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I’ve been pretty worked up about the government shutdown, and more so now since it appears that we’re headed for default. Yesterday I let loose some thunder from the pulpit of my church about Republican lawmakers who had gummed up the works for everyone, yet still managed to pass some legislation, a bill that slashed funding for food stamps, knocking 3.8 million poor people off the rolls, mostly children and their mothers. (Republicans were captured on camera high-fiving one another after they managed to pass their bill.) I know some of these moms and children. I’m pretty sure they’re not going to get a magical visit to Wegmans from John Boehner or Ted Cruz when it comes time to go grocery shopping. I tried to moderate my remarks in church, stopping short of the Old Testament fury of the prophet Isaiah when he railed against “the powers that be” in his day:

The U.S. House of Representatives is debating legislation that could fundamentally change what types of content we’re allowed to access over the Internet, and the resulting outrage has sparked a heated ideological debate.  But for some reason the media isn’t talking about it.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA, as it’s widely called) was introduced in October by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). It’s a boldly ambitious plan to give copyright holders — and the courts, by proxy — better tools to fight the profligacy of online piracy originating from foreign websites.

In a nutshell: SOPA would give copyright holders the power to file lawsuits against sites that they believe are aiding in the pilfering of their goods, be it music, movies, TV shows, video games, or the distribution of tangible, counterfeit consumables. Judges could file injunctions against Internet Service Providers or individual websites, forcing them to block access to foreign sites deemed in violation of U.S. copyright law.

Included in the bill is an immunity provision for Internet providers that proactively remove “rogue” sites from their registries. In other words, SOPA attacks Internet piracy not by going after sites that create and supply nefarious content, but by censoring ISPs and search engines that enable their availability, knowingly or not. Specific targets include payment providers (like PayPal) that facilitate transactions with spurious sites, and ad services (like Google’s AdSense) that promote copyright infringing content in search results. The bill’s authors are aware that many of the Internet’s biggest bootleggers operate overseas. Because attorneys general can’t round up foreign DVD pirates, they’ll instead punish U.S. sites that facilitate a portion of their profits.

SOPA currently has thirty-one Congressional sponsors. A companion bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act (better known as PIPA), was passed but is currently on hold and awaiting further debates. Given the noted support that SOPA has received from both political parties, it’s important to mention that the divide over the bill is economic rather than political. Supporters and detractors comprise a who’s who in the supply chain of the digital commerce world: on the former side you’ll find virtually every U.S. broadcast and major media company, as well as manufacturers like Sony, video game giant Capcom, comic publisher Marvel, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America, to name a few; on the latter is a groundswell of opposition from creators, artists, grassroots advocates, and Internet leaders like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Wikipedia, Reddit, and non-profits like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the ACLU.

Supporters of the proposed bill believe that SOPA gives copyright holders some much needed legal teeth to curb online theft.  Opponents—and I count myself among them—argue that this is yet another example of the government’s increasing tendency to provision our freedoms under the auspices of safety. It gives the U.S. Department of Justice unprecedented authority to trowel the Internet for content it doesn’t like, in effect taking on the role of content arbiter.

To say that the opposition has been vocal would be an understatement. In January, Wikipedia announced it would shut down the English portion of its site for 24 hours in protest of the legislation. [Happening 1/18, at the time of publication.] Co-founder Jimmy Wales also said he’d pull all Wikimedia content from hosting company Go Daddy’s servers in opposition to their SOPA advocacy (Go Daddy has since rescinded its support of SOPA, claiming it now opposes the bill). Social site Reddit has staged a boycott against pro-SOPA companies, targeting anyone who’s in favor of its passage. Unlikely political bedfellows such as Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Al Gore have joined forces to denounce the bill.

Given the historic magnitude of what’s being proposed inside the Beltway, it’s decidedly unusual that these bills — and the deluge of opposition — are being almost completely ignored by major U.S. television news networks. A January Media Matters report claims that SOPA and PIPA have received “virtually no coverage from major American television news outlets during their evening newscasts and opinion programming.” The report, based on Lexis-Nexis database searches that analyzed newscasts dating back to when SOPA was introduced in October, found that ABC, CBS, Fox News, MSNBC, and NBC devoted a sum total of zero time to this issue during prime evening newscasts.

Some networks bore minor exceptions. In December, CNN featured a single snippet on The Situation Room that mentioned SOPA. And while Fox News hasn’t touched the issue, host Andrew Napolitano broached the subject on sister channel Fox Business Network.  Otherwise, major broadcast news outlets have responded to the possible passage of one of the most historic media and copyright bills in American history with complete, unanimous silence.

It comes as little surprise, then, to learn that the parent companies responsible for this blackout are, without exception, noted SOPA supporters. News Corporation (which owns Fox), Time Warner (which owns CNN), Viacom (which owns CBS), Walt Disney Corporation (which owns ABC and ESPN), and Comcast/NBCUniversal are all current advocates of the legislation. The media’s blatant disregard for the issue shifts from coincidental to damning when you consider the obvious relationship between the services these companies provide and what they seek to gain from SOPA’s passage.  Faced with the harrowing realization that their old business models are obsolete, U.S. media companies are attempting to quell hemorrhaging revenues and maintain market share not by adapting to the age, but by stifling online commercial and social behaviors. It’s the equivalent of burning down the house to protect one’s property from theft.

And speaking of theft, it should be mentioned that piracy is indeed a real issue.  Copyright holders should be able to protect their intellectual property and make money from their work.  The problem with SOPA is the means by which it would attempt to achieve these ends.

Here’s what’s wrong with it:

  • First, it’s unconstitutional. Our ability to access information—whether it’s in a book or on a website—is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. Moreover, in its current proposed state, judges can grant a court order against sites if a copyright holder presents evidence regarding a violation, without representation from the defendant. Owners of sites accused of enabling pirated content can have legal action taken against them without even being aware of it. SOPA denies legal recourse and violates the principles of due process.
  • Second, it could prove economically disastrous. Our nascent Internet advertising industry (like Google’s hallmark AdWords program, where sponsored links germane to a user’s Google query appear next to search results) could collapse under this new model. The pro-business rhetoric coming from those supporting the bill is a joke, considering the revenue and job-killing possibilities it possesses in its current form.
  • Third, it’s crudely ineffectual. The practice of “IP blocking” is akin to relocating a store’s address so potential customers can’t find it, but this is a laughably temporary salve. Offending sites can simply create a new domain name or enlist a browser plug-in to redirect users to a new site, practices many of these sites already employ.
  • Finally, it’s sweepingly broad; it goes further than what’s necessary to combat sites peddling counterfeit goods. The specific tactics this bill proposes — pruning entries from the Internet’s library of addresses — threatens important security protocols, meddles with the core infrastructure of the Internet, and ultimately undermines the egalitarian principles upon which it was built. In the end, a few very trivial benefits will come at a huge cost to cyber security and the notion of online expression as we know it.

Both SOPA and PIPA are, at their essence, a matter of bewildering impracticality and gross political miscalculation.  This is underscored by the fact that neither the bills’ authors nor their Congressional supporters sought input from the tech community regarding possible security concerns or how its proposed tactics would affect the Internet’s present ontology. It’s yet another example of Internet law being written not with the interests of the public in mind, but rather to appease the demands of the special interest groups that fund Congress.

Government-imposed Internet filtering is a practice common in countries like China and Iran. If SOPA becomes law, the U.S. will embark on a dangerous precedent. And as extreme as it seems, the likelihood of SOPA passing through Congress in one form or another is actually quite good. Internet law has become a Congressional cause célèbre in recent years; between SOPA and PIPA — and a flurry of incoming drafts currently being written on the Hill — it’s clear this is an issue that isn’t going away. The U.S. is currently one of only seven countries that doesn’t filter Internet access. But if the recent traction of these bills is any indication, that might not be the case for very long.

 

Congress is the 1 percent.

If I’m off here, I’m not off by much. Two-thirds of our senators, and over 40 percent of our congressional representatives are millionaires. The family of the average member of the House of (Non-) Representatives has about five-and-a-half times the wealth of the average American family. 

It is from that exalted perch that laws are handed down which tend to benefit. . . the 1 percent.

Surprise? Not really.

Politics has always been a rich man’s game. And I’m not being gender-neutral here, because for the most part what I’m writing about isn’t gender-neutral. Money as an access point to politics—and wealth as a consequence of wielding power—is nothing new or different: see Washington, George; real estate deals.

Nor should we reflexively smear anyone and everyone simply on the basis of income or origin:

Roosevelt in 2012!

But this severe economic skew in the makeup of our leadership class has serious consequences in terms of what our representatives think of as baseline normal. I am less concerned about the pernicious effects of “the Washington Bubble” and more concerned about the effects of “the Money Bubble.”

Congress decidedly does not feel our pain.

And they need to, if they are to properly diagnose and understand what ails us as a society.

We tinker with the Constitution at our peril. It has long been true that the Bill of Rights could not survive a popular vote: Americans are strongly in favor of free speech and freedom of religion, for example. . . except when people say things we don’t like, and excluding—you know—those weird UnAmerican religions. The Founders couldn’t possibly have really meant to permit them.

Having acknowledged the dangers, I would still propose three constitutional amendments to put the U.S. House and Senate back in touch with the day-to-day realities of “we the people.”

1. The mandatory medical plan for members of Congress and their families shall be Medicaid.

They think funding for Medicaid is adequate? Then they should get perfectly good care there.

2. Anyone serving in any public office—national, state, or local—shall have their children enrolled in public school.

We’re defunding kids? Fine. We’re defunding your kids, too.

3. There shall be created a Congressional Battalion, made up of the sons and daughters or grandsons and granddaughters of every person elected to Congress (no substitutions please; spouses or exes not accepted). In any American military action, the Congressional Battalion shall be the first unit put into service.

Congress seems indifferent to its constitutional responsibilities regarding declarations of war; presidents more or less get to do what they want.  One suspects that substituting their own for the children of other people would make them a little less blithe about the exercise of U.S. power abroad.

I don’t believe that everyone is entitled to a Cadillac and a vacation condo; I do believe everyone is entitled to healthcare and education. That’s not just soft altruism: you build a strong society, a strong economy, on the foundation of a healthy and well educated population.

While I am often skeptical about military action, I’m not a pacifist. But I am disturbed by how freely our politicians spend the lives of other people’s children on causes to which they would be loathe to sacrifice their own.

We get the word “society” from the Latin word socius, meaning “companion.” We get “companion” from the Latin com and panis, “with bread,” meaning people with whom we break bread.

And when our leaders eat cake and the people get crusts. . . ?

That bodes well neither for the fate of our society nor for the fate of our leaders. 

 

I am sick of the fucking internet. I’m not supposed to say this because I am a child of technology. When I was 12, my big brother got us on AOL. He was in a chat room for fans of the Allman Brothers Band and introduced me to all these people. As they all said hi to me, I felt shivers running up and down my spine. I was so excited I couldn’t stop moving.

Chat rooms felt like a dark closet full of strangers, outrageously intimate. I liked to engage in religious debates the most. I also wanted a boyfriend but found teen chat rooms annoying. I would stay home when the neighborhood kids went out to play because I didn’t like them and preferred to talk to strangers on the internet. I mailed my cheer-leading pictures to a boy in New Orleans who may or may not have been a real person.

I hang out with real geeks because I wish I was one of them. I am uncool in the non-hipster way of being uncool. As in, I’m too awkward to get along with normal people but I don’t know any programming languages. I taught myself HTML once upon a time and thought I was pretty badass, but I couldn’t stay afloat once CSS came on the scene. I know how to crimp a Cat 5 cable, and I can put together a PC. I married my husband because I thought it was hot when he wrote code.

Every now and then I get this need to be well informed about the world, and I go on a news binge. Last week, it was a combination of Norway, Lulzsec, the debt ceiling and Google News Badges. Those badges don’t update properly. The thing says I read 5 articles about Norway, so I started reading a lot of articles on different topics. Then I read like 20 on Anonymous, but it wouldn’t update. I have a bronze Norway badge. I am disappoint.

Although it damn near made me kill myself over the weekend (only a slight exaggeration), I go back to Google News on Monday like an addict looking for inspiration. There are people out there breaking the law and pissing people off and making a difference in a way I can never do. It’s totally possible that the things they’re doing all completely wrong. I’m not convinced anyone is doing anything that’s not completely wrong.

I am a project manager. I am a rule follower. I respect authority.

Every few months, I decide I’m not really a writer. I am angry that I went to college and even more so that I went to grad school. I wish someone had told me how worthless it was. I’m not saying it wasn’t fun or that I didn’t meet lovely people and learn some stuff, but look, I discovered yoga at age 16, and I knew I wanted to teach yoga at age 17, yet I dropped that idea and went to college because that seemed like the appropriate thing to do. I am so tired of the appropriate thing.

If I had followed my instinct, I would have a career by now.

I try to tell myself this is my dharma, that karma put me here. I tell myself I’m here to learn something, and I’m working extra hard to learn it as fast as possible so I can get the fuck out of this cubicle and start doing what I wanted to do all along. Did I really need all those student loans to have this realization, karma? I am $32k in the hole for a degree I will never use.

I don’t mean to be such a downer about it. I mean, I can use a semicolon like nobody’s business, but I rarely do because most of the time it’s pretentious. I fucking love run-on sentences.

I’m tired of buying things. I hate things. I hate stuff. I hate clutter. It’s not just the laptops littering the living room but also the server racks down the hall from my bedroom, and also the ones in the basement, and the miscellaneous cables scattered around the technological wasteland that is my house. It’s also the unwashed underwear, the piles of recycling, the perpetually half done renovation projects, the stacks of unread books and magazines on the floor and dust bunnies, my god the dust bunnies. And furthermore, it’s Twitter and Facebook and Google + and Google Reader and Google News and my two blogs, one of them disused. It’s also IRC and GChat and once upon a time AIM and ICQ. It’s also Skype and Ventrillo and Stickam and Daily Booth and Youtube.

There is a BMW being born on my behalf and a loan check to prove it. I feel like a teen mom except I’m not a teenager, not a mom, and not a reality TV star, but my life does have that familiar ring of this is not really- this- this- this is not really happening

You bet your life it is.

I am often afraid that if I said what I really thought about the world, I would be burned at the stake. Maybe I should just make peace with that. After all, this flame proof suit will not last forever. Maybe sometimes it’s better to douse yourself in gasoline and go for the fucking glory.

Maybe I should be a little less dramatic.


Some days I just want to get a lot of tattoos and become totally unemployable as a way to force myself out of the corporate world. One day I will. If I achieve only one thing in life, it will be becoming unemployable.
I hate the way journalists on television say “hacktivists” like they’re trying to drive home a clever pun. They deadpan the news like the world’s worst comedy troop telling grand sick joke. Why hasn’t anyone hacked Congress yet? Those guys are the real assholes, right? I wonder what kind of delicious secrets they’ve got. Just a thought.
A guy walks into a universe and says “God? Is that you?” and the Pope says, “Yes, son, take off your clothes.” The headlines spew sex scandals and it’s all the same to them whether you’re a rapist priest or a member of congress who fails to grasp direct messaging. If there are genitals involved, they’re all over it.
Sex crimes are our favorite joke, but trading legal tender for an orgasm will cost you your career. Sometimes I hate the world.
Every generation has its drama. We all think we’re in the middle of something new and brilliant. They had Kennedy and Nixon and all those poor dead boys, and we have about half the world protesting, a handful of countries with no governments, and a digital revolution that is not at all what we were hoping for, no matter what you were hoping for.
Tomorrow. I swear. Tomorrow I’m getting that tattoo.


“I’d take him even if he didn’t have $200 million” 

— Friend at Krystal’s bridal shower about Blake Carrington in Episode 1, “Oil”

Dynasty lasted just nine seasons, but it made an indelible impression on millions of us. It was the Reagan era and, like Dallas and its other rivals, the hit nighttime soap reflected our love for glitz, glamour and greed. I was a teenage Carrington addict, putting the theme song on my answering machine, writing about it for my high school paper and even racing to the news stand on Wednesdays to check the Nielsen ratings in USA Today. (Between this and the French Club, it’s surprising no one knew I was gay.) As the 30th anniversary of the first episode’s airing passes this month, we can see 10 lessons still true today for us — not to mention our new Congress:

In a pitch-perfect response to the recent Supreme Court decision regarding corporate funding for campaign advertisement, PR firm Murray Hill Inc. has announced plans to run for congress. Bravo.

“Until now,” Murray Hill Inc. said in a statement, “corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence peddling to achieve their goals in Washington. But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.”