What power doesn’t the US President have? When does the Left start organizing?

Despite being ill, Glenn Greenwald puts his finger on the issue:

A very intense case of food poisoning in New York on Thursday, combined with my traveling home all night last night, prevents me from writing much about this until tomorrow (and it’s what rendered the blog uncharacteristically silent for the last two days). But I would hope that nobody needs me or anyone else to explain why this assertion of power is so pernicious — at least as pernicious as any power asserted during the Bush/Cheney years. If the President has the power to order American citizens killed with no due process, and to do so in such complete secrecy that no courts can even review his decisions, then what doesn’t he have the power to do?

Which strikes me as yet another issue to add to the pile: Maintaining the Drug War (the longest American war), illegal and unethical occupations, maintaining international gulags, environmental disaster inaction, corporate bailouts and give-aways while citizens lose their homes, and targeting Americans for assassination.

How bad do things have to get before the Progressive Left organizes even a march against the President like they did shortly before the Iraq invasion (large, in major cities, coordinated, and thus hard for the mainstream corporate media to ignore)? With the standards for impeachment being harder and harder to meet (thanks to an apparently politically inactive and apathetic public), how hard will it be to begin the process of telling the US President you don’t like what he’s doing and he needs to be replaced with someone else who won’t screw the public (this process starts with impeachment)? Wouldn’t this send a strong signal to Congress that the public is organized and if Congress doesn’t start seeing things the public’s way they’re next to leave office?

Want to learn more about audio and video?

Monty Montgomery at xiph.org gives us the first part of A Digital Media Primer for Geeks.

It’s licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (BY-NC-SA) license and there’s a discussion wiki and the entire show was edited completely with free and open source software. You will not only learn a lot about digital media but you’ll get to see it demonstrated for you knowing that everything you see you can do (and more, of course, limited only by your own imagination and will).

Enjoy the freedom.


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Tariq Ali says Obama is “continuing with many of the old [Bush] policies”

Democracy Now!‘s guests today offer plenty of appropriately harsh criticism aimed at explaining how Pres. Obama’s administration is more of what the US came to hate under Pres. George W. Bush (transcript, video, audio). Tariq Ali discussed the continuity of warring:

AMY GOODMAN: […Tariq Ali] has a new book out; it’s called The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad. Some might say that’s a little harsh.

TARIQ ALI: I know some of his supporters might feel it’s a little harsh, but I think that we’ve had two years of him now, Amy, and the contours of this administration are now visible. And essentially, it is a conservative administration which has changed the mood music. So the talk is better. The images of the administration are better, the reasonable looks. But in terms of what they do””in foreign policy, we’ve seen a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies, and worse, in AfPak, as they call it, and at home, we’ve seen a total capitulation to the lobbyists, to the corporations. The fact that the healthcare bill was actually drafted by someone who used to be an insurance lobbyist says it all.

So, it’s essentially now a PR operation to get him reelected. But I don’t think people are that dumb. I’ve been speaking to some of his, you know, partisan supporters, and they’re disappointed. So the big problem for Obama is that if you do nothing and promise that you would bring about some changes, you will not have people coming out to vote for you again. And building up the tea party into this great bogey isn’t going to work. It’s your own supporters you have to convince to come out and vote for you, as they did before. I can’t see that happening.

AMY GOODMAN: The cover of your book, The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad, is a picture of the face, the head of President Obama, and half of it is peeled away to reveal President Bush.

TARIQ ALI: Well, this, you know, I think, is a sort of very brilliant West Coast montage artist, and they are the best. Whenever there’s a crisis, they come up with an image which says it all. And I like that image a lot, and I used it very deliberately to show the continuation, that it’s not a case that we have a new administration. We do, technically, but it’s continuing with many of the old policies in the””how it deals with the economy. When you have people like Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, occasionally Frank Rich in the New York Times, Maureen Dowd, these people who were desperate for a Democrat administration being incredibly critical of some of its things, when you have venerable professors like Gary Wells saying, “I’m disappointed,” the honeymoon didn’t last long with Obama. It lasted much, much longer with Clinton. And one reason for that is that he had raised hopes and was unable to deliver. He turned out to be an apparatchik and a political operator from one of the worst Democrat areas in the country, Chicago, and that’s what he behaves like.

Happy Software Freedom Day!

Software freedom is the freedom to run, share, and modify computer programs. When you have these freedoms, you are free to make your computer do what you want it to do instead of being restricted to whatever the programmers want your computer to do. Free software respects a user’s freedom to learn and participate in an egalitarian society. Free software is the opposite of proprietary software— software which restricts your inspection, copying, and modification.

Having this freedom is not about skill; having freedom of speech doesn’t make anyone a great writer. Freedom means permission to take control over your computer by using software that is free to be shared and improved as you wish. Software freedom is a necessary component for people to live as equals in society.

Today we celebrate software freedom by encouraging all computer users to install and run more free software on their computers so they too can be free. Since 1983 the free software movement has made a conscious political and ethical choice to pursue software freedom for themselves and all other computer users by writing and using computer software that is licensed to share and modify.

Obama no different than George W. Bush on economy, war

From today’s Democracy Now! (transcript, audio, low-res video, high-res video):

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer, your last chapter, “Sucking Up to the Bankers: Crisis Handoff from Bush to Obama”””has Obama done anything different about the economy than Bush, do you feel?

ROBERT SCHEER: No. Obama has been a disaster. And I say this as someone who was suckered into contributing to his campaign financially. You know, my wife maxed out in her contributions, pushing those buttons every time. I still get emails from the Obama campaign telling “We’re winning here, we’re winning there.” But it’s been a disaster.

Meanwhile President Obama’s occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan continue apace at the cost of trillions of dollars; trillions Americans could have pumped into schools, roads, jobs, buying houses, and so much more. Obama’s drone war against Pakistan and killings in Yemen and Somalia go on and on. Clearly the US will not be on the road to justice until its leaders are tried for war crimes and sitting in prison. AWARE’s most recent flier tells the tale. The financial cost is more than the American economy can bear.

Update (2010-09-10, 2010-09-11): Terry Jones is a pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, a small church in Gainesville, Florida which planned to mark September 11, 2010 by burning printed Qur’ans. Recently President Barack Obama said that Dove World Outreach Center’s protest “could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan”. Democracy Now! and the BBC report that Defense Secretary Robert Gates echoed Obama’s sentiment to Pastor Jones by phone. The BBC also notes that some unnamed person from “[t]he FBI had visited Mr Jones to urge him to reconsider his plans“. Obama explained the logic behind his statement to ABC News: “this is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda. You know, you could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan.”. The BBC quotes Obama saying “We’ve got an obligation to send a very clear message that this kind of behaviour or threat of action puts our young men and women in harm’s way.”.

Obama, Gates, and their sympathizers who oppose Jones’ protest on these grounds are shamefully trying to deflect responsibility for the continued Iraq & Afghanistan occupations and the Pakistan drone attacks onto Jones’ misguided protest. Amazing how Jones’ small protest captures so much American corporate media attention and is blamed for so much while anti-war activists struggle for national coverage. This alone tells us that there’s something about Jones’ message that is acceptable to corporate media while anti-war protests are not acceptable for corporate media to cover—if you challenge the occupation on ethical grounds you must be kept away from the mic but if your message can be co-opted by those who benefit from war, your effort may be called news. Whether Al Qaeda or anyone else, the occupations and attacks are “a recruitment bonanza” for anyone who wants to end American occupation. The American occupation proceeded under former US President George W. Bush. People are unwilling to be occupied and occupiers have no rights. This desire for freedom in turn “puts our young men and women in harm’s way”. Occupation and a thirst for war are two of the strongest links tying together the two major corporate parties in the US. Burning Qur’ans is notably intolerant but non-lethal and incredibly minor in comparison to occupation. As Jones told CNN, “We are burning the book. We are not killing someone. We are not murdering people.”.

An important distinction: Free Software and Open Source

While introducing free software fonts to my colleagues and students at my work, I review the license for the fonts I bundle on the systems I build. Some LaTeX fonts are particularly pretty and useful, so I read the LaTeX Project Public License and the commentary on Wikipedia about this license. This license covers a number of fonts I’m interested in distributing so I was keen to learn if the fonts would be free software—free for my users to use, distribute, and modify (even commercially).

For some time when I tell others that I draw a sharp distinction between “free software” and “open source”, I point out that I agree with the FSF’s take on the matter. I’ve been told that the differences between “free software” and “open source” pale in comparison to the similarities. I’ve seen and pointed out practical implications of this philosophical difference as I watch open source enthusiasts take on proprietary software for their own personal use while I flatly reject proprietary software for my computers, a radical difference to be sure.

The situation with The LaTeX Project Public License is another significant difference that directly affects me and my users: This license has been around a while and is used to license some fonts I find interesting (including Kurier and Iwona). The LaTeX Project Public License is a free software license since it grants users the freedoms of free software yet not an OSI-approved license. Fortunately Wikipedia is careful to make this distinction.

Update 2010-08-29: Thanks to eagle-eyed Nathan Owens for finding a typo above!

Richard Stallman wants users to have software freedom for all published computer software.

Richard Matthew Stallman, founder of the free software movement recently gave a talk entitled “Copyright vs. Community” at Balamand University, in north Lebanon. He has given this talk many times before and there are recordings of previous talks available online (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I wasn’t at the Balamand University talk, but I’ve heard this talk a number of times and I’m familiar with the questions that are sure to follow. Below I try to answer points of confusion that come up.

According to one poster

He basically said that copying music doesn’t hurt the artist because the artist has already been screwed over by the record industry. Now, I’m definitely not one to argue against the last part of that statement, but Mom always taught me that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Unfortunately there is no accompanying explanation for how copying music is “wrong”. We need to distinguish between what’s illegal (copyright infringement) and unethical. Friends share with each other because sharing is a natural thing to do, sharing builds community, and because people typically value their friendships more highly.

The poster continues

But later, Stallman said something that I found very surprising. He said that he has no problem with the firmware being burned into the hardware (via a ROM chip or the like). He said that he wanted a “black box”, and it’s obvious that he has no problem with proprietary firmware as long as it’s permanently embedded in the hardware rather than being loaded into it at boot time.

What I didn’t understand is why Stallman feels that there’s a difference? What is it? The method used to get the firmware into the hardware? Why make this the line in the sand? It seems very arbitrary to me.

The difference is the user’s freedom to alter the code distributed to them.

Stallman’s distinction (as I’m sure he covered about in his talk) has to do with a user’s freedom to run, learn, adapt, and share functional works (including published software). This is an ethical issue the free software movement does not shy away from. The free software movement works to build and maintain a community of equal opportunity and social solidarity; all computer users should be free to make their copy of published computer software do what they want it to do. The heart of the free software movement concerns itself with the most important question anyone can ask: how shall I treat other people?

When code is in a ROM (read-only memory) chip or in circuitry (there’s no difference when it comes to user’s freedom), the user and developer have no opportunity to change that code without changing the hardware. In this way the developer and the user are equals.

The opportunity for change exists wherever there is storage that allows alteration. When a device’s program is software, the issues of software freedom are raised. The question becomes who has permission to make changes to that software? This is a question of permission not technical know-how, time, interest, or budget to change the software. If the software is free, the user can get a copy of the program’s source code and make their device behave as they wish. They can even help other users by sharing their improved code. If the developer is the only person who may modify the software, the developer subjugates the user. Developers who want to maintain this power over the user will not distribute free software for the device or complete documentation on how the device works.
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Today’s DRM excuses can be tomorrow’s DRM nightmares

Engadget reports that Apple Computer chief Steve Jobs recently spoke about DRM (digital restrictions management):

Q: I bought the movie Up on DVD, it had a digital download. I put it on my iPad. I hooked up my VGA adapter and tried to play it… but I couldn’t because of HDCP. Can you tell me how you’re helping with this?

A: We didn’t invent this stuff…

Q: But you did deploy it…

A: Well the content creators are trying to protect this stuff, and they’re grabbing at straws. Sometimes they grab the right ones, and sometimes they don’t. If we want access to this stuff, we have to play by some of their rules. I feel your pain.

So for proprietors it’s okay to deflect blame for restricting users from fully controlling their computers and simultaneously profit in restricting the users. Apple is big when it suits them (I’m sure they want consumers to believe they are the pre-eminent vehicle for delivering movies and music) and small and helpless against the publishers when it suits them (“We didn’t invent this stuff….”). This attitude rewards those who restrict and does nothing to help users who want to watch their legally obtained copies of movies as they see fit (dare one want to see a movie on a non-approved screen!).

This attitude is bad in itself, but not life threatening. As it applies to watching movies, this DRM is more annoying than anything else because there are plenty of free software movie players (like VLC) that will happily show you a movie on any device you like ignoring DRM that would otherwise get in your way; you can simply choose those programs instead of the proprietary stuff and go about enjoying a little bit more control over your life.

But what if DRM is in a device you need to live, like a heart pacemaker/defibrillator to monitor and regulate your heartbeats? Nowadays these devices are digital and run on software—software you aren’t privy to inspect, change, or share. Some of them are even set up so the software they run on can be altered remotely. Remote administration is sold on convenience, like proprietary traps usually are: A trained physician puts you within radio distance of a device that alters the pacemaker/defibrillator’s settings entirely wirelessly—no surgery or injection after the initial installation!

Remote control is a convenience you might be willing to accept for your garage and car door. But regulating a critical function in your body? This doesn’t sound so good when you consider the ramifications for a device you depend on in order to live. Brad Kuhn and Karen Sandler, co-hosts of the Software Freedom Law Show, recently discussed this problem. Sandler looked into these devices because she has a enlarged heart. The size of her heart increases her risk of sudden death. She has a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted inside her (it mostly monitors her heart but it could shock her heart to keep her alive). Sandler did research on these devices and learned some of the scary facts about them. She said that not only is patient information is carried in some of these devices which can be retrieved remotely without the user’s consent or knowledge, but she also learned that a similar device’s operation was altered without using the original manufacturer’s hardware. Knowing the risks of remote administration, she chose an older model which requires close contact with the device to be adjusted or interrogated. But most patients are not so well-versed in the consequences of choosing a modern medical implant; they’ll pick one which can be adjusted from a distance using something available to everyone (such as software defined radio, like GNU Radio).

What if manufacturers use DRM to restrict who can administer the implanted device? Why should anyone have to surrender control over their body in this way?

We need software freedom for medical devices. There are compelling ethical reasons we need software freedom for all published software (well-covered ground by the free software movement) but also because our lives could be at stake. Whether you choose to learn, alter, or share this software should be up to you as well.

Update 2010-07-21: SFLC publishes their report on “Safety Benefits of Free and Open Source Software in Critical Technology“. More on this report can be found on their site.