Thursday, January 26, 2012

SOPA, governments, and freedom of the internet

In the little spare time I have had the last couple weeks, I have been trying to form an educated opinion regarding the new SOPA and PIP (Protect IP) laws that the USA is trying to pass to regulate the internet and protect domestic copyright and piracy laws.

Probably the opinion I most reflect so far is that of this open letter from technology founders in the USA to Congress...

I have a unique situation in regards to these laws in that I am in both technology and the "music" industries. That means...I am for any legitimate expansion and use of technology without false limitations or freedoms curbed by any government, including my own...yet at the same time I am for reasonable protection of the ownership of my creativity...whether that be music, writing or image arts.

Admittedly, we live in an age of competition by imitation. The rules and regulations MUST continue to evolve to take into consideration all aspects of irreversible globalization and new technologies that make copying and duplication a very simple process. Yet, I think our simplistic and archaic "leaders" in Congress understand very little about the laws and verbiage they are forcing through Congress...and trying to force upon the rest of the world. Long gone are the days of "book burnings" or "bannings" as an exercise of executive privilege. Long gone are the days when huge companies and institutions can DICTATE laws...and submission to those the global masses. This is just unrealistic in this day and age without annihilation of huge populations in the world. Do we really have the option of "nuking" or invading China and other such countries who have made huge industries of piracy and duplication of original and patented processes or inventions? I don`t think so. So, what are our real options?

While technology has created some of this problem, therein also lies much of the solution. There are many ways to digitally place your "ownership" on printed or digital materials to establish legitimacy. We need to continue the development of these technologies that can track content or programs that are protected...and at the same time safeguard such materials or processes in common sense ways. One small example might be written, digital content. Even emails. There are plenty of encryption and secure programs out there to retain privacy of written materials...yet very few people who publish such copyrighted or private content use the most basic of tools. There are also many ways to treat music and video files so they cannot be easily copied or distributed unauthorized. Yet, many producers don`t use some of these basic tools already out there. Believe me, as long as you continue to lay "gold coins" out in the street, street people will continue to pocket them and disappear.

The other point is that any government must work UNDER THE LAW OF DUE PROCESS to enforce laws that are already on the books. At this point I haven't seen or understood anything of copyrights and privacy laws that are not covered already WITHOUT these new, overstepping laws. Todays governments, including the USA, seem bent on dictatorial, tyrannous approaches to enforcing laws that have not even been officially passed or printed yet! Based on the first pass reading of SOPA, I see many items there that appear unconstitutional or without due process of law. To me this is another version of a "Patriot Act" that gives blind power and permission of government to act against their own citizens without due process or interpretation of law...which to me is very evidently unconstitutional.

I don`t know the whole story behind last weeks arrest and crackdown on MegaUpload in New Zealand...but from the outside looking in it is scary to me to see seizures of properties and arrests of persons without some judicial course of action. And when countries, such as in this case New Zealand and Hong Kong, immediately capitulate to a USA federal court order...against people who are not even USA citizens, it gives rise to the question of what IS the definition of due process...and is this a huge case of "governments uniting against the people"?

It would appear from this general story being covered on Wikipedia that this smells of complete and tyrannical flexing of governmental muscles...on a global scale...against large global businesses and their leaders who have "gotten too big and successful". It also calls into question the rights of the MILLIONS of customers using these services who have lost money paid to this company without any notice or obligation to make good a return of those people`s money. It seems governments are only interested in THEIR tax revenue (in this case lost due to offshore positioning) versus protecting the funds of millions of their citizens who rightly or wrongly paid for these services. If the government had a court order for this company to return revenue to their unknowing customers...with due process and notice to "the people"...then these actions might be less suspect. In this case...who or what institution gets all the millions in "spoils" that have been taken away by these combined government forces?

Now, I´m quite sure that many of us would have no love or respect for the founder of this company. Apparently he was an arrogant ******* who had little to no respect for copyright laws and was being a better distributor of Hollywood movies than Hollywood itself. I don`t know enough about this case or the laws around it to make a determination of his innocence or guilt. What concerns me is the hybris and aggression shown by police forces of an international scale against this guys properties and other third persons. Unfortunately most people in the world take medias and governments spin on such stories as the "truth". Yet, I would suggest that most of us are not qualified to make such a call on these types of cases...but any liberty minded person must wonder what kind of legal process was behind this statist actions. Sure, this company will have their day in court somewhere...but meanwhile it appears they have been deemed guilty until proven innocent...which to me is the reverse of what our democratic liberties are all about. And I once again have to ask...what juridiction does the USA have over foreign individuals in foreign countries? Are we paying for access and steam rolling over other countries...using taxpayer money and military threats? Who knows...but it surely seems odd.

Unfortunately, we have seen these types of actions on part of the USA government way too often in the past decade. The Patriot Act continues to be in force and in my opinion circumvents the established laws of our constitution and excessive powers when it comes to individual rights and due process. In addition to the Patriot Act, in 2006 the Bush administration surreptitiously passed a little understood law called the "Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act" wherein while the feds knew they could not outlaw completely online "gaming", they apparently believed they had the constitutional right to limit Americans from using their money or transferring their money to businesses for this purpose. No matter how one feels about gambling...or what they understand for that matter about Sports Betting or playing "Poker" as a game of skill...there are still many lawsuits and actions against these usurpative laws that call into question the governments authority in limiting a citizens rights to how and where one wants to use their money. While many probably think these actions were based on some "moral highground" of our legislature to protect the poor losers who don`t know how to control their money...I am quite sure that as soon as the USA determines HOW they can legalize, tax and take out the international COMPETITION for online gaming and will once again be legal at the federal level to play online...with real money. Just watch what happens...and then tell me what MORALITY this action was based on.

These are all huge subjects, but for now I try to find the underpinning, macro philosophy and opinion upon which to base my reaction(s) to SOPA and other laws in the USA. The USA, nor any other country for that matter, does not own or control the "Internet". This is now something of GLOBAL domain...and to that end the USA also has to play by international laws and regulations. I believe there are already plenty of international laws "on the books" related to protection of copyrights, fraud, piracy, etc. The USA cannot effectively and arbitrarily pass rules and regulations on the whole world related to this medium. Impossible to enforce and unrealistic to expect international cooperation on all fronts.

The best approach I think is for all global economies of scale to unite on international laws and long as those laws and regulations do not overstep basic rights of individual sovereignty and access to information on an equal basis. Along those lines, I think the international community must FIGHT to protect equal access to information within all regimes...repressive or not. I also think economic sanctions are difficult to enforce, and usually only punish the poor, powerless masses instead of the governments or regimes they are designed to punish. There will need to be new and better ways to get international cooperation to lean on dictatorships and isolated regimes.

Global competition...and use of the now a race for effective use of the "information highway". A global body over the internet should be effectively established to fight security issues and go after virus producers. Instead of trying to limit online commerce...including gaming on line...the USA should instead compete to have the best and most secure systems for allowing its citizens the liberty to play any games...even for their own risk and responsibility. Most people do not need government to determine their financial limitations...and those who do will eventually end up broke or in rehab somewhere whether it is legal or not...but the rest of us should not be limited based on the minority`s weakness of character...or lack of sanity.

I wish someone was paying me to study and digest all that is happening in the online legal space so I could devote more time to it. This is obviously just a laymen`s view on what is happening. Yet, I think it is legitimate to say that there is too much "Shenanigans" going on with governments and the internet. In general I will rebel against any law or position that my or any other global government establishes that limits freedom of access of the internet...for legitimate content or financial transactions. No one government is big enough, or knowledgeable enough, to play that role for the rest of the world. Those regimes or governments that attempt to do so will find it backfiring on their country`s economy, culture and productivity. We should not allow any government, even the USA, to attempt those kinds of controls.

My current position is I believe we have plenty of laws to defend copyright and piracy laws. We just need to enforce them...WITH DUE PROCESS...and not make it EASY for people to steal from us. That is the true "American way".

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why I might change my mind on Romney for President

There are a couple old sayings such as:

If you can`t beat them, join them"

You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.

- Albert Einstein

How do I tie these sayings into Mitt Romney for President? that I know he paid over 3 million dollars last year in Federal Income taxes...I think he deserves a shot at leading our country into a positive economic and cultural turn around.

I know many of my more liberal or socialist friends will take issue with what I am saying here, but look at things realistically. What is the meaning or purpose of money? For me, money is nothing more than a way to "keep score". Business and free enterprise are built around competition and the score is kept by how many dollars your ideas or relationships can earn in the shortest amount of time. "Time is money"---also a valuable concept. I also go along with the thinking that jobs are never produced by poor people or governments. Its now about global competition of money and productivity. America is currently losing that competition.

If you go along with this mentality about money, then one must begin respecting the value...and POWER of money. I remember when I made the statement to my father figure Grandfather in my teens..."it looks like those with the most money win...even in religion". I sensed that my minister grandfather was a little taken off guard by my statement. He then clarified for me that it is the LOVE of money that was the root of evil...not money itself. Money can be very useful. Most people that hate people with money...are those that don`t have any. This is an ugly principle that is fueling most of the world`s conflicts...and unfortunately the number of "producers" of money are being quickly over run by the "consumers" of money...the primary culprits being GOVERNMENTS...who produce no money, only print it. They only spend what they tax out of the system...a system that must be voluntarily agreed to by the majority supposedly.

While I have unabashedly supported the ideas and fundamentals of Ron Paul as a "libertarian Republican"...I now think the next best litmus test of who is qualified to lead our country is the one who can or has generated the most money in their lifetime. And while we must recognize that "money flows to money" and that many people INHERIT what they have...I think we should evaluate leaders in our country based on how successful they have been as PRODUCERS. Not leeches off the system. Not lifelong attorneys who predominantly pursue and lead our political processes by manipulation of laws and regulations. We need a Warren Buffet or Steven Jobs type of figure who can take over and lead at least the economic rebound our country so thirsts for. Its not about government "programs" or continued redistribution of other peoples incomes and tax dollars. We need a true revolution in government that thrives on thrift, principles of productivity and competition...and not just how big they can grow the governmental complex into.

The biggest idea here is to make federal government an almost VOLUNTARY position to be held by PRODUCTIVE citizens. It should be a SERVICE job...much like Peace Corp or other service job. Get rid of all the financial incentives politicians have to be in office...and you will now see the TRUE leaders step up and run government.

Next step as already written about in other blogs...we need dynamic election reform where big money ads and PACs are no longer useful or legal as part of our electoral system. This alone will take big corporations out of the equation...actually save them billions of bogus dollars for influencing elections...which can then be put towards more productive things like R&D, international development, pensions and benefits for their workers, and actual sales and marketing of cutting edge products and services.

To that of today...I will vote in the next election for whoever has the best potential leadership towards an economic revolution. This takes a BUSINESS leader...not a lawyer or career politician. If you put all these guys up against that litmus only have one current star in the race...on either side of the political aisle.

Does it matter that Romney`s heritage is of the Mormon faith? Well, "by their fruits you shall know them"...and my perception is that Mormons have a pretty sound philosophy on money and what to do with it. Next to the Jewish people, they have the best history as a religion and culture of producing and saving money that I know of. If you care about the USA economy, you can do much worse than put the economy in the hands of a person of Mormon or Jewish tradition.

It is sad that in this day and age in America, a person has to hide or apologize for their wealth and income to run for office. I understand that if you made the money illegally or have something to hide. In this case though, I think Romney truly wanted to downplay his income only because he clearly understands the "class war" we have going on in America...and throughout the world. While he may have the best ideas on how to turn our country`s economy around...a majority of Americans are NOT wealthy and are still looking for what they can GET out of the government versus what they can contribute. They will always look at a guy like Romney as NOT one of them. He will NEVER be the guy next door, the average guy everyone can identify with. Most Americans will be much more comfortable with an actor like Reagan, or politico like Gingrich. As seen in the last election, the masses will ALWAYS be enamored by a "Robin Hood" like President Obama...and he is obviously STILL the front runner to win this next election since a majority of the poor masses STILL believe in him. They think Robin Hood is their only chance to matter in the world. I truly hope not, because if so, we are doomed.

So, there you have it. Mitt is not the best speaker in the Republican lineup. He is not as intellectual as a Gingrich. He is not as consistent in his views as a Ron Paul. He is not as conservative of a Republican as Rick Santorum. But, dollar for dollar of productivity in his lifetime...I will probably now support Romney IF he gets nominated. Without sound economic productivity, our country is doomed. This next election will be all about the ECONOMY...stupid.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A message for Evangelicals worth passing on...

Not by sight, but by faith

By Cal Thomas
Tribune Media Services

A group of conservative evangelical leaders met in Texas last weekend and endorsed a Roman Catholic for president. Given the history of evangelical antipathy toward the theological underpinnings of the Roman Catholic Church, that in itself signals a remarkable evolution (pardon the word), along with a considerable amount of political pragmatism.

The blessing of what was once called the “Religious Right” fell on the once-married Rick Santorum and not the thrice married and more recent convert to Catholicism, Newt Gingrich.

The endorsement came on the same weekend when Tebow-mania was at its height, as were the ratings for CBS, which carried the Denver Broncos-New England Patriots football game. Tebow’s Broncos were crushed by the superior and less openly religious Patriots.

Despite evidence that politics (and sports) cannot deliver America from its collective sins, evangelicals repeatedly search for an earthly savior. So desperate are they to find this deliverer that they have glommed onto the Catholic Santorum, a man whose religion many of them vilify and hold in utter contempt, in hopes of trumpeting their conservative values and faith-based initiatives in the coming election. In so doing, they make a mistake their Scriptures warn against.

The Kingdom of God functions best, said the One who ought to know, when it is invisible, or hidden. In his numerous parables, Jesus spoke of it being like a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44), or as tiny as a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32). As for prayer, He said to do that privately, not in public “…like the hypocrites...” (Matthew 6:5-6)

Those who spend a lot of time arguing for the inerrancy of Scripture seem to gloss over these instructions when it comes to politics and football.

Why do many evangelicals feel the need to see their faith on public display? Are they that insecure about the One in whom they claim to believe? His Apostle, Paul, said, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) Was he kidding?

I’m sure Tim Tebow is as fine a man as everyone says he is; everyone except Bill Maher and other “apatheist” detractors. But the Jesus about whom Tebow frequently speaks and to whom he drops to one knee to publicly praise, said to go into your closet and pray in secret and then your prayers will be heard.

The point has been made by several commentators that God also loves players on the losing side of games (and elections), so why don’t losers praise Him and we them? Just asking.

Something else evangelicals gloss over. Scripture says all authority comes from God and He puts people in power who serve His purposes, not ours. There are too many verses to cite here. Look it up.

For those who claim to believe the Bible is “the Word of God,” it means God has a purpose for President Obama being in office. Evangelicals may not like it and many may not vote for him, but they can’t credibly deny this truth. In the ultimate church-state moment, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus responded that Pilate would not have that power had God not given it to him. (John 19:11) Case closed.

American Christianity is unique and the antithesis of what the faith looks like in much of the world. Elsewhere, Christians pay a high price for their faith. Some are denied their freedom, some are denied jobs and still others are denied their lives. Christian missionaries labor for low pay, receive little recognition and are often persecuted. Jesus said those who are greatest on Earth will be least in Heaven and vice versa. (Matthew 19:30)

Righteousness doesn’t come from the top, but from the bottom. A nation that focuses on money and pleasure will get political leadership that reflects that idolatry. The list of great nations that have collapsed throughout history is a long one. Self-indulgence toppled most of them. Invading armies merely finished the process.

Instead of intensely focusing on football and the next election, perhaps evangelicals ought to pray more; in private, of course, and with the right motives.

(Direct all MAIL for Cal Thomas to: Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207. Readers may also e-mail Cal Thomas

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Comparing two Panama Cities

The easiest way I have to keep perspective on my home country versus my adopted to track the news on Google. Google has a great "news alert" system, and for a couple years now I have an ongoing news "alert" for "Panama City". Of course, what is interesting is that half of the news coming in is related to Panama City, Panama...and the other half is about Panama City, FLORIDA. Since I often get asked by foreigners how life in Panama compares to the USA...I often have a fresh perspective on this just by following Google news on the two cities.

As per today's alert summary highlighted in the image above, life seems to be challenging on both sides of the Gulf that divides them. I visited Panama City, Florida decades ago...and from my recollections, I would suggest there are many similarities. Beaches, warm weather most of the year, and broad distinctions between the "haves" and the "have nots". Most people are more comfortable "suffering" or "playing" in sunny, warm climates. That`s why Florida grew so rapidly out of the Everglades "swamps"...and that is why we see such significant development going on the isthmus that is Panama. The poor AND the rich continue to migrate to these types of cities.

Part of the challenge of understanding life in either place is handling the tension and conflicts between rich and poor. Both Panama Cities have this complexity. Both have slums...and both have high end real estate zones. Both have reasonably high crime rates. When I read these "Nationmaster" crime stats...I find that in most categories Panama is relatively safer than the United States. The main areas Panama "wins" in higher crime categories are in percentage of "foreign detainees", and the amount of prison overcrowding. The USA is much more efficient in building prisons and putting its citizens there than Panama is. If you have to go to prison, Florida is probably a better location. Hopefully you nor I will ever have to deal with that sordid thought.

Back on the city seems to me that for its relative size in population (36,649 in Panama City, Florida, vs 880,691 for Panama City, Panama in 2009), Panama City, Fl has a lot of crime for its size. Its pretty hard to find reliable data in Panama and elsewhere for these kinds of statistics...and I have never lived in Panama City, Florida...but from my Google news perception, there sure seems to be a lot of crime in the Florida location even though Panama is obviously a much poorer, less educated population.

Then do we adequately judge "poorer" and "less-educated"? It seems to me that with all the billions spent on the USA social structure and education programs, the USA SHOULD be much further ahead than Panama economically and productively...yet I think the unemployment rates along with the crime rates are significantly higher in Panama City USA. That in itself is a crime to me...based upon the money spent.

Of course, who is to blame for these dreadful statistics? Do we blame the government for inadequate education or lack of social safety nets based on the amount of tax money they consume? Do we blame all the churches and non-profits who pay no taxes yet shovel in billions of dollars every year for such causes that never get resolved? Or, should we blame all citizens at large for not "taking care of their own"?

In this scenario, I think both the USA and Panama have the same problems. The governments tax too much from everyone for distribution back to the "entitled" and people "in power"...while the general citizenry waits for governments and institutions to cover their personal responsibilities or needs within their own families. There is some obvious truth to the fact that the poor in the world have more babies and contribute to the population boom more than the rich. Sure, part of that is that 70% of the world lives in poverty...but the other reality is that poorer working class families tend to have many more children than prosperous families. This in turn demands that society make more room for the growing number of under educated, under financed members of society. Who pays for all that? We ALL do!

The "dance" between governments and social programs that never adequately or evenly distribute what they collect is a never ending one. I don`t see any history of Socialism or Communism being a successful model of governing, economic planning or even distribution of a country`s wealth. Of course, Democracy and Capitalism has very few pure examples of success in this either. I would argue that every attempt at Democracy or Capitalism at some point gets diluted by the greed of a FEW producers...who then try and turn the rest of their society into some form of Socialism or Communal-ism...that THEY control. As a friend of mine always says about these things..."smoke and mirrors...smoke and mirrors".

As the world continues in the irreversible process of "globalization" will be interesting to watch these two "Panama Cities" as they continue to evolve and compete for growth and maturity in their unique regional and cultural evolutions...and to see in the end which citizens will end up with the best quality of life. Of course, one must define "quality of life" to adequately compare...and we will leave that for another discussion. Yet, I would suggest that overall...I see more happiness and relative tranquility in Panama than I see in the USA these days. Part of the reason for that is most Americans are not very well acquainted with real poverty or third world living...though they are quickly moving that direction. And most Panamanians...well, they currently have the most freedom and independence that they have ever experienced in their history. The average Panamanian is quite experienced at living in relative poverty and contented with the basic provisions that life (or powers that be) affords them. To that end, Americans in Panama City, Florida may have lots to learn from Panamanians in Panama City, Panama. Hopefully the growing economic system in Panama will not replicate some of the most drastic mistakes of the USA...those being: run-away credit, runaway materialism, and a self destructing culture fighting between conservative and liberal, religious and non-religious, between various races...and ultimately the main divide between rich and poor.