Tuesday October 28
The Long Hard Slog in Iraq
Donald Rumsfeld's October 22 memo -- promptly leaked and then defamed by conservatives -- signals a change in view that may be very significant. The memo pointedly calls the prognosis for the War in Iraq a "long, hard slog" and asks whether "we are winning or losing the global 'war on terror.'" As some have observed, it is very much like Robert McNamara's concern in 1967 that the US could not win in Vietnam. Yet McNamara said nothing at the time (the war lasted 8 more years and cost tens of thousands more lives) and only in 1995 admitted that his public certitude was a veneer, that architects of the war policy "were wrong, terribly wrong."
The Bush administration's glittering message of a few months ago "increasingly looks like a dark swamp." And they've got Donald Rumsfeld's clarity and brevity of expression -- coming from what was formerly the Iraq War's biggest champion -- to thank.
Sunday October 26
Cybersecurity Starts At Home
In a joint venture with the National Cyber Security Alliance, the federal government is planning to spend $1 million on television ads educating home and small business Internet users about the benefits of firewalls and anti-virus software. U.S. Gov't Plans Internet Security Ads [TechNews.com]. This is like the Fall '02 Homeland Security campaign to have families prepare a safe room with plastic wrap and duct tape for windows. It offers a false sense of security and is an unfortunate illustration that government leacks either the will or the means to take any real concrete steps on cybersecurity.
Thursday October 23
Empty Words On Spam
The vote was 97-0 for a bill in the Senate outlawing spam. Senate Votes to Crack Down on Some Spam [nytimes.com]. But the rules in the Can Spam Act are empty and the proposed creation of a "Do Not Email" list meaningless. "If such a list were established, I'd advise customers not to waste their time and effort," Tim Muris, chairman of the FTC said in August. "Most spam is already so clearly illegitimate that the senders are no more likely to comply with new regulations than with the laws they now ignore."
The issue with spam isn't whether it's illegal -- lots of spammers have been sued on a variety of legal grounds -- it's that they use technology to cloak their identities and move from server to server, and place to place, at the drop of a hat. The Bush Administration is spending $100 million on a witness protection program in Iraq. If we devoted the same resources to hunting down and prosecuting spammers, maybe the government could make a dent in the ever-increasing volume of unsolicited commercial email. Otherwise, it is indeed a waste of time trying to make spammers obey new rules when they don't care about rules in the first place!
Wednesday October 22
In the Twilight Zone
Victims of the Washington Sniper shooting spree yesterday were forced to undergo questioning from the accused himself, who (until this morning) was acting as his own lawyer. Witnesses Face the Surreal -- And Muhammad [washingtonpost.com]. They descibed the experience as a "separate, surrealistic thing, . . . like 'The Twilight Zone.' It was a feeling you can't explain. Defendants aren't supposed to cross-examine you. It was an insane situation." To sit three feet away from someone who has shot you with a high-powered rifle, anonymously and randomly, has go to be Daliesque, at the very least. A "Hallmark Moment" it's not.
Tuesday October 21
The 20-year old college student who planted box cutters in several airlines -- and emailed the federal government to warn of TSA's lack of preparedness -- has been charged with a felony. The federal prosecutor says it was a ''very serious and foolish action.'' But what is serious is that TSA hasn't made an inch of real progress in securing American airspace since 9-11 and that the authorities had Nate Heatwole's email for six weeks and did nothing about it. As Neal Cavuto observes for FoxNews:
Seems that the old political game of blame-shifting continues. Nothing new in Washington, despite the high-profile Bush Administration "War on Terrorism." Nate, you are a scapegoat!
Saying "No" to Internet Taxes
Congress is once again taking up the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which has barred special or "discriminatory" taxes on Internet access and Web transactions since 1998. Hill Hurrying to Renew Ban on Web-Access Taxes [TechNews.com] Now the debate centers on high-speed ISPs -- cable modem and DSL services -- which the current Senate bill defines as "information" services not subject to telecommunications taxes. (This is an outgrowth of the labels issue discussed in other posts.)
The problem is that taxation has a way of morphing into an entrenched system of subsidization and weatlh transfers. Those telecommunications "taxes" are mainly in two forms: a 3% federal excise tax, enacted more than 100 years ago to finance the Spanish-American War, and a cloudy system of "universal service" payments, administered by the FCC, that go to small and rural telcos. The former is clearly an anachronism, the latter is a political sacred cow that nobody has the courage to call out. But together they add 16-18% to consumers' bills for telecom services.
The uninversal service system has been around since 1934. In those 70 years, telephone "penetration" has climbed to 97%. Meanwhile, the government does not tax or subsidize VCRs, which in a mere 20 years are now in about 85% of American homes. Do we need telecom taxes to close the so-called "digital divide?" The numbers clearly say "No."
Monday October 20
Nuts Even To Ask
So it seems that Caterpillar not only sued Disney but had the chutzpah to go for a TRO -- "temporary restraining order" -- trying to block release of "George of the Jungle II." The federal court today showed some sanity and denied the motion, saying that there is no sign Disney sought to "somehow poach or free ride" on Caterpillar's trademarks to drive up sales of the movie. "It is incredible for this Court to imagine a consumer’s decision to purchase Caterpillar’s primary product line of heavy machinery and equipment, costing substantial sums of money, being affected after watching this film," wrote Judge Joe Billy McDade.
Can you believe this crap? A children's comedy becomes the basis for a trademark infringement lawsuit when a manufacturer does not like the light in which its product is cast. Even Hormel never sued Monty Python for their "spam" skit. At least the judge has a sense of humor, though, describing George in his opinion as "a noble man of nature" who "possesses an unusually thick and durable cranium" and whose "speeches are admirable for their laconic directness and economy of words."
Friday October 17
If you thought it was crazy that some consumers sued McDonalds for getting fat from eating fast food, I've got one for you. Caterpillar, Inc. has filed a lawsuit against Disney arguing that the new "George of the Jungle II" DVD slanders the company by making children think bulldozers are evil. (Apparently, in the movie George has to fight a bunch of "bulldozing bullies.") Now this one really takes the cake!!
Wednesday October 15
The Most Criticized Man In Washington
In an article titled "Soldier's Ethic" Guides Powell At the FCC [TechNews.com], the Washington Post calls Michael Powell -- Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission -- "the most criticized man in Washington ... faulted by Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals, feminists, gun owners, big media companies, columnists and lawyers." It is ironic that someone who professes to be so tuned in to market and technological trends can turn out to have a completely deaf ear to politics. Especially when his father, the old general and current Secretary of State, is fairly good at that as well.
Powell is pretty sharp, as when he said today in a speech to a Las Vegas trade group -- from whom he was lambasted earlier this year for accepting $85,000 in free travel perks -- that the FCC is at a major crossroads. The Telecom Act of 1996 "will break, if it isn't crumbling already, and it will need to be replaced," Powell observed. Since I wrote the same thing here, and have been making that prediction for seven years, I've just got to agree with this most perceptive public servant. :-)
What that means, of course, is that when Powell blows it and reaches a decision that makes no sense, he is fully aware that he is twisting the rules to achieve the result he wants politically. That's bad. It's doubly bad that he is oblivious to the fact that the results he is producing are politically unpalatable to most of those he is charged with pleasing! Gotta know your audience, Michael.
Tuesday October 14
The "War on Terror" has already disrupted life for years, but now MSNBC reports that Al Qaeda is fashioning pillows and stuffed animals into explosives to use on airplanes. So now teenagers bringing pillows and toddlers clutching teddy bears are all going to have the stuffing beat out of them -- or at least their plush carry-ons -- literally by TSA when boarding airlines. This stuff is just out of control.
Justice and the Sniper
A recent immigrant to America asked me this morning why it took "so long" for the Washington Sniper case to go to trial. (The trial starts today in Virginia Beach.) Muhammad Pleads 'Not Guilty' in Sniper Trial [washingtonpost.com]. I answered that the Constitution allows criminal defendants here much greater rights than in any other country and that 12 months was quick for pre-trial proceedings in a major U.S. criminal prosecution. Still, I would like to see John Allen Muhammad fry.
This well-written piece captures the incredible paranoia and fear that were pervasive one year ago here in Washington, D.C.
To hold an entire metropolitan region hostage for 3 weeks by randomly shooting innocent passers-by, and all for mere ransom demands -- money -- is about as sociopathic as one can get. To top it off this guy brainwaished a teenager to be his trigger man.
Everyone deserves a trial. Some are just a little anti-climactic. Here's to hoping that John Allen Muhammad meets the fate he so clearly deserves.
Monday October 13
Intensity and Idiocy
Saturday night's Yankees-Red Sox game was marred by a riveting yet unnecessary bench-clearing "almost brawl" -- no one actually fought -- that ended in 72-year old Don Zimmer being pushed to the ground after he launched a swing at Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez. Adding to the Lore of a Classic Rivalry [sfgate.com] It's all anyone can talk about. But it started without anyone getting beaned and was bumped into retaliation mode when Boston's Manny Ramirez got upset about a pitch that missed him by a mile.
So, the only thing all this shows is that emotions run high in the playoffs and that hotheads will get riled up over nothing. Intense? Yes. Smart? No. Former Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson paid Pedro Martinez a compliment. Sort of. "He's a Hall of Famer," Jackson said before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series Monday night. "He should act like one."
Friday October 10
This is So Sad
Last year's amazing NHL second-year All Star Danny Heatley faces a possible 15+ years in prison for vehicular homicide after teammate Dan Snyder was killed when Heatley's Ferrari crashed into a tree late at night. Thrashers Say Farewell to Snyder [The Globe and Mail]. Even more poignant, though, is this account of today's Ontario funeral for 25-year old Snyder.
Heatley still faces surgery on his knee and nine months of rehab. What a tragedy on so many levels. David Vecsey of Sports Illustrated writes that last year he smiled and said "It's good to be Danny Heatley." Not any more. Heatley will have to live with this forever, whether or not he comes back -- and especially if he does -- to play hockey again. His life sentence has just begun.
Wednesday October 8
"The Terminator" Wins California Governorship [mtv.com]. California is in turmoil. The Democrats are in disarray. The Kennedys are celebrating a Republican victory. And Arnold Schwarzenegger promises that "California has given me absolutely everything.... I will not let you down." Gotta love it.
Short on specifics, long on style. Some pundits complain, but isn't this the perfect political recipe for modern American electoral success?
Defying the Curse?
Acording to the Boston Globe, the Red Sox are different now in that they aren't fatalistic about losing constantly to the New York Yankees for more than 85 years:
Well, defiance does not win championships, Beantown. Boston wasted Pedro Martinez in coming back against the A's from an 0-2 hole, so their pitching will not be at its best. And while the head-to-head season series between the two teams was basically a wash, the Yankees once again played well down the stretch and have dominated -- despite a few hiccups -- in the post-season. So long, Sox, the Curse of the Bambino will strike again.
Tuesday October 7
Rational Thinking On Telemarketing
Starting in late September, the federal courts completely screwed up the law on privacy and telemarketing, deciding that the Federal Trade Commission's "Do Not Call" registry was, first, unauthorized, and second, in violation of the First Amendment. Today the 10th Circuit stayed those decisions, holding that "there is a substantial likelihood that the FTC will be able to show ... that the list directly advances the government's substantial interest and is narrowly tailored." [yahoonews.com]. Finally, a little sanity is brought to the law.
The Washington Post calls the situation "Do-Not-Call Recalled," which is cute but a little misleading. What's been recalled are the asinine decisions by decrepit old judges hand-picked by the Direct Marketing Association to assure stupid rulings favoring local calling center business over the privacy rights of consumers nationwide. DMA says the court of appeals "appears to allow" the FTC to proceed with its plans. So, these guys can't read either!! What "appears" true is that the telemarketers still refuse to admit that consumers hate them and that their entire business depends on being so obnoxious and misleading that people are bullied into submission. The courts have closed them down, at last.
Labels Are Important
In another stunning example of judicial myopia, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has held that cable modem service is "telecommunications," and thus subject to sharing with independent ISPs. Big Win For Brand X [Forbes.com]. The issue here is not that the court reversed the Federal Communications Commission -- which happens all the time, with good reason -- but rather that the Communications Act bases regulatory treatment on the categorization of services. If the court had found, like the FCC, that cable modem services are "information" services because they connect users to the Internet, that would have led to the opposite result.
This illustrates that the rules governing communications, written before the Internet explosion of the mid-1990s, hardly make sense in an era of technological convergence. In short, the rules are broken. For a more in-depth examination, see the presentations I have made on this subject, as long ago as 1996. Then I called this penchant for labels and the conflicting technolgoical and regulatory histories of circuit switched (telephone) and packet switched (Internet) networks a "war of two worlds." Some things never change!!
Saturday October 4
Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
The New York Yankees face the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis today with baseball's American League divisional playoff series tied 1-1. Roger Clemens starts in his last season, having notched 310 wins under his belt in a storied 20-year career. But the Twins and their "homer hankies" of 2002 are still a hot and talented team. So, yes, Bombers fans, it's time to worry, just a little.
Friday October 3
Cybersecurity Class Actions
It was a while in coming, but the first consumer class action lawsuit has been filed against a software company for security flaws in software products. The fact that Microsoft is the defendant is not surprising, given the holes in Windows and the focus of so much of the hacking community on developing worms and viruses that exploit Windows' vulnerabilities. What is surprising is that it has taken so long.
Now that the plaintiffs' class action bar has discovered cybersecurity, the focus in corporate board rooms should increasingly shift to reducing the risks of cyber crime and protecting IT networks against cyber intrusion, since corporate legal exposure is growing rapidly. That's a good thing, as it should help prevent a Chernobyl or Enron-type crisis for cybersecurity. But if companies don't act, the lawyers will end up sticking them where it hurts.
Wednesday October 1
Gore TV Redux
As reported here three months ago, former Democratic presidential candidate -- and totally superficial, unprincipled political bore -- Al Gore is indeed committed to starting his own cable TV network. Former VP In Talks To Buy Cable News Channel [yahoonews.com].
Gore says he wants to counter the pundits on Fox and other conservative networks, but all he'll end up doing is further tarnishing the fading star of liberalism in America. Where is Ariana Huffington when we really need her? Let's have some more profiles in spinelesness with which she's lambsted the quivering cowards who make up today's Democrats. Al, we hardly need thee!!