within an hour of the convention’s close, there is a Twitter account, @InvisibleObama, with over 30,000 followers (and probably more by the time you read this). And Internet memes? You know the invisible chair is popping up everywhere.

From Mashable:

Clint Eastwood Talks to Empty Chair.” That might just be the biggest headline to come out of the final night of the Republican National Convention.

Eastwood’s ten-minute conversation with an “invisible Obama” had social media buzzing and meme generators working overtime.

Despite rousing speeches from Florida senator Marco Rubio and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook could not stop talking about Eastwood’s exchange with the chair. 

It takes only a minute in our highly visual society for everything to backfire on the intended purpose of an event. And now the Internet memes will come fast and furious. Here’s one with no doubt more to follow:

Eastwood and Chair

And as you might imagine, the Obama campaign wasted no time striking back with a twist on the invisible chair theme. From Business Insider:

Obama Chair Theme on Twitter in Response

One thing we know: Eastwood’s speech will be the only one that is remembered ten years from now. And while it is common wisdom to say that political conventions are completely scripted presentations, this just proved that sometimes things can go badly off track.

Jul 272012
Teddy bear drop to protest lack of free speech in Belarus

teddy bear drop to protest lack of free speech in Belarus

You have love a stunt like this. If you had looked up in the sky in Belarus back on July 4th, you might have seen 876 teddy bears parachuting down to Minsk holding messages in support of free speech and democracy. For weeks the drop was met with skepticism by people outside of Belarus and repeated denials by the government, which is one of the most repressive in Europe. Turns out it that  Studio Total, a Scandinavian ad agency pulled it off using a small private plane and relying on the incompetence of the Belarus government. From Aljazeera:

Confirmation came on Thursday from Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at a meeting on the modernisation of the country’s armed forces, according to Russian news agency Interfax. “This plane was discovered in time, but why didn’t the senior officials stop the flight?” asked Lukashenko. “Where did the fault lie? In these bungling officials or some error in the airspace control system?”

Chartered by Studio Total, which bills itself as “northern Scandinavia’s most notorious ad agency”, the single-engine aircraft - piloted by a co-founder of Studio Total - crossed over the Lithuanian border on July 4, dropping 876 teddy bears on the capital Minsk and the small town of Ivyanets.

For weeks, Belarus’ government denied any plane illegally entered the country’s airspace that morning, claiming that videos of the airdrop released by Studio Total were faked.

Meanwhile, on July 13 the KGB – Belarus’ state security service – detained Anton Suryapin, a 20-year-old journalism student, after he posted a picture of one of the teddy bears to a website he runs called Belarusian News Photos. Suryapin is being held by the KGB under Article 371, Part 3 of Belarus’ Criminal Code, which concerns “organising illegal migration”, according to Amnesty International. The charge can carry a jail sentence of up to seven years. 

Needless to say, teddy bears descending on the capital city of Minsk probably doesn’t do much to help free speech, or even raise awareness of the lack of it in Belarus. But it surely revealed the country’s vulnerability and is a embarasssment to the leadership.

While you’re at it, take a look at the Studio Total website and their advertising philosophy:

Studio Total™ is a small swedish advertising agency with one humble goal: to revolutionize advertising. We do it by not buying ads. To buy an ad is like paying a friend to listen to you. It won’t help your reputation in the long run. In 2012 the brands that don’t get people talking will die. 

Jul 122012
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), author of SOPA and now the IPAA

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)

Sometimes it seems that bad things never die; like zombies, they rise from the grave . . . again and again. Yes, a new version of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act that was killed off earlier this year is now back as a new bill in the House of Representatives, titled the Intellectual Property Attaché Act (IPAA).  Dust off those Guy Fawkes masks as it appears to just be SOPA under another name – it was even introduced by the same author, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). Good grief, this man must hate the Web – at the very least, he doesn’t understand how it functions.

Like its predecessor, under the IPAA a user would only need to accuse another website of a violation of copyright.  Search engine results, payment and advertising systems would then have to be terminated within five days. Even more troubling, the IPAA has significantly broader support in the House of Representatives, with many of those opposed to SOPA in favor of the latest reincarnation. In other words, we have another fight on our hands.

Here are the details from Readwriteweb:

A new bill is about to be officially introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives that would resurrect some unsavory aspects of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that sparked widespread protests last winter.

The bill, which the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up as soon as today, is titled the Intellectual Property Attaché Act (IPAA) and is primarily designed to expand the powers of so-called IP attachés within a new agency inside the Department of Commerce, even to the point of establishing a new Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property.

This is a very deliberate shift within the bureaucracy that’s designed to expand the powers of the intellectual property enforcement agents who work within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The primary mission of these new IP attachés would be, according to the bill, “to achieve potential benefit by reducing intellectual property infringement in the United States market and globally.”

One way to interpret this mission? Giving members of the diplomatic corps more powers to enforce intellectual property violations around the world.

What’s the Problem This Time?

Given that IP violations are against the law, where’s the problem? Opponents of the SOPA and PIPA bills from late 2011 and early 2012 will recognize this expansion of powers as part of the SOPA act, though at the time the provision got very little attention.

Those bills gave a number of new powers to copyright holders who found content on a website that they believed infringed on their copyright:

  1. They could ask any vendor providing revenue to that site to stop. For instance, the request could go to advertising or credit card providers for the allegedly infringing site, and they would have five days to cut their ties with the site.
  2. The bills would have enabled the U.S. Attorney General to send court orders to DNS server operators ordering them to stop resolving the domain names of allegedly infringing sites to their matching IP addresses – making it impossible for Web browsers to reach the sites by name.
  3. Search engines would also be required to remove or block links to these sites.

Protesters were incensed, particularly because all of these actions could have been set in motion by private corporations, with no requirements for legal proof.

A copyright holder need only accuse a website of infringement, and the search engine, advertisement and payment systems would be cut off in five days. DNS filtering would need the involvement of the Department of Justice to get a court order, but again, there would be no need to prove anything to obtain such an order from a judge. . . .

. . . . Clearly, Hollywood and other intellectual property holders would love to see IPAA passed: It actually expands on some aspects of SOPA/PIPA. And government agents with more power to enforce private intellectual property rights both domestically and globally is a taxpayer-funded dream for copyright holders. 

You can read an alternative – and less critical – view of the implications of ITAA over at Digital Trends, but having read through some sections of the legislation, I sense trouble.

Jun 042012
George Soros

George Soros

It’s not often that one thinks of George Soros going viral but his speech the other day on Europe and the EU has become the talk of more than just the business community. The full speech is on Soros’ website and runs through a broad range of concepts from the scientific method to social behavior. In it, Soros argues that the European Union was designed as:

  • a fantastical object – unreal but immensely attractive
  • a product of piecemeal social engineering
  • deliberately inadequate so as to require further steps
  • When those steps didn’t happen, the bottom began to fall out
Soros gives the European Union three months to work everything out or collapse as a failed experiment. Probably an accurate a deadline as any.
If you don’t want to work through Soros’ speech, Business Insider helpfully reprints the core section which is definitely worth reading:

I contend that the European Union itself is like a bubble. In the boom phase the EU was what the psychoanalyst David Tuckett calls a “fantastic object” – unreal but immensely attractive. The EU was the embodiment of an open society –an association of nations founded on the principles of democracy, human rights, and rule of law in which no nation or nationality would have a dominant position. 

The process of integration was spearheaded by a small group of far sighted statesmen who practiced what Karl Popper called piecemeal social engineering. They recognized that perfection is unattainable; so they set limited objectives and firm timelines and then mobilized the political will for a small step forward, knowing full well that when they achieved it, its inadequacy would become apparent and require a further step. The process fed on its own success, very much like a financial bubble. That is how the Coal and Steel Community was gradually transformed into the European Union, step by step.

Germany used to be in the forefront of the effort. When the Soviet empire started to disintegrate, Germany’s leaders realized that reunification was possible only in the context of a more united Europe and they were willing to make considerable sacrifices to achieve it.  When it came to bargaining they were willing to contribute a little more and take a little less than the others, thereby facilitating agreement.  At that time, German statesmen used to assert that Germany has no independent foreign policy, only a European one.

The process culminated with the Maastricht Treaty and the introduction of the euro. It was followed by a period of stagnation which, after the crash of 2008, turned into a process of disintegration. The first step was taken by Germany when, after the bankruptcy of Lehman BrothersAngela Merkel declared that the virtual guarantee extended to other financial institutions should come from each country acting separately, not by Europe acting jointly. It took financial markets more than a year to realize the implication of that declaration, showing that they are not perfect.

In effect, Europe got a financial union without a political union and as Soros goes on to argue, the founders thought that the that “. . . when the need arose the political will could be generated to take the necessary steps towards a political union.” Obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way.

This is not a pretty picture and the next few months will be decisive not only for the EU but for nations around the globe. Spain is teetering on the brink, Greece is headed toward elections that will lead them out of the EU and into financial default or continue within it and suffer greater economic deprivation (in other words, basically the same no matter which way they vote for the person on the street). European leaders are looking at proposals for greater monetary integration but the political will may not be there. And in effect, they are still focusing on the monetary side and not the political side.

As of this morning, the markets are plunging in Asia and it will be a turbulent week in the European and U.S. financial markets.

Buckle up and hold tight.

Jun 022012
Tahrir Square fills with protesters on 2 June over Hosni Mubarak's sentence

Tahrir Square fills with protesters on 2 June over Hosni Mubarak's sentence. Photo: Getty Images

An incredible development as an Egyptian court sentenced Hosni Mubarak to life in prison – the first time this has happened to a standing dictator in the Middle East. However, others were not convicted of charges relating to the Arab Spring and the initial euphoria turned into anger. By nightfall, Tahrir Square was again filled with protesters.

Aljazeera has a good account of the current situation – and it remains to be seen if the promise of the revolution is fulfilled over the coming days:

Thousands of people descended on Tahrir Square to protest on Saturday night, a spontaneous outpouring of anger after a Cairo court sentenced former president Hosni Mubarak to life in prison but acquitted a number of other former regime officials.

The verdict was initially met with euphoria: Egyptians celebrated upon hearing that Mubarak was convicted of complicity in the murder of more than 800 protesters during the Egyptian revolution in January of 2011. It was the first time an Arab head of state had been convicted, and a major accomplishment for the revolution which toppled Mubarak nearly 18 months ago.

But the joy was short-lived. Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa, were acquitted of corruption charges, and several senior security officials were found not guilty of murder. Some had wanted Mubarak to face the death penalty; others appreciated the verdict, but expected it would be overturned on appeal.

So they flocked to Tahrir Square, the heart of last year’s revolution, to voice their frustration, not just with the verdict but with Egypt’s post-revolution military leadership.

“It’s garbage,” Najdi Mohamed el-Din said of the verdict. “And it has made us realize something. The revolution of January 2011? We need to do it again, and we need to do it until everyone who was with Mubarak is gone.”

More than 5,000 people had gathered in Tahrir before midnight, and some planned to spend the night. The atmosphere felt almost nostalgic, as if protesters were reliving their roles from last year’s revolution. Many vowed not to leave the square until their demands were met.


May 312012

Mitt Romney App Internet MemeThe soon-to-be Republican party nominee released an iPhone App yesterday that let you take photos and add an overlay of the words “I’m with Mitt” and “A Better America.” But in one of the screens, the word “America” was spelled “Amercia” and quickly resulted in a new Internet meme.

As you can imagine, it didn’t take long – especially on a slow news day (though it’s hardly a “slow news day” in many parts of the world) for the obvious gaff to replicate itself with appropriated content from all over the Web. The one posted here combines the story of the dog strapped to roof of his car with the misspelled overlay.

The App was soon corrected with an “update” but I’m sure we’ll see a few more creative takes on a very funny spelling mistake. It’s not that the Internet doesn’t forgive, it just doesn’t let go until it moves on to something else. No word on the fate of the developer or proof-readers who let that one through.

May 222012

Twitter Access Temporarily Banned in PakistanAnother government takes on Twitter . . .  and quickly backs down. Or so it seems. Access to Twitter was blocked throughout Pakistan on Sunday due to messages “offensive to Islam”. While there were references to “blasphemous and inflammatory content” by the Ministry for Information and Technology, no reason was given for the ban, or the face that it was quickly lifted it eight hours later. According to the AtlanticWire, the action was taken due to tweets regarding a Facebook competition that called for users to submit drawings of the Prophet Muhammad (images of the prophet are forbidden).

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times the ban is,

. . . ill-advised, counterproductive and will ultimately prove to be futile as all such attempts at censorship have proved to be.” He added that, “The right to free speech is nonnegotiable, and if Pakistan is the rights-respecting democracy it claims to be, this ban must be lifted forthwith. Free speech can and should only be countered with free speech.  

It sounds though as if many Pakistani were able to get around the ban by using proxy servers. According to the Guardian:

The ban was made largely irrelevant by tech-savvy users. Twitter members, many aided by online articles in the Pakistani media explaining how to circumvent the curbs, installed proxy servers to shield their web browsing. Once back online, many posted angry tweets about the shutdown.

One poster wondered how a known terrorist “can roam and operate freely in Pakistan whilst social media is banned!

Perhaps more troubling is the article by Huma Yusuf  (a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn) in today’s New York Times on the temporary ban. He notes that many bloggers feel this was just a test run:

In February, Pakistan invited bids for an Internet filtering system that could block up to 50 million URLs (the idea was shelved following a backlash from civil society). Last year, the P.T.A. attempted to ban 1,500 “immoral” terms from use in cellphone text messages. In 2010, a Pakistani court banned Facebookand other social network sites for two weeks on the grounds that they were hosting blasphemous content. A few years earlier, the Pakistani government made YouTube crash worldwide after trying to block the site for streaming the infamous Danish cartoons of Muhammad.

The government claims to be censoring only blasphemous content, but it is notable that social networking sites are among the few remaining venues in Pakistan for unfettered political debate. The IT ministry has blocked dozens of Web sites that champion the cause of separatists in Pakistan’s western Balochistan province, where human rights abuses by the security establishment are rampant. Last year, Rolling Stone magazine was blockedonline after publishing an article about the Pakistani Army’s expenditures.

Many bloggers and free speech activists in Pakistan believe that the Twitter ban was a “test run” by the IT ministry — a chance to flex its censorship muscles. With the experiment occurring months ahead of the next expected general election, Pakistanis should take any violation of their right to free speech seriously. The next ban may not be as short-lived as this one. 

A number of countries and social groups are pushing back against the new-found freedom of expression facilitated by social media. It is sad to see reactionary forces try to stifle dialogue under the pretense of offending someone or as in the case of Azerbaijan where social media has become synonymous with deviance and criminality.


May 112012

With so many traditional industries and social practices transformed/upended by the Web, the American political system still forces you into one of two political silos, represented by the two major political parties. aims shatter this arrangement and let people to connect to and organize with like-minded people. As described in Mashable: was launched by Nathan Daschle and Raymond Glendening in late 2010 to help people break free of what they consider a restrictive two-party political system, which they believe is no longer relevant to 21st century Americans.

“Parties are really antiquated systems,” says Glendening, the chief strategy officer. “Politics is the last sector of American culture that has yet to be revolutionized by technology. When you look around, every sector of our lives has a plethora of options except for our outlets for political engagement: We still have these two binary options.”’ 20,000 users are first empowered to figure out the essence of their “political DNA,” or core beliefs. Then, they are matched with similar users to take collective action around an issue, such as deforestation or election reform. All of that action happens outside the traditional party structures, in groups called “rucks.”

“I think this is very reflective of where American society is moving,” says Glendening. “People are increasingly saying, ‘I don’t fit into one of these binary silos,’ and lifelong membership is just not a realistic view or expectation of what the consumer wants out of his political engagement fulfillment.”

An interesting idea though the problem still remains on the larger scale that governing requires the support of more than small interest groups. In some ways, the parliamentary system in Europe is less siloed – or more correctly, there are a greater number of silos with a multi-party system. But in the end coalition governments are arrangements worked out by party leaders in closed conference rooms and not by the voters themselves (just ask people in Greece).

Ruck sounds like a good idea, but it will at most transform grassroots politics and remain a vehicle for activism and not something that results in actual governance. That’s not a criticism, but disruptive change is sorely needed at the structural level. There’s been profound transformation of the political world with the use of technology in campaigns (the Obama 2008 campaign) and in limited aspects of government itself (e-petitions – which have tremendous potential but seem to be mostly for show at the moment),  but it hasn’t happened at all in the voting booth. About the only change has been the use of an open or nonpartisan blanket primary (a “jungle primary”) – where everyone runs without party affiliation - in some states for local and state-wide offices. That solution actually predates the technology revolution and has had mixed results at best. Screenshot

May 072012
Pedestrians are reflected in a poster advertising the Greek national elections, on the day of voting in Athens.  -Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Pedestrians are reflected in a poster advertising the Greek national elections, on the day of voting in Athens. -Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The election of Socialist Party leader François Hollande and serious loses in the coalition parties (New Democracy and Pasok) in the current Greek government are sending shockwaves throughout  Europe. Whatever challenges the Euro has faced up to this point, they pale in comparison to what the future holds.

The Telegraph has a good initial take on the events:

The economic doctrine of austerity, to cut the burden of state spending to free up the economy, has ruled supreme with the support all of Europe’s leaders, the European Union and financial markets.

But political leaders were on Sunday night conceding the consensus had been shattered beyond repair.

With Europe’s economies plunging further into recession and as unemployment in the eurozone breaks record levels, voters demands for a new approach had finally become to great to ignore.

The popular backlash to EU imposed austerity to the centrist New Democracy and Socialist parties in Greece threatens the existence of the euro itself. 

Greece is potentially ungovernable as a minority government must try and pass a new raft of austerity measures next month which are a condition of an EU-IMF bailout and Greek membership of the euro.

In France, while Hollande, the Socialist President-elect is a centrist, he is sitting on a powder keg of resentment at measures that his government will have to pass if it is not spark a meltdown of financial markets.

He has refused to ratify the treaty unless the eurozone and EU also sign up to a “growth pact”.

And as a footnote, despite Chancellor’s Merkel’s popularity in Germany, it appears that her coalition government suffered a lose in the state of Schleswig-Holstein.

France may muddle through - François Mitterrand came to power in 1981 and after a brief move to the left (inviting the Communist Party into his government) was forced by pressures from the international markets and domestic politics to move to the right. But Greece is in a fundamentally different situation with a negotiated $171 billion dollar agreement with the EU that ostensibly cannot be revoked by the new post-election government.

Problem is – the current coalition parties, New Democracy and Pasok, may have received no more than 34% of the total votes and Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left party – which is pushing for an end to the austerity measures – may get as much as 17%. Syriza is looking to form it’s own coalition based on an end to the austerity measures and if the current coalition collapses, the shockwaves will hit the global financial markets. As the Washington Post remarked:

The vote was a stunning repudiation of the two political parties that have ruled Greece since the end of dictatorship here nearly 40 years ago. The pro-business New Democracy Party and the Socialists have traded power for decades. Now, a cacophony of new, skeptical voices will crowd the halls of parliament — including a far-right party called Golden Dawn, whose supporters celebrated Sunday night with flaming torches and the Nazi salute.

Yes, you read that right – Nazi salutes. And Golden Dawn will enter Parliament for the first time.

Members of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party celebrate in Thessaloniki on Sunday.

Members of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party celebrate in Thessaloniki on Sunday.

A scary development, but in all honesty, while the press here – elsewhere – speaks of a “downturn” or a “recession” in Greece, Spain, Portugal, etc., the unemployment numbers and business statistics indicate that this is essentially an economic depression (in Greece, unemployment has reached 21 percent and GDP has declined by 20 percent in just two years). People are tired of sacrifice that seems to only call for more of the same, and the result will be a resurgence of radical parties on both the left and the right. With all the debate about bailout packages, deadlines and who should pay, the leaders at the center of the crisis have forgotten that people need hope. The austerity measures are clearly not providing it, which will lead people into the arms of those with much more radical solutions.

Greece has reached a breaking point. And the political decisions ahead may well reverberate throughout Europe.

May 032012
Eskinder Nega, jailed Ethiopian Journalist

Eskinder Nega, jailed Ethiopian Journalist

A small glimmer of hope for Jailed Ethiopian dissident blogger, Eskinder Nega, the recipient of Pen America’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Nega, who works as both a journalist and blogger (a distinction that makes less sense with each passing year) is on death row in a country where the media climate has rapidly deteriorated since last year. In accepting the award on his behalf, his wife, Serkalem Fasil, said:

I accept this award on behalf of Eskinder Nega at a time when freedom of expression and press freedom are at the lowest in Ethiopia. If Eskinder were standing here, he’d accept this award, not just as a personal honor, but on behalf of all Ethiopian journalists who toil under withering conditions today: Those who went into exile over the years… those in prison with whom he now resides. 

Tragically, 25% of all exiled journalists in Africa are from Ethiopia and far too many have been jailed.  From Global Voices.

Apr 182012
Norway Killer Breivik Gestures in Court

Norway Killer Breivik Gestures in Court

Looking at Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian gunman who massacred 77 people in an attack designed to rid Norway of Islam and multiculturalism, you see his cold calculating cruelty and the sheer horror of that day on Utoya island, outside the Norwegian capital. In his first session of his trial, he announced he would do the same thing again if given the chance.

Oddly enough, he has pleaded innocence even though he acknowledges killing eight people at a government headquarters in Oslo and then 69 people at the youth summer camp. His only fear seems to be an insanity ruling, that somehow, he must prove his own sanity to vindicate what he has done. In court, he said that to be labeled insane is “a fate worse than death.”

Wisely, the court sessions are not broadcast so that he might use them as a platform for his sick views. It’s hardly the media circus a trial like that would engender over here, but bad enough by Scandinavian standards. In defending his anti-Muslim and anti-immigration beliefs, Breivik stated that:

I have carried out the most sophisticated and spectacular political attack committed in Europe since the Second World War. . . . The July 22 attacks were preemptive attacks to defend the Norwegian people and the Norwegian ethnicity.

Breivik faces a maximum 21-year prison sentence but Norwegian law has a provision that would allow his indefinite confinement if he is still considered a danger to society. If ruled insane, he would be held in a psychiatric institution indefinitely.

Unlike in the United States and other countries where an event like this would bring dramatically heightened security, Norway remains an open society, but one struggling to come to terms with an incomprehensible event. Under the courtroom decorum and politeness on the streets, there is drama here, a cultural tragedy in need of healing. Perhaps the article in Reuters stated it aptly:

The trial has been touted in Norway as a way to bring emotional “closure” to a country proud of its tolerance and determined not to let the threat of attacks destroy its open society. But it also has observers, especially foreigners, wondering if Norway’s legal system – which can formally impose a maximum penalty of just 21 years in prison – is being manipulated by a cunning madman to broadcast his racist message.

At times during the courtroom broadcasts, some have felt echoes of the plays of Norway’s great dramatist Henrik Ibsen, where comfortable daily routines are shattered by deep crisis and emotional maelstroms break through the icy veneer of pious, 19th-century bourgeois life. 

And indeed, with all the tensions in Europe over immigration, it was in comfortable security of Norway that the calm was shattered so deeply. And continues to be so with his clenched fist salute, his defiant rejection of the authority of the Norwegian legal system and his insistence that his unspeakable crimes were for the “good” of Norway.


Apr 132012

Glenn BeckGlenn Beck returns on his new GBTV network on the Web with – of all things – a studio that recreates the Oval Office in the White House. Beck went out and bought the set to the movie JFK and did an exact replica that allows him to sit at the “President’s desk” and pontificate about the downfall of America. How many times have we heard that “we are running out of time”?

To quote Beck:

It will be easy to go back to the work of rebuilding our communities without the distraction and red tape created by every new law and regulation that comes out of Washington D.C. We will simply do the work that needed to be done.

That’s where America’s renewal will begin. I wish we could take the time to unwind Washington steadily and slowly, but I am afraid we are running out of time. We have to simply cut the cord, and let Washington go. 

Of course, Beck is not referring to the contemporary world, but a different time, pre-WWII, pre-New Deal when the country’s population was only 121 million people, where there was nothing like air travel, Interstate Highways, modern communication systems, etc. Yes, Washington DC was something of a backwater town back then just as much of the country was a backwater place – there was no Tennessee Valley Authority to end flooding and bring electricity to millions who were still living with oil lamps in Appalachia and the Deep South. It’s hard not to deny the corruption in Washington or the fact that power begets power, but how easily we can sanitize a past that made sure women knew their place and established a dual legal system (Jim Crow laws) to ensure that millions of African-Americans would remain second class citizens at best.

Anyway, Beck has returned, once again predicting the end-times for America, but this time from his very own “Oval Office.” As we move into an increasingly post-mass media landscape, the tidy lines that once separate the serious delivery of News and information from theater fade into what is nothing more than a large continuum on the Web.

Mar 232012

Now that Arizona has become the first state to make it a crime to be an undocumented alien, immigrant-rights activists working with the nonprofit group, Respect, are creating a mobile app to help those that get pulled over. From New American Media:

Maricopa County Sheriff Officer Joe Arpaio (R), looks on as inmates are moved to a new housing facility

Maricopa County Sheriff Officer Joe Arpaio (R), looks on as inmates are moved to a new housing facility

When someone gets pulled over the first thing to worry about is the family,” said Lydia Guzman, the president of the nonprofit Respect/Respeto.

For years, the nonprofit’s emergency hotline has monitored cases of possible civil rights violations against Latinos by local law enforcement, provided information about rights, and tracked down missing family members in immigration custody after undocumented drivers are detained. 

“It’s difficult. We try to get all of this information from them to reach their family, while at the same time we’re trying to advise them about their rights,” she said.

It was Guzman’s experience with Respect/Respeto and the increased crackdown on undocumented immigrants by local police using state laws that inspired her friend Todd Landfried, a spokesperson for Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, to come up with an idea for a smartphone app that could do what the group does and more.

The app will allow users to notify family, friends, attorneys and even their consulate when they get pulled over by law enforcement or when they are facing an emergency situation that puts their safety or civil rights at risk. 

One other feature that may make it essential: the app will have to option to record audio and video and send that to a central location where it can be accessed by lawyers.

Given that Hispanic mobile users are much more likely to own a Smart phone (45% compared to 25% for Whites) and four to nine times more likely to be pulled over in a traffic stop, you can expect this to be popular if the crowd-source funding is successful.

Mar 182012
OWS Demonstration on St Patricks Day

OWS Demonstration on St Patricks Day

Spring in the air? Demonstrations if you dare! The six month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement brought demonstrators (perhaps 600 or so) back to Zuccotti Park and the arrest of over 70 people. Not the largest protest by any measure but perhaps a sign of what will come as the weather warms. The police are limiting access to Zuccotti Park and keeping the Press at bay. But unclear how long that will last given that both are on suspect legal grounds (a Court upheld closing the Park at night but not at will).

And if videos floating around are any indication, the police were needlessly rough with those detained – slamming a protester against a glass door that broke. Do they really this kind of treatment keeps people home? Actually, OWS thanked the Mayor for the arrests as they claim it will help with fundraising.

The month of May just may be a little different this year. And since it was St. Patrick’s Day, someone had to show up with a sign about the snakes on Wall Street. More details about the events in Lower Manhattan at the Gothamist.

Mar 122012

Social media can play a vital role in protest and it appears the NYC prosecutors office would like that to end. For the second time, they have subpoenaed Twitter records of a protester involved in Occupy Wall Street (OWS) activities. The first went to activist Malcolm Harris back in February of this year (you can read his account on Reuters) and the latest subpoena went to Jeff Rae. Both have been notified by Twitter and will fight the requests.

And the point of the government’s fishing expedition for data related to minor crimes such as disorderly conduct? It obviously undermines free-speech protections in the First Amendment, but more directly, aims at the Fourth Amendment which prohibits warrantless searches. In discussing the initial subpoena against Harris, the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes:

Cell Phone TowerBy attempting to subpoena these records, the government can get around the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless searches by requesting information that includes IP addresses. Twitter keeps track of IP address information regarding every time a person logged into Twitter, as well as the IP address information related to a Twitter user’s direct messages to other users, and the date and time information related to these log ins and direct messages. Armed with IP addresses, the government — without a warrant — can go to an ISP to determine who was assigned that particular IP address. And if that person connected on a mobile device — which is where the majority of Twitter users access their accounts — the ISP will hand over to the government the specific cell tower (and its corresponding geographic location) which that person used to access Twitter. This allows the government to piece together a map of where a person physically is when he opens Twitter on his smartphone, sends a direct message to a friend, or Tweets. And with that information, the government could get a record of Mr. Harris’ movement over the three months it requested from Twitter. It’s no surprise then that the government singled out Mr. Harris for this request: he currently has over 1,500 followers and 7,200 Tweets. 

So you don’t need to go through the trouble of getting a court order to track someone electronically. Now you can just do it after the fact but getting hold of their Twitter feed and the IP address information, essentially gutting the Fourth Amendment against abuse of police power. There’s been some progress on the legal front here – the Supreme Court ruled in January in United States v. Jones  that for law enforcement to install a GPS device on private property, it requires a search warrant. Nonetheless, the Court also noted that the rapid technological developments of our era may require that Congress step in with legislation. And given the dysfunctional environment of Washington these days, that doesn’t seem very promising.

Amazing how quickly things can change. Back in 2009, the State Department was praising Iranian students for using Twitter and pushed the country to not cut-off Internet access. But more recently, a number of subpoenas have been issued by local law enforcement in the States for Twitter data, including the Boston Police who subpoenaed two accounts but two hashtags (not quite sure how they were to defend themselves in court).

Malcolm Harris summed up the danger here:

The biggest danger that comes from this subpoena isn’t that it’ll help convict me — I don’t think a judge will have any trouble understanding what happened on the bridge — but that it will produce a chilling effect and discourage people from using Twitter while protesting” Harris wrote for Reuters. “It’s a win-win for prosecutors: Either they use Twitter archives to build cases against demonstrators, or they scare us away from using the platform

The subpoena for Jeff Rae’s account has been posted on Scrib if you want to see it. Scary stuff and yes, protesters may think twice. Win-wins for law enforcement are never good when it comes to social protest – unless, of course, one would prefer a police state.

Feb 182012

Mi6 Headquarters in London

Much of the connection between Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya and the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), often referred to as MI6, already surfaced back in September as Human Rights Watch distributed documents uncovered with the fall of the dictator’s government. But as the details of this relation are processed, it seems more sinister than one could have imagined (AlJazeera has some of the more sordid details). The use of rendition was wrong from the beginning but the close relationship between MI6 and members of Gaddafi’s are sickening.

The ability to undertake rendition without consequences paradoxically arose from a series of European Court decisions in the 1980′s that forced the UK spy agencies out into the public. But with their newly public role – and actions no longer subject blanket disavowals – something had to be done to protect their staff since they were technically crown servants and technically had to obey the law. A difficult problem: be a spy agency yet never do anything illegal.

The Guardian nicely summarizes the solution offered legislation referred to as Section 7 of the 1994 Intelligence Services Act :

With avowal came a legal conundrum. Britain’s spies are crown servants, and as such had for decades been subject – in theory – to section 31 of the 1948 Criminal Justice Act.
This extends English law to cover the conduct of crown servants in whichever country they serve. As long as the agencies’ existence had not been acknowledged, their officers could never be admitted to be crown servants, and so were effectively exempt from that law. 
But with public avowal came the possibility, however remote, that some of the tricks of the espionage trade could land one or two of its practitioners in the dock.

The solution was section 7. David Davis, a junior minister in the Major government at the time when the bill was passing through parliament, says many MPs believed it was intended to authorise the three Bs: bugging, burglary and blackmail.
Few MPs expected it to cover “extraordinary rendition”, a measure whose very name had not been invented. This is not how it was seen by senior officers at MI6. They always intended that a clause 7 authorisation could extend to any crime whatsoever, on the grounds that they could never see what was over the horizon.
Sure there was term for rendition back then (though it may well have happened), and one could naively think it only referred to the “three B’s”. But the world has changed and now we have the case of two Libyan dissidents and their families who were forcibly returned to Tripoli back in 2004, imprisoned and tortured. Now lawyers for both families have undertaken criminal proceedings against Sir Mark Allen, former counter-terrorism head at MI6, charging him with complicity in their torture and “extraordinary rendition”. This case will be in the courts for some time and lawyers for the Libyans argue that it will be harder on the UK government the higher up it goes. Their approach will be to hold Section 7 against the standard of section 3 of the 1998 Human Rights Act which states that legislation must comport with European convention rights.
So much for three Bs of “bugging, burglary and blackmail” of the 1980′s. Of course, it was always more complicated than that, but now we’ve graduated to kidnapping dissidents and forcibly returning them to the dictatorships they fled. Absolutely incredible if there are no checks on these types of activities.