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Response to Rep. Marsha Blackburn: A True Conservative Tech Policy

Posted by darklordofdebate on February 2, 2011

On January 18, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn gave a speech purporting to give a conservative view of technology policy. As a strong conservative myself, I was deeply saddened to read this speech, which not only displays a deep lack of understanding about important policy issues facing the tech world, but a misunderstanding of the true tenants of conservatism in favor of the very corporate cronyism which Republicans are all too often accused of.

I have long been saddened by the fact that while I would characterize my overall political views as strongly conservative, on matters of technology, Internet, telecommunications, and intellectual property policy, my views are more in line with those more frequently advocated by liberals (though neither party actually holds to them very well). So I decided to write a response to her speech as a kind of follow up to my post a couple years ago about why conservatives should support net neutrality. It is my aim to show that while Blackburn’s goals are admirable, the tech policy that would hold truest to conservative values is nearly the exact opposite of what she has proposed.

Blackburn starts out her speech:

The casual observer sees Republican and Democrat approaches to tech policy as stylized. Republicans appear to reflexively defend big corporate interests. Democrats appear ready to smother any forward moving technology under reams of regulation. For Conservatives the challenge must be to look beyond platforms and technology to seek out those core Conservative values that are the basis of all our positions.

With this sentiment I would heartily agree. I would also say that Blackburn has accurately identified the weaknesses of both parties in this area. But unfortunately she goes on to commit precisely the same error she acknowledges Republicans are accused of–reflexively defending the interests of large corporations over the true public good.

Next Blackburn identifies the “core conservative values” that she believes a conservative tech policy should be based on:

The degree to which the economy is kept free, to which property rights are protected in the next century, to which free speech is assured; may all be shaped by tech policy. These are THE core conservative values, and we must rise to defend them in the tech policy debates in the coming decades – not to mention the coming Congress.

Another statement with which I would largely agree. Economic freedom, protecting property rights, and assuring free speech–all admirable goals and quite rightly declared to be the core principles which a conservative tech policy should aim to defend. Yet the rest of Blackburn’s speech is devoted to arguing that the government should NOT do anything to protect these values (and in fact should do other things which harm them rather than protect them). Before we go on, let us remember an important fact. Government regulation is not ALWAYS a threat to liberty, but if done rightly can in fact serve to protect these very liberties. Nor is government the ONLY threat to them; liberty can be infringed by other powerful interests as well, and corporations (especially the handful of corporations that control our entire Internet infrastructure) can pose just as great a threat to freedom of speech on the Internet as the government can.

Blackburn then sets out three central propositions to her view of tech policy through which her values can be applied:

First, what I call The Creative Economy is the emerging driver of the American economy and should be the focus of tech policy.

Second, intellectual property is the chief commodity of this new economy. For our prosperity to endure, intellectual property rights must be reinforced.

Finally, that the Internet is the primary marketplace for the creative economy. It must be kept free, predictable, and accessible.

Regarding Blackburn’s first and second propositions (which are essentially the same), no one can deny that America’s economy is becoming increasingly based on creative works and information goods rather than industrial products, and that those information goods are protected by intellectual property laws. However, is increasing intellectual property rights really the best way to greater prosperity? At their core, intellectual property laws confer exclusive ownership of information, so that no one else is allowed to use it, thus creating artificial scarcity and theoretically imparting value. In an age when freedom of information is the source of such great innovation, do we really want to pass even more restrictive laws that concentrate ownership of that information in the hands of a few large companies, whose idea of innovation is to sit on that information and sue those who attempt to actually use it (i.e. patent trolls)?

Blackburn says:

Culturally, we all differentiate between material and intellectual property rights. For the Creative Economy to thrive, we need to dissolve the barrier and ensure intellectual property rights are as strictly enforced as material rights.

This is where Blackburn is dead wrong. Has it occurred to her that there might be a good reason for this differentiation? In her very next sentence, Blackburn claims that “our founders, in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 [of the Constitution] explicitly established an intellectual property right to be treated with the same reverence as the material property protected by the 5th Amendment.” Yet those same founders in that same clause of the Constitution also mandated that copyrights and patents be granted only for “limited times,” while rights in physical property are perpetual. So it seems the revered Founders themselves drew a distinction between physical and intellectual property. And rightly so, for the Founding Fathers (particularly Jefferson) recognized that in order for a culture to grow, each successive generation must be free to build upon the ideas and accomplishments of the one before it.

There is very little in either art or science that is completely original. Rather art is constantly borrowing from and adapting prior art, and every new invention improves upon those previously developed. The Founders recognized that to grant complete and perpetual ownership of ideas to those of one generation to keep locked up forever leads to cultural stagnation. And so they mandated that after a certain period, copyrights and patents expire, and the ideas they protect fall into the public domain where they are free to be used by anyone.

While I agree with Blackburn that intellectual property rights should be protected, they should not be protected so strongly that no one else can ever use the ideas they protect, to the detriment of follow-on creativity and innovation. To do any less threatens the very value of assuring free speech which Blackburn cited earlier; for in the world of the Internet, intellectual property rights are headed towards a full-on collision with freedom of speech and the 1st Amendment. Blackburn however, seems not to have considered this, for later on she advocates a “war on intellectual property infringement” which she likens to the War on Terror.

Here are just a few of the ways she advocates increasing IP protections:

  • Patent reform “with strict deterrents to infringement.” Never mind the REAL problems in the patent system, such as out-of -control software patents and patent trolls tying up every attempt at genuine innovation in endless lawsuits. Never mind the fact that nearly everyone in the software industry now considers patents a greater hindrance to innovation than help. No, obviously the current system isn’t protecting patents enough, so patent laws need to be made even stricter.
  • Compromise on Orphan Works legislation, which would not even be necessary if Congress hadn’t extended the copyright term to well over 100 years, such that works remain copyrighted long after their creators are dead and no one even cares about them anymore. Why not deal with the root of the problem and decrease the scope of copyright and the length of copyright terms instead, reinvigorating the public domain in the process?
  • Passage of “Rogue Website” legislation (the COICA bill), which would allow the Justice Department to yank website’s domain names and order ISPs to block websites that  have never been proven to violate any laws, with virtually no accountability; placing an unconstitutional prior restraint on online free speech and wreaking havoc with the domain name look-up system. Oh and it wouldn’t even actually work, since the measures the bill proposes are laughably easy to circumvent.

Can’t a conservative view of intellectual property rights be a little more sensible? And what about protecting the fair use rights of Internet users to make noncommercial, transformative use of their culture? What about IP policies which actually promote the grown of culture and science rather than prop up the dying business models of a few monolithic corporations, while at the same time giving the government virtually unlimited power to censor online speech in the name of “protecting intellectual property rights”? Since when was that conservative?

Finally, Blackburn attacks the FCC’s recent net neutrality rules, which she claims only address a hypothetical problem and will serve only to bog down future innovation in bureaucratic red tape. She states that:

The FCC’s actions are also narrow minded – reinterpreting online commerce as online communication in order to assert jurisdiction. They regulate what is perhaps the most incidental aspect of any creative economy – the means of transmission.

Apparently Blackburn adheres to the regular Republican line that because Internet Service Providers own the “pipes” of the Internet (its physical infrastructure of transmission), they should be free to do whatever they want with the content that flows over it. Yet ironically, she argues earlier that we should cease focusing on the devices with which online content is accessed, but rather focus on fostering the creative content the Internet carries. You cannot have it both ways. ISPs freely admit they want to be able to charge not only their own customers for Internet access, but also charge major websites for the “privilege” of transmitting content to their users. At the same time, they want to be able to work out deals for “paid prioritization,” so that, for example, Netflix can pay Verizon to make it’s streaming video load faster than Amazon’s video on demand service. And they would like nothing better than to “cable-ize” the Internet, so that consumers are forced to buy Internet service in packages of websites rather than an amount of bandwidth that they can use to access the online content of their choice. Such an ecosystem is not conducive to the grown of online content!

Earlier in her speech, Blackburn talks about protecting garage-bound entrepreneurs against having to navigate a maze of bureaucratic alphabet soup when starting up an innovative online service. What about the bureaucratic nightmare the next Google or YouTube would face if, in addition to having to pay their own ISP for Internet access, they also had to negotiate deals with every local ISP in the country just to be able to reach viewers at the other end? This is what the FCC’s rules were designed to prevent, and it’s exactly what we’ll get if Blackburn has her way and Congress kills any hope of the government being able to mandate basic rules for net neutrality (which rather than being the bureaucratic nightmare Blackburn describes, are simply enforcing the status quo condition that all websites should be treated equal by local ISPs). This is not “regulating the internet in extraordinary ways, in a manner we have not applied to other markets,” as Blackburn says. Rather it is simply laying down basic rules of the road akin to those for any other common carrier, that all comers must be treated alike on a level playing field.

So what should a true conservative tech policy look like? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Keep the online economy free by passing strong net neutrality rules which preserve the Internet as an open platform for innovation, on which all web services compete on an equal playing field. Allow success on the Internet to be determined by that grand old conservative principle of competition in a free market, rather than which online services can strike the most favorable preferential deals with ISPs.
  2. Promote the growth of the creative economy by lessening the scope of intellectual property laws, ensuring that everyone is free to innovate and create new information goods without the constant threat of a lawsuit for copyright or patent infringement. Take steps to prevent patent trolls for abusing the patent system by forcing true innovators to defend every invention in court against bogus and overboard patent claims by companies which don’t even produce anything of value, but only sue those who do. And craft policies which respect the rights of EVERYONE to create content online (including ordinary Internet users on user-generated content sites), rather than presuming that only the rights of large media companies are worth protecting.
  3. Ensure online freedom of speech by ending attempts to censor speech in the name of protecting obsolete business models, but instead protect the rights of Internet users to remix and interact with their culture. Lessen the restrictions of copyright to make culture accessible to everyone, not just a few large media companies. These companies should still have the right to profit from their creative works, but they should be encouraged to do so in ways that reflect the reality of the digital world, rather than relying on futile attempts to use IP law to prop up dying business models. Not every “infringement” is evil, and if copyright owners would be willing to innovate and think outside the box, they may find it is perfectly possible to make money from creative content even while being less restrictive about the use of their property. Property rights are only as good as the use they are put to, and if property rights are to be respected, we must have a system of intellectual property that actually works and that people are willing to abide by.

Finally, remember that, while conservatives have always feared government power, the real danger comes from centralized power in any form, whether in government or in corporations which have every bit as much influence over our lives as the government. Instead of reflexively opposing government regulation and defending corporations at all costs, a true conservative tech policy must recognize the threats both government and corporate actions pose to our liberty. And in true conservative fashion, we should employ the tried and true system of checks and balances to protect our liberties by playing each of them against the other. Therefore let corporations restrain the government (as corporations already have tremendous political influence), and let the government restrain corporations.

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Posted in Copyright, Law, Politics, Technology Law | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Adapting to Global Warming

Posted by darklordofdebate on December 21, 2009

As a followup to my last post, I just wanted to post a couple great quotes from this opinion article by the Global Warming Policy Foundation president Nigel Lawson on the Wall Street Journal:

The reasons for the complete and utter failure of Copenhagen are both fundamental and irresolvable. The first is that the economic cost of decarbonizing the world’s economies is massive, and of at least the same order of magnitude as any benefits it may conceivably bring in terms of a cooler world in the next century. After all, the reason we use carbon-based energy is not the political power of the oil lobby or the coal industry. It is because it is far and away the cheapest source of energy at the present time and is likely to remain so, not forever, but for the foreseeable future.

Moreover, any assessment of the impact of any future warming that may occur is inevitably highly conjectural, depending as it does not only on the uncertainties of climate science but also on the uncertainties of future technological development. So what we are talking about is risk.

Not that the risk is all one way. The risk of a 1930s-style outbreak of protectionism, if the developed world were to abjure cheap energy and faced enhanced competition from China and other rapidly industrializing countries that declined to do so, is probably greater than any risk from warming.

The time has come to abandon the Kyoto-style folly that reached its apotheosis in Copenhagen last week, and move to plan B.

And the outlines of a credible plan B are clear. First and foremost, we must do what mankind has always done, and adapt to whatever changes in temperature may in future arise. This enables us to pocket the benefits of any warming (and there are many), while reducing the costs. And since none of the projected costs are new phenomena, but the possible exacerbation of the problems our climate already throws at us, addressing these problems directly is many times more cost-effective than anything discussed at Copenhagen. Nor does adaptation require a global agreement, although we may well need to help the very poorest countries (not China) to adapt.

And beyond adaptation, plan B should involve a relatively modest increased government investment in technological research and development—in energy, in adaptation and in geoengineering.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the Copenhagen debacle, it is not going to be easy to get our leaders to move to Plan B. There is no doubt that calling a halt to the high-profile climate-change traveling circus risks causing a severe conference-deprivation trauma among the participants. If there has to be a small public investment in counseling, it would be money well spent.

Along the lines of my previous post, there are three lessons we can draw from this. Number one, everyone agrees that the economic cost of decarbonization will be immense, and it will be highly difficult if not impossible to secure agreement between enough countries to make a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions. Second, any benefits produced by decreased warming would in turn likely be far outweighed by the economic risks achieving such reductions would necessarily entail. Finally, the best and easiest solution to global warming is to simply do what humanity has done for thousands of years and adapt to changing conditions. Considering the tremendous technological progress the human race has made in the last century alone, it shouldn’t be that difficult to deal with the consequences of a climate that’s at most a few degrees warmer.

Posted in Climate Change, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Global Warming Scientists: “You Will Adapt to Serve Us”

Posted by darklordofdebate on December 15, 2009

Over the last few weeks, I have been following the recent developments regarding global warming and the so-called “climate-gate” with somewhat bemused interest. On the eve of the Copenhagen conference, which is being billed by global warming advocates as the greatest climate change summit of all time and the last best hope for our planet, an unknown hacker manages to steal a hundred megabytes worth of emails from a climate research unit which appears to show climate researchers cooking the books to “hide the decline” and squelch skeptics. Now honestly, I don’t know what to think of these particular emails. I’m sure if I really wanted to, I could hack into someone’s email and find a few out-of-context quotes to make them look suspicious too. Whatever these emails ultimately mean, I highly doubt they actually prove the existence of some vast scientific conspiracy to hoodwink the world into believing climate change is real. If their is any fraud in climate research, a more likely explanation is simple bias caused by politically motivated funding of research, rather than a deliberate conspiracy.

The real problem here is the politicization of science in the first place. After the climate-gate incident, I read numerous news articles talking about how poll numbers of people who believe climate change is real showed substantial drops, primarily among Republicans. In these articles, there were many quotes from scientists lamenting the fact that the existence of human-caused climate change is a political issue, subject to the latest opinion polls and the whims of the uneducated populace. I lament this too, but for a different reason. The reason global warming has become a political issue (besides the aforementioned funding issues) is because it long ago ceased to be about science and is now primarily a policy debate. Instead of sticking with what they do best, making observations, crunching numbers, and concocting theories, scientists have strayed far out of their usual realm and have directly entered the world of policy debate.

It’s one thing for scientists to tell us that climate change is occurring; it’s quite another for them to attempt to dictate the exact ways in which to solve this alleged “problem.” When scientists stop being scientists and start proposing policies like politicians, is it any wonder that science becomes politicized? It would be one thing if they just laid out the facts and gave a few possible solutions, then stepped back and let governments debate the best course of action in a rational manner that takes into account all the pros and cons. But they have not done this. Instead, scientists and global warming advocates have put all their eggs in one basket, dogmatically clinging to drastic global carbon emission cuts as the one and only way to solve the problem. Then they come up with doomsday scenarios of rising sea levels, flooded cities, famines, plagues, wars etc. in an attempt to claim that unless the world takes immediate action to reduce carbon emissions to pre-industrial levels, it’s the end of the world as we know it. Such scare tactics are nothing more than the clear tactics of petty demagogues to incite fear and motivate action out of a false sense of urgency.

Never mind the fact that such reductions in carbon emissions will come at the cost of trillions of dollars and millions of lost jobs. Never mind the fact that they would require nearly a complete reordering of the global economy to accomplish. Never mind the fact that even if these reductions are possible, they would only reduce global temperatures by a few fractions of a degree at most. To the global warming evangelists, it has become a cardinal sin to engage in even the most basic types of cost-benefit analysis when it comes to taking steps to mitigate global warming. Instead, they expect unquestioning allegiance to whatever plans they propose, no matter what the cost, because we owe it to “the planet.”

Many people over the last few weeks have remarked the climate change has become almost a sort of religion. Indeed the similarities are striking. You have a large movement of people motivated by a pseudo-religious fervor, passionately accepting whatever their leaders tell them through blind faith, while speaking in vagaries about “taking action” and bringing hope and salvation to mankind. They are on a crusade to “save the planet” motivated by some sort of quasi-pantheistic love of “nature,” which they are devoted to at all costs in an endless quest to atone for the “sins” of mankind in polluting the Earth with our very presence. For such people, their entire lives have become bound up in this cause, and there is no price too great to pay to achieve it.

What is ultimately needed in the climate change debate is to cut through the extremist rhetoric on both sides and make an honest evaluation of our options. Let’s say for the sake of argument that climate change really is occurring, and that it is in fact caused by humans. Ultimately yes, in the long term we will probably want to reduce carbon emissions to prevent the problem from increasing. But is the threat really so bad as to mandate such drastic actions as are currently being proposed in the Copenhagen treaty and in President Obama’s cap-and-trade bill? What is the threat exactly? Probably the worst effect most commonly cited is rising sea levels, but according to the Heritage Foundation, “Even the United Nation’s 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (putting aside for a moment the Climategate-fueled concerns that this study is overly alarmist) projects 7 to 23 inches of sea level rise by century’s end.”

Okay, so the oceans might rise two feet in the next 100 years. Is that really worth spending trillions of dollars of government funds, millions of jobs lost, massively higher energy costs, and a greatly decreased standard of living for every person on Earth, or at least the developed world? I’ve got another idea. Why don’t we just adapt to climate change instead? Surely 100 years is enough time to build sea walls or dikes protecting low lying cities that could be threatened with flooding. Sure there are other problems posed by climate change as well, but if we see the problem coming this far in advance, we should be able to come up with some way to simply adapt to the immediate problems posed by global warming while waiting for technologies to be developed that offer a more permanent solution, without bankrupting every country on Earth and effecting a total restructuring of the global economy to get there. Climate change policies should not be immune to cost-benefit analysis, and if the costs of a proposed policy far outweigh the potential benefits it should be rejected. This is something that climate change advocates have so far refused to even consider.

Rather than carrying on with end-of-world predictions and dogmatic insistence that their way is the only way to solve this problem, global warming advocates need to be open to alternate solutions, including ones which leave carbon emissions untouched for the present and focus on adapting to a changed climate instead. Perhaps if we acknowledged that it simply is not feasible to reduce carbon emissions to pre-industrial levels *right now* (at least without reverting to a pre-industrial society), and focused on a more practical solution that doesn’t demand such great sacrifices in the name of a problem we are still not sure even exists, we could actually get somewhere. But until climate change advocates are willing to compromise and stop insisting that the entire world bow to their every demand, that is not going to happen, and the only result they’ll ever produce is a string of failed treaties like Kyoto and a swath of economic devastation in their wake. Is that really worth it?

Posted in Climate Change, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Why Conservatives Should Support Net Neutrality

Posted by darklordofdebate on September 23, 2009

With the FCC’s recent announcement that they will turn their broad principles of network neutrality into specific rules, I thought I would post about one of my long standing pet peeves–the fact that most conservatives don’t support this concept. I first became passionate about the issue of net neutrality in the spring of my freshman year in college (2006), when I went on a lobbying trip to DC with our College Republican’s group. We were working with the libertarian advocacy group FreedomWorks, and while I agreed with most of the things they had us advocating, I was shocked and disappointed to find we were supposed to lobby AGAINST a net neutrality bill then before Congress. At that point I had only a cursory understanding of the issue, but I was surprised that they would advocate against enforcing the basic openness and platform neutrality that the Internet is built on. When I asked one of FreedomWork’s employee’s about it, I was shocked to hear him rhapsodize about how wonderful it would be if Internet Service Providers (ISPs) could divide the Internet into “channels” and offer Internet service in “packages” of available websites like cable TV! After all, he said, the ISPs owned the networks, so they should be free to do whatever they want with them.

It was then I realized that a lot of conservatives simply don’t get what the network neutrality debate is about, and how allowing that man’s “vision” for the future of the Internet to come to pass would completely destroy everything that makes the Internet what it is. So this post will be dedicated to explaining network neutrality in terms my fellow conservatives can understand, specifically the key conservative values of limited government, individual freedom, competition, checks and balances, and property rights.

Limited Government

Perhaps the central idea of American conservatism is the concept of limited government. Every conservative can tell you that big government = bad, and explain at length the mechanisms the Founders built into our Constitution to limit the power of the federal government. But do they ever ask why the Founder’s wanted to limit the government’s power? I’ll give you a hint. The key word in that question is not government, but, power. The Founders advocated limited government not because government was inherently evil, but because they feared the centralization of power in a relatively small body of people. And it’s my contention that this is what conservatives should fear today–not “big government” but “centralized power” in any form. That should be especially true of “coercive power,” the ability to compel obedience by force.

It used to be that, as libertarians love to say, government had a monopoly on coercive power. That is no longer the case. In the modern world, technology has given large corporations a great deal of coercive power–more than many governments ever had in the past. This power comes not through the threat of prison if you disobey them (though in many cases the law gives them that power as well, though indirectly), but through technology that can control exactly what we can or cannot do, even with our own property. And unlike government laws, rules that are enforced by technology enforce absolute compliance, with no option to disobey because technology makes it impossible. While government laws say, “you shall not,” the laws of technology say, “you cannot.” This is what Lawrence Lessig calls “architectures of control,” and it is this power that modern technology corporations wield over their customers. It is that kind of power which MUST BE LIMITED if we are to maintain a free society.

Individual Freedom

Nowhere is the power of corporations to restrict individual freedom more apparent than with ISPs, who control our access to that great engine of culture and commerce we know as the Internet. It’s simply a fact of life in modern society that you must have Internet access. Without it, your quality of life becomes severely diminished and you are incapable of doing many things essential to everyday life.

Yet your ISP, if it chooses to do so, is capable of exercising tremendous power over your ability to access this crucial resource. If it wants to, it can block websites, degrade service, or give preference to some websites and restrict access to others. In short, there is no end to the amount of arbitrary ways your ISP could interfere with your free use of the Internet if it wanted to–and believe me, ISPs want to. The possible new revenue streams from interfering with their customers’ free access to the Internet and forcing either the customers or third parties to pay for the freedoms we currently enjoy without paying extra are endless. Just think about how much Borders would pay your ISP to only allow you to access their site and not Amazon, or how much Ebay would pay so you couldn’t access Craigslist. Without network neutrality laws, all of this is legal. The only thing that has prevented these things from happening on a large scale already is social pressure from neutrality advocates.

Competition

Now at this point, a good conservative will say, “what about competition?” Surely that will keep these things from happening. To which I reply, “what competition?” Broadband Internet is for the most part a natural monopoly. Since it would be impractical to have a dozen different companies running cables to your house, local governments grant monopolies to certain companies to provide Internet service.

In most places in the US, this results in a duopoly between the government-granted cable company monopoly and the government-granted phone company monopoly.  There is some competition between the two, but typically not much, which is why US broadband growth has effectively stagnated and the US is currently ranked something like 30th or 40th in broadband penetration. And if both Internet providers in a given area had sufficient economic incentive to restrict their customer’s access to the Internet, they would both do it. The consumer would thus be stuck with severely restricted Internet limited only to their ISP’s “preferred partners.” The only “competition” would be that Cox allows you to access CNN while Verizon allows Fox News.

Check’s and Balances

At this point, I hope a true conservative would see that we cannot allow anyone, be they government or private corporations, to exercise this kind of power. The Founding Fathers established a system of checks and balances to prevent any one branch of the government from becoming too powerful. In this day and age, when corporations can also exercise tremendous power over individual citizens, we need checks and balances to hold them accountable as well, and the government is the best suited entity to do it.

Many people object that net neutrality would open the door to government regulation of the Internet. Well I’ve got news for you. The government already regulates the Internet! Local governments grant monopolies to broadband providers. Various federal agencies enforce standards for electronics related to the Internet and regulate online commerce. And the FBI enforces laws against distributing child pornography on the Internet, which I think all but the most die-hard libertarians would agree is a good thing. And don’t even get me started on how government laws about patents and copyrights regulate the Internet. The truth is, the government will always regulate the Internet. The only questions are how much and whether it will do so for good or for evil.

The argument about net neutrality setting off a slippery slope of government regulation is simply a straw man. Net neutrality is not about regulating the Internet anymore than current laws already do. It’s simply about laying down ground rules that preserve the open nature of the Internet that all the innovation that has taken place online up to this point relies on. As the FCC chairman recently said, it’s merely about enshrining in law the basic “rules of the road” which already implicitly exist. Net neutrality is about preserving competition, not destroying it.

Property Rights

The final conservative argument against net neutrality I will address is that of property rights. This argument basically goes, “Since ISP’s own the pipes, they should be allowed to control what flows over them.” On it’s face, it seems like a common-sense argument. Since ISPs do own the physical infrastructure of the Internet, shouldn’t they be able to control how it is used? Maybe. But the Internet is much more than the vast array of routers, hubs, fiber optic cables, data centers, and servers that form its physical backbone. In reality, the Internet is a virtual world, an engine of commerce, society, and culture that brings people together from every part of the planet and is far greater than the mere sum of its parts. It is the single greatest machine ever built by mankind–one that spans the entire planet and abolishes the limitations of the physical world.

People speak of “cyberspace” and “realspace” as if they are two completely separate wolds, which, though closely linked, have completely separate existences. In a way that’s true. Because even though it is dependent on its physical infrastructure, the Internet has taken on an existence of its own which transcends its physical parts. This virtual wold is a true commons, in that no single entity can claim ownership of it and anyone is allowed to access any part of it they wish. Different people own small parts of it, but no one actually owns all of it, and thus no one can completely control it.

Based on this, what right does any individual ISP have to say that because they own the physical infrastructure which gives a certain number of people access to this virtual world, they have the power to control what parts of it people see or what they can do there? That would be to claim ownership over something they have no right to. Gatekeepers to this world have the right to do only one thing–let people in or keep them out. Once they are in, they have no right to say what you can do inside of it anymore than the airline I fly on to Chicago has the authority to tell me what I can do in Chicago. They are just the conduit, nothing more.

ISP’s thus have a right to charge you in exchange for giving you access to the Internet and to manage their networks in a way to insure fair access for all. But to attempt to interfere with the basic nature of cyberspace itself and their users’ experience there is utterly beyond their moral rights to control their property, and becomes a unjustifed interference with individual freedom. And just as laws in other areas prevent people from infringing on the rights of others, so must laws protect the rights of Internet users from unjust interference by their ISPs.

That is the reason conservatives should support network neutrality laws, and why I applaud the FCC for its decision to enact formal rules enforcing it.

Posted in Law, Politics, Technology, Technology Law | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Sheets of Shame

Posted by darklordofdebate on August 28, 2008

This is the most incredible story that I had to share. It is the story of a few brave students with a message. A message that the world needed to hear, and which they proclaimed in such a unique way that the world took notice. So this Tuesday, Denver awoke to see that message emblazoned on a hillside in a manner that could not be ignored.

While the media covered the facts, I’d like to share the full story of the largest protest sign ever in the words of someone who helped create it. The guy who wrote this is a Colorado NCFCAer who I remember judging at a tournament last spring, and it’s clear he and others are already putting their creativity to good use for the pro-life cause. And I know that if I had been back home in Denver this week instead of at school in Virginia, I would have given anything to be there to see this. Enjoy!

The following was posted by Josh Craddock on Facebook on August 26, 2008. Reprinted with permission:

Sheets of Shame, by Josh Craddock
If you didn’t know, I’ve spent the last month working on a top-secret project for American Right to Life to Welcome the Democratic National Convention to Denver. This morning, our project was revealed and it received local and national media attention.

Yesterday, I met at 5am to mark the coordinates on the mountain. I slept a little that afternoon, but I didn’t go to bed last night. Instead, I went straight over to Maranatha where we were staging everything. I spent about an hour and a half doing logistics work and getting all the packs lined up to go out the door. At 1am, me and three other guys took the four segments that make up the capital “D”, and were driven in a van to our drop-off point. We silently jumped the fence and hiked up to the trail (which is about 50-75′ below the bottom of the sign). We hiked along the trail for a while, and when we thought we had gone about the right distance, we started heading up the hill.

Unfortunately, it was completely dark, so we had a hard time figuring out where exactly we were. We hiked up the hill about 300′, through cactus, boulders, and sliding rock with 70-80 lbs packs on our backs, while doing our best not to fall and roll down the mountain. When we got to the area where we thought we were supposed to be, we dropped our packs and began to talk to the next group of four which had been dropped off at the trailhead 45 min after we were… Apparently, a neighbor called the police, so a cruiser came out and began spotlighting around the houses, looking for people. The second group didn’t see them, and the cop car spotlighted them as they were hiking along the trail at 2am. You’re not allowed to be on the trail before sunrise or after sunset, so they could’ve been in trouble, and if they would have been caught it would have ruined the entire plan. They just pretended to hike on towards the South, and as soon as the spotlight was off them, they dashed up the hill, took cover, and waited. Since we were about 300′ above them, we could follow the cruiser and tell them where he was going so they could avoid him. So he searched for them for a while, and after about a half hour, left. About a half hour later, two police cars arrived, on both sides of the trail, search-lighting the area. Luckily, by this time, the second group of four had taken cover by the single tree on the mountain. So they weren’t discovered and the police left. Because the police had been there, we couldn’t stick to our original plan which had been to go down and carry up more packs.

So we had to wait up at our location until sunrise, when we realized we were in the wrong spot! We were approximately 4 football fields North of where we needed to be. So we hiked horizontally across the mountain, over a ravine and other obstacles to get to our drop points. By this time, the rest of the 47 hikers had arrived with their packs, and they were hiking along the trail below us as we were hiking on deer trails high above them. When we found our drop points, we dropped our packs and began to unwrap the letter segments. I was at the top of the D so I was the first to unravel the segment on the entire mountain. Soon the letters and words began to form on the mountain, and the police again arrived on the scene, but instead of coming up, they just watched us from the neigborhood below.

The “Sheets of Shame” Guiness World Record Sign
We completed the sign within about 45 minutes, but the sun was out and most of us didn’t have water with us. (I hadn’t had any since 1am, since I had planned to go back to the van after dropping my pack.) We had vans full of water, but the police refused to allow the water to be taken up to us. The police at the bottom were extremely non-cooperative with us, and refused water even though we had several among us who were dehydrated and going into heat exhaustion and stroke. Two police officers finally ascended the hill towards us and began to negotiate the removal of the sign and the water for the hikers. They agreed to give us whatever water we wanted and denied that the lower cops had ever prevented us from obtaining water.

Anyways, we got water and an ambulance up there and finally negotiated that we would be allowed to go down to 64th Ave and have lunch and come back to take the sign down by noon. We had wanted to take it down anyways (in fact, we made it known that we planned on taking it down in our press release) because we don’t want to litter, and we’re more than happy to clean up our own mess. We got down to the road and the lower police stopped us and said we couldn’t go any further and wouldn’t let the vans come up to pick us up. So we had to renegotiate a solution. They FINALLY allowed us to get water and food, under the condition that we stayed right there and didn’t leave at all, even though it was in the sun and everyone was still having problems.

Luckily, the neighbor living just next to the trailhead happened to be a strong pro-life activist who loved what we were doing. So she invited all 55 of us to come outside her house, sit in the shade and enjoy water, food, and restrooms. It was absolutely amazing. God certainly blessed us with that woman. So we rested there for about an hour, and finally we got some food up there (my mom went to subway and they gave us extra food because they had heard about the sign and loved what we were doing).

Then about 2 to 2 1/2 hours after we had put it up, we agreed to peacefully go up and take it down, as well as cleaning the mountain to leave it better than we had found it. So we began to go up there and take down the sheets when this college-student pro-abort ran up there and started to rip apart the sheet segments. Now, normally we wouldn’t have cared, but we had considered putting the sign up again over by DIA on some friends’ of ours’ property. So I sprinted up the hill after him and threw myself between him and the sheets. He started screaming profanities at me and I started yelling at him “SIR, THESE SHEETS ARE PRIVATE PROPERTY! DO NOT TOUCH THEM AGAIN OR I WILL CALL THE POLICE!” At which point he physically began to assault me and push me to the ground. I continued to pull the sheets away from him and stand between him and the sheets, as an Associated Press photographer documented his assault on me. He kept screaming at me that unborn babies aren’t alive so they don’t have a right to life and that the sheets are just sheets they’re no one’s property. So I started yelling at him about how he obviously didn’t believe in rights, and why that was the danger in lacking a moral foundation and standard. I chased him ALL the way up the hill, and finally called the police after he shoved me to the ground again. My mom sent the police up right away, and I put him under citizen’s arrest and walked with him back down to the police. He wasn’t exactly cooperative about it. He was like “CAN YOU F***ING DO THAT?!?!” I was like “YES I CAN! I AM A CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND IT IS MY RIGHT AND PREROGATIVE TO PUT YOU UNDER CITIZEN’S ARREST!” (I actually have no idea if I had the right to do that, but it sounded cool at the time.)

So anyways, we finally got down to the police and they took all our information and took both our stories down… they asked us if we wanted to press charges against each other, and we both said no. So they escorted him off the hill, and I continued to take down the sheets. That pretty much shot all the remaining energy I had, and I was completely dead tired.

Channel 7 News interviewed me after the assault, but they didn’t play it. Instead they said it was our “punishment” to take the sign down. How is it a punishment if we had planned to do it in the first place? Ugh. Stupid liberal media. I finished up the day by hauling an 80 lbs sheet segment back down the hill and then just fell into the shade at that lady’s house until it was time to go.

It is a Guiness World Record as the largest protest sign ever. It measured 550′ tall and 670′ long, was created out of 2,400 sheets, was sewn with over 4 miles of seams, and weighed approximately 2,700 lbs. I took the top of the “D” segment up the hill, unfurled it, and then began to help unfurl the rest of the word. Within 45 minutes, the entire sign was unfurled on the mountainside. The sign was legible for eight miles in every direction, and could be seen from I-70, I-25, C-470, and most major streets in the north metro area. In fact, the sign was visible from the hotel windows of delegates staying in Denver for the convention.

UPDATE, 9:45a: Jill Stanek received a call from Steve Curtis, president of ARTL. Jefferson Co. police are now stopping people at the nearby staging area from brining replenishment water to the hikers, who each carried 50# backbacks 1/2 mile up a steep grade to the site.
UPDATE, 10a: Police have just allowed water to be brought in to the hikers.
UPDATE, 10:10a: Reports are that traffic on I70 has slowed 10 miles from the protest sign as drivers come into its view.
UPDATE, 11:45a: ARTL organizers have negotiated with police to keep the sign up until 12pm.

Official press release and sample video: http://www.coloradorighttolife.org/news/2008/08/american-right-life-unfurled-worlds-largest-protest-sign-dnc-sheets-shame
The Wall Street Journal and other major news outlets picked up this press release as the letters were being unfurled.

Here’s some local news links:
http://www.9news.com/news/article.aspx?storyid=98414&catid=188 (early report)
http://www.thedenverchannel.com/dnc/17301198/detail.html
http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/aug/26/huge-protest-sign-be-taken-down/

Here’s the Associated Press article: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5g1C9XngxmlMP3zchMPyzuRva-L-gD92Q77P80

Nationally, CNN and FOX News both picked up video coverage, as did Channel 7 news, Channel 4 News, and Fox 31 News. 7 News interviewed me, and I’ll almost certainly be on tonight’s evening news (at least in the background).

The protest went incredibly well and I’m so thankful for God’s hand in this whole project. 😀

Josh

I know some may consider what they did foolish, perhaps even illegal. But personally I think their message needed to be heard, and they showed loud and clear exactly what the Democratic Party stands for. No matter how eloquently Barack Obama may speak on any number of subjects from Iraq to healthcare to energy policy, one thing stands out that makes it impossible for any pro-life Christian to support him–his party is the party of death, and his support for abortion makes him the candidate of death. When asked by Rick Warren when life begins, Obama replied that question was “above his paygrade.” His opponent, John McCain, answered simply with no hedging or qualifying, “conception.” Period.

While we conservatives may have our doubts about how firmly McCain will hold to a pro-life stance once in office, I don’t think there is any doubt which candidate in this race is closest to our position, or that Obama must be opposed for this above all other reasons. While I both agree and disagree with both candidates on other points, ultimately that is why I cannot support Obama and why I will whole-heartedly vote for John McCain.

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