Archive for September, 2007

No evidence of inflation in the American economy, unless you look at the cost of the commodities which people must actually buy.  Or the continuing decline of the dollar against world currencies.  Or the predictable spike in the (dollar-denominated) price of gold.  Or the record-high (dollar-denominated) prices for wheat and oil and lead. TBP quotes from Newsweek:

Catch that bit about “core inflation”? That’s Fedspeak for: inflation is under control, unless you look at the costs of things that are going up. The core rate excludes the prices of food and energy, which can be volatile from month to month.

This is one of my longstanding beefs with economics as it impacts the news and the lives of ordinary people (see also national unemployment figures and “cost of living” calculations for geographic area X).  It doesn’t matter what the excuse is for excluding food and energy from the calculations for the core inflation rate.  These costs are two huge components of most people’s everyday expenses, and the fact that our leading economists choose to simply ignore that because it makes the curve a little smoother is completely baffling.

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Justice Clarence Thomas has written a memoir, which is due out on Monday.  I haven’t read it.  I am not likely to buy it.  But I’m sure it will be prominent in the news over the next week or two, given the media tour that Justice Thomas will be doing to promote the book:

The normally media-shy justice has interviews booked on “60 Minutes” tomorrow night and ABC on Monday as well as a 90-minute interview with radio host Rush Limbaugh, also scheduled for Monday. The book’s contents had been closely guarded before its publication date of Oct. 1, the first day of the Supreme Court’s new term, but The Washington Post purchased a copy yesterday at an area bookstore, where it had been placed on display.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not it is seemly for a sitting Justice on the US Supreme Court to do a book tour, and ignoring also the lingering accusations of perjury during his confirmation hearings that will dog Thomas for the rest of his career, I have only one comment:  Rush? (more…)

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The Most Electable

I was at a party last night where someone told me that he thinks Rudy is “the most electable” candidate running right now.  So this link is posted without comment.

. . . Second, it’s interesting that Giuliani makes this reaffirmation with his third wife before air travel “since Sept. 11,” given that on Sept. 11, Giuliani was married to someone else.

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As we move towards the epic showdown between the Ducks and the Cal Bears this weekend, it’s good to remember that we have the Civil War Game coming up between Oregon and Oregon State in just a couple of weeks.

This week, my school is in the news because one of our graduates is the judge who struck down part of the PATRIOT Act yesterday.   Our neighbors to the north are in the news because their school is hosting an art show and auction of used salt licks.  h/t to Boingboing for the link.  Block #19 is one of my favorites:


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A one-two punch of court decisions handed down Sept. 25 and Sept. 26 cast further doubt on Vonage’s (VG) future and halved the market value of the beleaguered Internet-calling provider.

The rest of the story is here.  Looks like they’re toast; too bad.  I liked the idea of paying for naked DSL, no voice service from the phone company, and then running all of my calls from home through Verizon.  But we never signed up for the service, becuase the first one of these patent infringement lawsuits kicked off just after we moved here.  I realize that these losses don’t impact their actual delivery of service, and for some people Vonage still makes a lot of sense.  But I don’t imagine lots of people are eager to sign up for a year-long contract with a phone company which might not be around six months from now.

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Update: Verizon has apparently backed off its ill-considered stance.  They’re blaming pre-existing “policy,” but from the frenzied dissembling, I’m willing to bet somebody got fired over this.  As the Gonzales/Monica Goodling DOJ demonstrated so clearly, the nature of the policy is much less important than the intellectual philosophy and ethical leanings of the people assigned to carry it out.

But legal experts said private companies like Verizon probably have the legal right to decide which messages to carry. The laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmissions on ordinary phone lines do not apply to text messages.

In reversing course today, Verizon did not disclaim the power to block messages it deemed inappropriate.

This is a very interesting stance to take.  Why would common-carrier restrictions NOT apply?  I understand that mobile phone companies can probably distinguish SMS traffic from normal voice traffic, but why would they want to take any responsibility at all for the content of the message?  It would seem that such responsibility would expose them to all kinds of financial danger in the event that someone used a text message to accomplish some unscrupulous or unlawful objective and Verizon didn’t stop  it.  Poorly-reasoned lizard brain reactions to hot-button evangelical issues must take a back seat to the financial well-being of the company.

The principle is, phone companies in general are not liable for illegal activity that their customers conduct using their equipment.  For example, say that Alice and Bob were planning to rob a bank. Alice called Dave, the getaway driver, to coordinate their schedules and to remind Dave to bring the guns.  When Alice and Bob and Dave actually stage the heist, it would be laughable to suggest that AT&T bears any liability for their actions as a consequence of furnishing the wires which carried the call.

However, this get-out-of-jail-free card for the phone companies comes at a price, and that price is that those phone companies may not inspect or restrict the traffic on thier lines.  (Let’s pretend, for the sake of this argrument, that we don’t already know that AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, BellSouth, and all of the major ILECs are in fact allowing the NSA to sniff all packets going through their networks.  It works better that way.)  It’s all just bits to them, 1s and 0s on a fiber-optic cable, and they aren’t supposed to care where the bits came from or where they are going or what elements of speech those bits might represent.

The same principle of common carrier status applies under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to protect ISPs from copyright infringement claims when one of their customers posts infringing material on a website.  If the ISP is truly acting as a common carrier, they are not pro-actively policing any of the bits on their wires, and it’s up to the copyright owner to complain to the ISP about the customer who is in violation.  It’s not up to the ISP to constantly police their own network, because that would violate the presumption that they are a common carrier, and (here’s the big brass ring) would therefore impose liability for all of the criminal acts of its customers upon the ISP or phone company itself.

Does Verizon really want to claim responsibility to inspect and approve all of the traffic on its network?  I rather think not.

My original post is below:
You should be. Here’s why. When private companies have an absolute veto on modes of communication, no speech is truly free.

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Kudos to Judge Aiken for seeing the facts for what they were, and for upholding justice and the rule of law in the face of all the fear-mongering and distractions that must have been piled on her desk by the DOJ. And yes, I’ve got a bit of hometown pride that she’s up in Portland, and that she’s a UO Law grad. Just goes to show that even folks from 2nd Tier law schools can do the right thing if we get a chance.

The Act was and is a clear example of over-reaching by the Federal executive branch, which used a time of crisis to seize power that is forbidden to it by the Constitution. It was an offensive and egrigious violation of every American’s civil rights from the first day that it was signed, so it’s about time that a challenge like this one was successful:

Mayfield claimed that secret searches of his house and office under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act violated the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. Aiken agreed with Mayfield, repeatedly criticizing the government.

“For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law – with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised,” she wrote.

By asking her to dismiss Mayfield’s lawsuit, the judge said, the U.S. attorney general’s office was “asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights, by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning. This court declines to do so.”

Still to be seen is whether this decision will have any impact on other pending cases, or on the rest of the law which still stands. I’ll post a link to the text of the decision when I can find it online. For now, I’ll just express relief and happiness, and the hope that this ruling might mark one of the first steps on the path back to sanity after the gross miscarriage of leadership under which this great country has been forced to suffer for the last six years.

(Updated 9/26 at 21:09 PDT) Here’s a link to the decision.  I won’t have a chance to read it until I finish briefing for Copyrights class tomorrow.

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