Friday, June 30, 2006

Supreme Court Rejects Bush Plan to Try Detainees

New York Times

The decision was such a sweeping and categorical defeat for the administration that it left human rights lawyers who have pressed this and other cases on behalf of Guantanamo detainees almost speechless with surprise and delight, using words like 'fantastic,' 'amazing' and 'remarkable.' [more ...]

Detailed information about the case is available at



A Moment of Pause

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t Perspective
Friday 30 June 2006

A rolling sense of awe has enveloped the mainstream news media since yesterday's Supreme Court decision on Guantanamo. The specifics of the decision are part of the discussion, to be sure, but the sense of amazement has a more basic root. After all this time, after a seemingly endless series of over-reaching power grabs by the Bush administration, someone with a big enough stick finally got in the way and said, "No."

"In rejecting Bush's military tribunals for terrorism suspects," reads the analysis in Friday's Washington Post, "the high court ruled that even a wartime commander in chief must govern within constitutional confines significantly tighter than this president has believed appropriate."

In short, the fellow in the Oval is beholden to the law, and to the Constitution. Not so very many years ago, that simple statement was held as axiomatic. A president's powers are broad and deep on the best of days, but for a very long time the legal boundaries held. Presidents who tested those boundaries -- Lincoln and FDR leap to mind -- had the new lines of demarcation they established erased and redrawn by Congress or the courts before too much time went by. In the case of Nixon, an attempt to broaden the powers of the Executive in defiance of law led to the annihilation of the entire administration.

It is a fascinating event -- the prison at Guantanamo becoming the this-far-no-farther moment for the Bush administration -- considering what else has transpired. A covert CIA agent was exposed, intelligence analysts were intimidated into delivering politically acceptable data, hundreds of laws were summarily ignored by way of "signing statements," the FISA courts were bypassed during surveillance of American citizens, activist groups with no terrorism ties were intimidated, and the invasion and occupation of a foreign country was undertaken under brazenly false premises. A lot of people have died, and a staggering amount of taxpayer money has been redirected into the coffers of companies with deep ties to the White House.

When all of it is boiled down, the invasion of Iraq and the "War on Terror" in general haven't really had much at all to do with defeating Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, and have had even less to do with protecting the nation. It wasn't about certain people getting paid, or about defending Israel, or even about establishing a permanent presence in the Mideast. Not entirely, anyway.

So much of this, in the end, has been about Dick Cheney being annoyed by Watergate.

Think about it. All this, and everything else besides, has been the deep set of footprints left by an administration bent on gathering to itself as much power as possible. Cheney is the true mind and muscle of this White House. The catastrophe of Nixon, as far as Cheney is concerned, was all the authority and autonomy surrendered by the Executive branch once the scandal was over and done with. Cheney started with Nixon in 1969 before becoming a senior member of the Ford administration, and later was Defense Secretary under the first president Bush. He suffered for Nixon's debacle for a very long time, under three different Republican presidents, before finally getting a chance to set things to rights.

It has been shown time and again throughout American history that the best moment for a president to seize unprecedented powers always comes during a time of war or national emergency. September 11 opened the door, and Cheney ran right through. His partner in this was Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, who may go down in history as the most savage bureaucratic infighter in the history of government. Rumsfeld, at the behest of Cheney, made sure the "War on Terror" was run out of the Pentagon and not the CIA. Rumsfeld, with Cheney's help, convinced George W. Bush that Iraq needed to be the so-called "central front" of the whole thing after Afghanistan.

The debacle of Iraq belongs to both these men, but most fulsomely to Mr. Cheney. An invasion and a war create the perfect premise for the establishment of a Unitary Executive, after all. 9/11 wasn't enough; we needed to be at war. Cheney would not have been able to stage-manage the profligate expansion of presidential powers otherwise, and when you cut right down to the bone, that is a lot of the reason we are over there today.

It can be safely assumed that this Supreme Court decision will not deflect the central intentions of Mr. Cheney and this administration; power is, after all, its own reward, and this White House has never been much for lingering over setbacks. In the end, though, it is the simplicity of the moment that gives pause. Someone finally got around to telling the Bush administration, out loud and in public, that they are bound by laws and treaties. It will be interesting to see if this decision has any force or effect over an administration that has shown no interest in being thwarted.

The fact that this White House made up its mind to believe and act otherwise, and chose to fight a war as a means of establishing new boundaries of Executive power, will be their lasting legacy when the final pages are written. That no one in a position to curtail them chose to do so until now will be the lasting legacy of a lot of people who should have known better.

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Edge 186: Intelligent Letter to Congress

Edge, June 16, 2006

To Members of Congress:

We, the authors and editor of Intelligent Thought, are sending you a copy of the book in hopes that you will consider its message. The book is largely about Intelligent Design (ID), the latest incarnation of creationism. ID is a movement that threatens American science education and with it American economic predominance and credibility.

The recent federal court decision in Dover, Pennsylvania found that ID was not a scientific theory, but a form of religion in disguise. Judge John Jones III, a churchgoing Republican appointed by President Bush, concluded that teaching this doctrine in the public schools represents both bad education and an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. President Bush's science advisor, John H. Marburger, has affirmed that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology" and "intelligent design is not a scientific concept [link]." And Newt Gingrich has stated that ID has nothing to do with science and shouldn't be taught in science courses. [link]

Reason and law triumphed in Dover. But ID and its spinoffs continue to threaten American education by ignoring the massive evidence for evolution -- the central principle that unites all the biological sciences -- and by substituting adherence to religious dogma for the scientific method.

Our country cannot afford substandard science teaching. Indeed, a national science test just administered by the Department of Education showed a decade-long erosion of scientific proficiency among American high school seniors. We won't cure this problem by questioning scientifically established facts (evolution) and theories (natural selection) and replacing them with unsupported conjectures based on faith.

The controversy over ID vs. evolution is not a scientific controversy. Every scientific body in the U.S. has opposed ID and affirmed the reality of evolution. The “controversy” is about whether sectarian religious views should be taught in the science classroom. Most theologians readily accept evolution, finding it compatible with their faith. In 1996, Pope John Paul II officially endorsed evolution [see full text], and even with a recent change in Vatican leadership, the Catholic Church’s position has remained unchanged.

As the world grows more complex, and we face scientific challenges such as addressing global warming, developing sustainable energy sources, and preventing the spread of pandemics, it is critical that America remain in the forefront of science. And the key to our preeminence is education. The study of evolution has practical benefits: it is the basis for breeding food crops, choosing animal models that can be used to treat human disorders, conserving species and their habitats, predicting which vaccines should be made to prepare for epidemics like avian flu, and manufacturing those vaccines.

Science education that incorporates unscientific issues like ID is a sure path to America’s failure against competing countries. Conversely, given its importance for biology and for science in general, evolution deserves to be properly taught in American classrooms.

Respectfully yours,

Scott Atran
Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan

John Brockman
Publisher and Editor
Edge (
New York City

Jerry Coyne
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago

Richard Dawkins
Oxford University Museum

Daniel Dennett
Center for Cognitive Studies
Tufts University

Marc D. Hauser
Departments of Psychology and Organismal and Evolutionary Biology
Harvard University

Nicholas Humphrey
London School of Economics
London, UK

Stuart Kauffman
The Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics
The University of Calgary,
The Santa Fe Institute
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Seth Lloyd
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Techology

Steven Pinker
Department of Psychology
Harvard University

Lisa Randall
Department of Physics
Harvard University

Scott Sampson
Utah Museum of Natural History and
Department of Geology and Geophysics
University of Utah

Neil Shubin
Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy
The University of Chicago,
The Field Museum, Chicago

Lee Smolin
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Frank Sulloway
Institute for Personality and Social Research
The University of California, Berkeley

Leonard Susskind
Department of Physics
Stanford University

Tim White
Department of Integrative Biology and
Human Evolution Research Center
The University of California at Berkeley

Monday, June 19, 2006

t r u t h o u t || Returning to "06 cr 128" and Tying it to Benkler's Wealth of Networks

t r u t h o u t Returning to "06 cr 128"

If you have been following the Truthout/Leopold/ Rove/Fitzegerald story unfold in these posts:

5/13/2006: t r u t h o u t Karl Rove Indicted (?)

5/17/2006 (and later): t r u t h o u t Update on the Rove Indictment Story and

6/15/2006: t r u t h o u t Standing Down on the Rove Matter

(or following the whole matter on

while also reading posts (on the Geebus) about Benkler's Wealth of Networks, but especially the one about Diebold Election Systems and the one about Sinclair Broadcasting, then you'll understand how this Truthout matter has the potential to be another example of how the Blogosphere found a story ignored by the mainstream media and kept it alive long enough for it to matter.

On Sunday (6/18/06), six weeks after Jason Leopold alleged that Rove had been indicted, The Washington Post ran a meta-story titled: My Unwitting Role in the Rove 'Scoop.' This was an attack piece on Jason Leopold, but nevertheless, it might have been enough of a spark to get the original Leopold allegations and the intrigue of this story out into the mainstream media. Monday (6/19/06), CBS ran a story called Leopold and Lauria (or via Truthout) carrying on the meta-story. Benkler is probably taking notes.

In the interevening six weeks from Leopold's story on 5/13/2006, there has been much speculation in the blogosphere. I have read concerns that 'sealed vs sealed' had been quashed by the DOJ. I have read speculation of a runaway grand jury (delivering an indictment that Fitzgerald wouldn't or couldn't deliver). More hopefully (for the rule of law) we have Truthout's latest speculation that Fitzgerald is quietly targeting a bigger fish (Cheney) and that we may someday learn about all of this.

Time will tell how this all plays out, but the blogosphere seems once again to be bringing us information we otherwise couldn't have. Increasingly, it seems, the story is beginning to get heard while increasingly, the blogosphere also seems to be part of the story.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Growing Wikipedia Revises Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy

also mentioned in this article: Encyclopedia of Earth

"Mr. Wales calls vandalism to the encyclopedia 'a minimal problem, a dull roar in the background.' Yet early this year, amid heightened publicity about false information on the site, the community decided to introduce semi-protection of some articles.

Once the assaults have died down, the semi-protected page is often reset to 'anyone can edit' mode. An entry on Bill Gates was semi-protected for just a few days in January, but some entries, like the article on President Bush, stay that way indefinitely. Other semi-protected subjects as of yesterday were Opus Dei, Tony Blair and sex. "

www.Rent A

This is very cool. If you need someone to write some software, update or add some code, you can accomplish it without hiring a full time programmer by renting one at RentACoder.

Someone was just telling me that he'd used this service and utilized 3 specific programmers which he got to know and re-used frequently. To deal with the different time zones, he found one in India, one in Europe and one in Florida.

Something that might have taken him an hour to program might cost only $5. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that $5 to the guy in India is very different than to $5 in the U.S. The second is that in some cases, the programmer may have already written the code and simply needs to cut and paste it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wealth of Networks: Sinclair Broadcasting

Here is the other story referenced in this post.

I'm still only about 2/3 through The Wealth of Networks, but I might want to take back my comment about not recommending the book. There is a lot of really good stuff in this book and it probably is well worth fighting through some of the drier parts. Anyway, here is the other story I referenced:

"Our first story concerns Sinclair Broadcasting and the 2004 U.S. presidential election. It highlights the opportunities that mass-media owners have to exert power over the public sphere, the variability within the media itself in how this power is used, and, most significant for our purposes here, the potential corrective effect of the networked information environment. At its core, it suggests that the existence of radically decentralized outlets for individuals and groups can provide a check on the excessive power that media owners were able to exercise in the industrial information economy.

Sinclair, which owns major television stations in a number of what were considered the most competitive and important states in the 2004 election—including Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, and Iowa—informed its staff and stations that it planned to preempt the normal schedule of its sixty-two stations to air a documentary called Stolen Honor: The Wounds That Never Heal, as a news program, a week and a half before the elections.2

The documentary was reported to be a trident attack on Democratic candidate John Kerry’s Vietnam War service. One reporter in Sinclair’s Washington bureau, who objected to the program and described it as “blatant political propaganda,” was promptly fired.3

The fact that Sinclair owns stations reaching one quarter of U.S. households, that it used its ownership to preempt local broadcast schedules, and that it fired a reporter who objected to its decision, make this a classic “Berlusconi effect” story, coupled with a poster-child case against media concentration and the ownership of more than a small number of outlets by any single owner.

The story of Sinclair’s plans broke on Saturday, October 9, 2004, in the Los Angeles Times. Over the weekend, “official” responses were beginning to emerge in the Democratic Party. The Kerry campaign raised questions about whether the program violated election laws as an undeclared “in-kind” contribution to the Bush campaign. By Tuesday, October 12, the Democratic National Committee announced that it was filing a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), while seventeen Democratic senators wrote a letter to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), demanding that the commission investigate whether Sinclair was abusing the public trust in the airwaves. Neither the FEC nor the FCC, however, acted or intervened throughout the episode.

Alongside these standard avenues of response in the traditional public sphere of commercial mass media, their regulators, and established parties, a very different kind of response was brewing on the Net, in the blogosphere. On the morning of October 9, 2004, the Los Angeles Times story was blogged on a number of political blogs—Josh Marshall on, Chris Bower on, and Markos Moulitsas on

By midday that Saturday, October 9, two efforts aimed at organizing opposition to Sinclair were posted in the dailyKos and MyDD. A “boycott-Sinclair” site was set up by one individual, and was pointed to by these blogs. Chris Bowers on MyDD provided a complete list of Sinclair stations and urged people to call the stations and threaten to picket and boycott.

By Sunday, October 10, the dailyKos posted a list of national advertisers with Sinclair, urging readers to call them. On Monday, October 11, MyDD linked to that list, while another blog,, posted a variety of action agenda items, from picketing affiliates of Sinclair to suggesting that readers oppose Sinclair license renewals, providing a link to the FCC site explaining the basic renewal process and listing public-interest organizations to work with. That same day, another individual, Nick Davis, started a Web site,, on which he posted the basic idea that a concerted boycott of local advertisers was the way to go, while another site,, began pushing for a petition.

In the meantime, TalkingPoints published a letter from Reed Hundt, former chairman of the FCC, to Sinclair, and continued finding tidbits about the film and its maker. Later on Monday, TalkingPoints posted a letter from a reader who suggested that stockholders of Sinclair could bring a derivative action. By 5:00 a.m. on the dawn of Tuesday, October 12, however, TalkingPoints began pointing toward Davis’s database on By 10:00 that morning, Marshall posted on TalkingPoints a letter from an anonymous reader, which began by saying: “I’ve worked in the media business for 30 years and I guarantee you that sales is what these local TV stations are all about. They don’t care about license renewal or overwhelming public outrage. They care about sales only, so only local advertisers can affect their decisions.”

This reader then outlined a plan for how to watch and list all local advertisers, and then write to the sales managers—not general managers—of the local stations and tell them which advertisers you are going to call, and then call those. By 1:00 p.m. Marshall posted a story of his own experience with this strategy. He used Davis’s database to identify an Ohio affiliate’s local advertisers. He tried to call the sales manager of the station, but could not get through. He then called the advertisers. The post is a “how to” instruction manual, including admonitions to remember that the advertisers know nothing of this, the story must be explained, and accusatory tones avoided, and so on. Marshall then began to post letters from readers who explained with whom they had talked—a particular sales manager, for example—and who were then referred to national headquarters. He continued to emphasize that advertisers were the right addressees.

By 5:00 p.m. that same Tuesday, Marshall was reporting more readers writing in about experiences, and continued to steer his readers to sites that helped them to identify their local affiliate’s sales manager and their advertisers.4

By the morning of Wednesday, October 13, the boycott database already included eight hundred advertisers, and was providing sample letters for users to send to advertisers. Later that day, BoycottSBG reported that some participants in the boycott had received reply e-mails telling them that their unsolicited e-mail constituted illegal spam. Davis explained that the CANSPAM
Act, the relevant federal statute, applied only to commercial spam, and pointed users to a law firm site that provided an overview of CANSPAM.

By October 14, the boycott effort was clearly bearing fruit. Davis reported that Sinclair affiliates were threatening advertisers who cancelled advertisements with legal action, and called for volunteer lawyers to help respond. Within a brief period, he collected more than a dozen volunteers to help the advertisers. Later that day, another blogger at grassroots had set up a utility that allowed users to send an e-mail to all advertisers in the BoycottSBG database.

By the morning of Friday, October 15, Davis was reporting more than fifty advertisers pulling ads, and three or four mainstream media reports had picked up the boycott story and reported on it. That day, an analyst at Lehman Brothers issued a research report that downgraded the expected twelve-month outlook for the price of Sinclair stock, citing concerns about loss of advertiser revenue and risk of tighter regulation. Mainstream news reports over the weekend and the following week systematically placed that report in context of local advertisers pulling their ads from Sinclair.

On Monday, October 18, the company’s stock price dropped by 8 percent (while the S&P 500 rose by about half a percent). The following morning, the stock dropped a further 6 percent, before beginning to climb back, as Sinclair announced that it would not show Stolen Honor, but would provide a balanced program with only portions of the documentary and one that would include arguments on the other side. On that day, the company’s stock price had reached its lowest point in three years. The day after the announced change in programming decision, the share price bounced back to where it had been on October 15. There were obviously multiple reasons for the stock price losses, and Sinclair stock had been losing ground for many months prior to these events. Nonetheless, as figure 7.1 demonstrates, the market responded quite sluggishly to the announcements of regulatory and political action by the Democratic establishment earlier in the week of October 12, by comparison to the precipitous decline and dramatic bounce-back surrounding the market projections that referred to advertising loss.

While this does not prove that the Web-organized, blog-driven and -facilitated boycott was the determining factor, as compared to fears of formal regulatory action, the timing strongly suggests that the efficacy of the boycott played a very significant role.

The first lesson of the Sinclair Stolen Honor story is about commercial mass media themselves. The potential for the exercise of inordinate power by media owners is not an imaginary concern. Here was a publicly traded firm whose managers supported a political party and who planned to use their corporate control over stations reaching one quarter of U.S. households, many in swing states, to put a distinctly political message in front of this large audience. We also learn, however, that in the absence of monopoly, such decisions do not determine what everyone sees or hears, and that other mass-media outlets will criticize each other under these conditions. This criticism alone, however, cannot stop a determined media owner from trying to exert its influence in the public sphere, and if placed as Sinclair was, in locations with significant political weight, such intervention could have substantial influence.

Second, we learn that the new, network-based media can exert a significant counterforce. They offer a completely new and much more widely open intake basin for insight and commentary. The speed with which individuals were able to set up sites to stake out a position, to collect and make available information relevant to a specific matter of public concern, and to provide a platform for others to exchange views about the appropriate political strategy and tactics was completely different from anything that the economics and organizational structure of mass media make feasible.

The third lesson is about the internal dynamics of the networked public sphere. Filtering and synthesis occurred through discussion, trial, and error. Multiple proposals for action surfaced, and the practice of linking allowed most anyone interested who connected to one of the nodes in the network to follow quotations and references to get a sense of the broad range of proposals. Different people could coalesce on different modes of action—150,000 signed the petition on, while others began to work on the boycott. Setting up the mechanism was trivial, both technically and as a matter of cost—something a single committed individual could choose to do. Pointing and adoption provided the filtering, and feedback about the efficacy, again distributed through a system of cross-references, allowed for testing and accreditation of this course of action. High-visibility sites, like Talkingpointsmemo or the dailyKos, offered transmissions hubs that disseminated information about the various efforts and provided a platform for interest-group-wide tactical discussions.

It remains ambiguous to what extent these dispersed loci of public debate still needed mass-media exposure to achieve broad political salience. received more than three hundred thousand unique visitors during its first week of operations, and more than one million page views. It successfully coordinated a campaign that resulted in real effects on advertisers in a large number of geographically dispersed media markets. In this case, at least, mainstream media reports on these efforts were few, and the most immediate “transmission mechanism” of their effect was the analyst’s report from Lehman, not the media. It is harder to judge the extent to which those few mainstream media reports that did appear featured in the decision of the analyst to credit the success of the boycott efforts. The fact that mainstream media outlets may have played a role in increasing the salience of the boycott does not, however, take away from the basic role played by these new mechanisms of bringing information and experience to bear on a broad public conversation combined with a mechanism to organize political action across many different locations and social contexts."

t r u t h o u t || Standing Down on the Rove Matter

By Marc Ash,
Thu Jun 15th, 2006 at 02:05:52 PM EDT :: Fitzgerald Investigation

Yesterday, most Mainstream Media organizations published reports about a letter supposedly received by Karl Rove's attorney Robert Luskin. As an example of the supposed letter's contents, TIME Magazine stated that, "Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said or wrote, 'Absent any unexpected developments, he does not anticipate seeking any criminal charges against Rove.'"

Truthout of course published an article on May 13 which reported that Karl Rove had in fact already been indicted. Obviously there is a major contradiction between our version of the story and what was reported yesterday. As such, we are going to stand down on the Rove matter at this time. We defer instead to the nation's leading publications.

In that Mr. Luskin has chosen the commercial press as his oracle - and they have accepted - we call upon those publications to make known the contents of the communiqué which Luskin holds at the center of his assertions. Quoting only those snippets that Mr. Luskin chooses to characterize in his statements is not enough. If Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has chosen to exonerate Mr. Rove, let his words - in their entirety - be made public.

Reporter Jason Leopold
Mr. Leopold did not act alone in his reporting of this matter. His work, sources and conclusions were reviewed carefully at each step of the process. There is no indication that Mr. Leopold acted unethically.

Please keep in mind that over the years we have reported on many examples of individuals being scapegoated in crisis situations by superiors seeking cover from controversy. Truthout, however, does not do scapegoats. And we stand firmly behind Jason Leopold.

The Confidentiality of Our Sources
As journalists, nothing is more critical to being able to report guarded facts than the guarantee of confidentiality we provide to our sources. Truthout has never compromised the identy of a confidential source. We will protect our sources on this story, as we have on every other story we have ever published.

Expect a more comprehensive accounting of this matter on Monday, June 19.

Marc Ash,
Executive Director - Truthout

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wealth of Networks: Diebold Election Systems

I would only recommend Benkler's The Wealth of Networks, which I am now reading, to the real diehards on the topic of new media. This is mostly because he makes it difficult to read with too many fancy words (like desiderata) and sentences that go on and on and on. But there is some really good stuff buried in there too. There are also lucid moments in plain English like the passage below.

To anyone who finds the passage below from Benkler's book interesting, I would highly recommend An Army of Davids and then We the Media.

Starting on page 225 of Benkler's book, (also discussed here and here) is the story below. It is fairly long, but gives some compelling insights and renews optimism.

He begins with the words, "our second story..." His first story is also quite worthwhile and I will post it soon to The Geebus.

From Wealth of Networks:

"Our second story focuses not on the new reactive capacity of the networked public sphere, but on its generative capacity. In this capacity, it begins to outline the qualitative change in the role of individuals as potential investigators and commentators, as active participants in defining the agenda and debating action in the public sphere.

This story is about Diebold Election Systems (one of the leading manufacturers of electronic voting machines and a subsidiary of one of the foremost ATM manufacturers in the world, with more than $2 billion a year in revenue), and the way that public criticism of its voting machines developed. It provides a series of observations about how the networked information economy operates, and how it allows large numbers of people to participate in a peer-production enterprise of news gathering, analysis, and distribution, applied to a quite unsettling set of claims.

While the context of the story is a debate over electronic voting, that is not what makes it pertinent to democracy. The debate could have centered on any corporate and government practice that had highly unsettling implications, was difficult to investigate and parse, and was largely ignored by mainstream media.

The point is that the networked public sphere did engage, and did successfully turn something that was not a matter of serious public discussion to a public discussion that led to public action. Electronic voting machines were first used to a substantial degree in the United States in the November 2002 elections. Prior to, and immediately following that election, there was sparse mass-media coverage of electronic voting machines. The emphasis was mostly on the newness, occasional slips, and the availability of technical support staff to help at polls.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution story, entitled “Georgia Puts Trust in Electronic Voting, Critics Fret about Absence of Paper Trails,”5 is not atypical of coverage at the time, which generally reported criticism by computer engineers, but conveyed an overall soothing message about the efficacy of the machines and about efforts by officials and companies to make sure that all would be well.

The New York Times report of the Georgia effort did not even mention the critics.6 The Washington Post reported on the fears of failure with the newness of the machines, but emphasized the extensive efforts that the manufacturer, Diebold, was making to train election officials and to have hundreds of technicians available to respond to failure.7

After the election, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the touch-screen machines were a hit, burying in the text any references to machines that highlighted the wrong candidates or the long lines at the booths, while the Washington Post highlighted long lines in one Maryland county, but smooth operation elsewhere. Later, the Post reported a University of Maryland study that surveyed users and stated that quite a few needed help from election officials, compromising voter privacy.8

Given the centrality of voting mechanisms for democracy, the deep concerns that voting irregularities determined the 2000 presidential elections, and the sense that voting machines would be a solution to the “hanging chads” problem (the imperfectly punctured paper ballots that came to symbolize the Florida fiasco during that election), mass-media reports were remarkably devoid of any serious inquiry into how secure and accurate voting machines were, and included a high quotient of soothing comments from election officials who bought the machines and executives of the manufacturers who sold them.

No mass-media outlet sought to go behind the claims of the manufacturers about their machines, to inquire into their security or the integrity of their tallying and transmission mechanisms against vote tampering. No doubt doing so would have been difficult. These systems were protected as trade secrets. State governments charged with certifying the systems were bound to treat what access they had to the inner workings as confidential. Analyzing these systems requires high degrees of expertise in computer security. Getting around these barriers is difficult.

However, it turned out to be feasible for a collection of volunteers in various settings and contexts on the Net. In late January 2003, Bev Harris, an activist focused on electronic voting machines, was doing research on Diebold, which has provided more than 75,000 voting machines in the United States and produced many of the machines used in Brazil’s purely electronic voting system. Harris had set up a whistle-blower site as part of a Web site she ran at the time, blackboxvoting. com.

Apparently working from a tip, Harris found out about an openly available site where Diebold stored more than forty thousand files about how its system works. These included specifications for, and the actual code of, Diebold’s machines and vote-tallying system.

In early February 2003, Harris published two initial journalistic accounts on an online journal in New Zealand,—whose business model includes providing an unedited platform for commentators who wish to use it as a platform to publish their materials. She also set up a space on her Web site for technically literate users to comment on the files she had retrieved. In early July of that year, she published an analysis of the results of the discussions on her site, which pointed out how access to the Diebold open site could have been used to affect the 2002 election results in Georgia (where there had been a tightly contested Senate race).

In an editorial attached to the publication, entitled “Bigger than Watergate,” the editors of Scoop claimed that what Harris had found was nothing short of a mechanism for capturing the U.S. elections process. They then inserted a number of lines that go to the very heart of how the networked information economy can use peer production to play the role of watchdog:

We can now reveal for the first time the location of a complete online copy of the original data set. As we anticipate attempts to prevent the distribution of this information we encourage supporters of democracy to make copies of these files and to make them available on websites and file sharing networks: http:// As many of the files are zip password protected you may need some assistance in opening them, we have found that the utility available at the following URL works well: Finally some of the zip files are partially damaged, but these too can be read by using the utility at: At this stage in this inquiry we do not believe that we have come even remotely close to investigating all aspects of this data; i.e., there is no reason to believe that the security flaws discovered so far are the only ones. Therefore we expect many more discoveries to be made. We want the assistance of the online computing community in this enterprise and we encourage you to file your findings at the forum HERE [providing link to forum].

A number of characteristics of this call to arms would have been simply infeasible in the mass-media environment. They represent a genuinely different mind-set about how news and analysis are produced and how censorship and power are circumvented.

First, the ubiquity of storage and communications capacity means that public discourse can rely on “see for yourself” rather than on “trust me.” The first move, then, is to make the raw materials available for all to see. Second, the editors anticipated that the company would try to suppress the information. Their response was not to use a counterweight of the economic and public muscle of a big media corporation to protect use of the materials. Instead, it was widespread distribution of information—about where the files could be found, and about where tools to crack the passwords and repair bad files could be found— matched with a call for action: get these files, copy them, and store them in many places so they cannot be squelched. Third, the editors did not rely on large sums of money flowing from being a big media organization to hire experts and interns to scour the files. Instead, they posed a challenge to whoever was interested—there are more scoops to be found, this is important for democracy, good hunting!! Finally, they offered a platform for integration of the insights on their own forum. This short paragraph outlines a mechanism for radically distributed storage, distribution, analysis, and reporting on the Diebold files.

As the story unfolded over the next few months, this basic model of peer production of investigation, reportage, analysis, and communication indeed worked. It resulted in the decertification of some of Diebold’s systems in California, and contributed to a shift in the requirements of a number of states, which now require voting machines to produce a paper trail for recount purposes. The first analysis of the Diebold system based on the files Harris originally found was performed by a group of computer scientists at the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University and released as a working paper in late July 2003. The Hopkins Report, or Rubin Report as it was also named after one of its authors, Aviel Rubin, presented deep criticism of the Diebold system and its vulnerabilities on many dimensions.

The academic credibility of its authors required a focused response from Diebold. The company published a line-by-line response. Other computer scientists joined in the debate. They showed the limitations and advantages of the Hopkins Report, but also where the Diebold response was adequate and where it provided implicit admission of the presence of a number of the vulnerabilities identified in the report. The report and comments to it sparked two other major reports, commissioned by Maryland in the fall of 2003 and later in January 2004, as part of that state’s efforts to decide whether to adopt electronic voting machines. Both studies found a wide
range of flaws in the systems they examined and required modifications (see figure 7.2).

Meanwhile, trouble was brewing elsewhere for Diebold. In early August 2003, someone provided Wired magazine with a very large cache containing thousands of internal e-mails of Diebold. Wired reported that the e-mails were obtained by a hacker, emphasizing this as another example of the laxity of Diebold’s security. However, the magazine provided neither an analysis of the e-mails nor access to them. Bev Harris, the activist who had originally found the Diebold materials, on the other hand, received the same cache, and posted the e-mails and memos on her site.

Diebold’s response was to threaten litigation. Claiming copyright in the e-mails, the company demanded from Harris, her Internet service provider, and a number of other sites where the materials had been posted, that the e-mails be removed. The e-mails were removed from these sites, but the strategy of widely distributed replication of data and its storage in many different topological and organizationally diverse settings made Diebold’s efforts ultimately futile.

The protagonists from this point on were college students. First, two students at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and quickly students in a number of other universities in the United States, began storing the e-mails and scouring them for evidence of impropriety. In October 2003, Diebold proceeded to write to the universities whose students were hosting the materials.

The company invoked provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that require Web-hosting companies to remove infringing materials when copyright owners notify them of the presence of these materials on their sites. The universities obliged, and required the students to remove the materials from their sites.

The students, however, did not disappear quietly into the night. On October 21, 2003, they launched a multipronged campaign of what they described as “electronic civil disobedience.” First, they kept moving the files from one student to another’s machine, encouraging students around the country to resist the efforts to eliminate the material. Second, they injected the materials into FreeNet, the anticensorship peer-to-peer publication network, and into other peer-to-peer file-sharing systems, like eDonkey and BitTorrent. Third, supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the primary civil-rights organizations concerned with Internet freedom, the students brought suit against Diebold, seeking a judicial declaration that their posting of the materials was privileged. They won both the insurgent campaign and the formal one. As a practical matter, the materials remained publicly available throughout this period. As a matter of law, the litigation went badly enough for Diebold that the company issued a letter promising not to sue the students. The court nonetheless awarded the students damages and attorneys’ fees because it found that Diebold had “knowingly and materially misrepresented” that the publication of the e-mail archive was a copyright violation in its letters to the Internet service providers.9

Central from the perspective of understanding the dynamics of the networked public sphere is not, however, the court case—it was resolved almost a year later, after most of the important events had already unfolded—but the efficacy of the students’ continued persistent publication in the teeth of the cease-and-desist letters and the willingness of the universities to comply.

The strategy of replicating the files everywhere made it impracticable to keep the documents from the public eye. And the public eye, in turn, scrutinized. Among the things that began to surface as users read the files were internal e-mails recognizing problems with the voting system, with the security of the FTP site from which Harris had originally obtained the specifications of the voting systems, and e-mail that indicated that the machines implemented in California had been “patched” or updated after their certification. That is, the machines actually being deployed in California were at least somewhat different from the machines that had been tested and certified by the state.

This turned out to have been a critical find.

California had a Voting Systems Panel within the office of the secretary of state that reviewed and certified voting machines. On November 3, 2003, two weeks after the students launched their electronic disobedience campaign, the agenda of the panel’s meeting was to include a discussion of proposed modifications to one of Diebold’s voting systems. Instead of discussing the agenda item, however, one of the panel members made a motion to table the item until the secretary of state had an opportunity to investigate, because “It has come to our attention that some very disconcerting information regarding this item [sic] and we are informed that this company, Diebold, may have installed uncertified software in at least one county before it was certified.”10 The source of the information is left unclear in the minutes. A later report in Wired cited an unnamed source in the secretary of state’s office as saying that somebody within the company had provided this information. The timing and context, however, suggest that it was the revelation and discussion of the e-mail memoranda online that played that role.

Two of the members of the public who spoke on the record mention information from within the company. One specifically mentions the information gleaned from company e-mails. In the next committee meeting, on December 16, 2003, one member of the public who was in attendance specifically referred to the e-mails on the Internet, referencing in particular a January e-mail about upgrades and changes to the certified systems. By that December meeting, the independent investigation by the secretary of state had found systematic discrepancies between the systems actually installed and those tested and certified by the state. The following few months saw more studies, answers, debates, and the eventual decertification of many of the Diebold machines installed in California (see figures 7.3a and 7.3b).

The structure of public inquiry, debate, and collective action exemplified by this story is fundamentally different from the structure of public inquiry and debate in the mass-media-dominated public sphere of the twentieth century. The initial investigation and analysis was done by a committed activist, operating on a low budget and with no financing from a media company.

The output of this initial inquiry was not a respectable analysis by a major player in the public debate. It was access to raw materials and initial observations about them, available to start a conversation. Analysis then emerged from a widely distributed process undertaken by Internet users of many different types and abilities. In this case, it included academics studying electronic voting systems, activists, computer systems practitioners, and mobilized students. When the pressure from a well-financed corporation mounted, it was not the prestige and money of a Washington Post or a New York Times that protected the integrity of the information and its availability for public scrutiny. It was the radically distributed cooperative efforts of students and peer-to-peer network users around the Internet. These efforts were, in turn, nested in other communities of cooperative production—like the free software community that developed some of the applications used to disseminate the e-mails after Swarthmore removed them from the students’ own site. There was no single orchestrating power—neither party nor professional commercial media outlet. There was instead a series of uncoordinated but mutually reinforcing actions by individuals in different settings and contexts, operating under diverse organizational restrictions and affordances, to expose, analyze, and distribute criticism and evidence for it.

The networked public sphere here does not rely on advertising or capturing large audiences to focus its efforts. What became salient for the public agenda and shaped public discussion was what intensely engaged active participants, rather than what kept the moderate attention of large groups of passive viewers. Instead of the lowest-common-denominator focus typical of commercial mass media, each individual and group can—and, indeed, most likely will—focus precisely on what is most intensely interesting to its participants. Instead of iconic representation built on the scarcity of time slots and space on the air or on the page, we see the emergence of a “see for yourself” culture. Access to underlying documents and statements, and to the direct expression of the opinions of others, becomes a central part of the medium."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Power Grab

The New York Review of Books
By Elizabeth Drew

Why have the members of Congress been so timorous in the face of the steady encroachment on their constitutional power by the executive branch? Conversations with many people in or close to Congress produced several reasons. Most members of Congress don't think in broad constitutional terms; their chief preoccupations are raising money and getting reelected. Their conversations with their constituents are about the more practical issues on voters' minds: the prices of gasoline, prescription drugs, and college tuition. Or about voters' increasing discontent with the Iraq war.

* * * *

At the center of the current conflict over the Constitution is a president who surrounds himself with proven loyalists, who is not interested in complexities, and who is averse to debate and intolerant of dissenters within his administration and elsewhere. (A prominent Washington Republican who had raised a lot of money for Bush was dropped from the Christmas party list after he said something mildly critical of the President.) A Republican lobbyist close to the White House described to me what he called the Cult of Bush: "This group is all about loyalty and the definition of loyalty extends to policy-making, politics, and to the execution of policy—and to the regulatory agencies." The result, this man said, is that the people in the agencies, including the regulatory agencies, "become robotrons and just do what they're told. There's no dialogue."

* * * *

James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 47:
The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many...may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.
That extraordinary powers have, under Bush, been accumulated in the "same hands" is now undeniable. For the first time in more than thirty years, and to a greater extent than even then, our constitutional form of government is in jeopardy.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Was the 2004 Election Stolen?

by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Rolling Stone

Like many Americans, I spent the evening of the 2004 election watching the returns on television and wondering how the exit polls, which predicted an overwhelming victory for John Kerry, had gotten it so wrong. By midnight, the official tallies showed a decisive lead for George Bush -- and the next day, lacking enough legal evidence to contest the results, Kerry conceded. Republicans derided anyone who expressed doubts about Bush's victory as nut cases in "tinfoil hats," while the national media, with few exceptions, did little to question the validity of the election. The Washington Post immediately dismissed allegations of fraud as "conspiracy theories," and The New York Times declared that "there is no evidence of vote theft or errors on a large scale."

But despite the media blackout, indications continued to emerge that something deeply troubling had taken place in 2004. Nearly half of the 6 million American voters living abroad never received their ballots -- or received them too late to vote -- after the Pentagon unaccountably shut down a state-of-the-art Web site used to file overseas registrations. A consulting firm called Sproul & Associates, which was hired by the Republican National Committee to register voters in six battleground states, was discovered shredding Democratic registrations. In New Mexico, which was decided by 5,988 votes, malfunctioning machines mysteriously failed to properly register a presidential vote on more than 20,000 ballots. Nationwide, according to the federal commission charged with implementing election reforms, as many as 1 million ballots were spoiled by faulty voting equipment -- roughly one for every 100 cast.

The reports were especially disturbing in Ohio, the critical battleground state that clinched Bush's victory in the electoral college. Officials there purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency. A precinct in an evangelical church in Miami County recorded an impossibly high turnout of ninety-eight percent, while a polling place in inner-city Cleveland recorded an equally impossible turnout of only seven percent. In Warren County, GOP election officials even invented a nonexistent terrorist threat to bar the media from monitoring the official vote count.

Any election, of course, will have anomalies. America's voting system is a messy patchwork of polling rules run mostly by county and city officials. "We didn't have one election for president in 2004," says Robert Pastor, who directs the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University. "We didn't have fifty elections. We actually had 13,000 elections run by 13,000 independent, quasi-sovereign counties and municipalities."

But what is most anomalous about the irregularities in 2004 was their decidedly partisan bent: Almost without exception they hurt John Kerry and benefited George Bush. After carefully examining the evidence, I've become convinced that the president's party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004. Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004 -- more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes. (See Ohio's Missing Votes).

In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots. And that doesn?t even take into account the troubling evidence of outright fraud, which indicates that upwards of 80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush. That alone is a swing of more than 160,000 votes -- enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.

See also Thom Hartmann on [June 4, 2006]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

wikiHow - The How-To Manual That Anyone Can Write or Edit

wikiHow - The How-To Manual That Anyone Can Write or Edit

People used to be ignorant. It was hard to learn things. You had to go to libraries, look things up, perhaps sit and wait while a book was fetched from storage, or recalled from another user, or borrowed from a different library. What knowledge there was spent most of its time on a shelf. And if knowledge was going to be organized and dispersed, it took a big organization to do it....Glenn Reynolds, An Army of Davids

Wired Magazine

This month's Wired Magazine has a number of articles relevant to The Geebus.

1. The Rise of Crowdsourcing is right on point with Benkler's book The Wealth of Networks discussed on The Geebus here (April 28th) and here (May 28th). The article highlights 4 examples of business models that are leveraging off of the collective.

A sidebar to the article outlines the 5 Rules of the New Labor Pool which sum it up very well:
  • The crowd is dispersed
  • The crowd has a short attention span
  • The crowd is full of specialists
  • The crowd produces mostly crap
  • The crowd finds the best stuff

2. Free Radical is about how Nobel prize winner Harold Varmus is trying (with some success) to open up scientific journals.

Varmus has been invited by Charles Nesson, a professor of law at Harvard, to enlighten the student editors of the various Harvard Law School journals about the virtues of so-called open-access publishing. Nesson introduces his guest as “the prophet of open access.” Varmus’ smile doesn’t fade, and his hair stands proudly where the wind last left it.

He calmly lays out his campaign. For centuries, journals have been the means both of disseminating scientific knowledge and building scientific careers. Accordingly, the journals atop the hierarchy draw the highest-quality submissions, which reinforces their lofty reputations, which in turn enhances the status of the scientists who publish there. This positive feedback loop puts the power in the hands of the journals, even though their existence depends entirely on the scientists who write, edit, and serve as reviewers, usually without compensation.

Meanwhile, their colleagues can gain access only through subscriptions that their institutions pay for, sometimes dearly. (A yearly subscription to Brain Research, for instance, costs more than $20,000.) Worse, most of the public – scientists in developing countries, faculty and students in underfunded colleges, high schoolers, patients – have no access at all, even though taxes fund the government grants that support much of the research. Varmus asks: Shouldn’t this ancient system have changed with the Internet, which allows information to be disseminated cheaply and immediately searched, mined, archived, reviewed, and improved?

3. Wired 14.06: 100% Pure Indie: Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah is an Indie band with no label that has sold 100,000 of its CD with a little help from the Blogosphere.