Tag Archives: Spain

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Censor Google

Last week’s EU court ruling ordering Google and other search engines (there are other search engines?) to process requests from European citizens to erase links to material about them is being criticized by techno-libertarians. Allowing people to clean up what has become the dreaded Permanent Record That Will Follow You the Rest of Your Life, they complain, creates an onerous inconvenience to tech companies, amounts to censorship, and infringes upon the free flow of information on the Internet.

Even if those concerns were valid — and they’re not — I’d agree with the European Court of Justice’s unappealable, final verdict in the case of Mario Costeja González, a Spanish national who asked that a Google link to a property foreclosure ought to be deleted since the debt had since been paid off and the matter has been resolved. He did not request, nor did the court rule, that the legal record itself, which dated back to 1998, be expunged from cyberspace — merely that he ought not to suffer shame or embarrassment for his former financial difficulties every time an acquaintance or potential employer types his name into a browser, for the remainder of his time on earth, and beyond.

Offline, the notion that people deserve a fresh start is not a radical concept; in the United States, even unpaid debts vanish from your credit report after seven years. So much stuff online is factually unreliable that “according to the Internet” is a joke. There are smears spread by angry ex-lovers, political enemies, bullies and other random sociopaths. The right to eliminate such material from search results is long overdue. It’s also not without cyber-precedent: after refusing to moderate comments by “reviewers,” many of whom had not read the books in question, Amazon now removes erroneous comments.

The ruling only affects Europe. But Congress should also introduce the U.S. Internet to the joys of forgetting. Obviously, obvious lies ought to be deleted: just last week, conservative bloggers spread the meme that I had “made fun of” the Americans killed in Benghazi. I didn’t; not even close. Google can’t stop right-wingers from lying about me, but it would sure be nice of them to stop linking to those lies.

But I’d go further. Lots of information is accurate yet ought to stay hidden. An unretouched nude photo is basically “true,” but should it be made public without your consent?

We Americans are rightly chastised for our lack of historical memory, yet society benefits enormously from the flip side of our forgetfulness — our ability to outgrow the shame of our mistakes in order to reinvent ourselves.

“More and more Internet users want a little of the ephemerality and the forgetfulness of predigital days,” Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of Internet governance at the Oxford Internet Institute, said after the EU court issued its decision. Whether your youthful indiscretions include drunk driving or you had an affair with your boss as an intern, everyone deserves a second chance, a fresh start. “If you’re always tied to the past, it’s difficult to grow, to change,” Mayer-Schönberger notes. “Do we want to go into a world where we largely undo forgetting?”

Ah, but what of poor Google? “Search engine companies now face a potential avalanche of requests for redaction,” Jonathan Zittrain, a law and computer science professor at Harvard, fretted in a New York Times op/ed.

Maybe. So what?

Unemployment, even among STEM majors, is high. Tech companies have been almost criminally impecunious, hiring a small fraction of the number of employees needed to get the economy moving again, not to mention provide decent customer service.

Google has fewer employees than a minor GM parts supplier.

Would it really be so terrible for Google to hire 10,000 American workers to process link deletion requests? So what if lawyers make more money? They buy, they spend; everything trickles down, right? Google is worth more than Great Britain. It’s not like they can’t afford it.

Onerous? Google has a space program. It is mapping every curb and bump on America’s 4 million miles of roads.

They’re smart. They can figure this out.

“In the United States, the court’s ruling would clash with the First Amendment,” the Times reported with an unwarranted level of certitude. But I don’t see how. The First Amendment prohibits censorship by the government. Google isn’t a government agency — it’s a publisher.

This is what the EU story is really about, what makes it important. In order to avoid legal liability for, among other things, linking to libelous content, Google, Bing and other search engines have always maintained that they are neutral “platforms.” As Zittrain says, “Data is data.” But it’s not.

Google currently enjoys the liberal regulatory regime of a truly neutral communications platform, like the Postal Service and a phone company. Because what people choose to write in a letter or say on the phone is beyond anyone’s control, it would be unreasonable to blame the USPS or AT&T for what gets written or said (though the NSA would like to change that).

Google-as-platform is, and always was, a ridiculous fiction. Search results, Google claims, are objective. What comes up first, second and so on isn’t up to them. It’s just algorithms. Data is data. The thing is, algorithms are codes. Computer programs. They’re programmed by people. By definition, coders decide.

Algorithms are not, cannot be, and never will be, “objective.”

That’s just common sense. But we also have history. We know for a fact that Google manipulates searches, tweaking their oh-so-objective algorithms when they cough up results they don’t like. For example, they downgrade duplicated content — say, the same essay cut-and-pasted across multiple blogs. They sanction websites that try to game the system for higher Google listings by using keywords that are popular (sex, girls, cats) but unrelated to the accompanying content.

They censor. Which makes them a publisher.

You probably agree with a lot of Google’s censorship — kiddie porn, for example — but it’s still censorship. Deciding that some things won’t get in is the main thing a publisher does. Google is a publisher, not a platform. This real-world truth will eventually be affirmed by American courts, exposing Google not only to libel lawsuits but also to claims by owners of intellectual property (I’m talking to you, newspapers and magazines) that they are illegally profiting by selling ads next to the relevant URLs.

Although the right to censor search results that are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” (the words of the EU ruling) would prevent, say, the gossip site TMZ from digging up dirt on celebrities, there would also be a salutary effect upon the free exchange of information online.

In a well-moderated comments section, censorship of trolls elevates the level of dialogue and encourages people who might otherwise remain silent due to their fear of being targeted for online reputation to participate. A Google that purges inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant items would be a better Google.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Occupy Wall Street – What Comes Next?

Things Have Changed. Time to Adapt.

The Occupy National Gathering, held July 1-4 in Philadelphia, perfectly captures the current state of Occupy Wall Street.

First, the cops pushed the Occupiers around, refusing them space in Independence Park. They wound up in Franklin Square. (Just like old times. In September 2011 Occupiers found Wall Street blocked off by the NYPD. Zuccotti was ad hoc option two.)

Second, the Philly confab was wimpy and watered-down. When one of your honored guests is Daryl Hall of the 1980s duo “Hall & Oates,” militancy is probably off the menu.

Third, the Occupiers weren’t really Occupiers (though many no doubt didn’t know that they’d been coopted by Democratic Party operatives). ONG was yet the latest attempt by front groups set up by MoveOn.org in order to channel the energies of the OWS movement into the Obama reelection campaign.

“What’s going on with Occupy?” people ask me. “We don’t hear anything about them anymore.” By which they mean, they haven’t seen or read anything about OWS in the corporate media. They also probably haven’t “heard” about the enormous street protests in Montreal, which routinely draw 400,000 to 500,000 people, or about Bill 78, a law passed by Quebec’s parliament that suspends the rights of free speech and assembly, which has transformed the province into a police state, or that the real unemployment rate—the way it was calculated before 1980—is 23 percent.)

When your media is this far gone, you don’t “hear” much.

Some say Occupy is dead. Others disagree. “Occupy Will Be Back,” liberal writer Chris Hedges wrote recently.” It is not certain we will win. But it is certain this is not over.” (I don’t know who this “we” is. As far as I’ve heard, the squishy former New York Times journo’s role at Occupy has been limited to book-shilling.)

As a person who helped plan the event that initially sparked OWS; as one who was thrilled by its instant popularity, potency and potential; as someone who participated in the branch of OWS in my own community through the winter, including direct action confronting the authorities—and as a long-time student of historical crises and revolutionary movements—I think it’s less important to guess whether Occupy has a future than to examine how a movement with widespread public support from left and right alike devolved from nearly 2000 public encampments to its current situation: marginalization and cooption.

That said, this summer offers good opportunities for OWSers to make some noise. Occupiers will protest the two major party conventions later this summer. The longer the campaign goes on without either candidate seriously engaging jobs and the economy—hands down the most important issue in Americans’ minds—in a credible way, the more removed from reality the political horserace and its media carnival barkers become, the longer the suffering goes on (and suffering, we sometimes forget, is cumulative, each pain and setback exponentially building upon the last), the more appealing Occupy, or perhaps some more aggressive successor, will be.

Whether the first major street movement since the 1960s survives, grows or metastasizes, we must learn the lessons of Occupy’s first year.

Like every political system, every movement contains the seeds of its future demise. OWS began with an unsustainable premise: occupy public space, yet remain nonviolent. What happens when the cops show up? You leave peacefully. Game over. Which, with the exception of Occupy Oakland—an interesting exception, insofar that clashes with the police increased popular support—is what happened everywhere from lower Manhattan to City Hall Park in Los Angeles.

Occupy should have permitted resistance, violent and/or nonviolent. That, or it shouldn’t have camped out in parks in the first place. Similar movements, in Spain and Russia for example, operate out of offices and churches and use flash-mob tactics to carry out hit-and-run direct actions against banks and other targets. If you’re going to make an Alamo-like stand, well…make a stand.

As I and just about everyone else pointed out at the time, moreover, camping out in the cold sucks. A dumb tactic for a movement that began in the fall and intended to last indefinitely.

Occupy has been overly inclusive. As a reaction to and rejection of the two big corporate-backed political parties, OWS was inherently radical. Yet for week after week, month after month, General Assemblies all over the country have been disrupted and hijacked by liberals, Democrats, and other traditional partisans who don’t share the OWS ideology of non-partisanship and non-affiliation with Ds or Rs, and militant resistance to their backers, the banksters and other corporate hucksters.

Others have criticized OWS’ unwillingness and/or inability to issue a list of demands. Not me. I have seen how the debates within Occupy have empowered voiceless men and women who used to think politics was for politicians. It was—is—powerful.

Let the oppressors try to guess how we may be mollified, how they might avoid revolution. Demands, we believed, would define us too narrowly and separate us from one another.

But things have changed.

We have been kicked out of our encampments. Occupy groups in numerous cities have split into radical and reformist (liberal and/or Democratic) factions.

There really is no place for the liberals within Occupy. Democratic apologists should go where they belong, to volunteer for Obama, to waste their time and money on the torturer of Guantánamo, the drone murderer of Waziristan, he who golfs while the 99% watch their wages shrink and their homes taken away, he who extended his “good war” against Afghanistan through 2024.

We real Occupiers, we radicals, should come together around a list of demands that define us, and allows the wait-and-see public what we’re about, to understand that we are fighting for them—demands that a somewhat reasonable and responsive government would agree to, but cannot and will not because it would counter their insane, addictive greed, their lust to control and own everything, everywhere, everyone.

They even trademark the germs.

There should be demands for justice: prison sentences and fines for the politicos and corporate executives of those whose behavior was not only reprehensible but illegal, along with the seizure of their companies and their properties for the public good. One would start, naturally, with the President.

There should be demands for redress: payments and other material compensation for those who were the victims of crimes, economic and otherwise. Torture victims need counseling and homes, and deserve punitive and compensatory damages; those who lost their homes to illegal foreclosures need not only their old lives back, but also interest and cash penalties to serve as a deterrent to those tempted to engage in such behavior again; the same goes for those who rotted in prison for non-criminal “crimes” like using drugs.

And there should be demands for systemic changes: opening up ballots to third parties; making it illegal for elected representatives to talk to businesspeople, much less accept contributions from them; rigorously enforcing the constitution, laws and treaty obligations so that, for example, Congress gets back the exclusive right to wage war; expanding the Bill of Rights to include such obvious 21st century necessities as a right to a college education should a citizen desire one, a right to a living wage that doesn’t depend upon the whims of local employers, and a right to be treated for any illness, without charge, just because you’re American and you live in the wealthiest society that has ever existed, anywhere.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ah, To Be Young And In Hate

America’s New Radicals Attack a System That Ignores Them

“Enraged young people,” The New York Times worries aloud, are kicking off the dust of phony democracy, in which “the job of a citizen was limited to occasional trips to the polling places to vote” while decision-making remains in the claws of a rarified elite of overpaid corporate executives and their corrupt pet politicians.

“From South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street,” the paper continues, “these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over. They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.”

The rage of the young is real. It is justified. It is just beginning to play out.

The political class thinks it can ignore the people it purports to represent. They’re right–but not forever. A reckoning is at hand. Forty years of elections without politics will cost them.

Americans’ pent-up demand for a forum to express their disgust is so vast that they are embracing slapdash movements like Occupy Wall Street, which reverses the traditional tactic of organizing for a demonstration. People are protesting first, then organizing, then coming up with demands. They have no other choice. With no organized Left in the U.S., disaffected people are being forced to build resistance from the ground up.

Who can blame young adults for rejecting the system? The political issue people care most about–jobs and the economy–prompts no real action from the political elite. Even their lip service is half-assed. Liberals know “green jobs” can’t replace 14 million lost jobs; conservatives aren’t stupid enough to think tax cuts for the rich will help them pay this month’s bills.

The politicians’ only real action is counterproductive; austerity and bank bailouts that hurt the economy. Is the government evil or incompetent? Does it matter?

Here in the United States, no one should be surprised that young adults are among the nation’s angriest and most alienated citizens. No other group has been as systematically ignored by the mainstream political class as the young. What’s shocking is that it took so long for them to take to the streets.

Every other age groups get government benefits. The elderly get a prescription drug plan. Even Republicans who want to slash Medicaid and Medicare take pains to promise seniors that their benefits will be grandfathered in. Kids get taken care of too. They get free public education. ObamaCare’s first step was to facilitate coverage for children under 18.

Young adults get debt.

The troubles of young adults get no play in Washington. Pundits don’t bother to debate issues that concerns people in their 20s and 30s. Recent college graduates, staggering under soaring student loan debt, are getting crushed by 80 percent unemployment–and no one even pretends to care. Young Americans tell pollsters that their top concerns are divorce, which leaves kids impoverished, and global warming. Like jobs, these issues aren’t on anyone’s agenda.

This pot has been boiling for decades.

In 1996 I published “Revenge of the Latchkey Kids,” a manifesto decrying the political system’s neglect and exploitation of Generation X, my age cohort, which followed the Baby Boomers.

We were in our 20s and low 30s at the time.

Un- and underemployment, the insanity of a job market that requires kids to take out mortgage-sized loans to attend college just to be considered for a low-paid entry-level gig in a cube farm, the financial and emotional toll of disintegrating families, and our fear that the natural world was being destroyed left many of my peers feeling resentful and left out–like arriving at a party after the last beer was gone.

Today the oldest Gen Xers are turning 50. Life will always be harder for us than it was for the Boomers. If I had to write “Latchkey Kids” for today’s recent college grads, it would be bleaker still. Today’s kids–demographers call them Gen Y–have it significantly worse than we did.

Like us, today’s young adults get no play from the politicians.

The debts of today’s Gen Yers are bigger ($26,000 in average student loans, up from $10,000 in 1985). Their incomes are smaller. Their sense of betrayal, having gone all in for Obama, is deeper.

Young adults turned out big for Obama in 2008, but he didn’t deliver for them. They noticed: The One’s approval rating has plunged from 75 percent among voters ages 18-29 when he took office in January 2009 to 45 percent in September.

Politicians like Obama ignore young adults, especially those with college degrees, at their–and the system’s–peril. Now, however, more is at stake than Obama and the Democrats’ 2012 election prospects. The entire economic, social and political order faces collapse; young people may choose revolution rather than accept a life of poverty in a state dedicated only to feeding the bank accounts of the superrich.

As Crane Brinton pointed out in his seminal book “The Anatomy of Revolution,” an important predictor of revolution is downward mobility among strivers, young adults whose education and ambition would traditionally have led to a brighter future.

In February Martin Wolf theorized in The Financial Times that the Arab Spring rebellions in Egypt and Tunisia owed their success to demographics; those countries have more young people than old ones. On the other hand “middle-aged and elderly rig political and economic life for their benefit in the U.K. [he could also have said the U.S.]: hence the way in which policies on housing or education finance are weighted against the young.”

Right here and right now, though, the young and the old are on the same side. Though the young are getting screwed the hardest, almost everyone else is getting screwed too. And with 80 percent unemployment, the young have a lot of free time to rise up.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Barack Obama, Torture Enabler

Spain Enforces America’s Laws

America is a nation of laws–laws enforced by Spain.

John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes and Douglas Feith wrote, authorized and promulgated the Justice Department “torture memos” that the Bush Administration used for legal cover. After World War II, German lawyers for the Ministry of Justice went to prison for similar actions.

We’ve known about Yoo et al.’s crimes for years. Yet–unlike their victims–they’re free as birds, fluttering around, writing op/ed columns…and teaching. At law school!

Obama has failed to match changes of tone with changes in substance on the issue of Bush’s war crimes. “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” he answered when asked whether he would investigate America’s worst human rights abuses since World War II. Indeed, there’s no evidence that Obama’s Justice Department plans to lift a finger to hold Bush or his henchmen accountable.

“They should arrest Obama for trying to impersonate a President,” one wag commented on The San Francisco Chronicle‘s website.

Fortunately for those who care about U.S. law, there are Spanish prosecutors willing to do their job. Baltasar Garzón, the crusading prosecutor who went after General Augusto Pinochet in the ’90s, will likely subpoena the Dirty Half Dozen within the next few weeks. “It would have been impossible to structure a legal framework that supported what happened [in Guantánamo]” without Gonzales and his pals,” argues the criminal complaint filed in Madrid.

When the six miscreants ignore their court dates (as they surely will), Spain will issue international arrest warrants enforceable in the 25 countries that are party to European extradition treaties. All hail King Juan Carlos I!

Which brings us to a leaked report by the Red Cross, famous for its traditional reticence to confront governments. Which means that physicians are enjoined to do no harm. Doctors are prohibited by their ethical code of conduct from attending, much less participating in, torture. (What does this have to do with Bush’s lawyers? Hold on. I’m getting there.)

The Red Cross found that CIA doctors, nurses and/or paramedics “monitored prisoners undergoing waterboarding, apparently to make sure they did not drown. Medical workers were also present when guards confined prisoners in small boxes, shackled their arms to the ceiling, kept them in frigid cells and slammed them repeatedly into walls,” reports The New York Times.

“Even if the medical worker’s intentions had been to prevent death or permanent injury,” the report said, they would have violated medical ethics. But they weren’t there to protect anyone but the CIA. They even “condoned and participated in ill treatment….[giving] instructions to interrogators to continue, to adjust or to stop particular methods.” Charming.

Since 1945, at least 70 doctors around the world have been prosecuted for participating in torture. But not Bush’s CIA torture facilitators. Not by this president. Asked to comment on the Red Cross report, a spokesman for CIA director Leon Panetta replied that Panetta “has stated repeatedly that no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished.” (There’s the lawyer connection.)

Which is similar to what Obama said about the torturers: “At the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.” Don’t you just hate being micromanaged when you’re torturing people?

Ah, the great shell game of American justice. You can’t prosecute the torturers because their lawyers advised them that torture was OK. You can’t prosecute the lawyers because all they did was theorize–they didn’t torture anyone. You can’t prosecute the president and vice president who ordered the torture because they have “executive privilege” and, anyway, who would put a head of state on trial? What is this, Peru?

What’s the flip side of a victimless crime? A perpless crime?

It’s a neat circle, or would be if it fit, but drink some coffee and let the caffeine do its thing and it soon becomes apparent that it doesn’t come close. The trouble for the Bushies, and now for Obama–they’re his torturers now–is that lawyers are bound by a higher code than following orders.

Yoo, Bybee, Addington, Gonzales, Haynes and Feith were asked by the White House to come up with legal cover for what they knew or ought to have known were illegal acts under U.S. law, international law, and treaties including the Geneva Conventions (which were ratified by the U.S. and therefore hold the force of U.S. law). Since they don’t deny what they did–indeed, they continue to justify it–their presumed defense if they wound up on trial in Europe would be that they were just following orders.

However, the decision in the 1948 trials of German attorneys immortalized in the fictionalized film “Judgment at Nuremberg” makes clear that a lawyer’s duty is to the law–not his government. And not just his own country’s law–international law.
The Nuremberg tribunal acknowledged that Nazi Germany was an absolute dictatorship in which everyone answered to Adolf Hitler and could be shot for disobeying.

Nevertheless, the court ruled, “there were [German] restrictions for Hitler under international law.” Despite his total legal authority within Germany, Hitler “could issue orders [that violated] international law.” Obeying a direct order from Hitler, in other words, was illegal if it violated international law. And German lawyers went to prison for doing just that.

The six lawyers about to face charges in Spain didn’t have to worry about Nazi firing squads. They were rank opportunists trying to advance their careers in an Administration that viewed laws as quaint, inconvenient obstacles. Here’s how not scared they are: Feith recently penned an op/ed in The Wall Street Journal daring–double-daring–Obama’s Justice Department to go after him.

“If President Barack Obama and the prosecutors see a crime to be prosecuted, they can act,” Feith wrote.

One can only hope. In the meantime, we’ll always have Spain.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

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