When AIG funds campaigns who benefits?

According to OpenSecrets.org, AIG was happy to fund Democrats and Republicans:

Of all the companies making headlines this week, AIG has been the most nonpartisan in its contributions, splitting evenly the $9.7 million it has contributed over time. Sen. Chris Dodd, chair of the Senate banking committee, has racked up the most from AIG, with a total of $281,400, while Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of both the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, takes second with $116,400. Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama collected $103,000 and $82,600 from AIG, respectively.

So now you know where some of AIG’s money went. Maybe now that a majority of AIG is nationalized (see, socialism is okay now! It all depends on who the beneficiaries are!) their campaign contributions will change.

Probably not.

Nader: I predicted Fannie/Freddie bailout 8 years ago

“Nader Rips Mae and Mac,” declared the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal on June 16, 2000. “Ralph Nader, warning of a potential taxpayer bailout similar to the savings and loan crisis, urged lawmakers to cut government benefits to mortgage-market giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – which he called ‘poster children for corporate welfare.'”

This year Nader, who is also running for president as an independent, is getting credit for his prescience.

“Give one presidential candidate credit for identifying the problem and getting the policy right – and doing so before the twin government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went into the tank in mid-July,” wrote Lou Dubose in The Washington Spectator on Aug. 1. Dubose went on to quote Nader’s June 15, 2000 Congressional testimony about HR 3703, a bill that would have reigned in some of the most dangerous tendencies of GSE’s, had it passed.


Be sure to read Nader’s “10-point plan to cool off the financial markets meltdown”

Continue reading

Ralph Nader remembers Peter Miguel Camejo

Ralph Nader remembers a champion of social justice and former running-mate Peter Miguel Camejo. Camejo died this past Saturday, as his gubernatorial website put it, “due to the aggressiveness of his cancer and the strength of the drugs used to combat his disease”.

I remember seeing Peter Camejo on TV in 2003 debate to become California’s governor in the recall election. I was impressed: He spoke with concision and eloquence, made Progressive arguments for social ills—not surprisingly the same list of ideas Ralph Nader defends in his current presidential campaign. I also remember laughing as Arianna Huffington referred to Camejo as a “spoiler” in a televised debate while they were competing against hundreds of other candidates, some of whom were invited to be part of that debate. In late September 2003 I enjoyed a small bit of schadenfreude when she dropped out and he continued his candidacy to the end of the race. I’m glad I voted for him for US Vice President.

Magnatune makes it easy to find new music from a publisher that treats you right

John Buckman at Magnatune.com has updated the Magnatune home page to include the 100 most recently released albums at Magnatune. This should make it easier to find their latest music if you visit their homepage.

How does Magnatune treat you right? They offer their catalog:

Try some new music from a record label that’s not out to sue you when you treat friends like friends.

Update (2008-12-25): Magnatune has sweetened the deal with their subscription all-you-can-eat model by reducing the minimum subscription period to 1 month. Since you pay for the subscription per month, this change basically eliminates the minimum subscription period.

Corporate welfare today: Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac

Putting to rest any belief about the market being “free”, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced another taxpayer-sponsored bailout of an American corporation yesterday. Reminiscent of the recent Bear Stearns bailout, the beneficiaries are also private corporations: Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Together, Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee just under half of the country’s $12 trillion in mortgage debt:

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are so large and so interwoven in our financial system that a failure of either of them would cause great turmoil in the financial markets here at home and around the globe. This turmoil would directly and negatively impact household wealth, from family budgets to home values, to savings for college and retirement. A failure would affect the ability of Americans to get home loans, auto loans and other consumer credit and business finance. And a failure would be harmful to economic growth and job creation. That is why we have taken these actions today.Henry Paulson, 8 September 2008

A free market would allow all mismanaged business to fail and their higher-ups suffer the slings and arrows of competition, just like the government routinely does for small businesses. So the question is who gets the benefit of business-friendly government largesse, not whether we have a free market.

[W]e’re watching the death of the free market ideology. It hasn’t been announced. But increasingly, the policies, the way we talk, the way we make legislation all but formally abandons the notion that the market can do it right, the government will do it wrong, and that government intervention is a bad idea. It turns out that government intervention is a bad idea, unless you want and need money from the government, in which case it becomes a fine idea, and bring on the government cash. So it might be unfortunate when somebody who’s having a tough time in their life wants a free piece of cheese, but when a bunch of executives want a free $100 billion, it turns out that’s the kind of government intervention we can all get behind, we can all believe in.Max Fraad Wolff (audio, video, transcript)

Candy everybody wants?

Chris Blizzard celebrates Lawrence Lessig’s recent pro-Obama remarks noting how “positiv[ity]” and “Not talking about differences or what the other guy is doing” are the characteristics that make Lessig’s closing so good. Lessig’s remarks seem to be available exclusively in Flash format. I don’t have a Flash player because I find Flash to be annoying and there isn’t yet any good way to delineate what a Flash player should be able to access (what information it should be allowed to convey to a website, for instance). So I’ll take it from Blizzard’s blog that Lessig’s quote is accurate.

I hope the rest of what Lessig has to say isn’t as devoid of substantive content as his ending. I’m reminded of Obama’s sloganeering: “Hope” and “change” are not policies.

If anyone honestly discusses “what the other guy is doing” they’d reveal the unbroken pattern that the two corporate-funded candidates have so much in common on the most important issues of the day that their similarities dwarf their few differences. This is not surprising when you consider that both parties get their money from the same sources, both dialing for the same dollars. Anyone who seriously undertook this endeavor would also understand how neither candidate ever offers what the American public wants. From ending wars of aggression, to investigating and impeaching those who backed such wars, a strong universal single-payer health care system, strong working and air/water environment restrictions, to real food safety regulation, polls show us that these are among the things the US public wants but are famously “off the table” for those in power.

Continue reading

Eat less meat.

Want to help the environment and yourself at the same time? Eat less meat.

People should have one meat-free day a week if they want to make a personal and effective sacrifice that would help tackle climate change, the world’s leading authority on global warming has told The Observer.

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which last year earned a joint share of the Nobel Peace Prize, said that people should then go on to reduce their meat consumption even further.

And if you live in the US you should be more wary of American meat than ever considering how the US meat processors are driven by profit rather than placing human health at the highest priority. When mad cow disease was first discovered in US beef you’d think the US government would require all beef producers to test for mad cow disease. Instead, according to Creekstone Farms, a Kansas beef producer, the USDA won’t let Creekstone test all their cows.

When a vertebral column was detected in a veal shipment to Japan, Japan reinstated their ban on US beef imports. Sadly, Japan has suspended that ban and allowed American meat back in. Michiko Kamiyama from Food Safety Citizen Watch said about this: “The government has put priority on the political schedule between the two countries, not on food safety or human health.”.

When profit drives one’s work, you can look forward to more unsafe choices aimed at keeping the money flowing toward a business. It’s a matter of priorities. So isn’t your priority to enrich business even at risk to your health? Apparently that’s their view of you.

Free media and free software help keep you free to run your life

Dave Cross encourages the dependence upon proprietary software by complaining that the Free Software Foundation’s recent 25th birthday video should have been distributed in non-free formats so people could see the video.

A surface analysis would reveal that proprietors support their own video formats exclusively. A deeper more significant analysis would reveal what users are left with after installing free and non-free software.

MacOS X and Microsoft Windows don’t come with all the software needed to play Flash video, Java applet-driven video, Microsoft Video codecs, or Apple’s QuickTime codecs. So when Apple distributes movies in some codec wrapped in QuickTime, only MacOS users have the software to play it. Same for Microsoft Windows users with Microsoft Video codecs. One commonly has to get additional software to play movie files. Users who install these programs are installing proprietary patent-encumbered software. Given Cross’ complaints one can only assume that this kind of onesidedness is okay despite how it leaves users in a lurch unable to play anything they come across and, more importantly, how adding the non-free movie players leaves users with non-free software.

Proprietors leave users with non-free software—software users are not free to inspect, share, or modify. If that software does something that any user doesn’t want (various bugs, failing to run in the user’s native language, spy on the user’s activities, to name a few examples), users have no legal means to alter the software to keep the functionality they like and delete the functionality they don’t like. Proprietary software takes away users’ freedom to run their computers as they wish.

But when the FSF distributes their videos in Ogg Vorbis+Theora licensed to share at least verbatim (licensing which is better than Microsoft or Apple’s licensing) they encourage users to get software to play the videos. VideoLAN Client (VLC for short), and Miro are two such programs. VLC & Miro both run on all the major operating systems (GNU/Linux, Microsoft Windows, MacOS X), both are free software, and both play a lot of audio and video files (VLC also plays DVDs). The Java applet the FSF used is also free software (it’s the same applet Wikipedia uses), so if you have Java installed you can play the video directly on the website. You’re left with free software and a movie you have license to share. The PlayOgg.org campaign can help you if you need more help acquiring or playing free media.

Playing Ogg Vorbis+Theora movie files is about to become a lot easier. Testing versions of Mozilla Firefox come with an Ogg Vorbis+Theora player built-in. Websites using the <video> HTML element will show a movie box without the need to install anything beyond Firefox. Users eager to test that software can get the latest builds and test it out. In time, Firefox’s production release (the version most Firefox users use) will feature these improvements and Firefox will ask users to upgrade to this version. This move adds pressure on other web browser developers to support Ogg Vorbis+Theora, the <video> element, and supporting Ogg Vorbis+Theora increases the chances that we’ll all be able to build our culture around free media.

Cross asks “Java was proprietary (and therefore verboten) until very recently. What did they do before that?” Before Java became free software the FSF advocated for change to eliminate dependence on non-free software and to make a free Java. The FSF wrote an essay about what they called “The Java Trap“—free software programs with non-free software dependencies such as a Java program that relied on the formerly non-free Sun Java runtime. The FSF also encouraged the development of free software Java replacements and hackers had been working on just such a thing. I maintain that it is that hard work which resulted in increased competition for Sun, Sun’s shift in policy, and relicensing their Java software to become free software.

In other words, running proprietary software doesn’t result in the creation of more software freedom. When we run more proprietary software we start to think of the proprietor’s interests as an acceptable state of affairs no matter how much the proprietor restricts our work using our computers. We might even defend their onesidedness which leaves us dependent on their software and with no media to share. When we put in the work to fight for our software freedom we’re left with software that respects our freedom to share, modify, and use.

Finally, Cross notes that “The Free Software Foundation never ever use the term “Open Source Software” as it dilutes their brand.”. The FSF’s objection to the term “open source” stems from the difference in philosophy between the free software and open source movements. Richard Stallman has written two essays on this topic (I linked to the latter but the former is linked from there), spoken about these philosophies at virtually every talk or interview he gives, and answers emails about it any time it comes up. The FSF would like to get people to think of software freedom, not the small subset of programmatic efficiency issues the phrase “open source” was coined for.

RFID: Your privacy is up for grabs

Katherine Albrecht, co-author of “Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID“, has written an article for Scientific American explaining how we inadvertently consent to lose our privacy and what’s being done about it on a federal level in the US and EU.

If you live in a state bordering Canada or Mexico, you may soon be given an opportunity to carry a very high tech item: a remotely readable driver’s license. Designed to identify U.S. citizens as they approach the nation’s borders, the cards are being promoted by the Department of Homeland Security as a way to save time and simplify border crossings. But if you care about your safety and privacy as much as convenience, you might want to think twice before signing up.

The new licenses come equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags that can be read right through a wallet, pocket or purse from as far away as 30 feet. Each tag incorporates a tiny microchip encoded with a unique identification number. As the bearer approaches a border station, radio energy broadcast by a reader device is picked up by an antenna connected to the chip, causing it to emit the ID number. By the time the license holder reaches the border agent, the number has already been fed into a Homeland Security database, and the traveler’s photograph and other details are displayed on the agent’s screen.

Although such “enhanced” driver’s licenses remain voluntary in the states that offer them, privacy and security experts are concerned that those who sign up for the cards are unaware of the risk: anyone with a readily available reader device””unscrupulous marketers, government agents, stalkers, thieves and just plain snoops””can also access the data on the licenses to remotely track people without their knowledge or consent. What is more, once the tag’s ID number is associated with an individual’s identity””for example, when the person carrying the license makes a credit-card transaction””the radio tag becomes a proxy for that individual. And the driver’s licenses are just the latest addition to a growing array of “tagged” items that consumers might be wearing or carrying around, such as transit and toll passes, office key cards, school IDs, “contactless” credit cards, clothing, phones and even groceries.

Speaking of “contactless” credit cards, the Discovery cable TV channel recently scuttled an episode of “Mythbusters” (where a team of scientists explore the veracity of stories sent in by viewers) which exposes how insecure RFID tags are. Boing Boing describes the clip thusly, “Mythbusters’ Adam Savage told the folks at the HOPE hackercon about how the Discovery Channel was bullied by big credit-card companies out of airing a program about how crappy the security in RFID tags is.”.

Years ago a university research team exposed the same story showing that by merely sitting in close proximity to someone with a Mobil SpeedPass gas keychain fob you can copy the information encoded on that device through the air (the “R” in “RFID” stands for radio) and replay that information at a Mobil gas station to get gas by posing as the SpeedPass owner. It would appear that credit card companies’ lawyers are more sensitive to bad public perception than Mobil is.

Update (2008 September 8): Adam Savage now says that Discovery Channel didn’t kill the RFID episode of “Mythbusters”, the show’s production company did. CNet news quotes a statement from Savage:

“There’s been a lot of talk about this RFID thing, and I have to admit that I got some of my facts wrong, as I wasn’t on that story, and as I said on the video, I wasn’t actually in on the call,” Savage said in the statement. “Texas Instruments’ account of their call with Grant and our producer is factually correct. If I went into the detail of exactly why this story didn’t get filmed, it’s so bizarre and convoluted that no one would believe me, but suffice to say…the decision not to continue on with the RFID story was made by our production company, Beyond Productions, and had nothing to do with Discovery, or their ad sales department.”

But this doesn’t really change the story in a significant way; no matter what group of people decided to kill the RFID Mythbusters episode, it appears that that episode won’t air. Trying to keep the lid on bad decisions about how to deploy RFID technology is futile and in no way benefits the public. The public is no more secure for the silence from Mythbusters and RFID “contactless” credit cards are out there with more on the way. So ask yourself: who does benefit?