And again: But you supported exactly the opposite!

Tim Robbins is quoted as using sexist and strong language to denounce the Democrats and Sen. Kerry (D-MA) in particular in this Winnipeg Sun article:

“For Embedded [Robbins' new DVD], he sat down for an hour one-on-one to talk about a citizen’s responsibility, the pressure on celebrities, what he perceives are the evils of the Bush government and his disillusionment with “the pussies” in the Democrat Party, including John Kerry, who refused to oppose Bush over Iraq.”

Before the election, Robbins lent his support to the campaign which sought to get former Nader supporters to rally votes for Kerry instead. Unfortunately for their audience, the supporters chose to give Kerry support without demanding anything of Kerry or explaining why Nader was inadequate in 2004 given that the major parties had offered the US two pro-war choices. The crowd failed to explain the confusing position of lending one’s support to a candidate one “strongly disagree[s] with [...] on Iraq and other issues”.

Look for a similar tactic in 2008: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) versus some Republican (perhaps Jeb Bush, governor of Florida). Progressives will support the Democrat even though she, like her Republican counterpart, supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the Democrats have a history of squelching progressive policies.

Keeping the Karl Rove scandal in perspective

On a recent Democracy Now! (transcript) about 26m04s into the show, Norman Solomon, co-founder of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, and signatory and, therefore, squelcher of presidential competition in 2004, helps keep the Karl Rove scandal in perspective:

“It would be a big mistake for social movements to pin their hopes and their futures on what a court or prosecutor does. I think it’s also important for us to remember that the news media themselves, as major institutions, are framing this. They are themselves participating in the spin, and a lot of what we are getting now is this notion that there’s nothing more crucial for U.S. national security than protecting the identity of a C.I.A. agent. And hat’s a perspective, I think, that’s rather warped. National security involves, among other things, making sure that the United States government does not create enemies around the world by dropping bombs on innocent people. It also involves as national security, broadly defined, making sure that we don’t continue with the decimation of communities around this country, where we have schools and clinics, and social services being damaged severely. So I think what we’re seeing here, while it’s very interesting palace intrigue and certainly has great historical and political importance, the kind of recasting of what is on the front burner, and ironically, public concern about Iraq itself and the implications of the U.S. war there, are to some degree being shunted aside by this controversy which, in fact, has its roots in the lies about this war.”

An interesting discussion, if only to watch Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton, squirm as he tries to avoid admitting that the Democrats are a party of collaborators in “tap-dancing while the blood continues to run” (as Solomon put it) in this “madness of militarism” (Solomon said, citing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Regardless of whether the Democrats are in power now or not, nothing prevents them from taking the right stance and speaking truth to power. The Democrats are simply more loyal to their corporate campaign funding sources than they are to what the majority of the country in their own constituencies want.

Don’t debate using arguments your opponent can best you with.

I read that the GNOME hackers are starting up an effort to market GNOME to teenagers. The GNOME Wiki has a section for this work.

But Seb Payne, who announced the effort, says:

“Many young people are stuck on Windows 98 and Office 2000. Why? Microsoft software is just too damm expensive.”

And thus falls into a common trap which the open source movement pushes in order to steer the conversation away from software freedom: talk about price, not about freedom.

When the discussion centers on price the discussion will turn to how many people can get proprietary software at no fee (either legally or illegally). This ignores the limitations to be good neighbors and recognize that you’re better off when you don’t have to beg a monopoly for support.

People see this problem when it comes to their car, their house, and a variety of other services; they don’t want to be tied down to getting the work done by only one source. Some people even want to do the work themselves, even in small measure (like changing one’s own lightbulbs, or mowing one’s own lawn). Thus, they need the information to do the work and they need the legal freedom to get the job done.

Free software is quite comparable — free software is free as in the freedom to share and modify. Free software gives you the freedom to work on things yourself, hire others to do work, and share the work with others (including charging for copies of the software). For the free software movement, proprietary software is an intolerable lack of freedom, to be avoided entirely except for writing a free software replacement.

The open source movement pitches practical solutions such as faster development, cheaper development, less buggy code, which are fine things to have but don’t go far enough to ensure that you the user of the software have what you need to be a good neighbor, build a business, or tend to your own needs. The open source movement was formed to dismiss software freedom and adopt a framing of the debate that would attract businesses. For the open source movement, proprietary software is merely less technically efficient at reaching business goals than “open source” software.

Payne continues:

“Most of them suffer with security problems – usually spyware or viruses.”

While true, this (again) is just a technical matter of writing software that doesn’t have these holes to be exploited by viruses, trojan horses, and such. Some proprietors accomplish this task, and thus is another poor argument if one is trying to frame the debate in terms of software freedom. Spyware, software that tracks what you do and reports the findings usually via a network, is a different issue entirely and has to do with running proprietary software. If you don’t want spyware, you shouldn’t run proprietary software.

Hence, I’m not an open source proponent. I’m a free software proponent.

Update: More no-freedom-talk recommendations from Christine Spang in “Free Software Without the Beer and the Politics“. She’s apparently trying to gain popularity for a message she refuses to give voice to.

Ten Senate Democrats tip the scales for CAFTA to pass

See how many Leftists remember this at the next election. The Senate vote was 54-45 in favor of passing CAFTA legislation. The Miami Herald has an illuminating paragraph on this vote:

“Winning CAFTA is a top priority for Bush, who’s looking for some victories in Congress to give his domestic agenda some momentum. But the Senate vote was one of the closest trade votes in years. Voting in favor were 43 Republicans, 10 Democrats and one Independent. Voting against were 12 Republicans and 33 Democrats, signaling wariness over the benefits of international commerce and globalization.”

We know now what damage NAFTA caused by watching jobs flee the US while the corporations get to stay in the US and do business in the US. We know now, as we knew then, that NAFTA’s promises are a myth. The reality is that sub-living wage workers will not earn enough to buy the products they make.

In other words, had those 10 Democrats voted in favor of the workers instead of the corporations, CAFTA legislation would not have passed the Senate; CAFTA would have lost by one vote. The Democrats had power here and they blew it.

Update: John Nichols wrote about this for the Tuesday, July 5, 2005 Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin.

Democrats on the War in Iraq: It’s how the war is being waged that bothers us.

I just heard Sen. Kennedy (D-MA) spout on about the continuing occupation of Iraq. I don’t recall him calling it that, but that’s what it is.

For Kennedy, and the majority of other Democrats, the war is not to be questioned on the basis of its beginning: was it ethical, was it legal, is it right to give the President war-making power that trumps Congress? The war is to be questioned as a management issue: it’s not being fought properly.

In other words, there’s no disagreement that the war was a good idea, how it is being fought is the key issue. If the Republicans were to somehow turn the occupation around and make progress building infrastructure, supplying potable water and electricity to a majority of Iraqis, much of Kennedy’s speech would be a moot point. If the Republicans took down Saddam Hussein’s anti-organized labor laws and let Iraqis work to rebuild their own country, another huge segment of Democratic Party objection would fall away. As more Democratic Party bitching disappears, it is made even more plain how much the Democrats are not an anti-war party.

The Democrats remain, deservedly, a minority party who are not an opposition party.

This is an important issue because of who benefits from this “debate”—the businesses who keep war going (Bechtel, Halliburton, GE, Northrup Grummon, etc.). Two major national parties compete for their dollars while not seeing that elections are lost over these issues and more people don’t care to vote because they’re fed up with the process.

Why “open source” is a route to placating software proprietors.


For some time now, Firefox advocates have been discussing this web browser in terms of its popularity. Many have cited how Microsoft Internet Explorer’s usage shrinks because Firefox’s usage grows. One of the most recent of such arguments comes from Asa Dotzler, Firefox and Thunderbird product release manager.

I have no objection to the Firefox web browser, in fact I use it as my primary web browser and have for some time now. Before that, for many years, I used the Mozilla suite (a combination of web browser, email client, chat program, and webpage editor). However, the argument with which one is ostensibly convinced to use Firefox is particularly weak and has been repeated for so long those who espouse it are unlikely to closely examine why it fails to convince.

Here’s the theme, from the best essay I’ve seen on the philosophical differences between the free software movement and the open source movement (emphasis mine):

“Today many people are switching to free software for purely practical reasons. That is good, as far as it goes, but that isn’t all we need to do! Attracting users to free software is not the whole job, just the first step.

Sooner or later these users will be invited to switch back to proprietary software for some practical advantage. Countless companies seek to offer such temptation, and why would users decline? Only if they have learned to value the freedom free software gives them, for its own sake. It is up to us to spread this idea–and in order to do that, we have to talk about freedom. A certain amount of the “keep quiet” approach to business can be useful for the community, but we must have plenty of freedom talk too.

At present, we have plenty of “keep quiet”, but not enough freedom talk. Most people involved with free software say little about freedom–usually because they seek to be “more acceptable to business.””

The next major release of Microsoft Windows will come with a new version of Microsoft Internet Explorer, a version which is already being tested in public and many users have had time to try it out. Like Firefox, this new MSIE features tabs, a speedy webpage renderer, and an interface to run extensions. But MSIE is proprietary software. How it works is a secret, so that you can’t easily learn what is happening to your data. Experts are equally stymied as the secret is kept from them too. The software may not be shared, so even if you discover that MSIE is doing something you don’t want it to do and you somehow figure out a way to change how MSIE behaves you cannot share that improved version. Being a good neighbor or a good friend is prohibited with proprietary software, thus proprietary software is an anti-social trap.

Free software is the exact opposite of this: free software is software that respects the user’s freedom to share and modify the program to help themselves, help their neighbors, and help their community. Everyone has the right to inspect, share, and modify the software for whatever purpose at any time so that they can make the computer behave as they want it to behave.

The problem with Firefox and MSIE debates from many Firefox advocates and corporate media

Sadly, the debate involving Firefox and MSIE is being framed in terms of features (or on the equally poor argument of “choice”) instead of software freedom. Particularly with well-financed, well-advertised proprietary software with the power to bundle something with the OS, proprietors can maintain a strong popular lead. The argument Firefox proponents offer doesn’t take any time to teach users to value their software freedom, thus these users have no reason to reject the next version of MSIE. Hence, popularity is both (1) a minor concern that (2) has yet to really be tested at all.

Choice is often an effective way to railroad someone out of something they value. In US presidential elections, narrowing one’s choices is a way to railroad most voters into voting for the interests of the wealthy (Bush versus Kerry). In the context of web browsing, choice meant railroading users out of their software freedom. Mozilla suite and Firefox are not needed to provide choice. At one time, well before the current Mozilla project was a part of our lives, the three most popular graphical web browsers were Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and Opera. Since there were at least two browsers in the set, choice was satisfied. But software freedom was not satisified at all because none of the browsers in that set were free software browsers. Hence, Mozilla suite and Firefox don’t give one “choice”, one had choices before these browsers came along. But one did not have software freedom.

Software freedom is something Microsoft chooses not to supply to its users. Software freedom serves the needs of the users and proprietary software is untrustworthy by default. Hence, the debate should be focused on technical concerns and features after one has whittled away the competition by asking which program respects the user’s freedoms to share and modify the software.

Why not discuss software freedom

The Mozilla Foundation and Firefox proponents often don’t discuss software freedom because they are advocates for the open source movement. This movement started over a decade after the free software movement. The open source movement was formed to be more business-friendly. To accomplish this, this movement’s founders decided that they could more effectively talk to businesses by touting practical benefits of so-called “open source” software—that software is developed faster, cheaper, and with fewer bugs when more people can have a hand in writing the software—while pushing aside any freedom talk. User’s freedom to control how their computers work is not a cause the open source movement fights for. Effectively, the open source movement is a call to value an efficient development methodology by getting businesses to leverage the talented hackers of the world to work for them at no charge.

The harm of the least-worst in Bolivia?

When you hear or read about what goes on in other countries fighting for water or land rights, it is rarely made clear that this is what will happen to more Americans. More Americans will learn that water will be priced out of reach of most people, water fountains will be replaced with commercial soda dispensers (the soda made with water that was hoarded or taken away from the public as Coca-Cola does in India), the land made uninhabitable (through nuclear or biochemical “accidents”) or unaffordable to the vast majority of the population. We don’t see how privatization of natural resources and collectively owned public resources can harm us. We also don’t see who pushes for these moves to privatize — the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Along these lines, today’s Democracy Now! has an interesting message for Americans with regard to voting for people versus voting for policies from Marcela Olivera, Bolivian researcher and activist who works at the Democracy Center in Cochabamba. She was a member of the Coalition in Defense of Water and Life that organized a popular uprising against the privatization of the Cochabamba water system by Bechtel and the World Bank. Last year she worked with Public Citizen in Washington to develop an Interamerican water activist network. A rough transcript of part of her interview follows (starting at 31m19s, emphasis mine):

“Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada is a very symbolic person for us because he represents all the policies that were coming to my country from the World Bank and the IMF, you know, he’s the guy who sold, for us, all our companies, all the state companies, who sold all the natural resources, who killed people in the streets without any feeling about that. So this guy represents, for us, the model that [husband?] posed in Bolivia and other Latin American countries.

I think when people kicked him out from our country we were feeling that we were kicking out all these policies too. But at the same time, you know, even thinking that this guy is a symbolic guy for us, I don’t think that the angriness of the people are focused on just one person. I think it’s all the political parties in our country that were doing — doesn’t matter who is in power, who political power is running the country, you know, the political policies that come from them are exactly the same. The names change, but the policies are exactly the same. So it’s all these political parties that belong to these old [?] in Bolivia and all the angriness of the people are against them, it’s not just one person or one political party in singular, it’s all of them and I think that was perfectly reflected on the streets in Bolivia.”

Perhaps it is time we recognized that it is not the candidate’s personality that matters, or how they look on camera, but what policies they endorse, how they want to implement those policies, where their campaign funds come from, and what their political history is.

Is the Democrat support machine revving up this early?

Cynthia Bogard claims that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) is “still our last best hope for saving the nation“.

Bogard doesn’t fully come to terms with the reality that Sen. Kerry worked along side the other Democrats to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis during Pres. Clinton’s terms, or that Kerry and a majority of the Democrats supported Pres. Bush’s power to supersede Congressional oversight to make war anywhere (before the 2004 election, Kerry told the AP that he thought this power was proper for the President to have; I suspect he said this because he knows what a pain it can be to convince the public that war is a good idea). Instead Bogard calls Kerry’s support for the Iraq war “equivocation”—the use of ambiguous or uncertain language. No, he wasn’t hedging, he liked the invasion of Iraq and he should be identified as such.

Bogard says that “We are thrilled that you have decided to raise the Downing Street Memo with your colleagues in the Senate.”. Who is this “we”? I see the actions described in the memo as an unbroken line of aggression against Iraq. Apparently I’m not alone. Jeremy Scahill touches on this argument on today’s Democracy Now! (transcript). To have a Democrat now point out Bush’s foibles on this means that we have to be willing to put aside a huge bombing campaign and the Iraqi sanctions which killed 500,000 Iraqi children. Complaints coming from proponents of these acts are hard to interpret as a principaled condemnation of Bush. Bush does deserve impeachment and to be imprisoned, but so other US Presidents.

Apple is a problem for the progressive Left.

Apple computer software is somewhat popular and widely known for being easy to use, easier to use than other equally unethical competition from other organizations including IBM, HP, an uncountable number of smaller software development houses, and Microsoft. When faced with paying the high price Apple computers and Apple software costs, some defend Apple’s ease of use.

But is that really the best argument the Left can offer? Consider this one instead:

Apple harms us when they:

Stump for software patents—Apple’s patent on font rendering, for example, stands in the way of free software hackers and all computer users who want to render their fonts in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Distribute proprietary software—MacOS X is a combination of free software (the underlying Darwin software) and proprietary software (Quartz, QuickTime, etc.). This leaves all of Apple’s customers unable to inspect, share, or modify the software they have copies of. Increasingly Apple is leveraging their power here to restrict what their iTunes customers can do with legally obtained audio tracks (visit Boing Boing for many Cory Doctorow stories on this; Doctorow is an avid MacOS user).

So why is this a problem for the progressive Left?

Because many Leftists purchase MacOS X machines and continue to upgrade them whenever Apple tells them they should.

The Left will, quite rightly, be the first to tell you about why you shouldn’t do business with Wal-Mart or Nike. Wal-Mart is losing lawsuit after lawsuit which point out how shabbily Wal-Mart treats their workers (forcing floor workers to punch out early and keep working afterwards, locking employees in the store, managerial sexism, etc.). Most Wal-Mart workers are paid so little they can’t afford the Wal-Mart health care plan. Nike goods are manufactured by underpaid workers in oppressive working conditions (see “The Corporation”, either the movie or the book on which the movie is based, for first-hand accounts and documentary evidence of this pulled from Nike’s trash).

The Left sees how the workers are treated and concludes that it’s not ethically justifiable to do business with these organizations.

But Apple’s software patents adversely affect all computer users; for example, nobody can legally distribute or use software that renders smooth fonts in an obvious way because that method is encumbered by Apple’s patents. Software to implement this idea is in FreeType, but by default it is not compiled when FreeType is used. For more information on how software patents are harmful and why it is important to work to eradicate them, listen to Richard Stallman’s speech or read the transcript of that speech on “The Danger of Software Patents”.

Proprietary software adversely affects the users by restricting what the user is allowed to learn about what their computer is doing with their data. Nobody can legally help their neighbors by sharing copies of Apple’s non-free software, nobody can legally inspect the software to see what it is really doing, nobody can fix the software if it breaks or improve the software to do something that they want done.

Are we supposed to only look narrowly at who is adversely affected here? If Apple’s workers are treated unethically, we can rally against their products but otherwise we must learn to swallow what they’re distributing? I don’t think that is ethically defensible.