It’s the conversation favorite virtually everywhere you turn these days — Wikileaks? And the inevitable question that arises — are you for or against?
Yesterday Forbes posted online an article and in-depth Q&A with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange (“An Interview With WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange” by Andy Greenberg).
Admire Assange or revile him, he is the prophet of a coming age of involuntary transparency. Having exposed military misconduct on a grand scale, he is now gunning for corporate America. Does Assange have unpublished, damaging documents on pharmaceutical companies? Yes, he says. Finance? Yes, many more than the single bank scandal we’ve been discussing. Energy? Plenty, on everything from BP to an Albanian oil firm that he says attempted to sabotage its competitors’ wells…
Among other criticisms that some Tea Party movement followers have been voicing about “big” government in the U.S., is some (rising) rumbling against the separation of church and state as historically established in constitutional law.
This week on the occasion of Thanksgiving, a New York Times op-ed by Harvard Divinity School Professor David D. Hall took a look back at some specific details of the holiday’s history. (“Peace, Love and Puritanism” Nov 23, 2010).
Whether what Hall writes may have any influence on those denying the constitution’s separation of church and state, I don’t know. But he doesn’t offer them any ammunition for historical argument, it seems to me.
Hall wrote about why it’s so important to get our facts straight about the deeply religious Puritans. And he precisely reviews some of the values and practices of these 17th century settlers who hold such a symbolic place in U.S. history and national mythology.
In regard to church and state, he wrote this:
And although it’s tempting to envision the ministers as manipulating a “theocracy,” the opposite is true: they played no role in the distribution of land and were not allowed to hold political office. Nor could local congregations impose civil penalties on anyone who violated secular law. In these rules and values lay one root of the separation of church and state that eventually emerged in our society.
For those interested in a true debate of this issue, I think it’s informative to read Hall’s history lesson — see here.
Reading Tim Berners-Lee’s new article online in Scientific American, my memory was jogged to remember some things I already know but keep slipping away — the difference between the Web and the Internet, for example. And I learned other things I didn’t know — why social media such as Facebook, and proprietary sites such as iTunes may be harming the development of the Web itself.
The British-born Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web (www), and he is arguably its most passionate protector.
His article “Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality” (Nov 22, 2010) is a plea for everyone to become guardians of the Web. Berners-Lee writes that the Web as we now know it is being threatened in different ways. He lays out in detail what we need to do to protect it and keep it healthy and growing.
Why should you care? Because the Web is yours. It is a public resource on which you, your business, your community and your government depend. The Web is also vital to democracy, a communications channel that makes possible a continuous worldwide conversation. The Web is now more critical to free speech than any other medium. It brings principles established in the U.S. Constitution, the British Magna Carta and other important documents into the network age: freedom from being snooped on, filtered, censored and disconnected.
Yet people seem to think the Web is some sort of piece of nature, and if it starts to wither, well, that’s just one of those unfortunate things we can’t help…
Read the full piece here.
Writing with a fighting voice, wellknown Irish journalist and author Fintan O’Toole sadly and scaldingly recounts the current Irish government’s disgrace and surrender, in an article yesterday for openDemocracy (“Ireland: the challenge of failure” Fintan O’Toole, Nov 23, 2010).
Sovereignty is a bit like a clock whose constant ticking you notice only when it stops. It becomes conspicuous in its absence. Most of the time, in an interdependent world where no nation can exist on its own, it seems a rather fuzzy concept. But it becomes crystal clear when you don’t have it.
There is nothing abstract in the sudden reality of officials from the EU and the IMF poring over the books in Merrion Street and the prospect of all big decisions on government spending and taxation having to be approved by those same bodies for years to come. A simple rule of thumb for a sovereign state is that it – and it alone – makes its own decisions about taxation and spending. For the foreseeable future, Irish governments will not pass this test.
O’Toole’s article offers an inside view of the pain and humiliation an Irish citizen is going through these days. Read full piece here.
Cutting the deficit is the battle cry of many countries’ leaders these days. But, begging to differ, Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang says this is a mistake that ignores the core problem causing the financial crisis.
Chang was speaking in a video interview published online yesterday for the Guardian (“In the worst case scenario these cuts might actually increase the deficit” Nov 22, 2010).
Chang names a different culprit as the cause of deficits and offers ideas for recovery. Chang is the author of the recently published book “23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism” (see earlier post here).
That much debated, confusingly fluid, hugely important USA legal concept known as “fair use” is back on center stage again, according to a blog post last week by Rob O’Regan at emediavitals.com (“Fair use and copyright issues return to the spotlight” Nov 18, 2010).
O’Regan notes some recent key lawsuits in relation to fair use, and identifies three current trends involving news and magazine publishers. Read full post here.
Another blog post on the same subject is also up on emediavitals from Prescott Shibles (“Fair use: how much is too much?” Nov 17, 2010). Shibles highlights policies of some aggregator websites and rates how some of them may or may not be violating fair use.
I’ve provided some examples of aggregation at the bottom of this post. You might be surprised by who’s violating copyright and by how much.
One of them is truly a dismaying surprise. See full post here.
The phrase you have to see it to believe it truly earns its meaning with the project, RomaEuropa FakeFactory: the book! If you want to put that statement to the test, watch the video above (Italian). (Excerpts below from REFF press releases)
Where did FakeFactory come from?
The story begins with the opening of the Romaeuropa WebFactory, a digital art competition launched in 2008 by the Romaeuropa Foundation (Fondazione Romaeuropa) and Telecom Italia….
What is its purpose?
FakeFactory (www.romaeuropa.org) was an act of artivism, in favor of free culture and non-proprietary rights for authors. This network confronted the themes of art and hacking, political activism and technology, copyright and intellectual property and extended to access, cultural politics, crowdsourcing, open source models, peer-to-peer economic governance and the reinvention of the real…
How does it work?
The REFF experiment is more than its content, designing a new possibility for publishing: the book comes fully integrated with a digital dimension through the use of Augmented Reality in the form of QRCodes and Fiducial Markers. These devices transform the experience of reading, enhancing it with an interactive dimension through the REFF network and global social networks, in a way that is completely uncensored.
The software is deposited on paper as hypertext, making it clickable, expandable, commentable and reactive, opening a virtually unlimited space for comparison between authors and readers on issues and debates on the book, dissolving the traditional boundaries that separate them. This book develops a new prototype of infinite potential for the intersection between digital and paper dimensions…
Who participates and why?
Supporters of the REFF are found all over the world: over 80 partners among universities, artists, academies, associations, hackers, researchers, designers, journalists, politicians, magazines, networks, activitst, art critics, architects, musicians and entrepreneurs together with all the people who share a belief that art, design and new technologies can unite towards a critical, yet positive vision of a world that can create new opportunities and new ways of being, collaborating and communicating.
Italy has a reputation for lagging behind in its citizenry’s embrace of the Internet (see here, for an example). It’s true that things could certainly be better online-wise, but still the country does rank in the top 15 countries worldwide in Internet users, according to a recent European Travel Commission report. And it shows online usage steadily rising.
Nonetheless, as the report also shows, the percentage of the Italian population online is only 51.7 percent (30,026 million). That compares to 68.9 percent in France, 79.1 percent in Germany, and 77.3 percent in the USA.
In Italy, one online sector where some promising new developments are underway is journalism, according to an article by Federica Cocco today at OWNI.eu (“Italian journos search for escape route in oppressive job market” Nov 17, 2010).
Cocco reports on some of the current hardships many Italian journalists are facing in traditional media. As a solution, she writes, some of them are “trying to find refuge in the web.”
According to a 2010 survey by Human Highway and Liquida, Italy now counts 1.7 million bloggers – half a million more than last year. The study also concluded that 23.1% of the 24 million Italian netizens read blogs regularly, and the majority of them focus on current affairs.
Cocco also reports on the recent launch of two notable online news reporting websites.
Read the full article here.
The world as we know it still has need of strong leaders, be they perfect or most definitely not. For my part — though I’m often gloomily skeptical about the state of the world (Eeyore move over) — I take some comfort in seeing those few women leaders we have now calling the shots for good or ill here and there.
One of those few is here in Europe, the increasingly powerful German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Not everyone is happy with her and some are furious, judging by reports in the English language press I’m reading. Well, I’m not cheering wildly for so many of her moves either. My political preferences are a bit left of Chancellor Merkel’s.
But the gender factor in leadership in this case is at least some compensatory pleasure.
Those pros and cons
There’s always some opinion somewhere, though, predicting Merkel’s imminent departure at the hands of grumpy German voters. An in-depth feature at Yahoo! News this week tracks the mixed reviews she receives at home and elsewhere (“Special Report: The two lives of Angela Merkel” by Andreas Rinke and Stephen Brown, Nov 16, 2010).
But an article in yesterday’s Spiegel Online International reports that, at least, when it comes to her position as leader of her party, Merkel is now more secure than ever (“The Beginning of the Merkel Era” Nov 16, 2010).
We smile coyly through our tears.
Online now at the Financial Times (and not behind their paywall – yet) is a feature listing the top 50 women in world business, see here.
In a related piece, the FT features a five-minute video interview with a woman truly at the top on the world political and economic stage, French finance minister Christine Lagarde (“Lagarde speaks out on female quotas” Nov 16, 2010).
Answering questions from FT editor Lionel Barber, Lagarde acknowledges a recent change of mind about what’s needed for women to move beyond being an endangered species in politics around the world and in company board rooms.
Barber: And in practical terms, do you favor quotas to strengthen women’s representation on boards?
Lagarde : Well, when I was a lot younger, I was dead against quotas. I thought at the time that, you know, we should be accepted on our own merits and everybody’s terms. But as I’m getting older, I see that it’s moving on too slowly. And I support quota. I support quota in companies. I support quota in the political circles as well. There are not enough women at the top…
Lagarde was in London as a keynote speaker at the FT‘s Women at the top Conference this week. Click on video link above to hear full FT interview. Go here to read more about Lagarde’s speech at the conference.
Earlier this week an authoritative, much listened to voice on the impact of the Internet on our social and economic structures, Clay Shirky, definitively dissected the recent user statistics of the UK Times and its experiment with locking its news content away behind a paywall.
In a post on his blog, Shirky, writer and New York University professor, offers no optimism about paywalls as saviors of newspapers (“The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics” Nov 8, 2010).
The advantage of paywalls is that they raise revenue from users. The disadvantages are that they reduce readership, increase customer acquisition and retention costs, and eliminate ad revenue from user-forwarded content. In most cases, the disadvantages have outweighed the advantages.
So what’s different about News paywall? Nothing. It’s no different from other pay-for-access plans, whether the NY Times’ TimesSelect* or the Harligen Texas Valley Morning Star.* News Corp has produced no innovation in content, delivery, or payment, and the idea of 90%+ loss of audience was already a rule of thumb over a decade ago. Yet something clearly feels different…
Read full post here.
In his battle against financial corruption in the U.S. Congress — a fight that I support and track on this blog — Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig displays unwavering dedication, bi-partisanship, an open mind and a whole lot of patience.
Yesterday blogging for The Huffington Post, he brought all of these attributes into service in writing a surprising appreciation for the much publicized Tea Party movement in the USA. First pointing out his strong disagreement with some aspects of the movement, he then writes:
…I am a genuine admirer of the urge to reform that is at the heart of the grassroots part of this, perhaps the most important political movement in the current political context.
He goes to elaborate:
My admiration for this movement grew yesterday, as at least the Patriots flavor of the Tea Party movement announced its first fight with (at least some) Republicans. The Tea Party Patriots have called for a GOP moratorium on “earmarks.” Key Republican Leaders (including Senator Jim DeMint and Congressman John Boehner) intend to introduce a resolution to support such a moratorium in their caucus. But many Republicans in both the House and Senate have opposed a moratorium. Earmarks, they insist, are only a small part of the federal budget. Abolishing them would be symbolic at best.
This disagreement has thus set up the first major fight of principle for the Tea Party…
(Earmarks are, according to FactCheck.org, “government funds that are allocated by a legislator for a particular pet project, often without proper review.”)
Read the full post here:
On Saturday, October 30, 2010, the Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform one of the Knight Foundation’s “Random Acts of Culture” at Macy’s in Center City Philadelphia. Accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ – the world’s largest pipe organ – the OCP Chorus and throngs of singers from the community infiltrated the store as shoppers, and burst into a pop-up rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” at 12 noon…
Interesting New York Review of Books blog post versus comment exchange yesterday about the current and future troubles of Prime Minister Berlusconi and those of the country itself. Could be described as the case of a bemused view from above versus a most concerned view from within, seems to me (“Berlusconi: Will Someone Please Pull the Plug?”).
The blogger is Ingrid D. Rowland, Univ of Notre Dame professor based in Rome. Her challenger is Mauro Gilli who according to some Googling by me, is a doctoral student in political science and one of the creators of the Italian website focusing on economics and politics, Epistemes.org (can’t swear to my accuracy of Gilli’s ID but am fairly sure) (Update:verified by Mauro).
In her post, Rowland offers an entertaining historical glance backward at some shenanigans of various Roman emperors. In comparison, she finds Berlusconi’s scandals somewhat deficient. Gilli writes to protest that Rowland’s post is:
…quite empty of any substance once we take the anecdotical analogies to ancient Rome away.
I do quibble with the charge that Rowland’s post is vacuous. She reviews some details about the mounting dissension within the ranks of the Berlusconi government and, especially to my liking, points to the emergence of a few Italian women leaders that are worthy of note.
Gilli, however, points out the context of what he describes as a far bigger problem for Italy than the replacement of one Prime Minister with a new one. And it’s this problem that Gilli describes that I myself hear most often lamented by the Italians I know.
Read blog post and comment here.
Are we talking about the ship QE2?
Are we, metaphorically speaking, talking about the Titanic?
According to Naked Capitalism‘s Yves Smith, yes, we are in terms of its prospects for the U.S. economy.
Smith is referring to the Federal Reserve (known as the Fed) and its just launched $600 billion quantitative easing program QE2. Yesterday Smith sat for an in-depth interview with Paul Jay at The Real News (videos below).
(On a post on her website today Smith apologized for speaking so fast in this interview, saying she was rushed for time – but there’s a transcript below the videos for anyone who gets a bit lost).
Paul Jay: So let’s see if I have this right. The Fed’s going to take $600 billion and buy government bonds that are owned by the big banks. Except they’re not going to just buy them from the banks, they’re going to let other people buy them from the banks and then sell them to the Fed and make money on that.
I mean the whole thing seems rather bizarre. The critics are saying that this move, as many other moves of the Fed, seems to have absolute benefit for the big banks and relative to dubious benefit to the economy. So what’s your take?
Yves Smith: I would agree with that…
Smith goes on to explain just why the Fed’s QE2 is not a great idea. Along the way, she provides an expert view of the Wall Street (and elsewhere) financial world before, during and after the 2008 crisis. She also talks about the Tea Party movement in the U.S. and why its followers are so angry. A succinct analysis of what President Obama has done to make matters worse is also included.
Highly recommended viewing. In the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing a bit of reading about QE2, and I think this interview with Smith offers as clear and complete an understanding of the confusing and complicated FED and its various QEs as you may be able to find. (Tip: on the Real News webpage, the bottom video is segment one, and the top video is segment two of the interview).
Warning, you may need a good stiff drink afterwards.
Interview, segment one:
Interview, segment two:
Some fellow ex-pats living in the southern Italian region of Apulia (Puglia) have objected (politely) to a bitterish verdict I pronounced in a post some time ago about a regional specialty bread known as Friselle.
The offending post was written for an earlier incarnation of this blog. Back then I wrote primarily about the wonders of Italy and the Italian people. So after we returned from an idyllic summer vacation in Apulia in 2007, I wrote about our trip. I mostly sang the praises of Apulia, but I did lead with a negative when I described an unhappy encounter we had one evening with a plate of friselle (“Bread and Water in Apulia“).
The post began:
As a waiter set the plates of antipasto in front of us, I felt the happy curiosity of discovering a new dish. We had ordered a regional specialty called friselle pugliesi. It is a round, rock hard bread a little bigger than an English muffin. Each serving comes with side dishes of toppings of grilled and fresh vegetables, and with an individual bowl of water, and metal tongs…
My food review went downhill from there. Today some fellow ex-pats sent me a comment to point out my error:
We are Americans living in Puglia. Whoa, did you ever miss the boat on the friselle. Our Italian friends simply hold it under the tap until the desired amout of water is absorbed — some like it crunchy, but many like it tender.
It is splendid, and serves as the absolutely most appropriate palette for the fine oil and fresh tomatoes and herbs of the region. We first tried it on a sailboat off the coast of Brindisi. Our Captain and his lady handed us each a moist friselle with tomatoes, oil, salt and anchovies. To die for! Try it again — keep it simple, eat it with your hands, and you’ll fall in love.
Thanks, I absolutely will try it again next trip to beautiful Apulia (the sailboat also sounds like a great idea).
This photo was kindly donated to me yesterday by photographer Thomas Klann. Grazie tanto!
UPDATE: To see a recent photo by Thomas of a snow-covered lake in Switzerland, click here. It’s exquisite!
How the international news media is assessing the flogging that the Democrats just took in yesterday’s midterm elections in the U.S., is the subject of an entertaining and informative article by Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy (“The World Weighs in” Nov. 3, 2010).
Opening with a wry sub-heading alluding to the D.C. power shift and the world’s press trying to figure out what it means for them — and whether Obama is still worth talking to, Hounshell writes:
Around the world, though, U.S. midterm elections generally elicit little more than a collective shrug. Beyond the obvious fact that it’s hard to whip up enthusiasm in Brazil over the congressional race for Kansas’s 1st district, the world’s newspapers are generally focused on their own political dramas — Tim Huelskamp’s romp in Kansas isn’t about to kick Dilma Rousseff’s groundbreaking election off the front pages in São Paolo. But this year’s Democratic meltdown is notable because the global infatuation with Obama is now cast against his diminished luster in the United States. To the extent that there is any theme to the coverage, it’s an attempt to answer the age-old question: What’s in it for us? But, moving forward, there’s a larger issue lurking: Is Obama still the undisputed leader of the world’s most powerful nation?
Hounshell then moves into a rundown of some commentary in some of the world’s leading newspapers. A good read — see the full piece here.
It’s still too early to yet find much homegrown, morning after opinion of the meaning of yesterday’s big and messy skid downward for the Democratic Party in the 2010 midterm elections. In the meantime, here are some quotes and other stuff I’ve found that may be of interest.
From Jeremy P. Jacobs at the National Journal (“Starting Lineup: After The Storm“):
Good Wednesday morning. Here’s what’s on the radar: Republicans deliver a Democratic bloodbath in the House; Democrats hold off the Republican tidal wave in the Senate; GOP picks up eight governorships to the Democrats’ one…
From Paul Begala at The Daily Beast (“Election Night Fallout“):
It’s jobs, stupid. That’s the lesson I take from this election. For all the bloviating that Americans hated Speaker Pelosi, or opposed Obamacare, or wanted to shrink the federal government, this election was about jobs. If the unemployment rate had been 4 percent instead of 9.6 percent (and by the broader U6 measure, 17 percent), Obamacare would be beloved. If we were creating jobs by the hundreds of thousands there would be no Tea Party. If the economy were humming like it was under President Clinton, no one would be wringing their hands about President Obama’s inability to emote.
From Alan Fram for The Associated Press (“Exit poll: Ailing economy, tea party fuel GOP”):
The exit poll also pointed to problems for Obama as he considers a 2012 re-election bid. In a sign of his diminished luster, hardly any first-time voters went to the polls Tuesday despite campaign-trail pleas – a contrast to 2008, when about 1 in 10 voters were new and strongly backed Obama.
Independents supported him solidly two years ago but on Tuesday disapproved of his job performance by almost 3-2. They were also pivotal for Republican candidates, giving them about 55 percent of their votes after leaning solidly Democratic in Obama’s 2008 presidential race and the 2006 midterms that saw Democrats win congressional control.
From Amanda Paulson at the Christian Science Monitor (“Amid big Republican gains, House gets more polarized”):
In many cases, those Democrats lost despite amassing relatively conservative voting records and opposing key Obama Administration initiatives.
At the same time, it was a banner night for many conservative, tea-party-anointed Republican candidates.
More from National Journal, this by Ron Fournier (“GOP Gains Control of House, Narrows Dem Lead in Senate”):
With unemployment at 9.6 percent nationally, interviews with voters revealed an extraordinarily sour electorate, stressed financially and poorly disposed toward the president, the political parties, and the federal government.
About 4 in 10 voters said they were worse off financially now than they were two years ago, according to preliminary exit poll results and preelection surveys by the Associated Press. More than 1 in 3 said their votes were an expression of opposition to Obama. More than half expressed negative views about both political parties. Roughly 40 percent of voters considered themselves supporters of the conservative tea party movement. Less than half said they wanted the government to do more to solve problems.
From James Burnett, Rolling Stone (“Things We Learned at the Midterms“):
–A hard-line stance on immigration isn’t the winning position some GOP candidates and their consultants seem to think it is. Just ask Angle, Carly Fiorina, and Tom Tancredo.
From Michael Tomasky, blogging for the Guardian (“Midterm election results: the fight Obama now faces”):
Come next year, Obama will need to do two opposite things simultaneously. He will have to move to the middle on some issues. Independents, who backed him in 2008, left his party in massive numbers this year. If he can’t get a big chunk of them back, he will not be re-elected in 2012.
But he also has to fight. Republicans will pick fights, and they’ll think they can roll him. And they will hold a constant parade of hearings investigating the administration, trying to snare some big administration fish (maybe Obama himself?) in a perjury or obstruction of justice trap.
Republicans play for keeps. And now, Obama is going to have to, too. It’s a long and grim way from 2008.
Also from the Guardian, a video offering glimpses of a few conspicuous winners and losers (“US midterm election results herald new political era as Republicans take House”):
Not only candidates
But there were important things in play yesterday other than just Democratic and Republican candidates. There also were various voter referendums around the country. One that was most closely watched was the initiative calling for legalization of marijuana in California. It lost.
Or did it really? From Tim Dickinson at Rolling Stone (“California’s Prop 19: Just Say…Maybe Next Time”):
Prop 19 actually provides a textbook lesson in “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.” Strong public support for legalization gave the state legislature and the Governator cover to decriminalize marijuana a month ago. In early October, they overhauled California law so that there’s no longer any sanction for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana. Smoking dope is now an infraction — like a parking ticket. No felony. No misdemeanor. If you get hassled by a cop, the worst thing that’ll happen to you is you have to pony up a $100 fine.
And now to finish this saga of opining
As a dismal illustration that the more things change the more they remain the same, I end the round-up with this. One thing that definitely didn’t alter in yesterday’s election (except in tiny glimmers here and there) is that in the U.S. Congressional landscape white men still rule.
For a whole bunch of pictures that speak volumes about this, take a look at this photo roster of the new group of freshmen Congressional members. Again from the National Journal, see here (“Meet the Newcomers of the 112th Congress”).