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A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

How to be Anti-Net Neutrality Without Being a Reactionary Conservative or a Corporate Shill

1. Techno-literacy: Know how the internet and various other “technical things” work.

2. Cultural Relevance: Stay up-to-date with the trends shaping the ‘net, current internet memes, video games, tech news, and other tech-geek stuff. If you’re a digital artist, IT professional, or software engineer, even better.

3. Be One of the Common People: Don’t make too much money. If you aren’t a lawyer and you aren’t on the bankroll of a corporation with a vested interest, this is easy.

4. Credibility: Don’t be one of those self-appointed, overpaid “social media gurus.” Digital marketing is a legit business, but it’s difficult to know whether you’re getting the real deal or one of these tech-hipsters who doesn’t know the difference between “trendy” and “useful.” Many of them hop onto the neutrality wagon because it signals that they are cool, tech-savvy, and perhaps even “leet.”

4. Be Forward-Thinking: Recognize how fast and dynamic inter-connected masses of people are; market conditions can change rapidly, but internet market conditions can change overnight.

5. Liberalism*: Be an avid supporter of free-speech. Not in a reluctant, holding-your-nose way, either. Optimally, support other progressive-liberal civil issues like gay marriage and separation of church and state. Bash conservative politicians whenever it is convenient to do so.

6. Skepticism: Be wary of the government, politicians, and politically-appointed regulators in pretty much any situation. In fact, be skeptical of the entire political process. Recall that “Deception is an inherent, inseparable part of politics. Politics itself is a big lie.

7. Face the Reality: Recognize that corporate interests pay legions of lawyers hundreds of millions of dollars to shape policy in their favor. Thus, policies and regulations originally intended to benefit the many in practice will generally benefit the few and well-represented.

8. Rhetoric: Articulate your disdain for net neutrality well, explaining how government regulation of one internet layer will lead to regulation of all layers, and how government regulation of the medium is anathema to free speech. Be artful, logical, savvy, reasonable, and compelling. You’ve got an uphill battle ahead of you.

Are there any other rules I should add to the list?

*Liberalism in the old-world definition: i.e. advocacy of the individual’s rights and limited government intervention.

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Filed under: Internet, Politics,

30 Jobs “Created or Saved” in Phantom Congressional Districts

ABC News broke the story this week of an executive administration that, ambitious to appear in control of the economy during this steep recession, reported patently false stimulus-related employment information. The Recovery Board, a task force created to track the $787 billion in federal stimulus spending, published on its website data for jobs “created or saved” in congressional districts that don’t even exist!

In one example, the stimulus tracking website reported that 30 jobs have been “created or saved” in Arizona’s 15th congressional district. Arizona only has eight congressional districts.

Late Monday, officials with the Recovery Board created to track the stimulus spending, said the mistakes in crediting nonexistent congressional districts were caused by human error. “We report what the recipients submit to us,” said Ed Pound, Communications Director for the Board. Pound told ABC News the board receives declarations from the recipients – state governments, federal agencies and universities – of stimulus money about what program is being funded.

Has the government ever heard of research assistants? Fresh college grads willing to do menial tasks (like research and fact-checking) for a small pittance are in no short supply in Washington DC. Hiring a small staff of people to double-check the validity of reported numbers would be a minor cost for the Recovery Board, but it would save them the embarrassment of looking either shady and deceptive or downright incompetent.

X-posted at OpenMarket.org.

CEI’s Hans Bader has more on the story.

Filed under: Economics, Politics,

British Apologize to Gay WW2 Codebreaker Alan Turing

This week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered a belated apology to one of the most famed computer scientists in history. Alan Turing, the hallowed Father of Modern Computer Science, was instrumental in breaking the German’s “Enigma Code” during WW2. He was also gay.

The history of Alan Turing is a sad one. A few years after he broke the German’s code for the British government – which Winston Churchill claimed was the most significant, tide-turning victory of WW2 – he was outed as a homosexual and arrested. At the time, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. It was also illegal. He lost his security clearance, effectively canning him from his government job, and was convicted of “gross indecency.” To avoid prison, Turing chose to instead undergo a chemical castration process. Two years later, he committed suicide.

Today, the Association for Computing Machinery grants the “Turing Award” each year. It’s something like the Nobel Prize for computing – i.e. a pretty big friggin’ deal. The British government’s apology, while appreciated,  is long overdue.

Read a couple of Turing-related posts here and here.

Filed under: Politics, ,

A Rhetorical Question

So, here’s my question: You’re a policy analyst in a DC nonprofit, and you submit comments to the FCC stating your case for spending  $7.2 billion on rolling out broadband internet to rural communities. Even if you really, really want the government to tax and spend $7.2-freaking-billion, do you really, truly believe rural broadband access is the ABSOLUTE BEST, most urgent cause to spend that kind of money on? Not, for example, disaster relief, AIDS or malaria prevention, feeding starving third-world children, public health initiatives, alternative energy research, infrastructure improvements, education, hiring more police officers, or any other public benefit or humanitarian cause? Why spend $7,200,000,000.00 on bringing FIOS out to the middle of nowhere?

Filed under: Politics,

Verizon: Saying One Thing While Doing Another

When I blogged at OpenMarket last month about four US Senators’ probe into wireless handset exclusivity deals, I argued that exclusivity agreements between wireless carriers and phone manufacturers are good for both producers and consumers, and that they bring prices down and speed up innovation. Imagine my surprise when I read today that Verizon plans to limit its exclusivity contracts to a mere six months:

 In a letter today to key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Verizon Wireless’ President and CEO Lowell McAdam announced “Effective immediately for small wireless carriers… any new exclusivity arrangement we enter with handset makers will last no longer than six months – for all manufacturers and all devices.”

How generous and selfless of Verizon, right? Actually, it turns out that the “small wireless carriers” that McAdam speaks of are companies with fewer than 500,000 subscribers. From PC World:

How many people do you know who use such companies? The top four U.S. carriers make up a whopping 86 percent of the market, according to research by the CTIA, a nonprofit wireless industry association. Even within that remaining 14 percent, the number of carriers with fewer than 500,000 customers on-board is miniscule at best; in fact, one report suggests only seven networks exist in America with subscriber bases below 7 million. Translation: This isn’t exactly something with wide-reaching impact.

Verizon didn’t get to be one of the leading wireless service companies by having idiots at the helm.  Nor by embracing a corporate motto of selflessness and caving to the pressure of uninformed public officials. Instead, they’re just playing the PR game: announce that we’re making a compromise, without really compromising anything. 

As for the idea that handsets shouldn’t be tied to certain carriers: Please. This is such a trivial consumer gripe. Big freaking deal, you subscribe to the wrong wireless carrier and now you can’t get a “crackberry.” Let’s change the rules for the entire industry – which has given us newer and better phones at even lower prices year after year – just so a few rural technophiles can get their hands on the latest new shiny toy.

And for the record, I could care less whether Verizon gets the iPhone or not.

Filed under: Politics, Tech Biz, , ,

Dumb Idea: Making Cyberbullying a Federal Crime

For those geeks among us that have ever spent any time on internet forums, we know that it’s pretty common to see tempers flare, resulting in mean comments directed towards the n00b asking all the stupid questions. Lightly-moderated boards, in particular, draw a lot of trolls. Teens and adults acting childish? You bet, although I’d guess that most of the profanity-laden cruel language found in these forums is part of the common lingo of such communities. Every member on the site knows that the cranky moderator who uses racial slurs and sexually-loaded insults is really some rotund, greasy, girlfriendless network admin or tech support specialist in real life, and not a grand wizard or a hardcore porn-peddler.

However, it would seem that most people over the age of 40 still don’t understand “teh internets,” including Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA, who incidentally just turned 40 this year). Rep. Sanchez recently introduced the “Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act,” which seeks to make it a federal felony to “cause substantial emotional distress to a person” via the internet. From Ars Technica:

However, as with many bills of this nature, the murky language and vague standards leave much open to interpretation, which has caused critics to call it the Censorship Act instead.

. . .

…criticism has been building. The language in the bill is so vague, it could be interpreted to apply to practically any situation, including blog posts critical of public officials.

It’s unlikely that the feds would ever be in the business of policing web forums, and this legislation is obviously intended to punish the repeated real abuse of kids and teens. However, it appears that this bill runs into some serious first amendment issues. Telling a n00b to go get hit by a car could be considered a federal offense. Heck, I’ve had things written on my facebook page that could constitute “emotional distress” (e.g. phallus jokes, toilet humor, sexual insults, references to alcoholism, personal threats, etc. You should see the “bumperstickers” we’ve sent each other-thanks Mark and JaLen!). Even the internet’s lowest common denominator, the /b-tards over at 4chan, could effectively be labeled an entire freaking army of felons* under this kind of legislation.

The guys at PFF have released a white paper that compares the effectiveness of regulation and legislation vs. educational efforts.

*Actually, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the /b community is already populated entirely by felons, deviants, and/or sociopaths.

Filed under: Internet, Politics, , ,

US Still Pwns China on Free Speech

TSquare

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the bloody end to the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing. Reports abound that the Chinese government has blocked several social networking sites in order to avoid a resurgence of anti-government sentiment:

…the Chinese government has begun clamping down on access to popular Internet services in an apparent effort to quell memorials, protests, or any rekindling of the pro-democracy and anti-government sentiments that led up to 100,000 Chinese to gather at Tiananmen Square in the first place. Microsoft and Yahoo have confirmed that access to Flickr, Hotmail, and even Microsoft’s new Internet search service Bing have been blocked by the Chinese government, and reports have access to microblogging service Twitter shut down as well.

I don’t get sentimentally patriotic very often, but seeing that iconic image of the man in the white shirt standing in front of the line of tanks makes me happy that I live in a society that embraces the idea of free speech. I’m not a very politically-savvy person. IMHO, politics is nothing but a ridiculous game and an utter waste of our money. However, with that massive waste of money comes a big government that’s too intellectually divided and, more importantly, too inefficient to ever be able to censor our speech, thoughts, beliefs, and expressions.

Try to imagine an entity of the US government actively regulating content on the internet. The feds are already doing such a great job with medicare fraud, online prostitution, disaster relief, the war on drugs, the financial sector, social security, the budget deficit… need I continue? When it comes to protecting free speech, our saving grace may be that our government is too incompetent and uncooperative to ever become an Orwellian dictatorship. My idea of a realistic dystopian future is less like V for Vendetta, and more like Idiocracy (“paid for by Carl’s Jr.”)

Filed under: Information Tech, Politics, , ,

Liberaltariansim and Women

This cosmopolitan word that suggests a new alliance between leftists and libertarians has been floating around the libertarian blogosphere for the last few months (or since we all realized that the Democrats were going to clean up in the 2008 elections). Robin Hanson recently suggested that the reason this alliance won’t work is because the standard libetarian “heroes” more closely resemble those of conservatives rather than those of liberals:

Libertarians support low taxes because individuals should be free to choose how their money is spent, rather than being forced to accept collective choices.  Conservatives support low taxes so that those who have worked hard for their money can show off the fruits of their labor and earn full respect for it.

Libertarians support gay marriage because individuals should be free to have whatever consenting relations they want.  Liberals support gay marriage because they want us all to officially respect gays as much as straights; gay activists have earned their group more respect.

It seems to me that libertarian self-made heroes are more similar to conservative community pillars than to liberal subgroup activists.  Self-made men are mostly not made in the bedroom; their glory shows more in their income than in their subgroup identity.

An interesting theory, to be sure, but it raised a question for me: what about the heroines of libertariansim?

Isn’t the libertarian movement already dominated by men? The “self-made man” archetype seems pretty ingrained, across cultures even, and isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, I can’t think of many male American heroes who weren’t of the self-made ilk. And while the modern leftist movement may share roots with the  feminist movement, women have pretty much caught up to men in the most salient aspects of equality* (yes, I know, we’re not at “perfect equality,” but we’ve come a damn long way in the last century. Think of it like a logarithmic curve; we’re past the steep “knee of the curve” and are now on the gradual incline towards greater equality).

The libertariat would do well to attract more women, and “Liberaltarianism” is the perfect way to do this (confession: I’m a former liberal-turned-libertarian woman, so I’m either biased, or I have insight). Associating with stuffy church-y conservatives, philosophically-radical anarchocapitalists, or back-woods Ron Paul-tards isn’t going to score any points with modern, educated women. On the other hand, carrying the banner for free speech, religious freedom, gay rights (there’s definitely an over-representation of gay men in the movement), etc. while also carrying the message that the free market is the greatest humanitarian tool we have for helping the poor seems like a viable PR strategy.

Women are more educated than ever before. They are perfectly capable of understanding basic economic principles like the gains from trade, shortages and surpluses, and dead-weight losses. A compassionate woman who believes in free speech and individual liberty, and who is also educated enough to understand the role that market mechanisms play in wealth creation could be the new face of libertariansim. This is what “compassionate conservatism” should have been in the first place: fiscally conservative and socially tolerant.

Imagine if Hilary Clinton adhered to the economic theory of the Chicago school. She could have bitch-slapped (no pun intended) Barack Obama back to Chicago early in the primaries, and still beat the geezer-ly McCain on social issues. Oh, if only…

*Let’s not forget that here in the west, we’re leagues ahead of women in other parts of the world: we’re not stoned to death for being accused adultery, we can support ourselves if we need to leave a bad or abusive marriage, and we, uh, still have our clitorises.

Filed under: Economics, Politics, , , ,

The Feds’ YouTube Channel

Google reports that the federal government now has its own YouTube channel. There, viewers can watch weekly addresses from President Obama, videos from NASA, the Department of Education, and several other government agencies. The move into cyberspace is part of Barack Obama’s goal to make government more transparent and accessible, although my guess is that outside of political junkies and Obamaphiles, government videos aren’t going to capture much attention. Obama’s first weekly video (released during inauguration week, four months ago) has been viewed about 1.2 million times; the  Slap-Chop Rap has been viewed 2.1 million times in the last month, and this idiot kid  has been viewed 4 million times in the last three weeks (and my faith in humanity has just died a little more).  The view counts for all of BHO’s videos since inauguration week have steadily declined, and last week’s video is sitting at 85 thousand views. But the government videos are there if you want ’em, and that’s probably a step in the right direction.

So, can we do away with those televised presidential addresses now? I don’t watch much television, but it always seems that the SOTU is on the one night I want to watch House, or whatever. 

Also, it looks like all the videos are in the public domain, so have at it, comedic media mash-uppers! (Masher-ups? Up-mashers? What’s the correct word here?)

Filed under: Internet, Politics, , ,

An Open Letter to the Economist

SIR – Over the last several months, each issue has dutifully contained the most up-to-date news and developments in the global financial crisis and its fallout. However, I’ve noticed that each story seems to follow the same form:

  1. “Global markets slide into recession”
  2. “Falling home prices/rising unemployment/dried-up credit is hurting ordinary consumers.”
  3. “The bankers on Wall Street prospered – or did they?”
  4. “Massive government intervention was unavoidable”
  5. “It was clear that something had to be done, but it’s not clear we did the right thing.”

You realize that your publication is called The Economist, right? Far be it from me to tell you how to do your jobs, but did you ever consider trying to figure out what the right course of action would be? Have you thought of offering alternative economic policy proposals? You are supposedly the experts. That’s strongly implied by the title of your magazine. It isn’t Journalists Writing About Political Economy. You don’t even have to take one side or the other – it would be acceptable to provide multiple analyses that reach different conclusions using various assumptions (although, one can argue that if you’re willing to throw your undivided support behind a presidential candidate, it’s not too much to expect you to express support for a single policy).

Look, I don’t mean to be harsh. I love your magazine, really. And that t-shirt you sent me when I subscribed, the “Think Responsibly” one? – it’s nice. And yes, I know that economics is a discipline where hindsight is 20-20 and foresight is legally blind. All I’m saying is that I’m a little tired of your so-called experts declining to offer up any concrete analysis or solutions for getting out of the most severe recession we’ve seen in decades. I was with you when you tepidly supported – without any real rhyme or reason given – the massive bailout of Wall Street. I figured your team of professionals would have more expert knowledge than I received with my bachelor’s degree in economics. But since then, you’ve become the print equivalent of a cable news channel, conflating mere “coverage” with “informative analysis.”

Grow a backbone.

Respectfully submitted 2/14/09.

A/N: Yes, I really sent this. Also, happy Valentine’s Day, readers!

Filed under: Economics, Politics, , , , ,

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