Stuff Yaron Finds Interesting

Technology, Politics, Food, Finance, etc.

Politics, religion and everything else you aren’t supposed to be able to talk about.

I believe TechCrunch missed the point on Yahoo!

TechCrunch claims that Yahoo!'s handing over data on a Chinese journalist to the Chinese government was, on balance, appropriate behavior. What I believe TechCrunch completely misses the point on is that Yahoo!, of its own free will, made the decision to become a 40% owner of a Chinese company that hosted sensitive personal information within the reach of the Chinese government. That is Yahoo!'s real ethical failure. The fact that the Chinese government used its powers to grab that data was the inevitable outcome of Yahoo!'s actions. I believe Yahoo! should have refused to have involved itself in any situation that would see its users sensitive data stored in a country with such an abysmal human rights record. I personally believe that Yahoo! deserves enormous criticism for its actions and some kind of movement to refuse to do business with Yahoo! until it gets sensitive data out of the hands of the Chinese government seems completely appropriate.

To the folks who read this blog, who are mostly in the on-line services business, this issue isn't just theoretical. Everyday we make decisions that affect the privacy and security of our users. Where do we host our data? What kind of interception facilities do we put in our networks? What kind of logs do we keep? We all have an obligation to act ethically, to use our knowledge to help people, not harm them. When we record more than we need, keep it longer than we need, make it too easy to recover/intercept and store it in the wrong place we fail in our ethical obligations and for that we all need to be held to account.

Please, Change Our Horrible Tax Code!

Along the same vein as the article I linked to on why we should get rid of the mortgage tax deduction, this Washington Post editorial nails it, we need to change our insanely regressive tax code if we are to create a more equitable society. And social equity isn't just about being nice, it's about protecting what we have. Any society in which the majority of the members are getting shafted while a few benefit will inevitably end and typically in a very messy way. Personally, I like peace and so I'm very interested in social equity. Of course from a simple fairness perspective social equity makes a lot of sense. Although I disagree with his proposed solutions Dean Baker's free book The Conservative Nanny State convincingly demonstrates that the economic 'losers' in our society are, at least in part, losing because we have designed government policies to make it so. The Washington Post editorial really just demonstrates a variant on Dr. Baker's arguments. Baker's book is short and sweet, I heartily recommend it (so long as you can stomach his neo-socialist remedies, ignore the remedies and focus on his identification of the problems).

N.B. Oh and read Greg Palast's latest diatribe to get a feel for just how inequitable our society is. Do you honestly think this can go on forever?

What Happens When the President Decides He is Above the Law?

We are in the process of finding out. The previous link is to an excellent article on Bush's extensive use of 'signing statements' as a way to ignore laws he doesn't like. This is why Bush has never vetoed a single bill in either of his terms. Not once. Why should he bother going through the pain of vetoing a bill when he can simply write a signing statement that says he will ignore the law anyway? From government oversight to whistle blower protections to torture, Bush has again and again declared himself to be above the law. How bad does the situation have to get before Bush is impeached?

Cheney's Lie About 9/11

I am naive. That seems the most reasonable explanation for how it is that I'm actually shocked and sickened that the Vice President of the United States would tell a bald face lie. The Vice President is now trying to justify George Bush's orders allowing the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans without court order by stating that:

"Another vital step the President took in the days following 9/11 was to authorize the National Security Agency to intercept a certain category of terrorist-linked international communications. There are no communications more important to the safety of the United States than those related to al Qaeda that have one end in the United States. If we'd been able to do this before 9/11, we might have been able to pick up on two hijackers who subsequently flew a jet into the Pentagon."

In other words, only if the President had been free to order warrant-less searches before 9/11, as he subsequently ordered after 9/11, we could have captured two of the terrorists.

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Padilla is to be transferred to a Civilian Prison

The Supreme Court of the United States in a one page decision has ordered that Jose Padilla be moved from military to civilian custody after the U.S. Government dropped its charges that Padilla was a "dirty bomber", charges the government used to justify holding Padilla without trial in a military prison for three years, even though Padilla is an American citizen arrested on American soil. The government's new charges against Padilla are that he was helping to finance foreign terrorists but this time the charges are filed in a civilian court. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had tried to stop Padilla's transfer to a civilian court in order to force the Supreme Court to review Padilla's appeal against his military custody and so determine if his custody was legal. Although the Supreme Court has now ruled that Padilla be moved to civilian custody the decision did say that the Supreme Court would consider Padilla's original appeal against his military custody "in due course."

Padilla – Dirty Bomber? Oh no, we just meant he was dirty…

I had previously reported that Jose Padilla, an American citizen arrested on American soil and held in solitary confinement in a military brig as an "enemy combatant" without charge for three years was going to be charged with a civilian crime and transfered from military to civilian authority. But the 4th circuit appeals court which had previously granted Bush the right to arrest anyone he wants with only a kangaroo court to review (note, however, that the president even objected to this ruling saying he has the right to arrest and hold anyone he wants, for any reason he wants, for as long as he wants without review from anyone) has apparently got its nose out of joint.

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Padilla Charged!

After three years of rotting in prison with no charges as an 'enemy combatant', American citizen, Jose Padilla, arrested on American soil, has finally been charged with a crime and transfered from military to civilian authority. Lawyer's on Padilla's behalf had appealed his status as an 'enemy combatant' leading to a variety of legal cases including a Supreme Court Decision and a recent decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a sense I'm almost sorry that the George Bush decided to back down and not continue to assert the government's line that it could hold anyone, anywhere, for however long it thought appropriate. It would have been useful to have had a Supreme Court ruling reminding Mr. Bush that he is President, not Emperor. Of course given the new Justices that Mr. Bush is appointing I suppose I should be happy the case ended now before the new Supreme Court had a chance to rule that we have no rights other than the ones that Mr. Bush decides to give us.

In any case Mr. Bush has demonstrated that the U.S. government can steal three years of a citizen's life without any charges, judicial review, nothing. That alone is scary enough.

Network News and the Baited Mousetrap

"This is an industry, it's a business. We exist to make money. We exist to put commercials on the air. The programming that is put on between those commercials is simply the bait we put in the mousetrap." – Ted Koppel, retiring anchor, ABC New, Nightline

Obvious? Yes. But still worth remembering.

Quote taken from Washington Post article "His Night in the Sun – After 25 Years, Ted Koppel Is Leaving the Show That Did It His Way", 9/8/2005 by Howard Kurtz.

National Security Letters and What You Have to Hide

In an article I wrote about TOR I mentioned that one of the reasons to use TOR is that you don't know what you have to hide. Things you do today, like reading certain materials, visiting certain websites, exchanging e-mails with certain persons could, in the future, prove to be enough to destroy your life. Just ask Muslims who made the mistake of visiting the wrong Mosques, giving money to the wrong charities or buying the wrong books. None of their actions were illegal or problematic before 9/11 but now those entirely innocent actions are being used to ruin their lives. So it is with justifiable fear that American citizens should read the Washington Post's article on the massive abuses the government has been making of National Security Letters (NSLs).

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