We’re Somewhere Between 90th and 99th Percentile. You, I Don’t Know.

Spurred by the imminent closure of the encampment in Boston’s Dewey Square we again debated Occupy Wall Street at coffee this morning. Some of my friends argue that the occupations have been essential to starting a national debate on the protesters’ message. My response–after making clear that I harbor no animosity towards the protests–, was that there is no unified message, other than that the economic system is unfair. And that’s not news. There’s certainly no agreement on the root of income inequality–protesters blame everything from Wall Street’s greed to capitalism’s essence. “We are the 99%” implies that the 99% have common economic social interests–a preposterous idea, as this Household Income Graph demonstrates:

Where Do You Fall on the Income Curve” states “the difference in incomes between a household at the 98th percentile and the 99th percentile is $146,118 ($360,435 jumps up to $506,553).” Mind you, that’s the difference between just the 98th and 99th percentile of household income: “the difference in income between a household at the 50th percentile and a household at the 51st percentile is $1,237 ($42,327 versus $43,564).” “We are the 99%” is short, catchy, and sounds relevant, while being useless as a platform to actually do anything.

Stop SOPA

Here’s another NY Times Op-Ed, this one by Rebecca MacKinnon, titled Stop the Great Firewall of America. MacKinnon compares effects of the the proposed Stop Online Privacy Act–the Senate version is the Protect IP Act–to the Great Firewall of China, i.e. Chinese censorship of online content. These proposed laws would upend the DMCA notice-and-take down provisions that establish the ISP safe harbor from liability for copyrighted content and impose affirmative duties on ISPs to screen for unauthorized posting of copyrighted content. These are dangerous laws that would protect copyright at the expense of speech and other democratic principles.

“Reincarnation Credentials?”

The New York Times reports on an interesting case involving William Lawrence Cassidy, who posted over 8,000 Twitter and blog posts attacking a Buddhist leader named Alyce Zeoli. Cassidy has been arrested and charged with with violating a federal online-stalking statute, which raises First Amendment issues.  His speech would be protected if he were to stand on a soapbox and harangue passersby with the content of his Tweets, unless they constituted “true threats” of harm to Ms. Zeoli. The question is whether delivering these messages through Twitter changes their character. Zeoli’s lawyer said the Tweets are analogous to “handwritten notes” directed personally to Ms. Zeoli.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation has asked the court to recognize the protected nature of Cassidy’s tweets. It’s not relevant to the First Amendment issue, but Cassidy is not a sympathetic character. The Times reports “[h]e has a record of assault, arson and domestic violence. According to the federal complaint, he was also convicted of carrying an unspecified “dangerous weapon” onto a plane in 1993.”  We will undoubtedly discuss this case in classes this fall.

But that’s not the primary reason for this post.  Sometimes I just cannot let small absurdities pass without comment.  The Times reports “Ms. Zeoli is considered to be a reincarnated master in the Tibetan Buddhist religious tradition, and is known to her followers as Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.” Cassidy’s animus towards Ms. Zeoli apparently arose after he”also claimed to be a reincarnated Buddhist,” claimed he had cancer, and joined Zeoli’s organization. He left and began posting anti-Zeoli messages “after they came to doubt his reincarnation credentials and found that his claims of cancer were false.”

This clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with the First Amendment issues but what, I must ask, are reincarnation credentials?

We Can Handle The Truth

A friend criticized publication of Ander Breivik’s photo:

On July 25, the Globe published three handsome photographs of Anders Breivik under the headline “Norway suspect admits ‘facts’, not crime”. By doing so, the paper has elevated an extremist mass murderer to a position of relative glamour. I can only imagine how this choice of photos might encourage other potential killers to start shooting innocents — so they too, can get their images and crazy messages on the front page, even if it is below the fold. Bad choice.

My response was different:

I don’t agree with censorship.

Breivik committed a heinous, monstrous crime. But he doesn’t look like a monster. He could be a Gap model. One could pass him on the street or sit next to him on the subway and not be uneasy–until he opened his mouth. He was able to kill so many on the island because he called them out of hiding, saying he was there to protect them from the shooter. Obviously he was able to establish some trust because he was dressed as a policeman, but I expect his benign appearance helped convince others he was not a monster. His appearance is part of the story. Even if it were not, I’d want to know who did this thing.

From what we know his murders were driven by a lethal mix of ideology and mental illness. He’s acknowledged that he killed the victims but denies criminal responsibility because the killings were “necessary.” He’s written thousands of words explaining his fears of immigration, Islam, cultural mixing. The media is reporting his beliefs and their connection to the ideology of right-wing Christian fundamentalist groups. He killed because he was obsessed with these ideas. Other potential killers are far more likely to be similarly obsessed and motivated by ideas than by a desire to get their pictures in the paper. Should the media not report anything about these racist and murderous ideologies because doing so might inspire others to kill to promote their obsessions? I’d rather expose the hatred at the heart of these beliefs to public scrutiny.

Breivik is one of the most prolific mass-murderers in recent times. The scale of his shooting rampage is unprecedented. Should the media not report the number of victims because other mass murders will try to top it?

If the press censors every fact that might motivate, inflame, or inspire others to engage in similar acts, then what’s left to say? “In some place and at some time something really bad happened. No pictures, facts, or other information at 11.”

I agree with Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Shariah Ban KO’d in OK

I should have posted this months ago to close the story.  Better late, etc.  Remember Oklahoma’s referendum last November (see posts here and here) banning Shariah law, sponsored by a Republican legislator and approved by 70% of voters, even though there’s no binding U.S. court decision applying Shariah law?  A federal judge, as predicted, permanently barred the Shariah ban, ruling that its “primary effect inhibits religion and . . . fosters an excessive government entanglement with religion.”

The U.S. House made a big show last week of reading the U.S. Constitution aloud.  Maybe if our citizens and elected officials spent less time mouthing and more time understanding application of its words, they’d promote fewer obviously unconstitutional laws.

More on WikiLeaks

In my Internet law course we talk about some of the Internet cultures that formed in the 1990’s–techno-Utopians, anarchists, parliamentarian legalists, and royalists, to borrow Julian Dibble’s categories. Many students wonder why.  These categories from a lost world have little relevance to the environment in which they Facebook and SMS; it’s like discussing Whigs and Tories.  I tell them these cultures still exist and can shape current debates about Internet governance, but I’m sure this sounds academic.  But what I love about teaching Internet law is how events coincide with class discussions.  Anyone who doubts the relevance of  the forces these categories represent has not heard of WikiLeaks.

More WikiLeaks articles, reaction, and analysis:


Today’s Amazon Special: Flip-Flops

Amazon.com has taken brief, Kerry-esque, we-were-for-it-until-we-were-against-it stands on recent controversies.

  • That’s What Pedophilia Means? A month ago Amazon.com received heat for selling The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct, a self-published rulebook by the self-appointed Mr. Manners of pedophilia.   Amazon.com defended its right to sell–and purchasers’ right to purchase–books on controversial topics.  “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.  Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”   Amazon.com should have added “we will continue to support this right for 24 hours or until we cave to customer pressure, whichever occurs first.”  One day later it pulled the book–figuratively, of course, and without comment–from its electronic shelves. I am mildly critical of its decision not to sell the book. The First Amendment protects the book’s content, repellent as it may be, but Amazon.com’s mission is selling stuff, not defending First Amendment rights.  On a continuum of American values Amazon.com is closer to Wal-Mart and Sears than Feisty Independent Urban Bookstore.  My values are not Wal-Martian (pronounced “mar-tee-an”, nor “marshan”) but I respect that Wal-Mart would have known it’s opposition to the Pedophile’s Guide from jump. Amazon.com should have known more of its customers would howl in protest than applaud its courage.  It should have known that however heady the experience of staunchly defending the Bill of Rights, defiance in the face of threatened boycotts is not in its corporate DNA.  Better to be honest and say “we sell so much stuff that inappropriate content sometimes gets through our filters. We respect the First Amendment but we respect our customers’ patronage more.  We screwed up and we’re pulling the book.  Be aware it is likely to happen again, because we sell so much stuff that we can’t monitor all of it.”
  • We’re Hosting That WikiLeaks? Hackers targeted WikiLeaks after its release of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic documents.  Last week WikiLeaks moved its server operations to Amazon.com which, in addition to selling lots of stuff, hosts other websites, offering them the same robust protection from DDoS attacks and other hacker misanthropy that it provides itself.  A few days later Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman called Amazon with pointed questions about hosting WikiLeaks on its cloud servers.  A day later, denying Lieberman’s criticism was the cause, Amazon.com terminated WikiLeaks’ hosting account.  Why?  Because WikiLeaks’ was violating Amazon.com’s Terms of Service by providing access to content–the diplomatic cables–that violated a third-party’s rights to the content. This was not a late-breaking development in the WikiLeaks story. It moved its hosting to Amazon.com because it wanted protection from DDoS attacks directed at WikiLeaks in retaliation for its release of the cables.  A cynic might believe that WikiLeaks played Amazon.com like a cheap harmonica, knowing its penchant for waffling would result in Amazon.com throwing WikiLeaks back into the cold, cruel world only days after offering shelter.*

*Which makes me wonder if WikiLeaks founder/face/czar Julian Assange has a Christ complex.  But that’s a topic for another post.

WikiLeaks

Tomorrow’s Internet law class-our last this semester–will focus on WikiLeaks.  (Good luck loading wikileaks.org.  The first topic may be “if a website’s URL does resolve to the site’s home page, does the site exist?” Another of the top four Google responses to a search for wikileaks.org also failed to load: http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/.    The two sites that loaded, with links to the leaked U.S. diplomatic correspondence, are http://213.251.145.96/ and   http://213.251.145.96/cablegate.html.)  This week it is hard not to find news stories, blog posts, rants, and raves about WikiLeaks’ dissemination of the diplomatic cables.  In no particular order, with no endorsement of their respective stances, and with no representation that these are the best courses of information, here is some of what I’ve read:

I’ll post more links when I access my laptop at school.

WikiLeaks is a mother lode of discussion topics:  freedom of speech, freedom of the press, national security, criminal law, extradition, ethics, Internet culture, network architecture, network security, file-sharing technology, citizen journalism, hacking, the 24-hour news cycle . . . and more, no doubt.

Hypocrisy, for example. WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange’s stated goal for WikiLeaks is to puncture organizations that maintain their authority by conspiring to hide information about their activities. In other words, secrecy–whether practiced by the United States government or sorority Alpha Sigma Tau–is inherently bad, therefore revealing secrets is inherently good.  Zunguzungo.com’s* lengthy, reverential exegesis of Assange’s writings favorably characterizes his definition of a conspiracy as “simply any network of associates who act in concert by hiding their concerted association from outsiders, an authority that proceeds by preventing its activities from being visible enough to provoke counter-reaction.”  Let’s see–network of associates . . . act in concert . . . hide concerted association . . . prevent visibility to outsiders . . . not accountable to anyone . . . doesn’t that perfectly describe WikiLeaks and its supporters?

Unless the topic is, say, engineering or math, I distrust binary thinking.  Reducing complex problems to black-and-white alternatives requires no thought, no analysis, no understanding of human nature, no judgment, no room for growth, no self-doubt, no capacity to listen, no compassion, no heart, no soul, none of what is special about humanity.   Assange’s blind faith in transparency makes him just another True Believer whose ego requires imposing his beliefs on the world.

*Which the website defines, apparently, as “harmonization [variant: harm minimization]”**

**To which I reply, wtf?

Oklahoma Reaffirms Law of Gravity

A federal judge in Oklahoma–apparently visiting the state from the 21st century–enjoined enforcement of the recently-passed referendum banning consideration of Shariah law, among other things, from consideration by Oklahoma courts.  On November 22 the judge will hear arguments on whether the “Save Our State” amendment violates the First Amendment.  70% of Oklahomans (Oklahopersons?) voted for the ban.  To put it another way, seventy percent voted in favor of a law banning a practice that has not happened, and has no legal basis for happening, under the U.S. Constitution.

“Ohhhhh-Kla-Homa . . .”*

” . . . where the wind comes whistling through our brains ”  last week approved State Law 755, which mandates that Oklahoma courts “shall not consider international law or Sharia Law.”   70% of Oklahomans voted for the Sharia Ban, the constitutionality of which has been challenged in a federal lawsuit filed last Thursday.  (No word on whether Oklahoma will consider any of my suggested ballot initiatives.)  Why did Oklahoma need to instruct it’s courts not to even think about Sharia Law?  Is the ban reflective of this country’s virulent anti-Islamic sentiment?

A co-sponsor, state Sen. Anthony Sykes, denied it sought to stigmatize Muslims. “We’re not trying to send any sort of message here,” said Mr. Sykes, a Republican. Rather, he said, Oklahomans wanted to insulate their judiciary from un-American influences. While no Oklahoma court ever has cited Shariah law, “we are on a slippery slope,” he said.

The linked WSJournal article in which this quotation appears notes that other states

have considered rules that restrict judges from making decisions that take into account foreign or international legal materials . . . Only Oklahoma’s measure singles out a particular religious tradition, []  though a proposal in Arizona lists Shariah along with canon law, Jewish law and karma, a conception of fate in Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

Wouldn’t preventing a court from considering karma itself be bad karma, resulting in all sorts of undesirable results?  I guess if you elected governor Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, you aren’t worried about karma.

Mr. Sykes said he wanted to protect the Oklahoma judiciary from the influence of “Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan and, I’m sure, Sonia Sotomayor, given her political leanings,” who he believed were inclined to rely on international law.

Idiocy.

*Recognizing that this may not trigger instant recognition in all AFC readers, here’s Oklahoma–sung by Hugh Jackman.