Friday, December 24, 2010

Missile Defense?

Seriously? That's the supposed reason to stop the latest START treaty? Krauthammer, did somebody put your columns in a time capsule from August of 2000 or something?

Never mind that he calls the tax bill "bipartisan", when it was a big Republican victory. That's why they were willing to hand over DADT, which threatens the wealthy 0.1% that Dubya aptly called "his base" not one whit. They traded away the TheoCon's interests to serve the moneymen's interests, just as they have before and will again. It barely matters; Krauthammer is only bringing it up as "punch a hippy" fodder, a paen to the "bipartisanship" that he wouldn't give a shit about if Barry had an "R" beside his name.

But missile defense? You've gotta be kidding. Even if North Korea is a bit more unstable than it used to be, it's been made patently clear that America's conventional war advantage ain't what it used to be either. Maybe if this WERE 2002 or so, it might make sense, but American predominance has kind of had a difficult run since then.

Let's be honest. If Russia wanted to ruin America, they wouldn't need nukes for it. All they'd need to do is completely economically align with China and start really tightening their grasp on Eastern Europe, and there's a whole host of economic consequences that would make the White House sweat.

Why on earth would they need to, though? Putin has to see what's going on. Cold-blooded or no, he's possibly the most clear-sighted state leader the world has right now. There's no way that he's missed that America's wealthiest and their various mouthpieces (like Krauthammer!) are tearing down everything else in their quest to extract whatever cash can be produced by the other 99.9% of Americans. There's no way he's missed just how disastrous Obama's Administration has been so far, DADT or no DADT.

He, and everybody else that may (or may not) wish America harm, can just sit tight and let all the work be done for them. The danger isn't nukes. It's people like Krauthammer himself.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Short Pop-Culture Aside

Tron: Legacy is billed as a sequel to Tron. It doesn't do a bad job in that respect. But considering just how much attention is paid to the astonishing soundtrack that Daft Punk created for it, and how closely the action seems to be connected to that soundtrack...

...could it be that the movie is, in its own way, as much a sequel to Interstella 5555?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Screwing Consumers: It's the Telecom Way!

Once again, the old rule that I figured out ages ago remains true: if a conservative starts babbling about the Internet and "innovation", it's really justifying yet another way to screw consumers.

For years, proponents of so-called "net neutrality" have been calling for strong regulation of broadband "on-ramps" to the Internet, like those provided by your local cable or phone companies. Rules are needed, the argument goes, to ensure that the Internet remains open and free, and to discourage broadband providers from thwarting consumer demand. That sounds good if you say it fast.

Nothing is broken that needs fixing, however. The Internet has been open and freedom-enhancing since it was spun off from a government research project in the early 1990s. Its nature as a diffuse and dynamic global network of networks defies top-down authority. Ample laws to protect consumers already exist. Furthermore, the Obama Justice Department and the European Commission both decided this year that net-neutrality regulation was unnecessary and might deter investment in next-generation Internet technology and infrastructure.

Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs, and ultimately increasing consumer prices. Others maintain that the new rules will kill jobs. By moving forward with Internet rules anyway, the FCC is not living up to its promise of being "data driven" in its pursuit of mandates—i.e., listening to the needs of the market.
This is all nonsense. Consumers DON'T have choice. The Internet CAN'T route around telecoms' dominance of the Last Mile. And in a situation of oligopoly or monopoly, "innovation" is only going to happen in ways that allow the monopolist to squeeze more cash out of their captive "customers". We're already seeing North American telecoms systematically underinvesting in capacity now, since there's more money to be made in promising "unlimited" internet and then using your deliberately-cripped networks as an excuse for extracting big data transfer fees. THAT is what will "increase consumer prices", not neutrality!

But, as is usually the case, the only thing this guy cares about is ensuring that the wealthy stockholders of these companies can drain that much more money out of already-beleaguered middle class. Sure, that's what the Republicans and the Wall Street Journal's opinion page is all about. But you'd think they'd be a bit more subtle about it.

(Oh, and if anybody tries to start their own network, they get crushed. Witness what's happened to most of the municipal WiFi initiatives. They work quite well, until the telecoms lean on state governments to get them shut down in the name of, yes, "competition" and "innovation". It's enough to make you puke.)

This sort of thing is exactly the reason why North American internet access is becoming a tragic joke, to the point where it hurts competitiveness and productivity. And it's only going to get worse, not better, since the FCC has pretty much punted on the issue with a loophole-ridden "law" that will probably get torn to shreds by the telecoms' lawyers and various pet mouthpieces. Certainly the Obama Administration has shown that they could give a rat's ass.

Hope you enjoyed the free Internet. Because, folks, unless something changes real soon, it's goin' bye-bye.

Monday, December 20, 2010

David Gergen, You Idiot

The Tax Bill and START weren't "bipartisan victories". The Republicans won a big victory in cramming huge upper-class tax cuts down America's throats, and they were almost certainly never terribly opposed to START to begin with. It was just about ensuring that the Dems didn't get a "win" over them.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell is History

Yep, I'm as surprised as you are. Kudos to the President and to the Congress for finally sacking up and getting rid of a ridiculous law. And, yes, kudos to ol' Joe Lieberman for pushing so hard on it. He still doesn't deserve nomination next year, but this is something that he will be able to honestly look back upon with pride.

And, hey, Susan Collin, Olympia Snowe, and a few other Republicans actually stood up for the rights of people who aren't white, male, conservative and rich for a change. That's almost shocking. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Observations About Language Drift

Two things really strike me about this story about how words change over time.

First, the google books archive is really going to be a useful resource for broad-scale research.

Second, that anybody who seriously attempts to use the word "culturomics" deserves a smack upside the head. Good GOD, guys. Just because you're studying the use of words doesn't mean you're allowed to muck 'em up for the rest of us.

Kelly McParland is "Unejjicated"

There's a saying going around that "left" populism is about wealth, whereas "right" populism is about education. I don't know how I feel about that, but the spectacle of someone like Kelly McParland writing something like "Some smart insider type with a university degree in high finance is going to have to explain to us poor unejjicated peons how this is a good idea"  proves at least the latter bit. Wingnuts clearly get really, really shirty about education for some reason.

It's a bit bizarre, really. Almost anybody can get a post-secondary education, assuming that  they can afford it. Surely someone making as much money as McParland can. Takes four years at most to become "ejjicated". Yet almost nobody will EVER make enough money to benefit from, say, the estate tax cuts. A vanishingly small minority will get billions of dollars, while everybody else doesn't see a thin dime. But it's somehow school that's the problem here?

Of course, it could just be an act. Perhaps he's just trying to win over a particular anti-education, anti-intellectual audience. But that's the truly strange part. He writes for the NATIONAL POST. Why on earth would such a group of people be reading it in the first place?

(He could also simply be a tendentious twit, like that guy who linked to my earlier post on WikiLeaks. But I suspect that that goes without saying.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A General Note About WikiLeaks

I honestly haven't seen an attack on the concept yet that didn't boil down to "all you proles should shut the hell up and go back to work". That's what all that "sometimes there needs to be secrecy" stuff generally boils down to.

Sure, diplomacy must have a secret component. Sources and methods should be protected, for example. But it's transparently (heh) obvious that there is far more secrecy than there needs to be. The reason is equally transparent: because in a democracy, the very last thing you want is for the voters to know what they're actually voting for. Keep the reality of the situation secret, lie to them with every breath, and hope that the lies are consistent and attractive enough that they'll go along with it.

See, if they knew what they were voting on, then they'd know what they can't vote on. All those bits of government that keep on rolling no matter who won the election? The ones that usually have something to do with blowing up random bits of the planet for "America's interests"? HELL no, you folks ain't going to be voting on that stuff. Democracy isn't supposed to go THAT far...Americans might disagree with what "America's interests" are, and then where would we be?

But just telling them "no, screw you, that stuff isn't up for debate" doesn't work. People can get annoyed when Their Betters make these sorts of decisions for them. So you keep them in the dark. Don't let them know that the decisions even exist, let alone how they've been made. That keeps them under wraps.

The sad thing is that the same people who defend this nonsense are the ones who rail against utterly open processes like the development of scientific consensus, or equally open government programs like food and drug safety. If you want to know how you're protected from horrible food poisoning, the information is out there. If you want to know why global warming is a threat, the information is out there. And if you want to know why those guys in the white suits came and removed the asbestos from your office, the information is out there too. And, hey, if you REALLY think it's bullshit? You can vote on it.

But not defense and foreign relations. Never that. Defense against food poisoning is one thing. Defense against, say, terrorism or instability is quite another. That's all supposed to be done FOR you, at great expense, while they snow you with a steady drumbeat of jingoistic nonsense and misplaced patriotism.

Certainly that's the press's reaction as well. THEY are allowed to know the truth. They are (or obey) Very Serious People. They ask The Right Questions, get The Right Answers, and tell all you idiots The Right Way To Think. And when The Right Way To Think turns out to be wrong, as is inevitably the case these days? Well, there are new Right Questions, new Right Answers, and new Right Ways To Think.

So you get assholes like Paul Carr, who say things like this:

I hate the fact that he’s trading on a myth that We The People have a right to know everything our governments are saying and doing in our name when, in fact, we elect people to act in our best interests on a global stage without necessarily giving us a heads up every time they want to have an off-the-record chat with a dictator.
 This is Right Thinking in spades. This guy is a tech columnist, one who clearly hasn't the faintest clue whether or not he's elected someone who will "act in our best interests". Certainly, if he either in Britain or America, the overwhelming tide of evidence suggests that they are NOT "acting in our best interests", never have, and arguably never will unless something seriously changes.  Like it or lump it, that's what WikiLeaks represents: a serious change.

How anybody, even someone this clueless, could even BEGIN to make this argument after the Iraq war is beyond me. I suppose he was too busy exulting in the the glory of having Steve Jobs dictate how he uses his computer, and thought that the same should apply to governance as well. Well, that, and trying to be some kind of Ellis-like cranky British scribe. Except without the talent. Or sense of humor.

Then again, maybe that's the issue, isn't it? The people who are crafting and repeating Right Thinking never live up to the responsibility. You're frankly doing a crap job. So why not let the rest of us decide?

Edit: Good bit on this was put up in, all of all places, The New Republic. Yeah, Peretz's rag. No, I don't get it either. But here's David Rieff, breaking it down in the midst of a weird Clay-Shirkyesque piece that somehow doesn't mention Clay Shirky:
In reality, there was only one group that was not privy to this information released by Wikileaks: the general public. And we can’t have them properly informed, now can we? Father (or, in the case of Secretary Clinton, “mother,” I suppose) knows best. I do not often agree with Noam Chomsky, but it seems to me that he was exactly right when he said that “one of the main reasons for state secrets is so that the state can defend itself from its citizens.” But, regardless of Washington’s motives, stopping Julian Assange (which, in any case, is not the same thing as stopping Wikileaks, as we are all starting to discover) will not be a victory over terrorism, as Senator Mitch McConnell has suggested so preposterously, for the simple reason that the one group we can be sure had the information in the cables before the Wikileaks are the terrorists.
In contrast, powerful people hate being shown up as much if not more than they hate failure, and people with insider information that gives them special status hate losing their intellectual monopoly, since they know that, if they do, loss of status will not be far behind. In this sense, the back-story of Wikileaks is not that American diplomacy is threatened or that Al Qaeda has been strengthened but that American diplomats have lost face, and American policy intellectuals have been confronted by an existential threat to their priestly monopoly on inside information. Oh, the pity of it!
That's something I've been banging on for a while. All these statements that "we elect our leaders to make these decisions for us!" miss the point that the people with the greatest say are not elected at all. The "priestly intellectuals" that set the ground and decide what the options are have never been elected by anybody but their colleagues and/or co-conspirators. They aren't even bureaucrats; at least bureaucrats are accountable to somebody. These jokers aren't really accountable to the people at all.

Which is probably why they keep showing up despite being wrong damned near 100% of the time.

"For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of President Obama."

...and WHY is Dana Milbank proud of Obama?

Because he punched a hippie.

The extent to which the Republicans have taken ownership of the Washington press corps is almost comical. If it weren't one of the biggest reasons why America is in freefall, that is.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Time Magazine's Cowardly Choice

Time's readers make the obvious choice for person of the year: Julian Assange. Time, instead, selects the Facebook guy. Who would have been a notable choice for 2009, mind you, when Facebook really hit its stride, but is only notable this year for having been the subject of a movie that he despises and believes is inaccurate.

But look at the symbolism of this. Time is utterly conventional, and absolutely dependent on government leaks. (Just like every other news source these days.) Everybody with any sense knows that Assange should have got the nod. Like him or hate him, he was a HUGE newsmaker over the past year. But the Time editors know that the government would absolutely lose their shit if Assange got the nod. They don't want him to be painted as a villain, they just want him and his organization to go the hell away. They want him tossed down the memory hole as soon as possible.

So, instead, we get Zuckerberg and his scary privacy-demolishing machine. One that, according to persistant rumors, has ties to American intelligence organizations. I don't know whether that's true or not—though certainly the stories about the hard-right early funding sources for Facebook are creepy—but it's undoubtedly true that Facebook collects a LOT of information about you and the sorts of things you like, and I have no doubt that the U.S. government would find that a useful resource, if they have access to it.

Certainly, this bit in their user agreement is creepy as hell:
We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile.
 But no matter what the truth of that is, the fact remains that Facebook is just about the opposite thing to a challenge to the established order. If anything, by being a single privacy-hating corporation that is trying to supplant the rest of the Internet and dictate what you can and cannot do on the Internet, it's big business and big government's wet dream.

So Time makes the safe, cowardly, government-friendly choice. The one that emphasizes taking secrets from the people, instead of sharing secrets with the people. Rather a bizarre position for journalists to take. Assuming that they're still really journalists in the first place. A hard assumption to make in 2010, and it's just getting harder.

Edit: Or, as a brilliant Twitter put it:
Mark Zuckerberg wants it utterly closed. Julian Assange wants it utterly open. #time chose Zuckerberg man of the year, its readers Assange.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Not That TNR Is Much Better Than Obama

I quoted Noam Schreiber in that last piece, but that doesn't change the fact that TNR is still a website that publishes people like Todd Gitlin who calls people on the internet "a wild street mob":

or indeed, where there is a state, there is diplomacy. Where there is diplomacy, some of it must take place out of the spotlight. The diplomats may well be better judges of which part that should be than the bureaucratic squads who stamp classifications on government documents. Surely, overall, the diplomats are better judges than the wild street mobs of the Internet.
This points to what's at the heart of the Wikileaks phenomenon: the complete inability of people like Gitlin to understand that elite opinion is the problem right now, not the solution. That's what the Tea Partiers are tapping into right now, though the Republicans and their think-tank allies are working hard to rechannel the sentiment in ridiculous, counterproductive directions.
Why the hell should Americans trust that diplomats are good judges of what should remain secret? Why the hell should ANYBODY? Sure, they're experts, but they're also an interested party, and the last two years are littered with stories about how interested experts got things wrong over, and over, and over again. Matt Taibbi has practically built his reputation on it, and the things he ferrets out are worse every day. What's the difference between a secret communique and, say, a rocket docket? Both are kept secret.  Both are the province of experts. And both raise one hell of a lot of questions about these experts' and elites' judgement and objectivity when brought to light.

The reason why Wikileaks is being castigated is the same reason why Taibbi got kicked out of one of those secret courts: because they expose just how jury-rigged and questionable these peoples' solutions are.

Obama Lashes Out At "Purists"

One day, Mr. President, you'll learn that it doesn't work. You'll understand that pissing off your own base by calling them names is bad politics. You'll figure out that the Republicans will still lacerate you and block your every move, the press will applaud you but promptly forget during the next news cycle, and the "independents" you chase will still vote you out because they care about jobs, not talking points. You'll understand that demoralizing those who believed in you is counterproductive at best.

You'll learn that bargaining does not mean compromising before negotiations have even begun, since you'll just end up losing even more when the real process begins.

But, sadly, it would appear that today is not going to be that day.

edit: Noam Shreiber brings us the fight from the inside.

Within the administration, the split over whether to mount a tax-cut offensive broke down largely along wonk-operative lines. The wonks spent the last year mystified that the White House was ducking the fight when the substantive merits were so one-sided. The operatives brooded that the politics could abruptly turn against them, despite polling showing little public appetite for the upper-income cuts. “They view it through the class warfare stuff—Kerry in 2004, Gore in 2000,” says one administration official. “They worry that they’ll get painted as lefties, tax-raisers.”
One day, those "operatives" (who failed spectacularly this past year, didn't they?) will learn that you're going to get painted as a lefty tax raiser no matter what you do. They'll learn (or remember?) that there's already a class war going on, and it's being waged by the ultra-rich and their Republican apologists against everybody else.
But, again, today is not that day. And as for their treatment of progressives, well...

Team Obama may also be insufficiently attentive to the left, which has erupted over the tax-cut deal. The Friday after the midterms, a senior administration official convened a meeting with representatives of several dozen prominent progressive organizations. When the meeting began at 9 a.m., the official announced the discussion would have to be quick as the White House needed the room by ten o’clock. “The White House is having a meeting with all its important allies, and the initial message is, ‘We couldn’t get a room for more than an hour,’ ” says one participant. “You’ve got to be shitting me.”
This isn't policy. This isn't even compromise. This, Barry, is just an out-and-out DICK MOVE. And you should be goddamned ashamed.