Is Democracy Now rendering itself obsolete?

DN’s short headline about Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ law is a particularly shameful headline from Democracy Now (DN), a so-called “alternative” news outlet that used to chastise the US for mistreating and killing news reporters. During G.W. Bush’s Iraq invasion and occupation, and when journalist Tareq Ayyoub was likely killed by the US war forces, DN rightly pointed out how sharply their coverage was not like the corporate media drumbeat for war. DN didn’t simply repeat the pro-war narrative (built on lies) and have a bunch of other pro-war people on to reaffirm the deception. DN used to make a big deal out of 1st Amendment threats to journalism and DN featured reports from “unembedded” reporters showcasing the difference between their reportage and that of the corporate media. But after the 2016 US election, DN has radically changed into something it used to criticize and this change risks rendering DN dismissable right alongside the corporate media it now sides with.

Why is DN’s headline shameful?

  • This headline doesn’t point out the difference between the two laws: The Russian law exists and poses a real threat to freedom of speech in Russia as its American counterpart does in America, but unlike the American law the Russian foreign agent registration hasn’t yet been forced on foreign news agencies with outlets in Russia. RT America has been under the restrictions of FARA for over a week now.
  • This headline is all Amy Goodman offers on this story after months of the American law being discussed on RT. DN chose silence (just like her corporate media ideological partners). Prior to the November 16, 2017 headline one sentence of coverage, DN’s last RT story was from October 18, 2016 (repeat the search and see what has changed).
  • This headline comes with inadequate context setting. What little context is present minimizes who started this and why. The headline tries to draw focus to the Russians doing something bad, and not squarely place the blame where the issue began—the US doing something bad to foreign media and Americans’ freedom of speech—as part of a larger Russophobic campaign by Hillary Clinton supporters to discredit Pres. Trump’s electoral victory in 2016 (among other reasons). The headline doesn’t at all describe the ugly consequences for Americans who want to be properly and fairly informed by their news media. This headline is quite a sharp departure from how Goodman handled the US narrative on the 2013 Iraq invasion and occupation where she would give the mainstream pro-war narrative and then immediately point out the problems with the case for believing that narrative including that Hans Blix’s group did the legwork to back their claim that claims of Iraq’s possession of WMDs were false.
  • The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel called this press restriction part of a new cold war with Russia (the transcript should show up eventually). I don’t agree with some of what vanden Heuvel says here (for example: she leaves room to believe that the Russians played a role in interfering in the 2016 US election despite any evidence to back that argument, or that she says RT gets “a negligible audience” because Nielsen doesn’t track their viewership), but the comments about why the US government is angry with RT, what the foreseeable consequences of this anger are, and comments about the structural nature of the critique are all valuable commentary. RT gave a platform to those who criticize American power on a structural level; this goes well beyond getting into petty distractions about Donald Trump personally. RT’s audience on television doesn’t really matter because more people are ‘cord cutting’ or abandoning cable TV for routing their audio & video communications over the Internet. Hence, RT via video sharing sites (such as YouTube) matter considerably and that popularity is the reason why Google and Twitter offered RT premium ad packages prior to being chastised by US Senators who seek to delegitimize what RT says. vanden Heuvel is right that what we colloquially refer to as “Russiagate” could foreseeably become the opening of a new war with Russia. Why would DN (the self-styled “war and peace report” which, given their previous reportage, used to mean ‘anti-war’) want to join forces with the historically pro-war media?
  • One sentence (“The vote comes shortly after the United States forced the international Russian broadcaster RT to register as foreign agents.”) about something that ought to concern any media outlet that views itself as being not on the side of power, an organization that informs their audience even if that means going against the prevailing corporate narrative. I can only guess that means Goodman has switched sides and her pro-DNC take on other stories (from silence about the DNC lawsuit where the DNC’s lawyer told us the Democrats don’t owe us fair primaries, to uncritically buying into the various arms of the Russiagate narrative) means we are being given permission to view her show as a far less watched MSNBC-alike as Max Blumenthal said in a recent interview with Aaron Maté on The Real News Network. Maté also pointed out this “lone mention” by his former employer.

Implications for local media?

DN got to where it is largely by local community media outlets. Does your local in-town media still play DN? At what point do local media managers decide that DN is taking the same view as the corporate media and therefore it’s time to find a DN replacement that can offer local media audiences something they can’t easily find elsewhere (thus justifying the existence of local media)?

In case you’re just catching up to “Russiagate”

Comic and corporate media sycophant Jena Friedman concisely repeats the current corporate narrative in her foolish and ahistorical take which fails to recognize how culpable the US is and how there’s no evidence of suspicious Russian involvement in the 2016 US election.

RT is a Russian propaganda tool. Any Americans who work for the network should at least own up to that. Dear friends who work at @RedactedTonight, don’t be useful idiots to a country that censors speech and kills journalists. You are smart and talented and can get work elsewhere.

What’s come out so far is nothing more than can be explained by media outlets advertising for themselves and free speech. Friedman is also tacitly supporting blacklisting along these lines.

A much more reasonable perspective can be found

But they require some looking around; most mainstream media outlets and freedom of speech groups apparently choose to remain silent about this threat to freedom of speech.

There are many other RT reports covering what came to be known as Russiagate. You’ll find them on RT and RT America‘s YouTube channels. I don’t recommend using YouTube as-is; I recommend that you use a free software browser, leave JavaScript off (via NoScript add-on, or a free software work-alike), get youtube-dl, and use youtube-dl to download YouTube videos.

Glen Ford: “There is no such thing as a progressive movement that is also pro-war.”

Glen Ford of the highly recommendable Black Agenda Report talks about what the American progressives need to do and avoid in an interview with The Real News (transcript) (you can avoid running non-free Javascript by using youtube-dl to download the video and watching with a free software video player).

There is no such thing as a progressive movement that is also pro-war. And there is no such thing as a progressive movement that is aligned with the CIA. And yet, that is exactly, exactly the position that the Democratic Party is taking, including its black luminaries, such as Congressman John Conyers, and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and even Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who is considered to be the most left-wing person on Capitol Hill. All of them are busy attacking from the right, the very right-wing president, Donald Trump. And any fool should know that countering right-wing politics with even more right-wing politics can only lead to a disastrous and definitively right-wing result. You cannot create a progressive movement out of a McCarthyite, anti-Russian, pro-war propaganda campaign such as the Democrats are waging now and which they have now enlisted the support of lots of people who call themselves progressive. And even some who consider themselves to be radical.

Any movement that takes its cues from the CIA is a danger, not only to world peace, but it is a danger to itself. It’s a danger to the very civil liberties that a progressive movement claims that it’s trying to defend from the likes of Donald Trump. And, frankly, it’s just plain stupid and it’s stupid in a very peculiar and very American imperial kind of way.

We could do a lot of good reallocating billions of dollars away from killing people in wars and toward buying out HMOs (in order to end their dominance against universalizing Medicare), giving the homeless homes, repairing infrastructure (which also includes jobs), establishing a guaranteed annual income, and funding many other projects including free software development and spying-free hardware development (such as POWER-based systems for desktop/server use and low-end systems for high portability) which run on 100% free software.

John Oliver punches down to Trump’s endorsing war crimes, remains silent about Obama/Clinton’s actual war crimes

In the 2016-02-28 episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”, John Oliver had a well-researched segment against Donald Trump.

(Another copy is online at YouTube, I recommend using youtube-dl to download from video sharing sites so you don’t fall prey to proprietary software.)

Despite Oliver’s “come get me” attitude (particularly in the latter part of the piece), Oliver is really punching down by remaining silent about how real power behaves.

The piece builds to Oliver replaying a clip from Donald Trump’s call into a Fox News show where Trump said

…the other thing with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. They say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.

to which Oliver followed up

That is the front runner for the Republican nomination advocating a war crime.

Yes, it is, but the real problem with Trump’s words on Fox News is how well he describes the apparent policy undertaken by the current Democratic Party president, Barack Obama, and his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who happens to also be a front runner for the Democratic Party.

The US has killed a lot of people in various strikes including “possible bystanders” of intended targets. One such case involves the family of U.S. citizen Anwar al Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, whose family tried to bring a lawsuit against the US for the drone attacks back in 2011 only to have it dismissed by a federal judge who reportedly “[deferred] to executive branch authority over military targeting decisions“. Another set of killings involve the unspecific “signature strikes…in which the CIA kills people without knowing their identities“. Oliver doesn’t point any of this out.

Oliver gives no mention of a host of relevant counterpoints that could help the viewer focus on the more important issue of executing war crimes instead of one-sided jabs against belligerent speech such as:

Oliver’s staff researched Trump’s bankruptcies, his failed business attempts selling steaks, a travel agency, “Trump” magazines, a mortgage bank just before the 2008 collapse, as well as Trump’s flip-flopping on various political opinions, and Trump’s family former name of “Drumpf”. Oliver has good reason to be incensed about Trump’s words here, and Trump has plenty of other characteristics to disrecommend him for US President. But Trump’s speech can’t possibly be more important than authorizing war crimes as Obama and Clinton have.

It would be nice if Oliver were half as concerned about what’s actually happened as he is about Trump’s words. Oliver’s silence in the segment about what has occurred—real extrajudicial killings, real war crimes—completely undermines the power of the point Oliver built up to through the bulk of the segment. Viewers are left with some belligerent speech and a series of entertaining but ultimately significantly less harmful bad business attempts that in no way compare to the lethal horrors undertaken by the US government under President Obama and Senator and later Secretary of State Clinton.

This is not too surprising; Oliver has minimized the circumstances of actual war crimes before. There too he seemed more concerned with PR message than action on the ground.

If Oliver were at least as concerned with real killing as he is with advocated killing, he’d have to reach the conclusion that neither major corporate party is likely to make a choice against more belligerency. And that means criticizing the system on an important matter—recent extrajudicial killing by the US government—which I’m not convinced Oliver is prepared to take on in as thoroughgoing a fashion as he was with Trump’s failed business ideas and lies.

Oliver could have Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein on his show to point all this out and help him and his viewers understand that there’s a candidate on many ballots who doesn’t stand for any of this.

Update (2016-03-04): Glenn Greenwald has more on how the elite are not truly objecting to what Trump is saying, but objecting to the packaging Trump’s words come in by laying out extant policy in words everyone can understand:

Here we see the elite class agreeing to pretend that Trump is advocating views that are inherently disqualifying when — thanks to those doing the denouncing — those views are actually quite mainstream, even popular, among both the American political class and its population. Torture was the official American policy for years. It went way beyond waterboarding. One Republican president ordered it and his Democratic successor immunized it from all forms of accountability, ensuring that not a single official would be prosecuted for authorizing even the most extreme techniques, ones that killed people — or even allowed to be sued by their victims.

Many of the high officials most responsible for that torture regime and who defended it — from Condoleezza Rice and John Brennan — remain not just acceptable in mainstream circles but hold high office and are virtually revered. And, just by the way, both of Trump’s main rivals — Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — refuse to rule out classic torture techniques as part of their campaign. In light of all that, who takes seriously the notion that Trump’s advocacy of torture — including techniques beyond waterboarding — places him beyond the American pale? To the contrary, it places him within its establishment mainstream.

VW’s fraudulent software points to need for copylefted free software

Recently it was announced that Volkswagen had since at least 2009 “cheated to make nearly half a million diesel cars appear cleaner-burning than they are” (source, local copy of original article text, article as originally seen).

The US government has it in their power to negotiate terms here. They could choose to negotiate that VW release its car software under the GNU GPL version 3 or later and give VW owners a chance to inspect and improve the software themselves, rather than leave the tools for more fraud in the hands of known fraudsters. VW could also choose to release the software under the same terms without being pressured into doing this; this will help them rehabilitate the “broken trust of [their] customers and the public” VW CEO Martin Winterkorn referred to. In fact this will help give them a leg up above their competition in the short and long-term.

In normal use, the VW diesel cars burned fuel in a way that allowed far more pollutants to enter the air. When tested, the same car would burn fuel far more cleanly in order to pass environmental tests:

During normal driving situations, the controls are turned off, allowing the cars to spew as much as 40 times as much pollution as allowed under the Clean Air Act, the EPA said. Such pollutants are linked to a range of health problems, including asthma attacks, other respiratory diseases, and premature death.

This is obviously fraudulent but how many people were adversely affected or killed by VW’s choice?

“I don’t suppose we’ll never know how many people died—asthmatics, for example—because Volkswagen designed its ‘clean diesel’ vehicles—all 482,000 of them sold in the U.S. since 2009—to burn dirty except when they were being tested,” wrote UCLA public policy professor Mark Kleiman at The Reality-Based Community blog on Friday.

Situations like these point to the need for strongly copylefted free software—software users have permission to run, inspect, share, and modify—in all the computers they own, such as software licensed under the GNU General Public License. VW being caught is the exception and this is hardly surprising; proprietary software is often malware. This would naturally include software in their vehicles. It’s critical that derivative programs must convey the same freedoms to its users so the consumer protection of software freedom is carried on.

Copyleft—a means of protecting the freedoms of free software for derivative works—is why mere “open source” is inadequate to the task. Any call for “open source” would purposefully fail to distinguish between copyleft and non-copyleft licenses. The open source movement was built to be silent on software freedom. A non-copyleft license would allow proprietary derivatives. If VW owners get more proprietary software as a result of this, they might get more fraudulence when they’re in a bargaining position to demand and expect justice and fairness. All computer owners deserve software freedom to help them avoid fraud and make their software run safely all the time, not just when being inspected. And don’t buy into any proprietor-friendly excuses of VW’s hands being tied by upstream program providers or regulatory restrictions—people’s lives are at stake and it’s important to prioritize what people need to live safely, ethically, and not pollute their environment unnecessarily.

Update (2015-09-25): reports that more information is coming to light which brings suspicion on more automakers—Audi, Porsche, BMW. It seems that comparable fraud and environmental damage are coming from BMW vehicles (“the BMW X3 2.0-liter diesel model spitting out 11 times more nitrogen oxide than the current level set by the European Union”). Basically, if your car has a computer in it, that computer probably runs on nonfree software. You, the car’s owner, deserve the right to run, inspect, share, and modify the software at any time for any reason. But only the proprietor does, hence the name “proprietary software”.

Related articles:

  • Wired magazine on a remotely-exploitable Jeep Cherokee as well as mention of exploits for Ford Escape and a Toyota Prius dating back to 2013, and word of a recall for the same Chrysler exploit and a lengthy list of vehicles with vulnerable software.
  • Tesla’s Model S software apparently allowed “shut[ting] the car down when it was driving“. Tesla claims to have fixed this in an “over-the-air update to Model S owners”, but without the ability to inspect the software only the untrustworthy proprietor can say what else the software allows (either pre- or post-“update”).
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF): Researchers Could Have Uncovered Volkswagen’s Emissions Cheat If Not Hindered by the DMCA. Fleeting exemptions to the DMCA are mostly a waste of time[1, 2] since they quickly render whatever is done under them unreproducible using the same methods the original researchers used under the exemption. One could even convincingly argue such exemptions were designed to discourage filing for exemptions, possibly with a long-term goal of changing the DMCA to remove exemptions if exemption applications prove sufficiently unpopular. But one exemption the EFF filed for was recently objected to by the EPA—an exemption that would let people tinker with their car’s software. It’s worth noting that “the EPA is asking the Copyright Office to leave copyright law in place as a barrier to a wide range of activities that are perfectly legal under environmental regulations: ecomodding that actually improves emissions and fuel economy, modification of vehicles for off-road racing, or activities that have nothing to do with pollution” and cars that predate computerization could be modded to not obey ecological regulation, but the US has a long history of being reacting to this by inspections and fines. So there’s no reason to stop computerized car owners from fully modifying the cars they own. And the EFF is right when it concludes, “When you entrust your health, safety, or privacy to a device, the law shouldn’t punish you for trying to understand how that device works and whether it is trustworthy.”.

Coca-Cola’s Fanta history is no “mistake”, corporations have propped up fascists for a long time

Sure, the following clip from the 2014-03-09 “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” was funny:

but this was no “mistake”, hardly “unintended”. Coca-Cola’s Fanta ad is the result of telling the truth about its ugly history. Furthermore, this ugliness is hardly new.

Corporations have long propped up governments that serve their interests including backing fascism. One of the best documentaries available, “The Corporation” reminds us:

See/download “The Corporation” in its entirety and get the 2-disc DVD which has lots of interview extras and commentary that are well worth your time.

What makes digital inclusion good or bad?

As Google and area projects aim to bring high-speed Internet access to more people through new networks, society should ask the question Richard Stallman poses in this talk: What makes digital inclusion good or bad?

Quoting the description provided by the Free Software Foundation’s Audio-Video archive:

Activities directed at “including” more people in the use of digital technology are predicated on the assumption that such inclusion is invariably a good thing. It appears so, when judged solely by immediate practical convenience. However, if we also judge in terms of human rights, whether digital inclusion is good or bad depends on what kind of digital world we are to be included in. If we wish to work towards digital inclusion as a goal, it behooves us to make sure it is the good kind.

Here’s a recording of a talk he gave on this subject on October 19, 2011 at Sciences Po in Paris, France. This recording is licensed under the CreativeCommons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 license.

More deep wisdom from Eben Moglen

Some years ago, I went to the Free Software Foundation’s annual member meeting. It was well worth the trip, but Eben Moglen’s talk was worth the price of admission.

I have become interested in his talks over the years, and I intend to bring them to a wider audience. Here’s one recent talk from the HOPE 2012 conference (and the transcript is available as welllocal copy). This recording is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Undercut the CRB, broadcast liberated music instead

One area of copyright licensing I’ve found a lot of copyright reports get wrong is music licensing. Consider this quote from’s “Senator Wyden Introduces Bill To Bring Some Sanity To Webcasting Royalty Rates“:

We were just talking about how incredibly broken the system is for establishing webcasting rates, in part because the law itself explicitly says that the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) Judges should look to prevent disruptive innovation and preserve “prevailing industry practices.” In practice this has meant that basic webcasting rates, established by CRB judges, are usually somewhat insane and impossibly out of touch with reality. It’s only gotten worse over time — and the last round ended up being so crazy that everyone basically agreed to ignore those rates and set their own. And while those rates were lower than what the judges wanted to set, they’re still ridiculously high, significantly limiting the amount of webcasting available today. Even the leaders in the field, like Pandora, admit that with current rates, it’s basically impossible for the company to ever make a profit.

You’d think that this statement covers all webcasting of all music; one just can’t set up their own broadcasting station and avoid paying for major label tracks.’s reportage doesn’t explain organizations like Magnatune, a label which licenses all of their tracks to share, or Musopen which describes itself as “a non-profit dedicated to providing copyright free music content” (such as the Musopen lossless DVD). Every year there are more labels providing music in a variety of genres, all licensed to share in any medium.

The wealth of viable alternatives to major label tracks make me lose sympathy with those who want to become another corporate repeater station and complain about Copyright Royalty Board rates shutting them out. The time is now to establish something better that helps more artists struggling to be heard, artists who offer their work to you under amenable terms.

We know that this model works in the marketplace—Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) started in a comparable way, providing a repertoire of music for American radio stations to play under better terms than the competition from ASCAP, a competing royalty/licensing organization which had been around for 20 years. BMI undercut the competition from ASCAP at a time when ASCAP demanded “a fixed percentage of each station’s revenue, regardless of how much music the station played from ASCAP’s repertoire”.

Labor issues at Apple and Apple’s suppliers

This list was originally featured on another post.

If you needed a complete list of reasons why you shouldn’t do business with Apple, Richard Stallman tracks such reasons.

  • Apple’s Rotten Core mistreated workers from Apple’s own employees to the workers of upstream suppliers with “aggressive anti-union strategy”.
  • Blood on the Trackpads discusses Mike Daisey’s monologue “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” wherein Daisey poses as an investor, travels to the “Special Economic Zone” of Shenzhen, China, and gains access to Foxconn workers who are eager to share their stories. One story was about an “employee [who] mangled his hand in a factory accident and was fired instead of compensated” and another where “[s]everal workers speak of an employee who died after working a 32-hour shift”. Daisey had exaggerated some of the points in his stories. Sadly for human rights sake, not everything Daisey said was an exaggeration. It is telling that many Westerners are so concerned with Daisey’s exaggerations than with the suffering of Chinese laborers.
  • Three Strikes Against Apple about Apple’s response circa the time of the multiple Foxconn suicides of 2011.
  • On 2012-06-29, Democracy Now! reported

    A labor rights group says it has uncovered “deplorable” conditions at plants in China that supply products to tech company Apple. The New York-based group China Labor Watch says a four-month investigation of 10 Apple suppliers revealed widespread abuses, including harmful working conditions and excessive overtime. The report found conditions in factories that produce cases for Apple products appeared particularly bad, with workers being exposed to loud noise and toxic chemicals. While the uproar over Apple’s suppliers has focused largely on factories owned by the manufacturer Foxconn, the group said it found violations in virtually all of Apple’s suppliers and said some companies mistreated workers more severely than Foxconn.
    Democracy Now! 2012-06-29

    China Labor Watch‘s report is available in English in HTML or as a PDF (local copy), and in Chinese as a PDF (local copy). The press release for the report is also online. There is coverage of China Labor Watch’s report in the mainstream news (1, 2, 3).

  • Apple’s American Workforce and the Service Economy by Matt Vidal

    Last year [2011], the article (Local copy) reports, “each Apple store employee — that includes non-sales staff like technicians and people stocking shelves — brought in $473,000.” Yet, many of these employees are paid just $25,000 per year.
    Matt Vidal
    link to referenced article added

  • Richard Stallman’s reasons not to do business with Apple
  • Transcript of Democracy Now! episode where some of the discussion had to do with the human cost of Apple’s computers

    AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about specifics and also go general. Jim Steele, the story of corporations tell a very major story about the United States, corporations like Apple and Boeing. Apple doesn’t manufacture one product in the United States?

    JAMES STEELE: That’s correct. That’s correct. I think some of the parts—some of the parts are made here, but basically the essential products aren’t. And we made the point in the book [The Betrayal of the American Dream]—we actually wrote about this before a lot of the news surfaced this year—that what was significant about what Apple has done is not just their working conditions in China, which were horrendous by the subcontractors over there, but what they did, they completely closed down manufacturing in this country after really less than a generation. The historic pattern in this country was a product would be invented here, a company would go into business, they would start making it. Up and down the line, you had a broad-based workforce for that product, from folks on the factory floor to the designers, to the salesmen, so on, to the stockholders who might be part of that company. But ultimately, you had this broad-based situation. Apple originally had some manufacturing in this country but very quickly, in less than a generation, just closed that down and shipped most things to China and other countries. And it’s just part of that pattern where jobs that once middle-class people had in this country are now gone.

Another reason not to do business with any proprietor—you don’t really control your computer. On September 11, 2012 TorrentFreak reported that Apple called Craig Donnelly, developer of a program that lets users more conveniently control a proprietary file-sharing application, to tell him that Apple accidentally approved his program for distribution on their app store. This wasn’t surprising because Apple has a history of rejecting file-sharing programs for distribution from their app store. Apple told Donnelly that they would later pull Donnelly’s application. TorrentFreak predicts users who bought the application, “will soon have it wiped from their iOS devices.”.

The lack of control over which programs you can keep on your computer is one reason why I don’t recommend using proprietary programs at all: Apple’s mistaken approval of a program for their app store should have no effect on users who installed the application from that app store. Computer owners should control their computers and decide which apps stay installed.