The mainstream media is finally picking up on the real story behind Senator Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) push for immunity for the big telecom companies for cooperating with the Bush administration in illegally surveilling the communications of U.S. citizens: the huge spike in telco contributions to Rockefeller in 2007, particularly from AT&T and Verizon executives. According to today’s Washington Post, AT&T and Verizon have given $47,350 in 2007, up from $5,000 in 2006 and $7,000 in 2005.
AT&T attributes the increase to Rockefeller being a senior Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee up for reelection in 2008. However, the contributions from all other major telecoms companies belie this excuse: $4,000 in 2005, $4,900 in 2006, and $5,250 in 2007. The rest of the telecoms industry raised their contributions to Rockefeller by 7.14% in 2007; AT&T and Verizon increased their contributions by 847%.
I’d say the difference has more to do with Rockefeller chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee and shepherding legislation which would free AT&T and Verizon from roughly 40 pending lawsuits which charge the telcos with violating the privacy rights of U.S. citizens by cooperating with the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance programme.
The story of the AT&T and Verizon contributions was broken by Ryan Singel on Wired’s Threat Level blog.
This is one more example of why progressives need to treat the Democratic Congress with the same skeptical eye that they did the Republicans. Rockefeller has sold out to the telcos and progressives should respond by refusing to support his reelection. It’s better to see real enemies in office than false friends who can be bought to betray you; it would be even better to see real progressives in primary challenges to Democrats who are bought by corporate interests.
This past month saw, practically unmarked, the anniversary of the Saturday Night Massacre, in which Richard Nixon’s refusal to turn over the secret tapes sought by Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox for information relevant to the Watergate break-in. Nixon offered instead to turn the tapes over to a trusted Senator, who would provide the Special Prosecutor and interested members of Congress with summaries. The “massacre” involved firing the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General before Nixon found someone (Robert Bork) willing to fire Cox, because Cox refused to drop his subpoena for the tapes and accept Nixon’s compromise after D.C. district court Judge John Sirica denied Nixon’s claims of executive privilege.
Congress then had a choice. Whether to back down and accept the Nixon compromise on a theory that it would avoid a Constitutional crisis while maintaining a fig-leaf of Congressional oversight, or to appoint a new special prosecutor who would continue to demand the President honor the Congressional demand for the tapes. Congress chose the later, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ordered the President to respect the subpoena and turn over the tapes. A week later, Nixon resigned. At the time, many commentators and scholars saw it as a signature moment in the triumph of the rule of law and a vindication of the principle that the United States is a country of “laws, not men.”
Sadly, we now face another such signature moment. President demands not merely approval of his domestic surveillance program, but wants retroactive immunity for the phone companies that provided the Administration with customer information, lest a court determine that the telcos thereby violated Section 222 of the Communications Act and other provisions of law. Again, scholars and civil rights activists raise grave concerns about how allowing the President to defy the law creates serious concerns about maintaining the Rule of Law and respect for the Rule of Law. Again, we the people look to our elected representatives in Congress to stand firm and protect the rule of law against the encroachment of a Chief Executive convinced that he should have the freedom to act for the greater good. Unfortunately, this time, it looks like the Democratic leadership may prove a weak reed upon which civil liberties cannot trust to lean. Unless, of course, the people rise up clearly in one voice to say, in the words of Rudyard Kipling:
All the right they promise -— all the wrong they bring.
Stewards of the Judgment, suffer not this King!
More below . . . .
My friend and colleague Sarah Allen has a nice little essay on her blog Ultrasaurus about what it was like to be part of a project that took a closed-source platform (“Laszlo Presentation Server”) and made it open (OpenLaszlo).
Like Sarah, I found that changing to the “open” way of doing software development took a little getting used to. One of the most profound, and yet most mundane differences is how you use email. Before we went open, if I had a technical question for, say, Tucker, I would send him an email; perhaps I would copy a few other interested parties.
Now, however, if I have technical question for Tucker, I send it to him and copy the OpenLaszlo Developer’s list or the OpenLaszlo User’s list. Which means that hundreds of people, at least, may be reading my messages. Similarly, all development work (including my baliwick, the documentation) is driven by tasks and bugs listed in the OpenLaszlo JIRA database. All of our code, communication, and planning, is in the open.
Sometimes this does make one feel a little awkward– like when you have to ask a question that you think you should know the answer to, and are embarrassed. But the “upside” is tremendous, as you often get helpful answers from people you’ve never heard of, in far off places, who are part of the OpenLaszlo community.
O.K., I promise to be all about the telecom and politics and yadda yadda yadda tomorrow.
But tonight — My wife and son and I watched the Red Sox take their second World Series title in 90 years.
Red Sox 4
RED SOX RULE!!!! GO SOX!!!!
Stay tuned . . . . .
Check out this Glenn Greenwald article about ( improper, deeply disturbing) politicalization of the the U.S. military, and in particular about a bizarre email exchange between Greenwald and one Steven A. Boylan, Colonel in the U.S. Army, spokesman for General Amadeus Patreus, the warrior-God, peace be upon him. Evidently either Col. Boylen is a dissembling, hot-tempered unprofessional bullying jackass given to speaking in the lingo of right-wing blogs, OR, the United States Army has an insecure email system inside the Green Zone.
Either case is, shall we say, problematic.
I occasionally grouse that no one in mass movements ever remembers the lawyers, or why else does my employer Media Access Project keep needing to check behind the couch cushions for loose change, given our track record? But I live in the bloody spotlight compared to some of the others that have made the modern media reform movement possible. Which is why I want to take a moment to give Becky Lentz, formerly of the Ford Foundation, a big shout out.
For the last 6 years, Becky worked at the Ford Foundation as program officer for their media policy and technology portfolio. In her own way, Becky had as much to do with the victories of the last few years in resisting – and in some cases rolling back – media concentration and promoting positive change. Last month, Becky’s term ended and she returned to Academia.
What makes Becky Lentz an exceptional figure when they write the history of the media reform movement? See below . . . .
O.K., free speech issues are always sexier. Nothing gets the public (or me) wound up like blocking NARAL or censoring Pearl Jam. But, as Ecclesiastes tells us: “Money answers all.” (10:19) At the very least, it tends to rivet people’s attention without the distraction of whether or not you like the speaker or the message.
So I was quite pleased to see the Associated Press run this story on how Comcast degrades BitTorrent traffic in the name of quality of service (QoS), especially after Comcast had denied such rumors as vicious lies last August. (Where is Mona “the Hammer” Shaw when we need her?) While my friend Greg Rose on Econoclastic gives his (to my mind quite plausible) theory as to why Comcast would engage in such blocking on a large enough scale to be worth getting caught, I would like to play out the public policy implications of Comcast’s actions.
As I discuss below, this recent episode underscores several of the critical points I have made in the past about the economics of access, but without all the sexy free speech stuff clouding things up. In particular, I hope all those idjit content producers like Viacom that oppose Net Neutrality they think it will help police content for infringement and give them an advantage over rivals who can’t afford to pay the “fast lane fees.” Because, as Comcast’s little tepid step toward “How to Monetize Monopsony Power and Make the World Your Bee-Yatch” shows, making a deal with the broadband access devil to police your content guarantees that broadband access providers will end up owning you the way Microsoft ended up owning IBM and everyone else who thought that they could leverage another parties control of a bottleneck facility to its own advantage.
Given the amazing track record the IP mafia has for making bad decision in this regard, I’m not exactly holding my breath they will see reason. But I can at least secure myself the bitter pleasure of saying “toldja so” after it’s too late.
I continue to struggle with my little novella The Pains. Perhaps it’s fitting that a story about a humble human of common decency but no particular kozmic talent who is evidently picked by the universe to redeem the world through his own suffering should not come easy. Or, actually, the story came mostly easy; it’s the prose, dammit, the words, that are long-dark-night-of the soul-ing me to death.
Anyway, I have written a few more chapters which will be up soon, and a few more beyond them are in the queue. I can’t believe I’m still working on this thing! But I will finish it! Oh yes! It will be mine!
Those of you who’ve read any of our story thus far have seen this illo:
In the meantime, mostly as a prod to myself, here’s a nice little illustrated summary of the book by its illustrator Matthew, AKA Cheeseburger. Take a look.
As both Declan McCullough’s The Iconoclast blog and Farhad Manjoo’s Machinist blog on Salon report, the AP has caught Comcast red-handed interferring with BitTorrent peer-to-peer filesharing with even relatively small, uncopyrighted files. The comes after Comcast denied a TorrentFreak report in August that the broadband provider was blocking BitTorrent uploads from its customers, which appears now to have been simply another outright Comcast lie.
What is particularly surprising is the size of the file in the tests run by the AP — the Gutenburg Bible text used by the AP for the test is only 4.24MB (the average size of an .mpeg or .avi file of a two-hour feature film is 700-900MB). If Comcast is blocking uploads of 4.24MB, the intention to prevent any use of BitTorrent on its network. While Comcast does have serious peak-use capacity constraints on its network, this level of blocking is like using an artillery piece to swat a fly. A more tightly targeted blocking effort would have put highest bandwidth BitTorrent users out of business, freeing up significant newtwork capacity, while rendering the activity almost invisible to tests like that run by the AP. Despite the fact that its network needs significant upgrading, Comcast’s network isn’t being threatened by 4.24MB BitTorrent uploads. Why would Comcast run the risk of the adverse publicity associated with getting caught blocking small files of clearly public-source documents?
I have a hypothesis. Mind you, it’s only a hypothesis, but it fits the available evidence and there’s very little otherwise which explains why Comcast is willing to weather the ensuing bad press. It is clear to anyone who has watched the FCC closely that Chairman Martin has had Comcast in his sights for some time. Comcast is the cable industry’s baddest bad-boy, and a bad-boy which has been defiant and disrespectful of Martin’s authority. There are a number of crucial issues which are coming to decision at the FCC in the next several months which will likely involve Comcast taking it on the chin: commercial cable leased access, carriage dispute resolution procedures, mandatory cable a la carte pricing, cable ownership limits, possible invocation of the 70/70 rule. In short, Comcast is likely to be on the ropes and getting pummeled on some issues in which it is very interested. At the same time the intellectual property mafia has been reaching out to broadband providers. The folks at the RIAA and MPAA regard the internet as the worst mistake they ever let happen and need cooperation from major providers if they are going to have a prayer of cutting into the peer-to-peer filesharing which has dramatically lowered their profits in the last decade. Comcast needs allies to lobby against even the Republican FCC majority wanting its scalp for past misbeaviour. The intellectual property mafia needs large providers who are willing to shut down peer-to-peer filesharing software like BitTorrent. Only the guys in the room where such a deal would have been cut would know for certain, but it’s a plausible hypothesis. And one the FCC should investigate.