I had considerably more transparency-related news than could fit in one posting. So now let’s get into a series of micro-snapshots of this most-important front in the fight for tomorrow.
First: we failed to generate the needed 25,000 signatures for a petition at Whitehouse.gov requesting the Obama Administration to look into my “no-losers” proposal for how to simplify the tax code without much political pain. (Thus making it somewhat possible, at all.) Thanks Thomas Benson, for trying.
== Has Obama betrayed the promise of openness? ==
Professor Jack Goldsmith is a smart fellow, expert in the field of rights, freedom and privacy. His new book Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency After 9/11, suggests that those liberals who are angry at President Obama for retaining some Bush Era powers have not looked closely enough. Obama has cooperated with the establishment a significant limits and oversights to those powers that had been lacking before. “Conventional wisdom holds that 9/11 sounded the death knell for presidential accountability. In fact, the opposite is true. The novel powers that our post-9/11 commanders in chief assumed—endless detentions, military commissions, state secrets, broad surveillance, and more—are the culmination of a two-century expansion of presidential authority. But these new powers have been met with thousands of barely visible legal and political constraints—enforced by congressional committees, government lawyers, courts, and the media—that have transformed our unprecedentedly powerful presidency into one that is also unprecedentedly accountable.”
That is not to say that I am without disappointments. In fact, several Obama Administration lapses and measures have me seething! I will be so-pleased when conservatism wakes from its fever dream and can serve as a proper foil, to keep democrats accountable and honest. Alas, till then, we are stuck with a choice between flawed and corrupt-crazy. I’ll choose flawed.
== Transparency Miscellany ==
We the people… A step toward more open government: See how GitHub uses open source to allow citizens to access, interact with, hack and edit government documents, data and software.
You really need to watch this, showing the amazing psychic at work… and his secret… (the multiple tents should be a clue.)
A growth in anonymity…The online anonymity network Tor claims that 36 million people have used the system since it was first deployed about a decade ago. The system conceals its users’ identities by encrypting communications and routing them at random through a set of servers. This ensures that the sender and recipient cannot be identified by an eavesdropper along the way. What’s more, the last node in the route always appears as the originator of the message, at least as far as the recipient is concerned. That protects the location and identify of both the sender and receiver. Now Cal Berkeley researchers claim to have fixed a problem in this method by utilizing social networks to avoid malicious nodes. Me? I don’t trust such systems an iota and only a fool would. We have one route to freedom. Strip the mighty naked.
Mohammed Ibrahim is a strange sort of philanthropist, in that he doesn’t do handouts. The problem in Sudan and the rest of Africa, Mr. Ibrahim says, isn’t lack of money. It’s “governance—the way Africans govern themselves.” So Mr. Ibraham has a different idea: He gives directly to individuals—specifically to political leaders—who have to earn the money. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, begun in 2006, tracks the quality of governance across Africa and awards cash prizes to leaders who leave office with relatively uncorrupt records.
The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership offers a tidy $5 million over 10 years and then $200,000 annually for life. You might call it offering payoffs to leaders who don’t take payoffs.
Westerners no longer ignore what African governments do for—and to—their citizens. This shift “really helped democratize Africa a lot,” Mr. Ibrahim says. The leaders there are hardly perfect, he adds, “but they’re moving in the right direction.” He is only too happy to dangle a gold-plated carrot to keep them moving that way.
Federal officials can apparently use a “stingray” to locate a mobile phone even when it’s not being used to make a call. The Federal Bureau of Investigation considers the devices to be so critical that it has a policy of deleting the data gathered in their use, mainly to keep suspects in the dark about their capabilities. Read the WSJ article… but bear in mind the implicit myopia. That whatever federal agents can do, criminals and corporations will have access to, in a few years… and then your nosy neighbors. Again, ironically, the solution is not to pass laws against such things; the laws won’t work. It is to make it all above-board.
== More Transparency snippets! ==
1. California takes a step toward free digital, open source text books for college students.
2. Undercover cops spying on protesters via cell phones.
3. Using statistics to sniff out science that’s too good to be true.
4. While definitely one-sided and politically driven (it’s hard to imagine anyone standing up for the other side) this essay about the fall of Chilean socialist president Salvador Allende in 1973 is primarily about an experiment in internet-like cyber-governance that was attempted during Allende’s brief tenure in office. Completely aside from the tragic history and our own Nixonian shame is the fascinating tale of a utopian experiment in connectivity, way before its time.
5. In a fairly simpleminded theoretical model, some physicists report that there is a natural inertia and momentum to fanaticism of belief… that moderation of opinion suffers from disadvantages when confronted with powerfully-held memes. From the descriptions of the model, I am not terribly impressed. But it does continue to show what I described in my paper to the National Institute on Drugs and Addiction… that we face a difficult task becoming a nation and world of pragmatic negotiators and and practical, calm listeners and innovators in making a better world.
6. Creative Barcode is a nonprofit organization that allows members to share new ideas without the risk of unauthorized copying. It was founded in 2010. Members embed digital codes in creative works to indicate usage permissions. Private disclosure is made to other members who agree not to publicly disclose the idea or use the idea without permission of the original creator.
7. Another audio interview podcast, this one on the subject of “Funding the Dream: The Future of Crowds.” Interesting sub-topics around the notion that creativity will have all sorts of new avenues available to all of us in the future.
8. Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are travelling together. Denied the right to travel without consent from their male guardians and banned from driving, women in Saudi Arabia are now monitored by an electronic system that tracks any cross-border movements.
9. Adolf Hitler’s infamous book ‘Mein Kampf’ will be published again for the first time in some 70 years. Bavaria, Germany has held ownership of the book’s copyright since the end of World War II, but those rights are due to expire in 2015. Perhaps the intent is to publish a fully annotated – and critical – version that then floods the market so that the 2015+ editions put out by Nazis and others will not stand alone.
10. At least a fifth of all embedded computers that are accessible online — including possibly your printer or modem — still have their factory default passwords, meaning just about anyone can waltz in (digitally) and compromise them, and thus enter your main computer. Printers can even be taken over by coding contained in a doc file! Read Charles Choi in Scientific American on secret electronic wars in our embedded computers. There are positive developments too… that are starting to look more and more like the multi-layerings of an immune system learning to combat the ferocity of viruses and other parasites.
12. Meanwhile, dig it: black boxes required in cars by 2014. Only if they go in squad cars and limousines too!
13. Andy Kessler provides us with a summary-snapshot of the current balance of power between government surveillance and the rise of citizen-level sousveillance. For example: Already a third of large U.S. police forces equip patrol cars with automatic license plate-readers that can check 1,000 plates per hour looking for scofflaws. U.S. Border Patrol already uses iris-recognition technology, with facial-recognition in the works, if not already deployed..
14. Then there is the matter of IP… Intellectual Property. Having filed suits against Samsung for “slavishly copying” its products and selling them around the world, Apple now has developed a history of winning in places where people invent things (Germany, the U.S.) and losing in places where they steal them (South Korea, Japan).
The real meaning of Apple’s legal, and marketplace, struggles is cast into sharp relief by this schism in how various legal systems treat the question of copying others’ work. For this reason, Apple has done the world a terrific service by bringing a problem front and center which has been known to everyone, but not properly discussed until now. When it turns out that the thieves’ courts say stealing is OK, and the inventors’ courts say it is not, then what?
LATE BREAKING: The Aron Swartz case is sad. Tho somewhat unsurprising — he was a hothouse depressive type — I am also very angry that prosecutors tried to high-ball their preliminary plea charges at 35 year… for what was in effect a civil offense that should have been dealt with in civil court.
Onward. What interesting times. Spread light.