What Syria Can Teach About Net Neutrality

Internet killswitch

There is a focus, and rightly so, on what the U.S. reaction to the crises in Syria will be — if anything — from the perspective of how strong the United States looks on the world stage, and what that means as regards our relationships with long-standing allies. These are important considerations.

But Syria may have something else to teach us that is just as timely and relevant as the ubiquitous relevance of international relationships and war games. The country, along with the other hotbed of unrest Egypt, is the Petri dish of the Internet “killswitch.” (Read: what happens when the government controls access to the Internet and decides a population has had enough of communication and information gathering. Yeah. Scary.)

Mashable reports:

The Internet is a decentralized global network, designed to be resilient and hard to take down. But it’s still possible to black out a certain area, or even an entire country, disconnecting it from the rest of the world.

That’s what happened in Egypt in 2011 and three times in Syria in just the last year…does Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have stronghold over the country’s Internet access? Most likely yes, according to experts.

The Trouble with U.S. Middle East Non-policy

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal carried a fair and objective analysis of what’s happening in the Middle East, and the new strategy in Washington to — essentially — just kind of ignore it. Or, put in a kinder way, take a “wait and see attitude”:

In just a few years, the U.S. has executed a 180-degree strategic turn in the Mideast, from President George W. Bush’s muscular interventionism to President Barack Obama’s more backseat approach. That, according to some regional diplomats and experts, has disoriented Arab governments and Israel, who have become accustomed to extensive U.S. leadership in their region…

“I would challenge anyone today to tell us what our Mideast strategy is,” said retired Gen. James Mattis, the former top military commander in the Middle East. “The realist and interventionist schools of foreign-policy thought are not established on any strategic basis. The crises are blowing away an intellectual fog, revealing there is nothing there.”

There are certainly valid arguments advocating the wisdom of both sides of the debate — intervening in Syria, for example, may force the U.S. to work alongside al Qaeda, something no one is particularly keen to do. However, our continued distance appears to be one reason the region has destabilized the way it has, if for no other reason, because the optics suggest the U.S. no longer cares about being a stabilizing force.

Chatting with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)

Thomas Massie

“[T]he House and the Senate control the purse strings. It’s the only check that we have besides some oversight on the Executive Branch. And so I’m going to be part of that group that goes into this August recess and goes back home and says, ‘I will not vote for a continuing resolution that funds ObamaCare.’” - Rep. Thomas Massie

The last couple of election cycles have led to several interesting, liberty-minded Republicans being sent to Congress. On Tuesday, United Liberty had a chance to chat with one of those Republicans, Rep. Thomas Massie, who represents Kentucky’s Fourth Congressional District.

Elected last year with strong supports from grassroots groups, Massie quickly established his libertarian tendencies by taking strong stands for civil liberties and economic freedom. He’s an approachable guy and very down to Earth.

Along with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Massie fought hard to get a vote last week on an amendment to the defense appropriations bill to defund the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance of American citizens.

Massie offered an inside baseball account of how a vote on the amendment, which was offered by Amash, came to pass in the face of fierce opposition from President Barack Obama, congressional leaders from both parties and the nation’s security apparatus.

What Is Going On In Egypt?

Over the past week, swelling protests in Egypt against the ruling regime boiled over, finally giving way to violence. Clashes erupted between secularists (who are aligned with the military) and Islamists (who are aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood); eventually Mohamed Morsi was ousted from the Presidency, exactly one year after he was democratically elected to the office. Egypt now stands on the brink of descending into full-blown chaos, and while Egyptians attempt to move the nation “back to democracy,” they risk losing their whole nation to civil war. This past week has left some wondering what Egyptian democracy even means anymore.

Crisis in the Sahara

Over the past few weeks, with the Second Inauguration of Barack Obama as a backdrop, a mostly-ignored crisis has been unfolding in North Africa.  As President Obama declared at his inauguration that “a decade of warfare is ending,” the United States began aiding France with their bombing campaign in Mali, to little fanfare, fulfilling President Obama’s actual foreign policy goal: to maintain an American global presence, with little accountability here or abroad.

Meanwhile, over the inaugural weekend, to the north of Mali in neighboring Algeria, a hostage crisis at a British Petroleum natural gas plant ended violently; at the time of this writing, 37 hostages were killed, 3 of which were American.  Details are still unclear, and the situation is sensitive, but the mind recalls another inaugural hostage crisis 32 years ago with a happier ending.

The events in Algeria and Mali are intrinsically linked, not just by the actors therein, but by the actions which spurred them.  To properly confront the crisis at hand, we must also confront our contributions to the crisis, for as Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Thoughts on Free Speech and Censorship

First Amendment

Google has taken some heat lately over censorship issues. No doubt we’ve all heard by now of the famous “The Innocence of Muslims” video on YouTube that, whether it did or did not cause attacks on our embassies, has been a center of controversy.

It stirs up debate on censorship, so I wanted to offer some thoughts on censorship.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That’s the whole First Amendment, but if you break it down to an even simpler form…

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.

That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about censorship. But this isn’t about Congress. This whole issue is about Google and whether or not Google should censor the opinions of its users.

I love censorship. I censor things all the time. If you decide to get obnoxious in comments on this blog, I’ll censor you. I try not to, because I want to encourage debate, but if your comments take away from the debate, yeah, I’ll censor you.

I censor things in my home as well. I censor what TV shows my kids see. I use parental control software to censor what Internet content is available.

Censoring content, whether on my web site or in my home, is my right and my responsibility. The same applies to Google. If something posted to a Google property is inappropriate, Google has a right and a responsibility to censor the content.

A Libertarian, if Controversial, Response to Consulate Attacks

Libya protests

I’m going to say something that is highly controversial amongst libertarians. It may even lead me to be cast out (particularly among one “part” of the movement). If that is the case, then so be it. It is my suggestion to the United States government to deal with the rash of attacks on our diplomatic missions throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East: send in our forces. Find the people who have done these terrible deeds.

Bring them to justice. And then leave.

This flies in the face of generally accepted libertarian foreign policy, at least as construed by many “rank and file” libertarians. We’re not supposed to be in other countries. We’re not supposed to be out there getting ourselves involved. And if American personnel are hurt, we shouldn’t get ourselves involved more.

This, however, is dangerously short-sighted and naive. Yes, we shouldn’t be in foreign countries. On that I completely agree. But we should not, when we are attacked, simply throw our hands up in defeat and pull out. Or do what President Obama did, and “apologize” for one man using his right to free speech. That does not keep us safe, and that does not fix anything.

Giving in to bullies and madmen does not stop them, it emboldens them, as Britain learned so painfully after Munich. There is also no room for it in libertarian philosophy. If someone aggresses against you, if they attack you and destroy or take your property, and worse if they actually kill you and your comrades, they have violated your liberty. That is not something that libertarianism condones.

Was the risk in Libya worth the reward?

President Obama just had to do it.  After all, the freedom loving people of Libya wanted out from under the boot of Muammar Gaddafi, and we should use our military force for such noble purposes, right?  So, we risked US personnel to support the rebels in Libya.  They won, and I wasn’t really sad to see Gaddafi dead.  But was it worth it?

Initially, some thought it would be by buying us some much needed “good will” in the Middle East.  By supporting anti-dictatorship rebels, there was supposedly a chance that we would be able to start mending a few fences with non-terrorist Muslims.

Yeah, that worked out great, didn’t it?  The United States Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three of the embassy staff were killed Tuesday.  Stevens was reportedly a key player in the effort to oust Gaddafi.

I don’t think anyone wanted to rebels to lose.  As I said earlier, I wasn’t a fan of Gaddafi and was glad to see him taken down.  I also happen to believe in self governance and love seeing people take their nations back from psychotic dictators that make Bond villians seem sane and rational.

However, American military personnel were put at risk.  It was yet another example of American adventurism, and just like our other most recent examples, it’s netted us jack.

When will the powers that be understand that all of this nets us nothing?  While we were fortunate to not lose Americans during the Libyian operations, the risk is there for any combat operations, and what has it gotten us?  Clearly, nothing.

The Deadly Violence, Protests in Libya, Egypt

Libya protests

Written by Justin Logan, Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Virulent identity politics are swirling across post-revolutionary North Africa, as seen on full display in Libya and Egypt. Some reports now point to a pro-al Qaeda group or other extremist elements as responsible for the attack in Libya, planned in advance and unrelated to the anti-Islam video. The protestors in Libya may have been acting separately. There are still many unknown details.

But the idea that a derogatory and clownish internet video justifies mob violence or murder can only be described as barbaric.

The U.S. government should make crystal clear to its Libyan and Egyptian counterparts that if they wish to have any relationship, let alone a functional relationship, with the United States in the future, we expect the perpetrators of these acts to be brought to justice swiftly and for sufficient measures to be undertaken to ensure they cannot be repeated. Apologies are not enough.

For its part, the United States needs to figure out what went wrong in terms of operational security, and how the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed and the Cairo embassy overrun. The past 10 years have blurred the line between warfighters and diplomats, but this experience is a reminder that the two are still distinct.

Hey, Let’s Not Nationalize Facebook

Dislike (Radiant)

There are dumb ideas…and then there are really dumb ideas. And then there are, so to say, Congressional politicians. We’re not quite at that level yet, but it seems like it. I am of course, referring to a rather silly piece in Slate magazine titled “Let’s Nationalize Facebook,” written by one Phillip N. Howard, a professor of communications and information technology from the University of Washington. His reasons for doing so are:

Over the last several years, Facebook has become a public good and an important social resource. But as a company, it is behaving badly, and long term, that may cost it: A spring survey found that almost half of Americans believe that Facebook will eventually fade away. Even the business side has been a bit of a disaster lately, with earnings lower than expected and the news that a significant portion of Facebook profiles are fake. If neither users nor investors can be confident in the company, it’s time we start discussing an idea that might seem crazy: nationalizing Facebook.

The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.