Multiple people work on multiple avenues of freedom simultaneously

After reading “Begging the Software Gods“, I read a response that seemed genuine. This post is a follow-up to that response.

Nothing is “special about software” and nobody said that you deserve certain freedoms for software but not freedoms for your food, clothing, and other things.

There are other groups of people working on other freedoms: seed activists like Vandana Shiva who works with people in India to maintain libraries of non-genetically-modified seeds that anyone can grow (including in environments far too inhospitable for GMO seeds!). Prof. Shiva works with people worldwide to fight patents, notably taking down the patents which read on basmati rice and neem—natural food and trees (respectively) which predate any patenting system. See the documentaries “Bullshit!”, “The World According to Monsanto”, or read any of Prof. Shiva’s books for more information about her work.

Wikibooks, Project Gutenberg, and others are working on building libraries of freely available literature. The Internet Archive has bookmobiles which travel around the world showing people how to print and bind their own books.

Amazing work is done by children to help free other children from slave worker conditions manufacturing clothes (the last time I read about them was when pre-teens protested and successfully challenged The Gap to allow minders to inspect their clothing facilities to prevent sweatshop labor). The excellent documentary “The Corporation” shows Charles Kernaghan, an anti-sweatshop labor activist and Executive Director of the National Labor Committee, giving a tour of his offices. In this highly underrated documentary Kernaghan explains how the goods we take for granted were made by laborers paid pennies an hour, even after the Kathie Lee Gifford scandal broke in the US (which reminded the American public about the plight of sweatshop labor). Kernaghan does interviews on Democracy Now!. Particularly embarassing for corporate manufacturing was when Kernaghan revealed that crucifixes being sold by St. Patrick’s, Trinity Church in New York, and the Association for Christian Retail were manufactured in China in the Junxingye factory in Dongguan by women as young as 15 working 7 days a week, 14 hours a day earning 9 cents an hour.

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Where open source philosophy goes wrong software freedom keeps us free to share and modify

Risto H. Kurppa recently posted about a bad experience with a free software hacker when Kurppa tried to get access to the most recent revisions of an unpublished program’s source code. We aren’t told what program this is, except that source code is published with certain versions (called “release” versions, ostensibly versions the developers believe are suitable for widespread use, as opposed to other versions of the code which are primarily intended for developers) and the program’s source code is licensed under the GNU GPL version 2.

Kurppa framed the issue in terms of the open source movement: a splinter movement founded in 1998 which maintains that developmental efficiency (chiefly to benefit business) is most critical because that’s when other programmers are able to help improve software. This movement specifically eschews the philosophy of the older free software movement. The free software movement is a social movement started in 1983 which campaigns for increased social solidarity by granting and protecting specific freedoms for all computer users—running, sharing, and modifying published computer software. The Free Software Foundation has published articles (1, 2) which describe the differences between these two movements including how the open source movement’s philosophy ironically leads to short- and long-term practical disadvantages. I highly recommend reading both essays for a more complete understanding of the ethical argument free software makes and how the open source philosophy falls short.

Kurppa tried to get more recent code from the project’s maintainers and was rejected. Kurppa wrote, “So, I thought.. There’s an author not sharing his code.”. This is where Kurppa first went wrong. Kurppa wrote that this project was sharing their code but they choose to do so only for release versions. They released their code all at once with each release version and never released developer code.

Kurppa revealed the crux of the real issue later on: “To me this sounds like that the the development isn’t as efficient as it could be and this means that the software is not as good as it could be, if only some things were done in a different way.”.

This view is a direct result of the open source philosophy. The ramifications of that philosophy are best understood when considering the differences between that philosophy and the older free software movement’s philosophy. Had Kurppa looked at this situation in terms of a user’s software freedom, developmental efficiency would be prioritized lower as a detail.

It may be inconvenient to not have access to the latest source code straight from the maintainer’s computer but (it’s reasonable to guess that) nobody is being denied their software freedom here. The critical issue, the issue to get upset over, is whether a user’s software freedoms are being respected. We don’t know exactly what program Kurppa is talking about so we can’t be sure that user’s freedoms are being respected. Sadly some programs with proprietary software in them are distributed under the GNU GPL (for example, Linus Torvalds’ variant of the Linux kernel contains proprietary software which allows Linux to communicate with various hardware. Other variants of Linux such as the kernel-libre project distribute a truly free Linux kernel). Such programs are a ruse for users seeking to use their computers in freedom. Fortunately this is not a widespread problem; most GPL’d programs respect user’s software freedoms so it is highly likely that the program Kurppa is talking about does too.

There are no obligations to share a program using a particular methodology, to share source code to programs one doesn’t distribute, or to accept someone’s patches into a program. It’s convenient and nice to distribute developmental versions of programs and to integrate patches from others so many hackers can help improve the program. But these are niceties, not requirements. The ethical obligations to distribute software that respects users freedoms are at the heart of the free software movement. Focusing on software freedom helps keep our priorities straight when considering the consequences of using and sharing computer software.

Congratulations Randall!

Congratulations to Randall Cotton for his well-deserved article about his anti-war and local tax policy activism. I voted for the local property tax increase (aimed to help the poor) due to his activism. I don’t mind spending more money in taxes when the money will go to help those in need. Governments are in a position to collect and distribute money far more effectively than any private organization can do, and I don’t think the poor should have to rely on private largesse.

Who will pressure Barack Obama to implement progressive policies?

Ralph Nader on Democracy Now! put President-elect Obama’s victory into perspective for Americans:

Well, obviously we all congratulate Barack Obama. We wish him well. But the precursor to his election has not been very encouraging, and he has repeatedly taken up the positions of the corporate supremacists, not just his latest vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, but a whole string of votes and policy positions. He opposes single-payer health insurance. Well, the HMOs and the insurance companies do, too. He wants a bigger military budget. So does the military-industrial complex. His idea of a living wage on his website is $9.50 an hour by 2011. That would make it less than it was in 1968, adjusted for inflation.

He matched McCain in the third debate, belligerent””belligerency for belligerency, toward Russia, toward Iran, more soldiers in Afghanistan, supporting the Israeli military repression and occupation and blockade of Gaza and the West Bank. And virtually nothing about 100 million poor people in this country. That’s why I really fault him, that he played the Clinton linguistic game by talking constantly about the middle class and not mentioning the word “poor.”

And we expect more of him. And I don’t think he has a public philosophy of where corporations must operate in this country. How? Under what rule of law? Under what regulation? Under what vulnerability to litigation in the courts? He’s proud of tort reform, supports the nuclear industry, supports the coal industry. So we’re really talking about just more of the same, in terms of the corporate domination of Washington.

I detected no concern, no quaking of concern, among the drug industry, oil, gas industry, nuclear, coal industry, Wall Street, over his probable election in the last few weeks. Usually, when they’re really worried about a politician, they will issue warnings. But Barack Obama has raised far more money than John McCain from Wall Street interests, corporate interests and, above all, corporate lawyers. And the question to be asked is, why are they investing so much in Barack Obama? Because they believe he’s their man. So, prepare to be disappointed, but keep your hope up.

Ralph Nader, November 5, 2008 on Democracy Now! (audio, high-quality audio, video, transcript)

Add to that, continued presidential support for the death penalty (the change from Pres. Bush being that Obama recognizes that it was used to kill innocents and the death penalty doesn’t have the intended effect of stopping crimes for which capital punishment is used), and I remain fearful about what that means for death row inmates (DN! has been following Troy Anthony Davis’ case). It would be better to send a clear signal that the death penalty isn’t just costly and does nothing to reduce certain crimes, the more compelling reason to reject it has to do with killing people being ethically unjustifiable and offering no room for making mistakes. We simply aren’t going to teach people not to kill while we continue to carve out an exception for the state.

I remain concerned about what Obama’s policies will amount to for the nation’s poor. I don’t see serious change for the better so long as health insurance companies are allowed to control health care policy. I don’t recall anything in Obama’s policies addressing homelessness, and I don’t think a 90-day reprieve on making mortgage payments for those who are close to eviction will seriously reduce the eviction rate after the 90-day window ends. Sending more American poor into war isn’t going to help either (as Sgt. Matthis Chiroux points out, Obama is not an anti-war candidate: “I’m very excited about what an Obama candidacy””or Obama presidency, the kind of racial unity it can bring, but I’m worried that people in this country believe he is truly going to be an antiwar president, and he’s not. He’s very far away from that. He’s got plans to leave troops in Iraq. He wants to expand the war in Afghanistan, go into Pakistan.”). Locally, I’ve already seen anti-war efforts decrease just like they did when Sen. John Kerry was the Democratic party candidate and the national anti-war campaigners were unwilling to challenge Kerry’s pro-war message—he’d manage occupation better than George W. Bush.

My friends who supported Obama’s campaign tell me that progressives will challenge him after they give him their support (vote, time, money) and get him in office. I find that strategy to be wholly unwise if your goal is to really help people in need because there’s no clear mechanism for making a candidate follow your advocacy if a candidate knows that they have you in their back pocket. Corporations surely don’t behave that way, they only pay to help campaigners when it’s clear that there’s a deal before the election.

I hope that the good feelings and celebrations going on now change into real progressive political pressure. From what I can tell of Obama’s policies, funding sources, and voting record, he’ll need a lot of pressure to do what’s right by those most in need.

BBC doing more important multimedia work and in freedom

The BBC is doing more important work for everyone to enjoy:

  • Dirac is a way of turning video into data and data back into video (called a “codec” for “compressor-decompressor”). But there are tons of video codecs out there (MPEG codecs, Theora, Sorenson, etc.) so what’s the big difference with Dirac? Dirac is licensed for all to share (they make a point of repeating this in their promo video for Dirac, and for good reason). Unlike MPEG, Dirac puts no licensing restrictions or patent encumbrances in your way. You can use Dirac as you wish. You can even build a business on Dirac if you want, selling your Dirac-based software and charging for services. And on the technical side, Dirac is extremely high quality. Check out the sample Dirac videos and see for yourself; sending Dirac compressed video over extant networks is very useful. Being able to do so without giving up your software freedom is priceless. The current version of VideoLAN Client will play Dirac out of the box. My 10-year old computer (which runs fine on free software) might get upgraded so I can do more with this codec. The BBC recommends using Ogg Vorbis or FLAC as a soundtrack with Dirac and this will leave you with a movie file that requires no patent licenses to play. Upcoming digital movie theater systems will probably use Dirac too.
  • New user-friendly BBC free software is coming too (screenshots on their blog). Let’s hope that the shows they distribute are licensed to share (at least verbatim and non-commercially) so you can directly help people see the cool stuff you discover by sending them a copy. Miro has been doing something similar for a long time now, but not everything distributed with Miro is licensed to share and unencumbered by patents (which isn’t Miro’s fault, they don’t control what people distribute). I wouldn’t be surprised if the new BBC shows appear in Miro soon too.

Read more about the BBC work on their blog.

What Do They Have to Do to Lose Your Vote?

Ralph Nader‘s running mate, Matt Gonzalez, asks “What do they have to do to lose your vote?“.

Good question. What’s your breaking point? How much support for the death penalty, corporate welfare, corporate crime, saying one thing and voting differently, and silencing electoral competition will you continue to tolerate? How effectively can major-party candidates use fear to keep you from voting your interests?

I find it amazing that major-party candidate supporters ask everyone nationally to “do the math” (motivated by fear of the opposing major-party candidate, no doubt) and voters from electoral-college-insignificant counties (like all counties in Illinois except Cook county, where Chicago is) obey them concluding that they had better vote “defensively” for a Republican or Democrat. Millions of voters nationwide are in such positions and they apparently aren’t doing the math: their vote for US President is inconsequential because of the structure of the electoral college. It wouldn’t matter if nobody but Cook county Illinois voted for US President because Cook county basically dictates where all of Illinois’ electoral votes go. People apparently know that the way to speak out in such a rigged game is to not vote at all (and tell people you dislike all the ballot-qualified choices, and then organize politically for a binding “None of the Above” choice) or to vote for someone other than a major-party candidate. In counties with sufficient population to steer electoral votes, there is plenty of good reason to vote your values (which almost certainly aren’t well reflected by corporate-funded major-party candidates).

City, county, congressional, and state votes, on the other hand, matter a great deal because you have more power there. Unfortunately those elections are rigged in other ways (we couldn’t, for instance, have a 90%+ Congressional retention rate otherwise—everyone’s Congressperson is corrupt but yours, right?). The media is a major source of problems for any campaign who refuses to spout corporate-friendly views. Interviews are easily blacked out (consider how little air time third-party and independent candidates like Nader/Gonzalez get these days but how much time TV hosts like MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow have to talk about the latest round of ads from McCain/Obama; Maddow’s segment with Ron Paul on October 30th was getting interesting when she abruptly ended the segment without any real discussion of the issues Paul raised). Media buys are horribly expensive (particularly for cash-strapped small campaigns) and TV debate coverage is prejudicial and unreliable. Sometimes TV debates are canceled when participants don’t meet capricious qualifications (like the New York anti-war candidate, Jonathan Tasini, who couldn’t debate Hilary Clinton for US Senate because he hadn’t raised enough money, or the CPD restrictions which are set to keep everyone but the two major-party candidates out). Or sometimes they’re canceled when media outlets don’t want to push for broadening the terms of allowable debate (like when Google recently canceled its debate because Sen. Obama refused to appear; probably because Google would have had him debate Ralph Nader).

Democracy Now! puts the corporate “debates” to shame

Today’s Democracy Now! program put to shame the corporate media and corporate-run so-called debates (run through the Commission on Public Debates) and did it in one hour (including breaks and headline news coverage).

Senators Obama and McCain get plenty of time for lame topics like negative campaigning but third-party and independent candidates get a virtual media blackout. McCain lamented that this “very tough” campaign “could have done at least ten [town hall meetings] by now” but it’s a safe bet that neither McCain nor Obama would have debated anyone but each other in order to narrow the terms of allowable debate. According to Ralph Nader, Google cancelled its debate (where it looked like Nader would have been included) when Obama pulled out. McCain/Obama ignore salient issues as well: discussion of the invasion and occupation of Iraq was scarce, the war in Afghanistan was unmentioned. These two wars are worth trillions of dollars that could have been better spent at home delivering exactly the kind of health care plan both corporate candidacies run from: single-payer universal health care (McCain tries to attack Obama from the left on this and Obama flees from identification with single-payer universal health care despite that’s what a majority of the US public wants). Meanwhile, both McCain and Obama are for giving $700B to corporations under the control of an unelected Goldman Sachs businessman who won’t so much as appear in a public hearing.

DN! invited Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr, Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin, Independent candidate Ralph Nader, and Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney to respond to the same questions put to the Democratic and Republican nominees. Barr and Baldwin couldn’t appear so we got to hear from Nader and McKinney.


I highly recommend watching or hearing what these candidates have to say (audio, high-quality audio, video, transcript). These are the views you won’t get to hear on the mainstream corporate-led media.

Amy Goodman also announced that she’ll be moderating the third-party candidate debate from 7:00 to 9:00 on October 19th. I hope Nader will participate in that event and I look forward to learning more about the excluded candidates from their own words.

Which kind of pollution do you want: Ground water or air?

Sen. Obama (D-IL) can see to them both. Both corporate US presidential candidates have been upfront about their shared allegiance to so-called “clean coal” (one of many important points on which the two major party candidates agree) but the corporate press won’t tell you what that phrase really means. On 2008 October 7, Democracy Now! hosted a debate between Joe Lucas, a spokesperson for the “clean coal” campaign, and Michael Brune, executive director of Rainforest Action Network and author of the new book Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal. (audio, high-quality audio, video, transcript).

Counterpunch.org has the scoop on one of Obama’s other major campaign funders—Exelon:

In 2006 Obama took up the cause of Illinois residents who were angry with Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power plant operator, for not having disclosed a leak at one of their nuclear plants in the state. Obama responded by quickly introducing a bill that would require nuclear facilities to immediately notify state and federal agencies of all leaks, large or small.

At first it seemed Obama was intent on making a change in the reporting protocol, even demonizing Exelon’s inaction in the press. But Obama could only go so far, as Exelon executives, including Chairman John W. Rowe who serves as a key lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Lobby, have long been campaign backers, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars dating back to Obama’s days in the Illinois State Legislature.

Despite his initial push to advance the legislation, Obama’s office eventually rewrote the bill, producing a version that was palatable to Exelon and the rest of the nuclear industry. “Senator Obama’s staff was sending us copies of the bill to review, we could see it weakening with each successive draft,” said Joe Cosgrove, a park district director in Will County, Illinois, where the nuclear leaks had polluted local ground water. “The teeth were just taken out of it.”

Inevitably the bill died a slow death in the Senate. And like an experienced political operative, Obama came out of the battle as a martyr for both sides of the cause. His constituents back in Illinois thought he fought a good fight while industry insiders knew the Obama machine was worth investing in.

Obama’s campaign wallet, while rich with millions from small online donations, is also bulging from $227,000 in contributions given by employees of Exelon. Two of Obama’s largest campaign fundraisers include Frank M. Clark and John W. Rogers Jr., both top Exelon officials. Even Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, has done consulting work for the company.

During a Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works hearing in 2005, Obama, who serves on the committee, asserted that since Congress was debating the negative impact of CO2 emissions “on the global ecosystem, it is reasonable — and realistic — for nuclear power to remain on the table for consideration.” Shortly thereafter, Nuclear Notes, the industry’s top trade publication, praised the senator. “Back during his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2004, [Obama] said that he rejected both liberal and conservative labels in favor of ‘common sense solutions’. And when it comes to nuclear energy, it seems like the Senator is keeping an open mind.”

The rising star of the Democratic Party’s ties to the nuclear industry run deep indeed, but Obama may not only be loyal to Exelon and friends.

Exelon is also a major backer of Rep. Timothy V. Johnson (R-IL) campaign.

Money can’t buy love, but apparently money buys litigation.

Finance Sector Gave 51 Percent More to House Bailout Backers

The Center for Responsive Politics is reporting members of the House of Representatives who supported bailing out the financial sector have received 51 percent more in campaign contributions from the finance, insurance and real estate sector in their congressional careers than those who opposed the emergency legislation.

Democracy Now! headlines from September 30, 2008

Immunity-Backing Dems Netted Higher Share of Telecom Donations

[A] new analysis shows Democratic Congress members who changed their vote to support immunizing telecom companies in last week’s FISA bill have on average received thousands more from phone companies than those Democrats who have voted consistently against immunity. Ninety-four Democrats voted against immunity as recently as March but changed their votes to support it last week. According to MAPlight.org, these Democrats have received an average $8,000 in telecom contributions over the last three years. The 116 Democrats who remain opposed to immunity received on average nearly $5,000.

Democracy Now! headlines from June 25, 2008

OpenSecrets.org also has analysis on “FISA Flipfloppers”.

Links to relevant research has been added.

Real debates need more candidates and more views

Lawrence Lessig calls for “Open Debates”:

  1. The presidential debates are for the benefit of the public. Therefore, the right to speak about the debates ought to be “owned” by the public, not controlled by the media.
  2. “Town hall” Internet questions should be chosen by the people, not solely by the media.

and expands on these principles in his letter signed by 23 people.

A much better Open Debates is found online at opendebates.org. Lessig’s call to action is timid and doesn’t address the most salient problem with the Commission on Presidential Debates (or CPD) “debates”—the slim distance between the only two participants allowed on the floor makes for a very narrow discussion. Allowing any candidate who has enough ballot access to theoretically win the presidency would change the debates from a predictable snoozefest to being something worth watching.

The CPD “debates” were designed to only allow in the Democratic and Republican nominees. Under the CPD’s leadership the candidates never face questions outside the range of allowable debate:

  • pro-war—whom shall we bomb or invade instead of whether we go to war; if you’re poor and your children are headed to the military to try and get a government-funded college education, these two candidates are asking you where you want your children to die: Iraq (McCain), Afghanistan (Obama), or Iran (McCain/Obama). If Obama gets his way, Pakistan may be on the list as well.
  • anti-universal single-payer health insurance—McCain’s comment in the first CPD “debate” (“I want to make sure we’re not handing the health care system over to the federal government which is basically what would ultimately happen with Senator Obama’s health care plan.”) was intended to be a dig at Obama but it fell flat because Obama is just as much against single-payer universal health insurance as McCain. This despite recent CBS and CNN polls that 60-64% of Americans want “guarantee[d] health insurance for all”.
  • pro-corporate bailout—neither candidate needs to explain clearly why it’s the American public’s job to take on the loans the lending institutions don’t want to carry, nor any clear guarantee of responsibilities should we bail them out. Instead viewers get more talk along the lines of how quickly we must engage what is called the “rescue” legislation. Should this not work, will the Democrats come to the corporation’s rescue again and call off any talk of investigation or trial like they rescued Pres. G. W. Bush by taking impeachment “off the table”?
  • Expressing outrage at Russia for an illegal invasion without acknowledging recent illegal American invasions.

I’m for placing the raw footage in the public domain but increased access to these recordings won’t address any of the more important life and death/big money issues above. And to Lessig’s second principle: it’s trivially easy for the CPD to game that system with shills who won’t ask questions outside the allowable range of debate. Other candidates in real debates would bring up issues and views that the corporate-funded candidates don’t want to answer and offer the American public better perspectives on important issues of the day.

Update (2008-10-12): Amy Goodman’s column focuses on this issue as well providing more background on the CPD (audio, transcript).