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When no regulation is still regulation: New law proposes to ban new laws regulating the internet

Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has proposed legislation that restricts any new regulations or laws governing the internet. The legislation states: “After 90 days of passage of this Act no Department or Agency of the United States shall publish new rules or regulations, or finalize or otherwise enforce or give lawful effect to draft rules or regulations affecting the Internet until a period of at least 2 years from the enactment of this legislation has elapsed.”

Issa proposed the law on Reddit to a skeptical audience pointing out the congressman’s support for the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Act.  This may be part of a Republican effort to court young voters protective of the internet, free expression, and the expansion of copyright regimes (like the released and rescinded policy paper by the Republican Study Committee on copyright reform).

But free market economics should not need regulations to prevent regulations.  Congress is certainly capable of proposing (and passing) terrible laws but they can also pass good laws. Just because some regulations are bad does not mean all regulations are bad.

The DMCA, a terrible law that is a massive infringement of the first amendment and is regularly used to restrict speech, has somehow managed to included the beneficial safe harbor provisions that have allowed many internet companies to survive copyright holder pressures to stifle innovation.  If the safe harbors hadn’t been explicitly written, it’s not apparent that the courts would have protected third-party companies from copyright lawsuits, putting into jeopardy all search engines and social media websites from YouTube to Facebook.

This kind of moratorium just punts all questions about net neutrality, copyright reform, and cyber security out two years.  In fact, it bars Congress from reacting at all, possibly preventing DMCA reform or banning packet inspections (which is my favored way of instating de facto net neutrality since ISPs would not be allow to know what kind of traffic you are transmitting).  Further, if there is enough support to pass a moratorium on internet regulations, than there should be enough support to just not pass these laws in the first place.

Banning new regulation only serves to avoid debating what regulations are or aren’t needed.  It fails to solve a problem and could birth unintended consequences that may be more detrimental.  If the goal is to do nothing, than just do nothing. Congress has proven itself effective at that.


Statistics, politics, and opinions: How they all make sense

Statistician Nate Silver has been under criticism for partisan bias because his model evaluating the presidential election has heavily favored Obama since it launched this summer. This criticism comes from a misunderstanding of statistics, both how they are calculated and what they mean.

As most polls show, this is a very close election.  The popular vote will likely be between 1-2 percentage points. The closest swing states also may be decided by only 1-2 percentage points. Nate Silver’s model understands this and seeks to explain this with more depth than any pollster or pundit.

A single poll, for example may show Obama and Romney tied with a margin of error of plus or minus three points. This means, based on the sample population polled, there is a 95 percent chance that the true poll result is within three percentage points. There is a 95 percent chance, known as the confidence interval, that the true result should have showed Romney up three points and Obama down 3 points.  There is also a five percent chance the actual result is outside of that 3 percent margin of error.

This is where poll aggregators like Real Clear Politics and Cook Political Report offer more insight. By simply averaging polls, the margin of error is reduced and the confidence interval increases. More polls means a larger sample size means a lower chance the sample population isn’t reflective of the full population.

Nate Silver takes his analysis a step further, by incorporating economic data, fundraising, incumbent status, and other, in his opinion, indicators of electoral success.  While his model is in many ways, an opinion, it’s a very transparent one that allows others to test and verify his analysis.

Silver’s success came, in part, from correctly predicating 48 out of 50 states in 2008. But this mistakes Silver’s predictions and even his claims for success.  He is providing odds, similar to odds makers for betting.  When he says a state has a 51 percent chance of going for Obama and 49 percent chance for Romney, that means 51 out of 100 times, Obama will win that state.  When Silver claims Obama has an 80 percent chance of winning this election, he’s still saying Romney has a 20 percent chance of winning. If Romney did win the election, that wouldn’t disprove Silver’s model.  Since we can’t hold the election 25,001 times (as Silver does in his simulations), we can’t know for certain how accurate his model is.

Upsets happen, in politics, sports, and any situations with odds; because we expect the unexpected to happen occasionally.  Thankfully we have tons of data related to presidential politics, from prior elections and thousands of polls for the current one.  That’s why a model like Silver has created is believable, because it is based strictly at looking at prior and current data to make the best possible prediction. When unexpected outcomes happen, that only serves to improve the model.

Many in the media would probably love to vilify Silver if Romney were to win.  Even if Silver fails to predict every state properly, that’s not his goal. He’s simply showing what the data shows – what is the more likely outcome.  Unexpected things do happen, but you likely won’t expect them.


Pirate Party wins 2 seats in European Parliament

The entertainment industry declared a huge win after a Swedish court convicted the founders of Pirate Bay of copyright infringement. But a win isn’t always a win. The ruling helped galvanize Sweden’s Pirate Party, increasing their numbers by more than three times and helping them win two seats in the recent European Parliament elections.

The Pirate Party seeks to reform intellectual property laws to be more balanced with consumer and civil rights.  Further support for the party came after Sweden passed a law requiring ISPs to turn over user information upon request (even without a warrant or evidence), leading several ISPs to refuse to save any user records.

The Pirate Party party won its seats with more than 200,000 votes, approximately 7 percent of Sweden’s voting population (and 19 percent of voters under 30).  The party has risen to being the third largest in Sweden.

So even though the entertainment industry can claim a win in the Pirate Bay trial (for now at least, since the judge is being investigated for bias), that win helped awaken a social movement against the industry and its causes. Maybe the entertainment industry will start realizing harsh copyright laws and obsolete business models are not the best ways to build a customer base.


More jobs now better than more jobs later

Last week I wrote about using bailout money to fund start-ups rather than supporting already failing companies. Leave it to Techdirt’s Michael Masnick to show how short my post fell.

Obama’s bailout plan, as he says, is focused strictly on creating jobs as quickly as possible.  But truly successful start-ups create jobs slowly. And if they’re truly revolutionary, they even destroy the need for other jobs.  Masnick explains this:

So, think about it from a government bureaucrat’s perspective right now. Go back a few decades, and assume someone came to you with a plan to create the internet — and even accurately described how it would allow a great free exchange of information. The reaction, if you were trying to deal with an economic crisis, would be to focus on all of the jobs it upset. People can share music online? Think of all the job losses in the music industry! People can read news for free? Think of all those newspapers shutting down! But they wouldn’t consider all of the economic activity created by the internet — the billions of dollars and millions of new jobs created thanks to it.

The internet makes so many things easier, it makes those jobs obsolete, but doing so, it opens up millions of new jobs over the long-term.  It takes more jobs to make cars than it did to make and sell a horse and buggy.  Bailing out incumbent companies prevents the risk-taking and innovation that will create the next industry. It’s short-term thinking that is, part, of the same problem Wall Street got into. When all you think about it the quarterly job report, sustainable economic growth is always another quarter behind.


The Obama Win

I wanted to take my time reacting to the landmark presidential election that came to a close this week.  It’s hard for someone my age to truly comprehend the monumental impact of Obama’s win for race relations in the U.S. and around the world.  This is because I never looked or thought about Obama’s race.  For many of my friends, Obama was a youthful, exciting symbol of a generation.  The comparisons the John F. Kennedy speak volumes. I recognize JFK’s legacy not for policy, but for how he inspired the nation.  He gave the country goals, to work to make the country better and even tangibly putting a man on the moon.  The result was a generation excited by science and lofty goals that have build the economic powerhouse we are today.

I hope Obama can give us new goals.  It’s not simply about policy: Rhetoric matters.  Obama can pass better healthcare and fund green technologies, but unless the country comes together to be healthier and live greener, neither proposal is going to succeed.

Unfortunately, during the campaign, no one asked what does change mean? How will we know if things have changed? Will they have changed for the better? I and many others assumed the change Obama was speaking to meant the same thing (he’s still a brilliant politician). Obviously corruption and partisanship are bad, but is fixing that enough (assuming that’s possible). Obama’s victory speech spoke volumes about how hard things will be – it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. He’s won now, I’d hope for even more honesty and candor.

Being honest doesn’t have to destroy the hope he symbolizes. In fact, that makes the hope so much greater – there’s a light at the end of the recession. That light won’t come from bailouts (contrary to what other politicians say). It’ll come from calm, cool heads prevailing and bringing sanity back to the financial system.  See why we need hope?

Everyone has expectations for what Obama will fix in office – years of Bush bashing policies cleaned and refurbished with a nice, liberal sheen. Maybe I’m setting my sights to low, but I mainly hope Obama keeps that hope going.  Keep the U.S. and the world optimistic. He’s a symbol that anyone can succeed and that’s an image the world needs now. It’s the irony of hope – you always need it, because so much can happen tomorrow. So bring on tomorrow. We’ve got hope.


MPAA and RIAA to use tax dollars to sue tax payers

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 3325, the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Act of 2008, a scary bill that will make the Justice Department a legal resource for media companies and copyright holders.

The law is the evolution of the PRO-IP Act, which the House passed in May, and the PIRATE Act in the Senate and remains just as one-sided to Big Content as before.  The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Act increases damages for infringement while adding an Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator to advise the president and oversee IP enforcement over various federal agencies.

The scariest aspect of this law is granting federal prosecutors the power to bring civil suits against copyright infringers.  This makes the Justice Department, normally in charge with protecting the U.S. and its citizens, will be protecting one industry’s obsolete business model in court, wasting taxpayer money and turning over any awards to those media companies.  What’s worse is if someone is falsely prosecuted, they cannot sue for legal fees like they can against non-government plaintiffs.

Several amendments were removed including raising penalties for circumventing DRM, but the worst still remain and will likely be passed by huge margins.  The reason: Big Copyright funds elections while consumers pay the price.


How much technology should a politician know?

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has been open about his lack of computer knowledge, saying “I am an illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all of the assistance that I can get.” He adds he’s “learning to get online” and “will have that down fairly soon.” He doesn’t read email and won’t blog. McCain’s aide Mark Soohoo added “you don’t have to use a computer to understand how it shapes the country.”

Is that true? With so many technology issues going unaddressed or made worse with bad legislation, can we support a politician who isn’t fully informed.

Politicians, especially presidential candidates, should have a familiarity with the major technology trends, issues, and debates much like they would any other field from energy to foreign policy. I don’t expect candidates to design their own web pages or develop PHP applications, but using email and and search engines should be second nature.

The United States has no broadband policy, an out-of-date legal system unable to cope with online issues, and a steam of misinformation about security and privacy risks all likely do to a legislative body uneducated on the driving force of the world economy.  Politicians should know more than the average person because they have to make decisions that affect everyone else. Advisors are there to help filter the information, but some knowledge needs to come from the politicians, otherwise how can we trust they’ll make good decisions.

And admitting you don’t know something 73 percent of Americans use regular isn’t a good decision.


All the world’s problems are solved – only piracy remains

The upcoming G8 summit has many important issues to discuss – climate change, world poverty, and file-sharing. That’s about it. Everything else is fixed.

On topic for the G8 is the secret (yes, secret) Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) that only became public knowledge after details were posted on WikiLeaks.  The ACTA is a new treaty being written completely in secret for the purpose of restricting international piracy, allegedly allowing border security to check your iPod for illegal downloads, bring criminal charges against file-sharers, and require ISPs to police their networks.  While the public and consumer groups have not been privy to the treaty negotiations, a RIAA got a chance to submit its wishlist.

Aside from the improprieties of privately writing legislation, why is the G8 taking the time to prop up one industry’s unwillingness to adapt to the internet.  As I’ve written before, the entertainment industry does not have a right to revenue.  It’s their job to find business models that work, not the government’s.

The entertainment industry has pushed many copyright requirements into trade agreements with other countries (often falsely referred to as free trade).  The argument is these laws are needed to encourage innovation and content creation when in reality, these laws only help current copyright holders, hampering development in other countries who now have to spend money policing their citizens.

While several countries around the world waste time spoon feeding copyright holders, I’d have hoped the G8 wanted to at least pretend it cared about helping solve the world’s important crisis, of which their are many. It’s even listed first on the official website, “protection of intellectual property rights.” Piracy is not a world issue, even if the revenue losses the entertainment industry makes up were true.  That’s because it’s not the government’s job make you money – that’s your job through innovation and competition.  The G8 should try dealing with the food crisis, climate control, oil prices, genocide, poverty, human rights, and terrorism to name a few.  Of course, the U.S. attorney general says piracy funds terrorism.  Yeah, that’s convincing.

[Via CustomPC]


7 new losing wars

Government’s love losing. That’s the only way to explain the constant addition of Wars on _______ they keep launching. There’s the War on Poverty, War on Drugs, War on Terrorism, and the still ramping up War on Piracy which might soon be the legal responsibility of the executive branch. Since we have so much time and money to waste, I wanted to suggest some other wars that need to be fought. I’m sure with enough resources, we can wins these in a few hundred years.

7. Software bugs

An exciting new problems arrives, you install in, and quickly boot it up only to find out you have to type upside down to make it work. Publishers race their products to market with the piece of mind they can release patches at any time to fix bugs. It’s much more profitable to let other people pay to be your quality assurance team rather than pay one yourself.

Estimated cost to fight: $5 billion/year

Length of war: 75 years when computers become smart enough to conquer the world, but crashes after an automatic Windows update

6. Bathroom graffiti

The obsolete business model for dating services needs to be replaced by superior technology. Writing girl’s phone numbers or pictures of penises should be kept in controlled, safe environments like the World Wide Web. The last thing anyone wants to think about in the bathroom is how cool Dan is.

Estimated cost to fight: $200 million/year

Length of war: 50 years when we discover a safe way to hold it in

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New media craves a horse race, even when there isn’t one

Last night’s Daily Show reveal the news media’s true goal this election cycle – to make it never end. Asif Mandvi had his fingers crossed as Hillary Clinton, on the night Obama won enough delegates to claim the nomination, refused to concede defeat. If she ends her campaign, how will three 24-hour news channels fill up their time?

This entire primary season has been an effort in futility for anyone seeking information. Beyond the wasted time on out of context quotes, inflammatory relationships, and flag pins, the media punditry has desperately tried to frame this election as a horse race where if you turn away for a second, you’ll miss the crucial turning point. The result has been a ratings boon for the cable networks, with CNN seeing 90 percent increases over last year’s first quarter. MSBNC grew 68 percent. Fox News hasn’t benefited as much, with a 14 percent increase. The Democratic candidates had shut out the station from interviews until Hillary Clinton went on Bill O’Reilly’s show, giving his show a 30 percent boost in total viewers.

The 24-hour news networks relied on the image of a close race to build its ratings and are continuing the mirage heading into the general election. I don’t mean to say Hillary Clinton and John McCain had/have no chance of winning, but the odds were/are so against them. The media knows a close race is better television than a sure thing and that is causing them to be unobjective in their reporting, often overblowing non-issues in the hopes that flag pins and Reverend Wright would keep the race going.

The general election looks be a Democratic landslide even as polls show Obama and McCain are in a statistical dead heat. These polls do not account for a unified Democratic party, one this split between rabid Clinton and Obama supporters who, very likely, have no intention of voting for anti-abortion, pro-war Republican McCain even though they say so now in polls. McCain has already collected support his primary challengers just as Obama will once Clinton accepts her 2nd place finish. The result will be an unprecedented coalition of the two biggest voter and fundraising networks in history, a network McCain can’t catch up to even if he didn’t have a fundraising issue.

The other point ignored by polls is that the electoral college counts, popular vote doesn’t. I think the popular vote will end up close between Obama and McCain. The electoral college will be a Democratic landslide benefited by anti-war and anti-Republican sentiments, McCain’s lackluster appeal to hard conservatives, and Obama’s massive appeal to the youth and African-Americans. Democratic wins of special elections in Illinois (Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the house’s seat), Louisiana, and Mississippi (Trent Lott’s seat former seat), by sizeable margins spell doom for Republicans. McCain might toy with winning states like New Jersey, Michigan, and New York, but he has to hold prior swing states like Ohio, Florida, and Iowa while playing defensive in Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, New Mexico, and in optimistic circles, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Kansas, Montana, and Texas. Short of an Obama imposition, it’s impossible to see an electoral scenario where McCain can win.

But the news media doesn’t want to entertain electoral math. It’s more fun to pretend Obama has a white problem (how many African American’s live in Montana, Iowa, and Wisconsin?) or highlight how much independents love McCain. It keeps the race looking closer than it really is.

I don’t want CNN to call the race for Obama or ignore McCain as an also-ran. Their responsibility should be to inform us of the facts of the campaign – who did what when and why. What if questions or conjecture have no place in objective journalism. Blogs, on the other hand, can go conjecture crazy. Without some source for objective, investigative reporting on both candidates, this election is going to once again defined by talking points, 527-organization, and out-of-context crap that doesn’t matter. Change and leaders we can believe in requires a media to change and lead.

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