Jeremy Kolassa

Recent Posts From Jeremy Kolassa

Has NSA spying poisoned the growing cloud computing industry?

Domestic spying by our nation’s security services have truly injured our nation’s commitment to civil liberties, and have made us all wonder how safe our privacy truly is. The revelations made by Edward Snowden—plus further discoveries such as the NSA intercepting computer purchases to install transmitters to track and spy on consumers, and turning on your webcam to look at you without your knowledge—have triggered demonstrations across the country, a rise in awareness of privacy software such as Tor and use of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Yet people I talk to—both in the real world and in cyberspace—are cynical about the chances of genuine reform, and it always comes back to this: Does it hurt big business?

Such is life when our economy is as corporatist as it is. Things will only change if the big corporations that stand to make a ton of cash feel threatened. Even though there have been some noise made by Verizon, Google, Apple, and other companies, most people shrug these off as just public relations, just throwing a bone to their privacy minded consumers but not actually changing anything on the back-end. However, as a recent paper by the R Street Institute’s (disclosure: I am an associate policy analyst there) Steven Titch explains, NSA spying may have potentially poisoned one of the greatest developments of the Web 2.0: cloud computing.

Preserving natural beauty, encouraging economic growth

One of the greatest things about America is her natural beauty. From the peaks of the Rockies to the lowlands of the Great Plains, to the eastern and western seaboards and the deserts of the southwest, the frozen tundra of Alaska and the tropical islands of Hawaii, we are truly blessed with a beautiful country. As Americans, we should be taking care of this beauty for the next generation, and as conservatives, we should do it in a way that minimizes the public cost.

Fortunately, there is a way for us to do both.

Tomorrow marks the 31st anniversary of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, formalized two years after the 1980 eruption. Established by President Ronald Reagan, the 110,000-acre monument is used for research, recreation and education. It’s also very important economically. In Washington state alone, $22.5 billion is spent annually by consumers on outdoor recreation, and the industry drives 227,000 jobs.

Recovery is still continuing even 30 years after the eruption, and amazingly it is being done without costing taxpayers a dime. Some of the funding for the monument and its surrounding park, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, is paid for via the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Established in 1965, the program collects fees from offshore oil and gas drillers, then reinvests that money into our national parks, watersheds around rivers, national forests and wildlife preserves, and state and local programs. By beginning with private sector employers paying taxpayers for the right to drill for resources in public waters, and then ending with private sector employers leveraging parks for the recreational economy, we have a rock solid cycle that not only protects our environment but also creates jobs. That’s green both ways.

Ending the Patent Trolling Racket

Patents are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution as a means to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” Yet, in recent years, abusive and rent-seeking patent litigation has done just the opposite. In 2011, lawsuits brought by “non-practicing entities” – commonly known as “patent trolls” – led to$29 billion in direct costs, and $80 billion in lost wealth for publicly traded companies.

In an effort to address this growing problem, Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Judy Chu, D-Calif., this week introduced legislation called the Stopping the Offensive Use of Patents Act (or STOP Act) – a companion bill to the Senate’s Patent Quality Improvement Act, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. – that looks to streamline how patent infringement disputes are resolved and drastically reduce how much the process costs.

Patent trolls are individuals or firms that own patents but do not produce goods or services. Instead, they assert their patent rights against companies whose products they claim infringe on one or more patents. Colleen Chien of Santa Clara University Law School notes that in 2012, 62% of all patent litigation was brought by patent trolls, up from 19% in 2006. Moreover, the targets are disproportionately small and medium-sized businesses who have limited resources to fight back.

5 items in the PRISM report you need to read

Last week, the Congressional Research Service released a report on the National Security Agency’s domestic spying programs. Essentially, it is a “What You Need To Know, Mr. Representative” memo, mostly a summary of issues that have already been discussed publicly at length. It is nonetheless a useful document for the public to catch up on what is known.

Packed in its 15 pages are a number of interesting datapoints, with these being the big things you should know:

1. The standard for investigation is subjective.

The report notes the authority to investigate and take someone’s domestic phone records is invoked by crossing a very low bar. Section 50 USC § 1861 (b)(2)(a) asks that an investigator submit “a statement of facts showing there are reasonable grounds to believe” an investigation is necessary. The report notes there is no statutory definition of “reasonable grounds,” though it speculates that the standard is probably less stringent than “probable cause” and may be merely a synonym for “reasonable suspicion.”

Moreover, federal statute authorizes law enforcement to obtain personal communications data if “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that data is “relevant and material to an ongoing investigation.” There’s no definition of relevancy, either. Relevancy, instead, is “generally understood” (the report’s words) to require “only that the information sought would tend to prove or disprove a fact at issue.”

In today’s surveillance world, that doesn’t serve as much of a check on government snooping. If agents believe your records of ordering pizza (or ordering pornography) may disprove or prove some fact at issue, then they’ll be sure to get those records.

5 Policies Keeping WMATA Dysfunctional

Subway

The following was originally published at the R Street Institute. Follow R Street on Twitter at @RSI and find it on Facebook.

It’s very difficult to find any agreement in Washington DC. From budgets to healthcare to social issues to even Redskins or the Ravens, disagreement is the norm. But there is one issue that is completely nonpartisan, on which all agree: the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the agency that runs the buses and the subway, stinks.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post, DC’s major liberal paper, in an editorial called WMATA a “slow-rolling embarrassment.” In one of it’s last daily editions, the Washington Examiner, a conservative publication, blasted WMATA for falling behind on its repair schedule. There is no shortage of outrage and hate directed at the public transit system, which is slowly grinding to a halt—unlike its trains, which often stop abruptly for little to no reason.

United Liberty Is (Cato) Unbound!

cato_unbound_fusionism

Every month, Cato puts out a new issue of Cato Unbound, an online journal that looks at various topics. This week, the topic is fusionism, something that has received quite a bit of attention here at United Liberty.

The format of Cato Unbound is quite simple. One writer contributes a lead essay, and then three other writers write response essays. Then, it descends into a furball as we all starting writing shorter response posts to each other. The discussion is not just there, however; blog posts elsewhere will be linked, and everyone—yes, including YOU!—is encouraged to join in the discussion.

Our lead essay this month is written by Jacque Otto, a friend of mine and a writer at Values and Capitalism, a project of the American Enterprise Institute. She writes:

CPS Tyrannizes Again; Abolish Child Protective Services Now

Yet another incident of Child Protective Services violating civil rights has emerged, this time in Sacramento:

SACRAMENTO, CA - A Sacramento family was torn apart after a 5-month-old baby boy was taken from his parents following a visit to the doctor.

The young couple thought their problems were behind them after their son had a scare at the hospital, but once they got home their problems got even worse.

It all began nearly two weeks ago, when Anna Nikolayev and her husband Alex took their 5-month-old boy Sammy to Sutter Memorial Hospital to be treated for flu symptoms, but they didn’t like the care Sammy was getting.

The mother had questions about what was going on with the care, but it soon escalated out of control:

Anna said Sammy suffers from a heart murmur and had been seeing a doctor at Sutter for regular treatment since he was born. After Sammy was treated for flu symptoms last week, doctors at Sutter admitted him to the pediatric ICU to monitor his condition. After a few days, Anna said doctors began talking about heart surgery.

“If we got the one mistake after another, I don’t want to have my baby have surgery in the hospital where I don’t feel safe,” Anna said.

Anna argued with doctors about getting a second opinion. Without a proper discharge, she finally took Sammy out of the hospital to get a second opinion at Kaiser Permanente.

“The police showed up there. They saw that the baby was fine,” Anna said. “They told us that Sutter was telling them so much bad stuff that they thought that this baby is dying on our arms.”

Refuting Progressives: So Easy A Blogger Can Do It

A blogger by the name of Allen Clifton over at “Forward Progressives” has put out a list of “facts” that annoy conservatives and Republicans, supposedly for fun. Allen writes:

I highly encourage all liberals to share this with their conservative friends.  Then watch as they haplessly try and argue against each comment.

It’s irresistible. And, as I expected, it doesn’t actually make us look bad. It just shows that progressives like Mr. Clifton haven’t thought their argument the full way through. I’ll leave the points Mr. Clifton makes in bold and my responses below.

Let’s begin:

1. Nowhere in our Constitution does it say we’re a Christian nation.

2. In fact, no where in our Constitution does the word “Christian” appear even once.

These points are actually true, and I cannot argue with Mr. Clifton. The Constitution does not mention the word “god,” and while many of the Founders were religious, it is questionable whether they were hardcore Christians or rather deists (or, in Mr. Jefferson’s case and the case of others, Christian Deists.) There are mentions to God in the Declaration of Independence, but again, are these references to the Christian conception? The Declaration refers to “Nature’s God”—a deist term, not a Christian one. The only time the Constitution mentions God is in the dating: “ the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven.”

That’s hardly grounds for making the Constitution a Christian document. That’s just how you told the date back then. These days, we replaced “Lord” with “Common Era.”

No More Tanks: Army Tells Congress to Stop Spending

Abrams tank

Whenever people call for cutting the military budget, the usual response goes something like  ”How can you keep the Army from getting the equipment it needs to fight wars?” Well, the problem with that response is highlighted today by this story from ABC:

Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams.

But senior Army officials have said repeatedly, “No thanks.”

It’s the inverse of the federal budget world these days, in which automatic spending cuts are leaving sought-after pet programs struggling or unpaid altogether. Republicans and Democrats for years have fought so bitterly that lawmaking in Washington ground to a near-halt.

Yet in the case of the Abrams tank, there’s a bipartisan push to spend an extra $436 million on a weapon the experts explicitly say is not needed.

“If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told The Associated Press this past week.

Why are the tank dollars still flowing? Politics.

Keeping the Abrams production line rolling protects businesses and good paying jobs in congressional districts where the tank’s many suppliers are located.

If there’s a home of the Abrams, it’s politically important Ohio. The nation’s only tank plant is in Lima. So it’s no coincidence that the champions for more tanks are Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman, two of Capitol’s Hill most prominent deficit hawks, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. They said their support is rooted in protecting national security, not in pork-barrel politics.

ACLU on the Side of….Conservatives?

Freedom is nonpartisan. At least, that’s the message I got this morning from my Twitter timeline when these two stories appeared. The first is out of Alaska, where the local ACLU chapter is defending an…anti-abortion group?:

The ACLU of Alaska is urging Alaska Governor Sean Parnell to provide more information about some creative censorship by state workers earlier this month during a street protest in Juneau. The street protest was staged by a group called the Center for Bioethical Reform, a fringe anti-abortion group that displays explicit pictures of aborted fetuses in public places to get their message across.

That’s what they were doing early in April on the sidewalk across the street from Alaska state Capitol building. The protest wasn’t exactly a rally. The CBR group included between four and six people, as counted by the Press from videos and photos of the incident. The group was around the Capitol about four days total, and on Tuesday, April 2, some state workers grew tired of the banner featuring a giant photo of an aborted fetus.

Some state employees parked delivery vans on the street, in between the protest banner and the capitol building. Rather than move their banner, the CBR protesters held their ground and began making video of the rather awkward attempt at censoring the graphic images. It’s “attempted censorship” because the CBR protesters could have simply walked to another part of the sidewalk. Alternatively, they could have recruited more than a half-dozen people to help them display graphic images of bloody fetuses in public places.

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