Saturday, January 21, 2012


It looks like SOPA/PIPA is on hold for the time being. TPM documents how it went down. How long until we get a bipartisan agreement that essentially preserves all the odious aspects of the bill, but still passes?  Meanwhile, the government isn't holding off on shutting down websites. After all, just the previous day, the government shut down Megaupload.

As usual, Glenn Greenwald puts the internet-censorship bills in the larger context, reminding us that the government already has many of these powers to filter the internet:
[M]any SOPA opponents were confused and even shocked when they learned that the very power they feared the most in that bill — the power of the U.S. Government to seize and shut down websites based solely on accusations, with no trial — is a power the U.S. Government already possesses and, obviously, is willing and able to exercise even against the world’s largest sites (they have this power thanks to the the 2008 PRO-IP Act pushed by the same industry servants in Congress behind SOPA as well as by forfeiture laws used to seize the property of accused-but-not-convicted drug dealers). This all reminded me quite a bit of the shock and outrage that arose last month over the fact that Barack Obama signed into law a bill (the NDAA) vesting him with the power to militarily detain people without charges, even though, as I pointed out the very first time I wrote about that bill, indefinite detention is already a power the U.S. Government under both Bush and Obama has seized and routinely and aggressively exercises.

I’m not minimizing the importance of either fight: it’s true that SOPA (like the NDAA) would codify these radical powers further and even expand them beyond what the U.S. Government already wields (regarding SOPA’s unique provisions, see Julian Sanchez’s typically thorough analysis). But the defining power that had everyone so up in arms about SOPA — shutting down websites with no trial — is one that already exists in quite a robust form, as any thwarted visitors to Megaupload will discover. There are two points worth making about all of this:

(1) It’s wildly under-appreciated how unrestrained is the Government’s power to do what it wants, and how little effect these debates over various proposed laws have on that power. Contrary to how it was portrayed, the Obama administration’s threatened veto of the NDAA rested largely on the assertion that they did not need a law vesting them with indefinite detention powers because they already have full power to detain people without a trial: not because any actual law expressly vested that power, but because the Bush and Obama DOJs both claimed the 2001 AUMF silently (“implicitly”) authorized it and deferential courts have largely acquiesced to that claim. Thus, Obama argued about indefinite detention in his NDAA veto threat that “the authorities codified in this section already exist” and therefore “the Administration does not believe codification is necessary,” and in his Signing Statement the President similarly asserted that “the executive branch already has the authority to detain in military custody” accused Terrorists “and as Commander in Chief I have directed the military to do so where appropriate.” In other words: we don’t need any law expressly stating that we can imprison people without charges: we do it when we want without that law.

That’s more or less what happened with the SOPA fight. It’s true that website-seizures-without-trials are not quite as lawless as indefinite detentions, since there are actual statutes conferring this power. But it nonetheless sends a very clear message when citizens celebrate a rare victory in denying the Government a power it seeks — the power to shut down websites without a trial — only for the Government to turn around the very next day and shut down one of the world’s largest and best-known sites. Whether intended or not, the message is unmistakable: Congratulations, citizens, on your cute little “democracy” victory in denying us the power to shut down websites without a trial: we’re now going to shut down one of your most popular websites without a trial.

(2) The U.S. really is a society that simply no longer believes in due process: once the defining feature of American freedom that is now scorned as some sort of fringe, radical, academic doctrine. That is not hyperbole. Supporters of both political parties endorse, or at least tolerate, all manner of government punishment without so much as the pretense of a trial, based solely on government accusation: imprisonment for life, renditions to other countries, even assassinations of their fellow citizens. Simply uttering the word Terrorist, without proving it, is sufficient. And now here is Megaupload being completely destroyed — its website shuttered, its assets seized, ongoing business rendered impossible — based solely on the unproven accusation of Piracy.

It’s true, as Sanchez observes, that “the owners of Megaupload don’t seem like particularly sympathetic characters,” but he also details that there are difficult and weighty issues that would have to be resolved to prove they engaged in criminal conduct. Megaupload obviously contains numerous infringing videos, but so does YouTube, yet both sites also entail numerous legal activities as well. As Sanchez put it: “most people, presumably, recognize that shutting down YouTube in order to disable access to those videos would not be worth the enormous cost to protected speech.” The Indictment is a classic one-side-of-the-story document; even the most mediocre lawyers can paint any picture they want when unchallenged. That’s why the government is not supposed to dole out punishments based on accusatory instruments, but only after those accusations are proved in an adversarial proceeding.
Julian Sanchez's column at Cato, pointed to by Greenwald, makes similar points — while also noting that these sorts of actions are not good for innovation:
Just about everyone’s hard drive these days is full of copyrighted music in MP3 format. But it isn’t necessarily “infringing content.” In my case, it’s music I’ve downloaded from legal venues like the iTunes store or ripped from CDs I purchased back when one still bought music in shiny-plastic-disc form. Many people will put their legal MP3 files in a private Dropbox folder, or some other cloud storage service, so they can access the music from the office as well as their home desktops, or from their networked mobile devices. Creating a public link to those files, and distributing them to anyone on the Internet who wants them, would clearly be copyright infringement. But that doesn’t mean the files themselves are suddenly “infringing content,” and it doesn’t mean that every user should lose his own access to the same files because other users tried to publicly distribute them.

This is another reason the takedown-before-trial model is disturbing. Again, there’s strong evidence in the indictment that Megaupload’s conduct here was anything but innocent. But now imagine some other cloud storage site that comes under the crosshairs of the government or content industries. As I suggest above, they might have very good reason for only disabling specific, publicly distributed links to a copyrighted file in response to a takedown notice, rather than cutting off access to every user who has remotely stored the file, regardless of how they’re using it. At a trial, they’d get to explain that. If the site is shut down before its operators have an opportunity to even make the argument … well, that doesn’t bode well for investment in innovative cloud services.
This Neil Gaiman interview precedes the entire SOPA/PIPA debate, but should be required viewing for those who argue that artists always lose when consumers share content:

More fallout from Keystone XL: the Pro-Pollution Caucus lost even though they spent millions on lobbying, while Big Pollution's cronies can't keep their lies straight, and Romney's getting in on the act, too. The Sierra Club's take on Keystone XL is that it represents the administration's efforts to move beyond oil; I'm a bit less optimistic — especially considering the lack of action on climate change, as well as statements like this from Max Baucus — but we'll see what happens:
So kudos again to the Obama administration for standing up to intense pressure from what is still the wealthiest industry on the planet.

It's fantastic that we've stopped what once looked like an unstoppable pipeline, but let's not forget that if we really want to move our country beyond oil, we need to do more than just stop bad things -- we have to move forward on good things, too. Fortunately, this year the Obama administration also plans to make one particularly good thing happen: setting a new average fuel-economy standard of 54.5 mpg for cars and trucks by 2030.

That translates to using 1.5 million fewer barrels of oil per day by 2030 — as much oil as we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq combined last year. The amount of carbon pollution eliminated would be a staggering 600 billion metric tons — the equivalent to one year of current U.S. CO2 emissions. It will be the single biggest thing any nation has done to address climate pollution -- and the biggest step yet toward moving America beyond oil.
And as expected, The Onion's take on Keystone XL is as good as it gets.

Good news on the fracking front. After many years, the EPA is going to supply clean water to those affected by fracking pollution in Dimock, PA:
First, the earth around the rural town of Dimock, Pa., was cracked open as gas drillers used fracking to tap the vast energy supplies of the Marcellus Shale.

Then, in April 2009, residents there lost their access to fresh drinking water. Wells turned fetid. Some blew up. Tap water caught fire.

Now, nearly three years later — and after a string of lawsuits and state investigations has ushered Dimock to the forefront of the environmental debate over drilling but failed to resolve the water problem — the Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in to supply drinking water itself.

On Friday, the agency announced it would bring tanks of drinking water to four homes, including that of Julie Sautner, whom ProPublica first interviewed about her water problems in 2009.

“Data reviewed by EPA indicates that residents’ well water contains levels of contaminants that pose a health concern,” the agency said in a statement. Tests showed dangerous levels of arsenic, a carcinogen, as well as glycols and barium in at least four wells, and the EPA is apparently concerned that the contamination may be more widespread.

According to the statement, the EPA plans to test the water supplies in 60 additional homes for hazardous substances.
Too bad Pennsylvania's insane Teabagger governor is doing his best to squelch the science.

I have issues with MSC and their sometimes lax standards (driven in large part by the fact that they're somewhat co-opted by the fishing industry itself), but this is still a pretty strong start in mainstreaming sustainable seafood:
Gone are unsustainable choices such as Chilean sea bass (which has an AVOID rating on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch). Target's grocery department is now carrying more than 50 MSC-certified or Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP)-certified fresh and frozen seafood products. The goal is to sell only sustainable and traceable seafood by 2015.

Target has eliminated farmed salmon from its stores due to concerns about environmental impacts, and wild-caught salmon are now available in all its stores nationwide. Target says it's also partnering with FishWise, another non-profit organization that works with seafood companies to implement environmentally responsible business practices.

"Partnering with FishWise allows Target to identify certified product choices, encourage source fisheries and farms to become certified and build a time line to reach our 2015 goal," Erin Madsen, a Target spokeswoman, explained to me in an email.

And how might these commitments influence our pocketbooks? Well, lots of factors influence the fluctuating prices of seafood. It's all about supply and demand. Currently, about 14 percent of global fisheries have gone through an MSC certification. It's possible that as retailers demand more sustainable fish, prices could rise if supplies are limited.

But Target says it's working to keep prices competitive. When Target announced the commitment to wild-caught salmon, Madsen says the retailer was able to source the salmon at the same price as farmed salmon.

And how about our nation's largest retailer? Walmart says as of January 2011, about 73 percent of all the fish they sell was certified as sustainable. And by June, of this year Walmart will require all suppliers of fresh and frozen seafood products to source from certified fisheries.

In Israel, the battle over women's rights and autonomy takes a religious turn (h/t Mr. Eppig):
[M]ore and more, public buses in Israel are enforcing gender segregation imposed by ultra-Orthodox riders in and near their neighborhoods. Woe to the girl or woman who refuses to move to the back of the bus.

This is part of a larger battle being waged in Israel between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of Israeli society over women’s place in society, over their very right to have a visible presence and to participate in the public sphere.

What is behind these deeply disturbing events? We are told that they arise from a religious concern about modesty, that women must be covered and sequestered so that men do not have improper sexual thoughts. It seems, then, that a religious tenet that begins with men’s sexual thoughts ends with men controlling women’s bodies.


The ultra-Orthodox men in Israel who are exerting control over women claim that they are honoring women. In effect they are saying: We do not treat women as sex objects as you in Western society do. Our women are about more than their bodies, and that is why their bodies must be fully covered.

In fact, though, their actions objectify and hyper-sexualize women. Think about it: By saying that all women must hide their bodies, they are saying that every woman is an object who can stir a man’s sexual thoughts. Thus, every woman who passes their field of vision is sized up on the basis of how much of her body is covered. She is not seen as a complete person, only as a potential inducement to sin.

Of course, once you judge a female human being only through a man’s sexualized imagination, you can turn even a modest 8-year-old girl into a seductress and a prostitute.

At heart, we are talking about a blame-the-victim mentality. It shifts the responsibility of managing a man’s sexual urges from himself to every woman he may or may not encounter. It is a cousin to the mentality behind the claim, “She was asking for it.”

So the responsibility is now on the women. To protect men from their sexual thoughts, women must remove their femininity from their public presence, ridding themselves of even the smallest evidence of their own sexuality.

Riffing off a recent set of articles in the NYTimes on Big Organic, Marion Nestle offers some wise thoughts on a sustainable food system.

The controversy over the impacts of methane leaks (via fracking) on potential global warming continues.

Republican obstructionism and pro-pollution views leads to the the withdrawal of yet another qualified Obama nominee.

A disappointing announcement from EPA. Their explanation as to why they're ignoring a court order doesn't really clarify the situation for me. Anyone care to chime in and explain?

A win for women's health and a victory over religious fundamentalism masquerading as freedom. Really, this is a pretty big deal.

Abortion: a question of trusting women to make their own moral judgments?

Timothy Garton Ash says quelling ignorance is no excuse for censorship.

Architecture as a political act in Detroit.

Speaking of Detroit, the NYTimes website is hosting a fascinating video on scrap metal salvagers in the city; I'm pretty sure this same film could be made in the abandoned buildings and houses here in metro Phoenix, as well.

Following up on my previous post, which included links to the TAL episode and other related tidbits, here's more on Apple's supplier Foxconn.

Withholding organ transplants for the “disabled.” The new eugenics?

Finally, some accountability for Morgan State University's obscenely overpaid president.

The biggest Kochsuckers in Congress? Here they are.

Yay! Another new one from Islands:

I was a big fan of Michael Gordon's piece Timber, written for untuned wooden percussion and released last year in a gorgeous package. This performance of it is pretty great:

Heather's Moronic Bullshit Link Of The Day: Typical idiotic bullshit from Slate. Heather's Happy Link Of The Day: A great, hilarious response from Kate Harding.

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