Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dogs and Cats, living together...

Now you can expect the Guardian to start coming out with articles about the death of capitalism, but when the FT (the Lex column, no less!) starts coming out with stuff like this, I start wondering if we all shouldn't be sharpening our scythes for the coming Armageddon. Maybe they just feel they have to start hitting the panic buttons harder if they want to get the bail-out through the hard-core of Republicans who are blocking it.

What is going on with that, by the way? Those guys sure picked a funny time to start taking a stance of principal. Is the plan just to make a lot of noise so that, when the plan fails (which you'd have to think was a good possibility), they can build the party anew on a big platform of "We told you so"? Or is this some plan to keep up McCain's idea that politics as we know it has been suspended and we all just need to listen to him (why is the guy who said he doesn't know about Wall Street suddenly the man you need in a crisis anyway?)

Anyway, as you ponder all this, consider the possibility that this idiot could end up presiding over the whole thing:

Update: Hmmm, seems to have been taken off youtube. Anyway, the thrust of the thing was that Palin talking to Katie Couric, and sounding more than a little like an International Relations student who hasn't done the reading for her seminar but hopes she can blag it anyway.

And that they seem to be moving US troops onto US soil for the first permanent deployment since the civil war. Just in case... what exactly?

Charlie Stross muses about what it might all mean.

Update: Political Betting puts forward the idea that this is just McCain's way of keeping the "maverick" persona alive and differentiating himself from Bush.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Plan to save... who?

So apparently they've reached a deal. I can't find anyone saying much about what's in it, but for what it's worth, the things I most hope made their way in was Chris Dodd's idea about government getting a right to an equity stake of the assets turned out to be junk, and some sort of general provision to help home-owners directly. Matt Yglesias expalins what that might look (have looked?) like here.

Failing that, some sort of phased process, where the treasury gets the money in installments, also seemed like a good idea.

What they are mentioning, which is restrictions on bonuses and congressional oversight, strike me as side issues.

Update: Silly me - the FT tells me that none of those things actually have been agreed on yet:

But legislators had yet to agree with the Treasury the details for a number of issues, including whether the $700bn sought by the administration would be disbursed in a single tranche or over time; the circumstances under which the government would take equity stakes in participating banks; and help for homeowners.


Information Landmine's favourite billionaire once again demonstrates why he's earned that status and respect with a new article in the Financial Times explaining why the Bush bailout of Wall Street is, like so many Bush administration initiatives, a jaw-droppingly awful idea. Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke ought to (but probably won't) read and learn.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Now you too can join the financial elite



See also...

Monday, September 22, 2008

From the Newly Restructured Brownite Department of Tautology...

Just as one government alone cannot combat global terrorism, just as one government alone cannot combat climate change, so one government alone cannot deal with the consequences of globalisation.

That's kind of right there in the definition of the term "globalisation", right Gord? Or did you just get so used to using "globalisation" as a glorified way of saying "It's nothing to do with me!" that you forgot it could have any other meeting?

Beyond the shallow sniping, I don't actually have much of an opinion about his plan until I get to hear some more of the details, but it all sounds kind of weak to my uneducated (if sizable) ears. There's a lot of talk about irresponsible behaviour and bonuses, which is all very nice, but obviously that horse has already bolted (not that it wouldn't be fun to see some yuppies whining, but it seems to me that the benefits at this stage would be strictly psychological).

And aprt from that, Gordon talks about some big global plan he's got where he gets to look all statesmanlike but won't actually make much difference one way or the other, and then talks a bit about how we need to weed out the bad apples. All seems a bit like fiddling while Rome burns.

Maybe I'm wrong, and someone better informed than myself will explain why that the Labour party actually have a master-plan that they're just selling very, very badly. But you wouldn't think they could be thinking too far outside the box if they can still have Ed Balls pissing around at the Labour party conference coming out with gems like this:

It’s not a question of light-touch regulation against heavy-handed regulation. It’s about effective regulation.

Did I miss some sort of meeting where we all decided it was 2006 again?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sign the Petition to Stop the Giveaway

Congress is on the brink of making a one-sided deal to give George W. Bush a blank check to bail out his pals - offering nearly (or perhaps more than) a trillion taxpayer dollars to Wall Street to cover its bad debts. That works out to somewhere between $2000 and $5000 from every American family. So what do the taxpayers get in return?

Nothing. No new regulation or oversight to help avoid this kind of crisis in the future. No public interest givebacks to help people whose homes are in the hands of the banks. Perhaps most shockingly of all, the taxpayers get absolutely no share in the profits if and when these finance giants bounce back, even though we are now assuming a great deal of the risk.

This is worse than a bad deal - this isn't a deal at all. This is a blank check to some of the richest companies in the world.

Please sign a new petition calling on key members of Congress to impose a few sensible conditions to this bailout in order to protect the American people.

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Common Sense from the US Greens

Seize the Time!
An essay by Cynthia McKinney
September 19, 2008

We the people must now seize the time! We have always had the capability of determining our own destiny, but for various reasons, the people failed to elect the leaders who provided the correct political will. There was always some corporate or private special interest that stood in the way of the public good. And they always seemed to have the power of the purse to throw around and influence public opinion or our elected officials. The very foundation of the U.S. economy is crumbling underneath our feet. This represents a unique moment in U.S. history and we must now seize the time for self-determination--for health care, education, ecological wisdom, justice, and all the policies that will make a difference in the lives of the people including an end to all wars, including the drug war!

The crisis was staved off for a time for some of our major finance engines when they were able to obtain bridge funding from certain sovereign wealth funds. That option grows increasingly dim as The Federal Reserve is becoming the lender of last resort. This means that the people are becoming the owners of the primary instruments of U.S. capital and finance. This now means that the people have a say in how these instruments are to be used and what their priorities ought to be. The people should now have more say in how their tax dollars are spent and what the priorities of government and the public sector must be. We the people must now set our demands to ensure and promote the public good.

Now, as we ponder the importance of this moment to do good and serve the needs of the people, some politicians have already figured out their answer for us: win or steal the next election, prepare for more war, and leave it to others to try and figure out what to do next. While banks are failing all around us and the U.S. taxpayer is drenched with news of billion-dollar bailouts for *selected* companies, the Congress, which has utterly failed in its twin responsibilities of setting policy and Executive Branch oversight, plans to adjourn instead of setting new policies; lessening the impact of the economic freefall on innocent victims; or stopping war, expansion of war, new war, and occupation.

In a dizzying turn of recent events, we have all witnessed the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage providers, investment banks Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, and insurer American International Group (AIG), and other companies. So far, at least eleven banks have filed for bankruptcy this year. The case of the AIG bailout is particularly curious as Merrill Lynch was denied taxpayer largesse. I wonder if AIG was the selected company for bailout because of its relationship to the U.S. intelligence community and what others would discover if AIG's books were opened in an audit. The last person to get close to AIG and its shady operations was Eliott Spitzer.

But some more fundamental issues must be explored here, relating to the underlying assumptions that have guided U.S. political and economic activity, particularly over the last eight years.

The Bush Administration's "anything goes, just don't get caught" attitude has set the tone for what we are witnessing today. To be sure these problems didn't start in January of 2001, but they sure were allowed to accelerate during the George W. Bush Administration. For example, what tone was set when the Administration shipped $12 billion to Paul Bremer's provisional government in Iraq in cash on wooden pallets for Iraq reconstruction? No wonder $9 billion of it was "lost." What I'm constantly reminded of is that the money didn't just vanish, somebody got it. Now it's up to us to find out who!

However, the Administration's blatant disregard for good governance, the rule of law, standards of moral and ethical conduct, and even etiquette, when coupled with a laissez-faire, "go-along-to-get-along" attitude from Congress meant that no holes were barred and no hands were on the deck--a sure prescription for disaster.

In my reading over the course of the last few years, I had to become somewhat conversant with the language of the new economy: bundled mortgages, securitization, SPEs, SIVs, derivatives. But in addition to the old concepts that always seemed to be with us--predatory lending, redlining, no affordable housing amid "the housing bubble,"-- it soon became clear that basically folks had figured out a way to make money off of a ticking time bomb. Kind of like prisons for profit. And even though the Enron scandal was supposed to have cleaned up a lot of this, unfortunately, even Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac regularly engaged in some of these practices and that's why you and I own them today. I believe it is true that the very foundations of the U.S. economy and conventional political behavior have been shaken. Now is not the time for business as usual. And although this is by no ways exhaustive, here are a few things that I think the Democratic-led Congress could work on now instead of adjourning:

1. enactment of a foreclosure moratorium now before the next phase of ARM interest rate increases take effect;

2. elimination of all ARM mortgages and their renegotiation into 30- or 40-year loans;

3. establishment of new mortgage lending practices to end predatory and discriminatory practices;

4. establishment of criteria and construction goals for affordable housing;

5. redefinition of credit and regulation of the credit industry so that discriminatory practices are completely eliminated;

6. full funding for initiatives that eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in home ownership;

7. recognition of shelter as a right according to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to which the U.S. is a signatory so that no one sleeps on U.S. streets;

8. full funding of a fund designed to cushion the job loss and provide for retraining of those at the bottom of the income scale as the economy transitions;

9. close all tax loopholes and repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the top 1% of income earners;

10. fairly tax corporations, denying federal subsidies to those who relocate jobs overseas, repeal NAFTA.

And since the Congress plans to adjourn early and leave these problems to The Federal Reserve, The Federal Reserve should operate in the interests of the U.S. taxpayer and not the interests of the private, international bankers that it currently represents. This, of course means that The Federal Reserve, too, must undergo a fundamental ownership and mission change.

This crisis does not have to be treated as merely a "market correction," or the result of a few rotten apples in an otherwise pristine barrel. This crisis truly represents the opportunity to introduce fundamental changes in the way the U.S. economy and its political stewards operate. Responsible political leadership demands that the pain and suffering being experienced by the innocent today not be revisited upon them or the next generation tomorrow. But sadly, instead of affirmative action being taken in this direction, the Bush Administration ratchets up the drumbeat for war, Republican Party operatives busily remove duly-registered voters from the voter rolls, and our elected leaders in the Congress go home to campaign while leaving all of us to fend for ourselves. For the Administration and the Democrat-led Congress, I declare: MISSION UNACCOMPLISHED. For the public whose moment this is, I say: Power to the People!

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They Break, We Buy

Gretchen Morgenson, writing in the New York Time, nails it.

To quote John Lydon: "It's a swindle!" And it's your money and your future, US taxpayers, that is being swindled away.


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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Getting the retrospective in early...

Flying Rodent casts a fond eye back on the Bush days, and offers an appraisal:

The Bush admin, in short, has been the America-hater's wet dream, plunging the world's only superpower into the toilet bowl at the speed of sound. Their actions couldn't have been more perfectly designed to sabotage a global empire if they'd been drawn up by anarchist punks.

Read the whole thing. It's worth it.

End of the Laissez-Faire Era?

The Guardian's Larry Elliott seems to think so although, as Tristram Hunt points out in the same paper, perhaps we shouldn't expect too much by way of a backlash. Meanwhile, Meghnad Desai argues for a dose of Thatcherism to be applied to Wall Street and the City of London in the same way it was once applied to the coal pits of Yorkshire. Oh, what delicious irony that would have represented had the Bush administration not just bailed out the bankers with US taxpayers' cash (which, of course, is pretty ironic in and of itself)!

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Ain't Capitalism Grand?

Congratulations, US taxpayers: you get fleeced by Wall Street bankers preaching rabid market fundamentalism and then you get to pay their huge, multi-million dollar salaries from your pocket and your childrens' pocket when their cronies that you elected (or failed to stop from stealing two consecutive elections) step in and open up the Treasury to pay for Wall Street's mistakes and excesses. Meanwhile, if your home gets repossessed because the bankers sold you a bad mortgage, that's your tough luck!

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Friday, September 19, 2008

The World Turned Upside Down

It's beyond question we're living in strange and uncertain times when the Daily Mail starts lambasting 21st century capitalism for its contradictions and excesses.

I briefly had to double-check the website address to make sure this wasn't the People's Weekly World.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008


EFF sues AT&T, Bush, Cheney, Addington and Gonzales:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government agencies today on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal, unconstitutional, and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records. The five individual plaintiffs are also suing President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, former Attorney General and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and other individuals who ordered or participated in the warrantless domestic surveillance.

Via Boing Boing.

Stross out

When I'm not dreaming of being Slavoj Zizek, I often think I'd quite like to be Charlie Stross, the wild man of science fiction. It's like being the wild man of theory, but with a more sceptical audience. For those tragically unfamiliar with the man's work, here's the onlne version of his singularity novel, Accelerando.

In his spare time he keeps a blog which he populates with dark musings like this one:

Is it reasonable to believe that the past week's instability in the financial markets — Lehman Brothers being sold for the value of their data centers plus 10%, AIG being bailed out (thus saving the US airline industry), the shockwaves taking down one of the UK's biggest banks and panicking the government into bending the rules to permit an otherwise-illegal merger, the Russian stock exchange closing to avoid cratering, and the $455Tn global derivatives market teetering on the edge — was anticipated, but happened too early?

Charlie's dark suspicion: it was expected to arrive in January; a nice welcome mat for the new proprietors, courtesy of the outgoing bustout crew.

I think that may be giving them a touch too much credit (my bet was on them trying to start a war with Iran), but I s'pose you never can tell with that lot.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Disaster Keynesianism?

I think now may be a good time to revisit my whole beef with Naomi Klein's Disaster Capitalism thesis. As deregulated finance collapses around us, any number of lefty people are coming out of the woodwork with the perfectly sensible point that now might be a good time to re-think our whole approach to government and finance, start having some more regulation of banks and directing public money towards more environmentally sustainable development. And this is a good thing - if people use the current financial crisis to implement strategies to rebuild infrastructure and stop us from fucking up the planet, then some good will have come of it, and I suspect Naomi Klein agrees. But, as I said last year:

Seems to me that political opportunists have always used disasters to push through their reforms - of late it's been the rabid free-marketeers, but it wasn't always thus. As she points out: "John Maynard Keynes proposed [a] mixed, regulated economy after the Great Depression. It was that system of compromises, checks and balances that Friedman's counter-revolution was launched to dismantle in country after country." If I'm not mistaken, that's two examples of people imposing their economic visions after a disaster. The Keynesian one may be preferable for those of us who aren't holding Halliburton stock, but lets be fair here, it's not like Milton Friedman (or, for that matter John Maynard Keynes) was the first guy to come up with the idea of reshuffling the pieces after they've been messed up.

So to be really consistent with her whole "shock" thesis, she'd have to be talking about how evil environmentalists and Keynsians know that their policies won't fly in times of stability, and so spend their time stockpiling policies, ready to spring them on the world as soon as crisis hits and the poor, unsuspecting public is in a state of "shock." Hell, a conspiracy-minded person could probably come up with some half-assed theory of how those pesky government interventionists deliberately brought this upon us with their implicit backing of Fannie and Freddie and all the subsequent moral hazard problems that this was likely to lead to.

But I think that's a book that'll probably be left to the right-wing cranks.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Just in case there's any aliens reading...

The BBC tells us that "Global Market Turmoil Continues" and would like to know:

"Are you affected by the issues covered in this story?"

Wouldn't it be far more interesting to hear from anyone not affected by this story?

Monday, September 15, 2008

The market is always right... eventually.

I've been wasting significant amounts of time reading Matthew Yglesias's blog recently. Partly it's that he gives good analysis of a broad range of US policy issues from a sensible perspective, but I think a lot of it may be that he brings the snark like few others:

Can someone remind me what it is that all these financial wizards were getting paid so much money to do? Is there some reason you need to pay top dollar to find someone capable of managing an institution into the ground.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Libertarians for Obama

Is the theme of a new series of posts on Marginal Revolution. The point, obviously, is that it's been a long time since the idea that the Republicans are the party of free markets (or indeed free anything) has become a sick joke, and it'd be better to defect for Obama, who at least looks like he might do better on civil liberties:

Have libertarians gained on other margins in the past eight years? Not at all. Under the Republicans we have been sailing due South-West on the Nolan Chart – fewer civil liberties and more government, including the largest new government program in a generation, the Medicare prescription drug plan, and the biggest nationalization since the Great Depression. Tax cuts, the summum bonum of Republican economic policy, are a sham. The only way to cut taxes is to cut spending and that has not happened.

While I don't actually disagree with anything that's said there, I still find myself slightly surprised that anyone actually feels the need to make this argument. Libertarians always like to pose as the party for the high IQ set - how come they're only just figuring all this out now?

Weather report from Hell: Wrap up warm

I was wondering the other week how much difference Rupert Murdoch's backing of Obama was going to make to the Fox News editorial line.

Here's your answer:

Bill O'Reilly led off tonight's episode of The Factor with a pointed critique of the latest small-minded content of the news cycle, criticizing the McCain campaign both in terms of character and tactics, slagging the media for pressing the story senselessly, and largely absolving Obama.

Yes, that's bill Bill O'Reilly whining about the small-mindedness, and distortions of Republican campaigns. Insert your own punchlines.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jeff Monson at the RNC

A link (and what I'm going to take as a back-handed compliment) from Hywel's blog led me to this awesome collection of photos of the protests at the Republican National Convention. Jeff Monson, UFC vet and long time anti-capitalist, is featured prominently.

Hywell, who's heard Monson speak, had this to say:

I found his political views somewhat naive. I think he supports the principles but doesn’t understand the actual logistics. being an anarchist and anti-capitalist is like being opposed to the concept of sadness. The anti-sad campaigners want everyone to be happy, but don’t understand the causes of sadness or why it exists in the world, and offer no remedy.

I've only heard reports about Jeff Monson speaking, but I think it's probably fair to say that the world of political philosophy didn't lose out too badly when he decided to become a fighter. And while there's obviously a bit of a spotlight fallacy going on there - I've met a lot of very smart anti-capitalists who weren't remotely naive - I think the point about being opposed to capitalism being a bit like being opposed to sadness is pretty sharp.

There again, Monson was protesting at the Republican National Convention, so you'd have to assume he was a bit like a lot of anti-capitalists, and raging more about the whole corporate welfare/perpetual war/police state thing than capitalism in particular. Hell, these days an anti-capitalist protest at the RNC is a bit like an anti-socialist protest at a Labour Party Convention - you just aren't going to find what you're looking for there. If he'd wanted to protest against actual capitalism, he'd have had to have started picking on the folks at the Ron Paul rally down the road.

Also, there always the chance that Monson was protesting on MMA grounds - McCain was the little toe-rag who tried to have the sport banned.

Image from Danny Ghitis's blog

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tyler Durden on trademarks

Also from the IPKat, there's an article about a new proposal to remove branding from smoking:

The IPKat is no fan of smoking, and would back any move which prevents young people from takng up the habit. As a trade mark lawyer, he finds the proposal intriguing. This would be as close to an undifferentiated market for goods provided by multiple suppliers as we're likely to get - will the market collapse, as economists seem to predict in such situations, or which it remain vibrant thanks to the images built up by previous advertising and mythology surrounding the different brands?

That seems to me to be as close as you'll get to a trademark lawyer admitting that 95% of trademark law is about trying to convince people to buy shit they don't need:

Green Tech in China

It's interesting to read these two stories in conjunction. First, at the IPEZone, we find that the US has invested a whole heap of cash selling Green Tech to China. Then, we get a story from the IPKat about how China reforming its patent system to bring it more into line with Western norms.

If I had a little more time I'd love to chase up the relationship between these two stories and find out how much the reform was motivated by the need to import green tech vs. the urge to see Chinese businesses registering more patents internationally, etc.

Sadly, I'm well behind on all the stuff that I actually need to do at the moment, so, like with much of the stuff that goes up on this blog, this is really a note to myself to maybe come back to something, rather than a fully fledged post.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

David Simon

I've been going a bit potty about The Wire of late. Finished the final season a few months back, and it's left a gaping hole in my life. For anyone still unfamiliar with the show, this, from creator David Simon, should indicate why it's unmissable telly.


Also, from a little while back, is this collection of crime writers (broadly defined to include Irvine Welsh) singing the show's praises. There are a few spoilers, so if you've not watched it, just make do with this quote from John Williams (the crime writer, not the composer):

Then I watched The Wire. And there was everything I'd liked in the work of Higgins or Leonard or Pelecanos: the inventive dialogue, the characters etched in shades of grey, the prevailing mood of moral ambiguity and profound cynicism as to the motives and efficacy of the forces of law and order. There, in particular, was the sustained attack on the war on drugs - a war that makes the Iraq adventure look well thought out - that neither our newspapers nor our novelists (with the shining exception of Richard Price) seemed able to make. There, in a nutshell, was the revival of American social realism: the Steinbeck/Hammett/Algren tradition that seemed to have been lost in a welter of postmodernism, post-colonialism and pure unadulterated schlock.

Maverick financial policy

The FT covers the differing responses to the Fannie/Freddie nationalisation from the Obama and McCain campaigns:
Jason Furman, economic policy director to the Democratic candidate, on Monday said a Barack Obama administration would privatise those elements of Fannie and Freddie that could be better -carried out by the -private sector, while retaining a smaller government-charter institution supporting low-income, affordable housing.

The McCain campaign has said it would privatise both institutions after they had been restructured and the credit markets had stabilised.

”McCain has been out there with a hasty ’privatise and shrink’ approach,” Mr Furman told the Financial Times. ”It has been ideologically driven and not sufficiently mindful of some of the public functions that Fannie and Freddie currently perform. The trick is how to disentangle their private and public functions and how to manage the complex task of the transition.”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, John McCain’s senior economic adviser, linked the Republican nominee’s plan to privatise both institutions with the broader campaign theme of reforming Washington.

”The financial problems at these institutions are a legacy of crony capitalism, the absence of transparency and accountability, and the implied backing of the taxpayer,” he said in a statement.

”Senator McCain will get real regulation that limits their ability to borrow, shrinks their size until they are no longer a threat to our economy, and privatises and eliminates their links to the government.”

Now, obviously I'm not exactly impartial, but it's pretty clear to me from this that the Obama campaign has given the problem some thought, and that the McCain campaign's serving up some wishful thinking in a light wrap of right-wing rhetorical posturing. Roughly paraphrasing, the idea seems to be: "We'll privatise just as soon as we've assumed away all the hard parts." Then they tack on some boiler plate about the evils of government. Which is all very well if that's what floats your boat, but not terribly enlightening on how they plan to deal with the reality of two mamoth GSE's that had to be nationalised.

Couple that with the fact that Sarah Palin apparently doesn't even understand how Freddie and Fannie have been working up till now, and you have to wonder how the press are still managing to float that meme about the Obama campaign being weak because it's all rhetoric and no policy.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Thnk global, report local

Jayne sent me this. It's a report on life at the bottom end of the scrap metal trade in Sierra Leone:

Obviously I'm hopelessly under-qualified to comment on any of the substantive issues raised, but, if only because the laws of the blog-world seem to demand that some sort of half-assed commentary be made underneath an embedded video, I think it's worth pointing out that this thing also serves as a pretty good example for the benefits of local reporting.

In the first place, local reporters, by definition, tend to have good knowledge of the place's they're reporting on. But in contexts like Sierra Leone, I think there's the added bonus that home-grown reporting doesn't come with as much "We are taking this very seriously indeed" baggage as you'll get from your average BBC report, where foreign reporters are always trying to somehow put the thing "in context", usually through a lot of grim-faced editorialising.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


The IPKat reports that someone's got a high-court order to go force ISPs to reveal the identities of people accused of file-sharing. The twist in the tail being that this is not, as one might have expected, a record company, but a games developer:
The IPKat noticed this article (also noted here and here), which reports that computer game developer Topware Interactive (previously reported by the IPKat in relation to a recent related patents court decision here) have now managed to get a further high court order to force UK ISPs to reveal the identities of thousands of people believed to be involved in internet file sharing.

This development, although apparently a surprise to ISPs, comes as no surprise to the IPKat, who saw no reason why such a move couldn't have been done before, an obvious target for such a move being music file sharing (see previous posts here, here, here, here and here). What the IPKat didn't expect is that the computer games industry would steal a march on the music industry and go ahead with taking action against individual file sharers. He wonders what will happen now, and how many alleged infringers will have the nerve to resist the settlement offer.
It'll be interesting (for values of interesting that may include "horrifying") to see what happens from here. Hopefully this is just a one-off, and we're not opening the floodgates to a repeat of the madness of the RIAA lawsuits in the US, but we'll have to see. Usually I wouldn't be too optimistic, but the Kat's rather snarky closing comments actually do give me some grounds for hope.

An interesting comment made here is that the games involved in this action are allegedly mostly second rate, and didn't sell many copies. Is this a justification for going after people found copying these games, to make poor games pay? Does it matter? The IPKat thought that copyright infringement was the same regardless of the quality of the material, but this view is apparently not universally shared.

This is silly. The quality of the game has nothing to do with it - it's the fact that no-one was gong to buy it that matters. Yes, in a perfect legal world there'd be all copyright infringment would be duly punished, but the whole point about getting ISPs to give up users' identities is that it is, in itself, a harm. So the question becomes one of weighing relative harms[1].

Now say what you like about the RIAA, but it's members did at least sell some records, and so could at least try to make the case that all those downloads constituted lost sales, and that there was a serious harm here that needed to be remedies. It wasn't a very good case, but they could at least find adults to make it with a straight face, until it became apparent just how ridiculous and disproportionate the whole process was. Seems to me that that'll happen rather more quickly when the company leading the British charge against file-sharers are a Mickey Mouse games develper hoping that someone will download thier shitty product so that they can sue them.

But I'm probably being far too optimistic.

[1] Personally, I'm a strong believer in the idea that users' right to privacy is more-or-less never worth compromising for cases of copyright theft - they're just computer games, people, and there are other ways to make money off them.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Electoral Apolcalypse Grows Nearer

With news like this and this, any Democratic candidate ought to be strolling towards election to a four-year residency in the White House this November. And yet at least one major poll shows that this is not the case at all and that the Republican candidate John McCain is not just still in the game but surging forward.

Sure, US presidential candidates do traditionally get a "bounce" in the polls during or after their own party conventions. But these are no ordinary times, with what ought to be a perfect storm of economic meltdown; the biggest energy crisis in over thirty years; huge numbers of home repossessions; looming environmental catastrophe on an unprecedented scale; and, finally, an unpopular and seemingly never-ending war, all presided over by the most corrupt and incompetent presidential administration in modern American history, if indeed not of all-time.

And yet, between McCain's choice of a vile and extremist running mate and the re-ignition of the "culture wars" so beloved of Rove, Gingrich and Robertson, the GOP has somehow managed to right the Titanic, at least for the moment. And should the polls remain close going into election day, who would seriously bet against another massive electoral fraud on behalf of the Republican Party for the third consecutive US presidential election?

Liberals and progressives have been ripped in the press for having an insulting and condescending attitude towards the kind of small-town, conservative voters who have bullwarked the GOP through its 40-year rise to and (fingers crossed) fall from power.

The conviction by the left that the right is stupid is one of the defining and least attractive characteristics of contemporary politics. Assuming that anyone who disagrees with you is too dim to get your point is not itself a particularly brainy way to win others over to the essential correctness of your views.

Quite possibly true, but if the Republicans can pull this one off, either by hook or by crook, then it will be difficult to argue how an electorate that consistently votes against its own economic interests in sufficient numbers to allow the Republicans victory - or, in the absence of enough GOP votes, once again allows an election to be brazenly stolen - can be viewed as anything less than semi-lobotomized morons. And dangerous semi-lobotomized morons at that.

Time, as ever, will tell.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

An election for those who were missing Karl Rove...

After Sarah Palin's speech last night, there seems to be a general feeling that it is, in fact, a masterstroke by the McCain campaign. Clive Crook, in particular, has been making this case hard for a few days now.

Much as it pains me to admit it, I think this is probably right. Above all else, the line that was going to win the election for the Democrats was that John McCain was just going to double down on everything about George Bush that you already hated - Iraq, tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy, drilling for oil everywhere... you name it, it's part of McCain's policy programme. And even on the things where he used to be a "maverick" - torture, the environment - he seems to be coming round to the Bush way of thinking. Given that everyone in the US has had eight years to look at the results of those policies, and given that the overwhelming majority decided that they hated them, the last thing the McCain campaign wants to do is talk about policy.

So, they've decided to double down on the "culture wars" angle. They were already pushing the war hero thing as the answer to every conceivable question that anyone could field. Now, alongside a hyper-masculine McCain wrapping himself in the flag, they can work the "hockey mom" angle to death as well, they parade her crazy religious convictions, and generally mobilise the conservative base.

The irony is, of course, that this is itself a continuation of the Bush strategy of focusing on "moral issues" in elections - you mobilise an angry Christian base and hope that enough of them turn out on polling day to win you the election. OK, Sarah Palin may be better looking than Dick Cheney, but it looks to me like a government that offers the same basic package of subsidies for the oil industry and military contractors whilst uttering Christian pieties.

For what it's worth, I don't think this will work. As Roy Edroso points out in his review of Palin's speech:

But the crowing about the virtues of small government as demonstrated by the blessed lives of lucky white people goes back to Goldwater at least, and the flag-waving to the days before democracy was even a thought. The act went over gangbusters in the hall. How well it goes outside of it, and into November, will depend on how much Americans are willing to pay for this sort of entertainment.

It might all be fun and games to have this sort of pantomime when the times are good, but when the economy's crashing, you'd think the electorate would be responsive to some searching questions about what anyone plans to do about it.

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Not All of the US Media is Sleepwalking

Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News clearly gets it when it comes to the comical-but-nevertheless-sinister-and-loathesome Gov. Sarah Palin. But will American voters get it or will they swallow the line that she is somehow a mainstream and credible candidate for the second highest office in the land? We will await the answer - or at least Diebold's answer - in November.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Reports have been coming out that global media tyrant Rupert Murdoch has been throwing ever-more of his not-inconsiderable weight behind the Obama campaign. Now media circles are all-a-flutter with stories of how he's been trying to broker a truce between Obama and the attack dogs at Fox news. And now, sure enough, he's going to appear on the O'Reilly factor just before John McCain makes his acceptance speech at the RNC.

Now, first off this is all very interesting in itself. Watching how O'Reilly goes at Obama when the message coming down from on-high is that Murdoch is probably backing him should be a fascinating bit of viewing for those of us who spend our time wondering just how much direct control Murdoch actually exercises. My personal feeling is that we can take anything less than full-on, rabid wing-nuttery from O'Reilly to be evidence of Murdoch's iron-fisted rule. Watching how Obama tackles it should be equally interesting.

There are also, of course, the Tony Blair parallels, although, as the Guardian points out above:

Murdoch courting Obama marks something of role reversal from the mid-1990s, when UK prime minister-in-waiting Tony Blair actively courted Murdoch as part of his bid for power.

"This is a leap for Murdoch. Murdoch has traditionally liked politicians to come to him. His historic shift in the 1990s to Tony Blair came after Blair made a pilgrimage to Australia," wrote Wolff.

"Obama, on the other hand, was snubbing Murdoch. Every time he reached out (Murdoch executives tried to get the Kennedys to help smooth the way to an introduction), nothing. The Fox stain was on Murdoch."

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