I’ve been busy settling into a new day job this week (hence my dearth of United Liberty posts) and haven’t been paying a whole lot of attention to the news. But one thing that did appear that caused a firestorm on my Twitter were Newt Gingrich’s comments about the moon, specifically, his plan to build a moon base:
To cheers and applause in an area that has suffered major job loss since the cancellation of the space shuttle, Gingrich said, “By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American.
“We will have commercial near-Earth activities that include science, tourism and manufacturing, and are designed to create a robust industry precisely on the model of the development of the airlines of the 1930s, because it is in our interest to acquire so much experience in space that we clearly have a capacity that the Chinese and the Russians will never come anywhere close to matching.”
He also said that by the end of 2020, the country would have “the first continuous propulsion system in space” capable of allowing people travel to Mars.
“I am sick of being told we have to be timid and I am sick of being told we have to be limited in technologies that are 50 years old,” the former House speaker told the crowd at a “space round table” he hosted at a Holiday Inn.
As the resident scifi geek/nerd/whatever here on United Liberty, I feel I must write some sort of response to this. It’s precisely the kind of thing that gets me excited and makes me want to jump up and down and say “Hey, let’s make Star Wars a reality, guys!” (Note, I’m referring to the work of science fiction, not the work of political fiction, the 70s, not the 80s.)
There are certainly a plethora of good arguments for state rights, federalism, and transferring more powers to the states vis-a-vis the federal govenrment. There are also a few bad ones.
T. Kurt Jaros at Values & Capitalism argues that the “Incorporation Doctrine”—making the Bill of Rights legally binding upon state governments—goes too far, and harms religious freedoms:
Prior to the twentieth century, the Supreme Court explicitly believed that the Bill of Rights was limited to the federal government and not the states. This is evident in Barron v. Baltimore (1833). Chief Justice John Marshall believed the Bill of Rights “contain(s) no expression indicating an intention to apply them to the State governments. This court cannot so apply them.” Thus, the Bill of Rights (believe it or not) did not restrict what States could do, such as limiting speech, behavior, or expression of religion.
United States v. Cruishank (1876) also confirmed this view. This understanding is the only way to understand why it is the Supreme Court never took up ideas like prayer in school, whether or not a valedictorian could mention Jesus in a speech or if cheerleaders could hold up Bible verses during a football game. The simple fact is, they knew it was not the federal government’s role (as described in the Constitution). After all, the first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This means the federal government was going to stay neutral.
Demand Progress has been the organization behind a lot of the SOPA Strike. They encouraged Wikipedia to join the blackout, and they’re receiving a lot of grassroots support.
They’re also working on the next phase of operations, called “Vote for the Net.” This is a campaign for people to pledge that they will not vote for politicians who try to restrict liberties on the Internet.
This is a great thing. 56,000 have already pledged to Vote for the Net (yours truly included.) This is what it comes down to, people. What these senators and representatives care about are votes. If they don’t have the votes, they don’t have their jobs, plain and simple. The campaign money is only to guarantee those votes, that is all. If we can send a message to them that we won’t vote because of SOPA and PIPA, they won’t support SOPA and PIPA. That’s it.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how democracy works. So if Chris Dodd ever comes back and complains about it, you will simply know that he is against democracy, plain and simple.
So Vote for the Net, and vote for our freedoms (and a more sensible IP protection policy.)
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) is not completely abandoning the Protect IP Act, but in a statement on his Facebook page, he has said:
SOPA: better to get this done right rather than fast and wrong. Stealing content is theft, plain and simple, but concerns about unintended damage to the internet and innovation in the tech sector require a more thoughtful balance, which will take more time.
I agree with him that stealing content is theft—please, let us remember that some people live on their content—but SOPA and PIPA are a cure that’s worse than the disease.
Unfortunately, Cornyn is not really off of PIPA. What he is saying is that he wants to go back, “fix” it, then later reintroduce a “better” version.
There is not better version of SOPA or PIPA. There just isn’t.
When I read Jimbo Wales’ Twitter account about Wikipedia going dark, he linked to this October 2011 article from the Guardian in the United Kingdom about the entertainment industry’s profits. Surprisingly, it shows that piracy might not be having that much of a dent after all:
A surge of more than 50% in spending on e-commerce services such asNetflix and Amazon – helped by booming sales of Blu-ray discs of films such as the Star Wars franchise – has fuelled the first rise in home entertainment spending in the US for more than three years.
Consumer spending on services that provide films and TV shows digitally – including streaming, video-on-demand and subscription services such as iTunes and Hulu – grew 55.79% year on year to $811m in the third quarter, according to a report by industry body the Digital Entertainment Group.
The booming growth of digital services and surge in Blu-ray disc sales fuelled an overall 4.87% year-on-year increase in total US home entertainment spending in the third quarter to $4bn.
“[It is] a major milestone as this is the first time spending has increased since the first quarter of 2008 when the economic downturn began,” said the report. “This growth reflects an encouraging shift in the marketplace … [and] the continued stabilisation of the industry.”
Of course, it was a change from previous years, but then, that’s to be expected since we’re in a global recession.
Already, today’s SOPA Strike is having an effect. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of the co-sponsors of the bill, has withdrawn his support today. From his Facebook page:
A Better Way to Fight the Online Theft of American Ideas and Jobs
By Senator Marco Rubio
In recent weeks, we’ve heard from many Floridians about the anti-Internet piracy bills making their way through Congress. On the Senate side, I have been a co-sponsor of the PROTECT IP Act because I believe it’s important to protect American ingenuity, ideas and jobs from being stolen through Internet piracy, much of it occurring overseas through rogue websites in China. As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs.
However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies.
Earlier this year, this bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously and without controversy. Since then, we’ve heard legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on access to the Internet and about a potentially unreasonable expansion of the federal government’s power to impact the Internet. Congress should listen and avoid rushing through a bill that could have many unintended consequences.
Therefore, I have decided to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act. Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.
First off, I think the hashtag should have been #OhJesusChristItsAnotherDebate, but unfortunately that was too long for many tweets.
Second, my pessimism from last November and December has returned. During the summer of 2011, I was pretty sure that Obama had it. Even with the killing of bin Laden, after the support quickly evaporated, I figured his support was going to continue to fall. But then, after seeing the rise of Herman Cain and the ridiculous tomfoolery in the back half of the year, I figured Obama had it in the bag. Lately, I was thinking it’s a more 50/50 thing, but last night’s performance has me thinking again that Obama is going to steamroll this election in November.
Why? Because none of the candidates—aside from Paul, natch—had any real divergence or difference, nothing truly remarkable that sets them apart from either each other, Obama, or even George W. Bush. Cut taxes, increase defense spending, some paltry attempts at entitlement reform, and oh, civil liberties, who needs those? They may play well with the base, but they are utterly disastrous with the general electorate. I for one agree on the taxes thing, but you will have Obama and the left point out that taxes are the lowest they have been in years, and unless Republicans shoot back with the OECD taxation charts, I don’t think that will sell very well (though obviously, yes, if we’re going to remain competitive, cutting our business tax rates to ~20% and getting rid of capital gains and payroll taxes would be good—though we have to balance that by massively cutting spending.)
The Washington Times had an interesting article yesterday, about how Congress did very little work last year. It’s a hoot to read:
It’s official: Congress ended its least-productive year in modern history after passing 80 bills — fewer than during any other session since year-end records began being kept in 1947.
Furthermore, an analysis by The Washington Times of the scope of such activities as time spent in debate, number of conference reports produced and votes taken on the House andSenate floors found that Congress set a record for legislative futility by accomplishing less in 2011 than any other year in history.
The Senate’s record was weakest by a huge margin, according to the futility index, and the House had its 10th-worst session on record.
Futility index? Have they copyrighted that? (I hope not, with SOPA coming down the pipeline…)
Of the bills the 112th Congress did pass, the majority were housekeeping measures, such as naming post office buildings or extending existing laws. Sometimes, it was too difficult for the two chambers to hammer out agreements. More often, the Senate failed to reach agreement within the chamber.
That left much of the machinery of the federal government on autopilot, with the exception of spending, where monumental clashes dominated the legislative session.
So says a venture capitalist from New York City. Brad Burnham, CEO of Union Square Ventures, the Big Apple’s biggest venture capital company for the tech industry, is saying that not only with SOPA cost jobs (hey, Republicans, this bill you support is job-killer!) it will also be a dangerous attack on the very essence of what the Internet is supposed to be. He writes:
I have always believed that the entertainment industry’s effort to stop people from illegally downloading content on the Web by asking search engines and Internet Service Providers to make it more difficult for their users to find pirate sites — which illegally offer copyrighted content — was the wrong way to solve the problem. But I could never put my finger on why I felt so strongly about it. After all, the entertainment industry argues that they are only targeting the worst pirate sites and are only asking for help because those pirate sites are offshore and out of the reach of U.S. authorities.
At a recent dinner, Joi Ito, the head of the Media Lab at MIT, described the Internet as a “belief system” and I suddenly understood. The Internet is not just a series of pipes. Its core architecture embeds an assumption about human nature. The Internet is designed to empower individuals, not control them. It assumes that if individuals are empowered, they will do the right thing the vast majority of the time.
Much hash is being made over a viral video of US Marines urinating on corpses. Two of them have already been identified, and government figures including Defense Secretary Panetta and Secretary of State Clinton are already labeling this as “deplorable” and demanding there be some sort of corrective action. Harmid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, is naturally outraged over this and is thumping his chest.
Personally, I find the actions of these Marines to be disgusting, degrading, and a stain on the United States. They definitely should be punished, and I hope that happens. Little wonder people in other countries don’t like us when we do things like this.
But I’m not going to rant on about that. I have a somewhat different argument.
James Joyner of Outside the Beltway has already written an insightful post on the situation. I really could not add more to it. Instead, I want to focus on a comment made by a commentator who goes by the name “Ben Wolf.” The interesting part is thus:
You can’t take an 18 year old who just got out of high school, give him a gun and then expect him to be a paragon of nobility, virtue and cultural sensitivity.
Perhaps not be a paragon, per se, but I do think that this is wrong. Or, at least, it should be. Our eighteen year olds should be more mature and more developed, but they’re not. The reason why we can’t train and equip eighteen years old in the military and expect more dignified behavior is, I believe, a result of two generations of infantilizing teenagers in our schools and homes, because we think they are incapable of doing anything. This, I believe, is a grand mistake.