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The nightmarish SOPA hearings (washingtonpost.com)
592 points by elliottcarlson on Dec 15, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 166 comments

For some time now it's been clear to me that as society grows ever more technical, it's leaving legislators behind.

At the same time, the background of lawmakers has increasingly narrowed.

In Australia, for example, it used to be commonplace for the Parliament to contain people whose first careers were as teachers, farmers, train drivers, engineers, small businessmen and so forth.

Not any more. Today it's an almost wall-to-wall collection of law students who were all groomed by party machines. Go to uni, join political club, graduate and work in minister's office/a union/a politically-connected law firm, get pre-selected at the local branch, elected to Parliament.

At no point has this person a) studied something other than law or b) held down an ordinary job or run a small business. I imagine the pattern is similar elsewhere.

And so our law making bodies are filled with folk whose main skill is forensic disputation. This is problematic when technical debates are held because politicians are often mistrustful of experts outside their circle of loyalty -- because for any expert I can procure, someone else can get an expert to say the opposite.

Having experts inside the circle of trust is golden. The classic example is the banning of CFCs. Margaret Thatcher's undergraduate degree was in chemistry and so she understood the mechanisms. In turn she was able to assure Regan that the phenomenon was real and serious and the rest is history.

I have for some time toyed with the idea of forming a non-partisan organisation whose purpose is helping STEM professionals to get elected. Please contact me by email (check my profile) if you are interested.

It's also worth mentioning that the bigger problem here is that the breakneck pace of technological advancement has left legislators behind just due to age. They did not grow up with the Internet. Hell, they barely grew up with television. But we went from radio to the Internet in 70 years, less than many a human lifetime. That's going to cause some pendulum swinging. Obviously I think we should oppose SOPA with all of our hearts and all of our voices, but let's also not despair that this is how it will always be. Call me an idealist, but 5-10 years from now, when people start getting elected who were young when the Internet changed everything, I think we'll see a swing of the pendulum back away from this madness.

I'm afraid I can't be as optimistic about future legislators as you seem to be. The pace of technological change is only going to get faster. Even someone who is an expert in a field is going to be utterly clueless about the latest technology by the time he gets elected for a second term. "Dropbox? What's that? Is that like Kazaa?"

Besides, these people are not only ignorant, they are willfully ignorant. They could have asked the experts/"nerds" anytime if they wanted to, but they never will, because they're not interested. They are not going to let expert knowledge get in the way of doing what industry lobbyists paid them to do.

It's completely possible that many of them have no nerds in or near their social circle. They've lived and breathed politics for many years, and most geeks don't go anywhere near politics.

I think Jacques' idea of trying to get some technical people elected is a pretty fantastic one. I think it makes sense to have an offline discussion about how that should be done.

I've gotten 4 emails so far including yours. I'll set some basic infrastructure up when I get home tonight.

I this this a dangerously weak argument against things like SOPA. Congress deals routinely with technical matters far outside the experience of most of its members. Very few members of Congress can pilot a plane, price an option, inspect a copper mine, gauge the damage of X parts per million of some contaminant in the water supply, or, for that matter, provide for and maintain a Navy like the Constitution demands of them.

The argument against SOPA can't be "Congress has no business wading outside its technical competency"; it has to be, "this is a bad proposal, intrinsically, for reasons X, Y, and Z".

That can't be used as an argument against SOPA, but having technically competent congressmen would certainly help to prevent this kind of thing in the future.

Its important to keep in mind that while lobbyists are a major factor in corruption of the political system, one of the reasons they are there is that they politicians rely on them for providing technical expertise.

You make it sound as if they're just there to help make the world a better place. Lobbyists are there to ensure the interests of the organizations they represent are addressed. They do this using their financial influence, and by "providing technical expertise" in the form of drafting the very policy they expect the politicians to support ... easing the burden of said politician actually doing the work they were elected to do in learning what it is they're foisting upon their constituents in the form of laws. If you think even half of the politicians voting for SOPA have a clue how DNS works and aren't just parroting the message from someone that's given them money, I think you're deluding yourself.

"Lobbyists are there to ensure the interests of the organizations they represent are addressed."

Sure. Some of those organizations have interests that make the world a better place. You do know there are lobbyists out there working against SOPA, right?

I agree that financial influence is a problem, but only part of it has anything to do with campaign contributions and backscratching. Plain and simple, interests that have (or causes that attract) more money can afford to hire more people to actually do the lobbying work from research to face-to-face discussion (this is one reason why wealth distribution issues matter bigtime).

And in the meanwhile, fewer and fewer people do lobbying for any reason other than money. Or to put it another way, maybe the other half of the problem is that we're not all trying to be better lobbyists. I remember hearing an interview with Rep Bill Orton a while back (interesting guy -- a Democrat elected to Utah's 3rd district, one of the most conservative Republican districts out there) where he said his biggest surprise after election was how few "ordinary citizens" came to visit.

Aussie here - while we do have our various lobby groups, they certainly do not seem to be as rampant as in the US system. Because the rules around donations are stricter, issues seem to get fought out in the public sphere a bit more. So for example when a proposed mining tax looked like it might cut corporate profits the mining companies funded massive advertisement campaigns on TV, saying how it would cost jobs.

Our system is much more like the British system, where for technical expertise ministers rely on the public servants of the department they manage. Many of the public servants have university degrees relevant to the areas they work in, and years of relevant experience.

While the system isn't without its problems (see the British comedy 'yes minister' for a more detailed explanation :-) at least ministers have somebody 'non partisan' providing them with expertise and recommendations.

In Australia the classic British model of public servants giving disinterested advice has been steadily eroded by a) senior staff being placed on contracts and b) senior public servants behaving like political actors.

Perhaps the House of Representatives should be populated like a jury. Hundreds of regular "Joe Citizens" are randomly selected and then voted on each year. No more career politicians selling out citizens for kickbacks. No more career politicians not doing their job because they are on the campaign trail seeking reelection.

Then revert Senate seats to be appointed, not elected, positions. The Senate and President will (hopefully) squash crazy ideas that may escape the House.

William F. Buckley said, "I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University."

The Canadian Senate is appointed, and as a result it's mostly become a rubberstamping organization. Almost every time the senate approves whatever comes out of parliament to the point where many Canadians don't even know of it's existence.

I don't know how the jury mechanism will prevent people selected abusing their position much when they have it. Or even worse being quickly manipulated, since the house is a law creating body.

Well, the House and Senate consists of 100+ people with about equal power, and there is also the separation of powers between branches.

> Perhaps the House of Representatives should be populated like a jury.

This is called "sortition". The wikipedia entry is pretty good (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition).

> Then revert Senate seats to be appointed, not elected, positions.

In the US and Australia it used to be the case that Senators were appointed by States.

Thanks for the link on sortition.

> > Then revert Senate seats to be appointed, not elected, positions. > In the US and Australia it used to be the case that Senators were appointed by States.

That's why I suggested the seats be "reverted" to appointments.

> Then revert Senate seats to be appointed, not elected, positions. The Senate and President will (hopefully) squash crazy ideas that may escape the House.

And they will be appointed based on whose advice, precisely?

Look at it from the POV of the state governor, who is looking down a long list of people who all want to be on the Senate and all have something like a real qualification. It's easily over a hundred names, none of whom you've ever so much as had a beer with. How do you narrow it down to two? Well, there's someone in your mansion's antechamber right now who is more than willing to help you select the right people...

For some time now it's been clear to me that as society grows ever more technical, it's leaving legislators behind.

And, or perhaps especially, judges.

We need our geniuses, innovators, and entrepreneurs running the show, is the general problem. I think if you took every chunk of 1000 people and asked them to select amongst themselves (assume its a small town thing, where they have known each other for years) they will pick the brightest and best amongst them to represent themselves.

The problem today in my mind is not only the money is speech problem we face today, but the more general problem that the more people you have one person represent the less they are representative of their electorate and the more generalized they become, even in the best case, they don't represent the full broad beliefs and ideals of the constituents. You want representation as fine grained as possible, with a pyramid of layers of it stacking up to a national level, rather than a system that is as top down as the national -> state -> local game we have going right now.

This sounds great and increased participation of technically-trained people is sorely needed. There've been some stirrings toward this over here across the (other) pond:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/science/09emily.html?pagew... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientists_and_Engineers_for_Am... http://www.physicstoday.org/daily_edition/science_and_the_me...

it is worth remembering that inside-track "experts" come with their own set of tradeoffs, especially when they have unchallenged influence - think Mcnamara and Kissinger, Rice and Wolfowitz, and Summers and gang.

Nice post from Felix Salmon on the topic:


He makes the point that virtually no average citizens support this (either they're against it or they don't know anything about it.) People often worry that congress fails when they can't agree on anything, but this makes me think that the time to really worry is when they do agree. When they disagree, they're at least probably mirroring the electorate.

Well put. Lately I worry the most when Dems and Repubs find something that they can slam-dunk agree on.

Example: NDAA

And the PATRIOT Act, and the DMCA.

And Prohibition (aka the War on Drugs).

I hear corporations are "real people" these days. ;)

If you want a government that respects the will of the people, you are welcome to move to a democracy.

I watched roughly 2-3 hours of the hearing. I could be wrong, but I thought in general there was actually a bi-partisan agreement that they needed experts in on the conversation. Unfortunately it didn't mean much when it came to voting on amendments (as most were shot down).

Where it got interesting is when Mel Watt came out and said "We all know that everyone in this room on both sides has enough resources to pull in experts that will aid their side of the argument equally, so we're going to get into the same mess we did when we talk about derivatives being the most evil things on earth by one party and the saving grace by another". Good point, but the difference here is that not all parties that are for SOPA have purely financial incentives as the banks did.

> Where it got interesting is when Mel Watt came out and said "We all know that everyone in this room on both sides has enough resources to pull in experts that will aid their side of the argument equally, so we're going to get into the same mess we did when we talk about derivatives being the most evil things on earth by one party and the saving grace by another".

That's truly frightening. "We have no clues and we both invite biased experts so let's just disregard facts and vote according to our ideology."

It is OK for a politician to vote on laws about things he does not completely understands, the catch is that the JOB of a politician is to know WHO to ask to get an expert advice. If they can't do that they are simply not fit for the job. The rush without reason should indicate to them that something screwy is happening. Yeah, "screwy", come on, politicians can not even identify THAT ? It is either gross incompetence or conspiracy. Since the W Bush administration I no longer bet on which one is the correct option.

That Bush bit is a little biased, Clinton was just as bad. Both had loose screws and power grabs, they were just in slightly different places. Go read Bovard's books, Feeling Your Pain and The Bush Betrayal, then tell me that you could see any significant differences between them.

Clinton was bad, but GWB was dumb. I was almost a 911 conspiracy theorist because I refused to believe this level of incompetence was possible. Under Clinton a carefully crafted incident was more likely than a "ooops"

If Mel Watt can not evaluate the testimonies of conflicting experts and come to his own conclusion, he simply should not be in Congress.

That's the whole job!

If he can't do it, get him out of it.

As somebody that often gets hired to say things in a legal setting, I will confirm you can (unfortunately) find an expert to say anything (to a point). This is generally why the option for a neutral party is available (but expensive).

No idea if Congress has that option.

Yes, they have the valuable Congressional Research Service to do non-partisan evaluations. Their reports are great, though often not made public.

I'm curious why they wouldn't make it public. I'm sure 95% of people wouldn't read them.

If they're public, congress members have (even more) incentive to influence them to publish bullshit that fits their ideology rather than facts and/or accuse them of bias towards the other party.

Immediately after saying that he didn't understand the technology, Rep. Watt said "I don't believe that" (in regards to the internet being less safe if this bill is passed). It's frustrating to see people (like Watt) make decisions in a total darkness without being able to refute others/support their case.

I've listened to the hearings a little bit today and in particular I heard the amendment about not removing the ability to target IP addresses. Listening to him, it just made sense: one address can be the front of multiple websites, one website can have multiple IP addresses, addresses are moved around dynamically, etc. We all know that and his explanations were very clear.

So I was a bit confused when later on I was hearing a lot of "No"s. Had I missed the vote for that amendment and they were voting on something else? Nope. They were just denying common sense.

I'm not even sure how they would do it on a per domain basis. What about subdomains? One guy posts something on his Tumblr and all the Tumblr's go down? I'm sure they have no idea what that means and would just say "take down all the sites!"

On another note, though I don't mind the term generally, I was annoyed by them referring over and over to "nerds". "I'm not a nerd", "Bring in the nerds"… It's fine in some contexts but in the context of discussing a law, I think "technical experts", "people who have a clue" is more appropriate.

> So I was a bit confused when I was hearing a lot of "No"s later on.

A common political tactic is to automatically vote "no" for anything you don't understand or for which you have not received instructions from factional/party leadership. After all, it might a trojan horse that undermines your own goals.

It just made me wonder what the point of having these hearings was. I'll admit I'm not very familiar with the process.

But it looked like it was the time to present why such and such amendments should be added, and then vote on it. If they can't decide on the spot, why have the vote on the spot then?

That particular amendment was especially surprising to me because of how obvious it is (for us "nerds" that is), and because his explanation was pretty clear. But I know what you're saying, it's not how the game is played…

Most political business is done behind closed doors; the speeches and votes are mostly performance art.

There's a great deal of exchange between politicians in different countries -- the International Parliamentary Union, various politically-aligned groups like the International Democratic Union and so on. Plus exchanges for young aspiring politicians. So practices and techniques tend to pop up all over the world. Maybe the "Default to No" came from Australia, or Britain, or the USA. I have no idea.

Defaulting to no is just common sense. It's a lot easier to undo a no than to undo a yes.

In a similar vein to Heinlein's idea of creating a house of legislature whose only power it is to repeal laws, I have thought that one of the underlying problems we have with government is this one-way trap of legislation; once a thing is enacted, it pretty much stays enacted forever. There's virtually no equivalent way to get something off the books. It's no wonder we just have more laws and more laws and more laws; how would the opposite result occur?

Defaulting to no is just common sense. It's a lot easier to undo a no than to undo a yes.

Except that in that case, it wasn't no to the law but no to an amendment to the law. By saying no, they were actually agreeing to more things in the law. It would have indeed be easier to later on add "block a site by IP address" to the law… (though that still wouldn't have made sense)

I've read in various new acts saying "such and such section in this act does not apply/ is void/ etc". It's a purely cultural problem preventing this, not anything written in law as far as I know.

Certainly there's no technical problems with it, but there's clearly a practical problem with it. Laws are rarely simply removed. Clauses may be struck, future laws may rewrite (and inevitably expand!) past laws, but it's very, very rare for something to simply be unambiguously removed. When's the last time the government simply eliminated an agency, for instance? It's not zero, but it's one of those cases where simply the fact that one must hunt for an exception to argue against the point is something I'd cite as evidence for my point.

Relevant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WlTuerGvOs

Fast forward to 2:45.

Just remember to add "in the United States" to the end of each dire prediction. Try it:

SOPA will cause rampant censorship of the internet... in the United States.

I am a US citizen, currently living in the US, and I hate this, but even so, it makes me feel better to remember that there's a big, big world outside our borders. If the US flies off the rails on this, I fully expect the rest of the world to shrug and move on. The internet and the Americans have been closely intertwined since the beginning but I don't expect it will always be that way. The America that created the internet is more or less gone now. Its time for the rest of the world to step up.

The UK, France and Germany will follow suit within a few months. I'm German and I'm absolutely certain our politicians and lobbyists are already working on their own version SOPA which they'll introduce as soon as the US is done. You guys need to understand that you're the Western precedence society. Whatever you do, we'll copy it, especially if it's something authoritarian (which is kind of "our thing" here in Europe anyway).

Another problem is that it doesn't matter how many times a SOPA-like law is stopped in time. It will simply return as many times as needed until it finally passes. And once legislation passes, it becomes immortal.

I wish I could wave a big flag and yell "don't follow us! we're as lost as you are". To top it all off, we've not exactly been doing an exemplary job of finding our own way of late.

Not really. Great idiotic laws have been repealed, even US Constitutional amendments. Slavery, prohibition, etc. Not before lots of pain and bloodshed, though.

> You guys need to understand that you're the Western precedence society.

Correlation is not causation. It's just that the same lobbies at work there are at work here too. Democracy is dead.

But consider -- organizations like Wikipedia are located in the USA, precisely because of the broad protections of freedom of speech. In fact, there are few other places in the world where Wikipedia could have been founded before being sued out of existence, absorbed into the government, or thrown off the internet entirely and its founders jailed for life.

Even now, I don't think there are any other countries who are willing to plant their flag on free speech, in the uncompromising way the framers of the US Constitution intended. In the UK, they still tilt libel laws heavily in favor of public figures, and are even willing to prosecute crimes like "glorification of terrorism". In my country, Canada, we have a great tradition of freedom of speech, but in practice we're willing to dispose of it when it's good politics. And even other Western countries one thinks of as bastions of tolerance still have blasphemy laws.

So if the USA goes down, I'm not sure what other society is ready to step up. Iceland?

I am also Canadian and I would hardly say we have a great tradition of freedom of speech when we have laws prohibiting "hate" speech.

Didn't Iceland recently pass some exceptionally strong media protection and free speech legislation? I believe Wikileaks helped substantially in the development of the law

They won't stop at US borders. They'll just use it as an argument in other countries. Eventually the Congress would be convinced to pass laws to punish foreign nationals -- deny visas, seize domains on US DNS servers and so on.

I can't think of a better way to erode Americas international influence. If you can't go there and your web sites can't be viewed there, and they won't let you watch any of their popular media, or even import your products for sale there, what the hell good are they to anyone?

I expect the makers of SOPA et al think they're dictating terms to the world. I think will turn out to be just isolationism in disguise.

If SOPA's passed, what kind of example would the United States set for the rest of the world, especially after all our criticism of China's internet censorship?


The effects of this won't just be confined to the USA.

A terrible one. So bad, I hope, that the rest of the world says to themselves "those Americans and Chinese are all nuts! We shouldn't trust them with too much of the internet's infrastructure."

What is law in the USA, becomes law all over the world through the state department stick and carrot, especially when the organizations pushing the law in the USA have an international interest for it to become law in the rest of the world.

Australia gets what you guys get, such as our own version of the DMCA thanks to the wonderful Free Trade Agreement we have with your government.

Outside of agreements, America gets held up as the example to emulate. If something passes in the US, it becomes that much harder to fight the spread to our own countries.

So yes, we have an interest in what happens. :)

SOPA is horrifying. No doubt about it. But it's funny how many people I meet who share this view, yet think Congress is perfectly capable of regulating just about everything else. Because Congress understands that stuff. Like economies. Those things are simple. </LibertarianThursdays>

By the same token...

SOPA is horrifying. No doubt about it. But it's funny how many people I meet who share this view, yet think giant multinationals are the best suited institutions for running the world. Because media conglomerates have our best interests at heart. Like our rights. Those things are universally respected. </SocialDemocratThursdays>

Yeah, yeah, libertarians don't believe corporations should corrupt the political process, reign supreme, etc. For that matter, though, neither do people on the Left think government should make bad corrupt laws.

Sometimes, just sometimes, a group of lawmakers puts together a diverse group of people who are experts, and has them undertake a good faith investigation of an issue.

And sometimes, just sometimes, the lawmakers read the group's recommendations and base their votes on those recommendations.

We cannot expect a much better response to any collective action problem.

Clearly, this is not happening with a bill that was written by and for the media industry. But the source of the problem is not governance per se, but rather the fact that the system has been corrupted.

I tried watching the hearings but I couldn't stay awake through the reading of the bill. My heart goes out to the poor clerk who had to read it out!

"There ought to be a law, I think, that in order to regulate something you have to have some understanding of it."

Ne'er were truer words written. Why on earth do we allow people who have no real understanding of technology to regulate it so closely? It's a train wreck in the making, one you'll be hard pressed to avoid should this bill get approved.

The problem is simple: how do you define having understanding of something? :)

Let's start by being able to talk about the basics like IP addresses, servers and domain names? The baseline doesn't have to be very high to weed out the ignorant.

Unfortunately that will never, ever happen. Law makers don't care about technology because their world is only politics. Same like engineers don't care about beauty products but we create database products that we think they might like to use.

If someone did actually make a law like that then nothing would be passed because nobody would be able to understand everything anyway. Fact is, even if they pass this law then there will just be more creative ways to get around it... it's the guiding principal upon which the internet is based.

I've been watching all of this for the last 3-4 hours.

I am amazed at how most of the committee do not want to hear from experts, and ignore the facts with a quick dismissal like "Oh, I'm not a nerd, I don't understand, but what I do know is that piracy is theft and we must stop it.".

How can they not listen to the experts?

EDIT: Here's a livestream http://www.justin.tv/unearthed365#/w/2249527504

What is it about technology that makes people proud to announce they know nothing about it while simultaneously assuming positions of authority and power over it? At least in other domains people put up a pretense of having knowledge about areas they are taking crucial decisions on. Something about technology and especially the internet seems to evoke this phenomenon.

A sort of myopia seems to be rife through all the specialist fields - STEM, medicine, law, and politics all host individuals with a nasty combination of elitism and borderline-religious opinions. Whether or not they've actually studied the subject is irrelevant - everyone from the least educated bumpkin to the foremost authority may speak on it, and everyone else will take their opinions with a grain of salt and continue with their existing ideology, rather than try to dissect the logic.

Worse yet, it's possible for people to study the subject and still exhibit strong myopic symptoms. This is the origin of cargo-cult programming(to name one example).

I am not sure if you see the same ads as I've seen on TV lately from SOPA sponsors but it's pretty darn obvious that the only reason this bill exists is that the lobbyists simply paid for it to be created.

Like the "Patriot" Act they have no clue what exactly they are voting on, and I don't think they care, they are doing what they are bribed to do. The hearing is just theater, it's meaningless, they've already decided to get in on the take.

To be clear, nobody bribed anybody on PATRIOT; it's just that the folk in congress apparently lack the rest of the country's visceral suspicion of the phrase "national security".

Does anyone have a list of where each representative is leaning on SOPA?

Edit: some reps against sopa, for an open internet:








My local congressman, also a co-sponsor and co-author of the SOPA bill, held a public phone conference the other night. You could press 0 to enter a queue to ask a question, so I did, but after 2 hours I was tired of waiting and I had a term paper to write so I gave up. I kind of regret it now, because I wanted everyone to hear just how little he, a co-author, knew about the subject. He's not one for listening to his constituents. I had already written him a letter and tried to call his office and no reply for either.

I always get replies from my Congresspeople. Unfortunately, they're usually along the lines of "SOPA will save America from sinking into the ocean" or some similar bullshit.

Thank God for government regulation. I'm so glad we have progressives like the Democrats and Republicans in office to curb the evils of industry.

Without regulation the Internet would be monopolized by big business and criminals will prey on your children.

Good thing the State is there to protect us. Don't forget to pay your taxes, and have a happy holidays!

It's weird, it seems like there's an amendment suggested, with lots of reason behind it, but fuck it we're going to say no anyway. WTF.

Has anyone seen the TV ad? "Illegal downloads on foreign websites, stealing AMERICAN jobs......"

It was frighteningly manipulative.

I'd say that piracy creates way more jobs than it does destroy them. Maybe not only American jobs, sure, but we live in a globalized world. Nationalism won't do away with that, either.

Also, who's loosing their job, really? RIAA lawyers? Entertainment industry bureaucrats? Excuse me for being snarky, but oh no what a tremendous loss for society!

It's funny because the pile of jobs lost to illegal downloads isn't visible from the top of the mountain of jobs that will be lost due to SOPA.

"We have had no hearings and no testimonies on the technical issues"

- Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, 20:15 (http://www.justin.tv/unearthed365/b/302702510?)

I highly recommend contacting your Representatives/Senators immediately. It amazes me that both of the California Senators are cosponsors of this turd. I would think they are among those who can be swayed.

They are easily swayed (as they all are), but remember Hollywood is in California.

I've sort of viewed the entire circus in a defeated light. If SOPA goes down another version will crawl up either on its own or stapled to the "think of the children" act of 2012, 2014, or whenever they get enough campaign funding to draft it.

But what does that mean for Hackers? I think with enough work we could make a network off of the regulated lines. I live in a rather sparse city and even now I can throw a ball far enough to hit the next techy over. Push comes to shove we could have a mini network several blocks wide that doesn't touch a single www link.

Wireless is almost ready, security is probably the biggest issue right now but the technology is available, just not affordable. But what about the tech giants against the SOPA? If "push comes to shove" would they fund a new network that has less control?

Then at what point is the government allowed to intervene? If a sizable network was built from the ground up separate from the internet are they allowed to slap down regulations? I want to say no because they didn't fund it, but then at the same time what's really stopping them? If they're able to throw SOPA through, convincing these dweebs that a private uncontrolled network is not worthy of SOPA2.0 would not be difficult to do.

Can I get some hacker-friendly input? I know a lot of us here are software oriented but I'm certain I'm not the only one that lurks this site with background in network provisioning.

Something like this was done in the Cory Doctorow book Little Brother. It's surprisingly relevant to the SOPA discussion.

Looks like a big joke to some people in the room!


Bad link, please update?

"We are debating the Stop Online Piracy Act and Shiela Jackson has so bored me that I'm killing time by surfing the Internet."

I think this is a really good analysis of what is going on in Washington. I have always found it worrying when politicians walk into a field which they have little knowledge about and try to pass laws. Anyone can become an elected official and the power they yield over things they have no background in is scary. In the UK a person can effectively go from University >> Elected Official >> Misc Support Roles >> Secretary of State. Or... Student >> MP with 1 or 2 staff >> An advisor to someone >> Budget of billions, hundreds of thousands of employees.

In business you would work your way up. Employee >> Supervisor of Employees >> Manager with budgets >> Area Manager >> Country Manger >> CEO. You gain responsibility as you go. MP's do not have this. They fall into a job which they are almost never qualified for. Some do OK. However.. if you look closely at the majority you will see mistakes that anywhere else would see them fired.

In the states these dubiously qualified MP's are now looking to legislate an global network as a single nation... I am sure that some of them cannot even comprehend what the Internet is.

I haven't listened to the hearing, so I'm curious (and slightly facetious) -- when the RIAA inevitably flags videos on YouTube that are using copyrighted music -- will it be legally fairly simple for the industry to request a DNS take-down of the whole site? Will site owners have any recourse or will they just wake up in the morning and be completely out of business?

The problem is that there's not going to be a government attorney that will go to a judge and ask for the seizure of youtube.com.

This will only be enforced against sites that are small or controversial enough that it won't cause general outrage when they're disappeared from the web.

Yet the looming threat that someone could remove YouTube from the web will be enough to keep the next Google from buying/creating the next YouTube.

Eh? SOPA has a private right of action.

You're right. SOPA does so much it's hard to keep track of. I'm barely able to keep from turning off my TV while listening to the hearings.

Let's hope so, it seems only something that ridiculous is going to get anyone's attention.

I suppose the Elves leaving .com might do it too.

Too bad we don't have some sort of upper age limit on electing officials.

Why the downvotes? If we can have a lower limit then why not upper limit. They may have an advisory status but voting rights should not be given to "old" people.

Can someone who is following this more closely than myself (as in actually watching this on CSPAN) please post the names of all the senators, representatives and other elected officials who are blithering idiots in support of this.

I would like to vote any of them that may be in my district out of office as soon as possible.

Thank you.

What will it take to elect technical people to public office?

Technical people will need to grow some balls and stop treating politics like a dirty word

The real issue here is corruption. That's why you keep get these ridiculous bills. Lessig explained the issue in a recent post:


I greatly enjoyed reading this thread and peoples' well-expounded opinions on history and the Constitution. I can't add much but this quote seemed apropos. The author was a US Senator from South Dakota during the critical period of the late 19th-early 20th century.

"Two per cent of the people of the United States own sixty per cent of the property of the United States. Yet they produced none of it. By legislation, by craft and cunning, by control of Congress and the courts, they took to themselves what others produced. Sixty-six per cent of the people of the United States own five per cent of the property of the United States. Yet they produced all of the wealth and have none of it. Why do not the producers of this wealth have what they produce? Because the making of the laws and the control of the courts is in the hands of those who do not work, and this has been true from the beginning of the Government. The convention which framed the Constitution of the United States was composed of fifty-five members. A majority were lawyers—not one farmer, mechanic or laborer. Forty owned Revolutionary Scrip. Fourteen were land speculators. Twenty-four were money-lenders. Eleven were merchants. Fifteen were slave-holders. They made a Constitution to protect the rights of property and not the rights of man, and, ever since, Congress has been controlled by the property owner, and has framed laws in their interests and their interests only, and always refused to frame any laws in the interest of those who produce all the wealth and have none of it."

TRIUMPHANT PLUTOCRACY by Senator Richard F. Pettigrew, 1921 pg.407

I think the heart surgery analogy is excellent. I would never, unless it were an extremely dire situation with no doctors, attempt any kind of surgery on someone. Nor would I ever start dictating to doctors how the perform their procedures.

Yet that is what government does, day in and day out. They regulate industries which work in ways they don't understand, and they do it primarily for political motivations.

The MPAA may want tools to fight piracy, but to politicians, who don't really care about piracy, this is an opportunity to have something to campaign on, and it gives the government more power.

More power means more prestige and more money for them, if not now, in their post career lives when they lobby, etc.

More regulations gives them more control over industry- the power to threaten to make the regulations even worse, or the threat that their opponent will do that if they don't get re-elected (so please give generously!)

I don't think these people are "well intentioned". They don't actually want to help anybody. Theft is already against the law. SOPA won't change that, it won't stop piracy, and its not criminalizing piracy.

No, they're politicians. And they're not even corrupt politicians. This is simply the nature of what they do. They pass laws, they shake down industry, and they get paid for passing ever more laws without regard for the impact of those laws.

Hell, when those laws cause massive destruction to the economy, what do they do? They turn around and say "Well, If we'd been able to pass the law I proposed, this wouldn't have happened! Here, we need to rush into force even more regulations to make sure this never happens again!"

There's a famous(?) libertarian author by the name of L. Neil Smith who's got a saying that's very applicable here:

"Government is a disease masquerading as its own cure."

I hope we stop SOPA. But the lesson I would hope a lot of you take away from this is that SOPA is not an isolated incident, it is one of thousands of incidents, most of which go by completely unmentioned each year, where the system works to undermine human rights and make people's lives worse. These guys aren't corrupt, the system is corrupt.

The constitution, in the enumeration clause and in the Bill of Rights, attempted to prevent this. The enumeration clause limits the powers of the federal government to only those enumerated in the constitution.

Regulation of the internet, or communications of any kind, is not an enumerated power of the Federal Government. This means that when the federal government does this, it is doing it without authorization. Further, the Bill of Rights forbids congress from engaging in censorship. SOPA clearly authorizes censorship so they're also in violation of the Bill of Rights.

These words in the constitution, in this day and age have very little teeth. The PATRIOT act runs afoul of them as well, but nobody has succeeded in getting it overturned.

The situation will continue to get worse. Even if SOPA is defeated-- this isn't the first attempt-- it will come back in a few years.

I think that the only possible solution is a technological one. I think that the only way to to fight them is with technology and disobedience to the very idea that they have the right to restrain speech or control the internet.

The courts will not help us, and they certainly won't, and every election is so stage managed that nobody who actually knows the difference between a domain name and an IP address will ever get elected.

Help us with technology, its our only hope!

That's a libertarian point of view, from a socialist point of view the problem lies with the corporate lobbyists.

I have sympathy for the representatives as they are elected on a first past the post basis. They need corporate sponsors to fund their expensive campaigns. If they were to attempt to change the way the electoral system works they'd be gone by lunchtime.

Organizations who fund campaigns aren't acting in the interest of the people. By having representatives dependent on these organizations they'll never act for the good of the people. This is the primary reason why the system in America is flawed and will only get worse as time goes on. By slowing grassroots movements it erodes the power of the voters away.

That's why it doesn't matter if SOPA is killed. There will be another one soon. If they can't push a bill through they might amend a similar one or find another backdoor.

It's not and incompetent government at fault. It's a culture of corporate dependency.

As with everything, there's not just one cause. Yes, corporate dependency is undoubtedly part of it. Public-only funding of campaigns is something I think needs to have come about a long time ago. But another problem is that these people have always been lawmakers, and their form of productivity is adding stuff to the corpus of laws. They're like the framework designers making a framework that's completely out of touch with the real needs of coders using their stuff, because they've only ever been framework designers. They are functionally not very competent, and that is a problem.

There's no single silver bullet here - there need to be reforms in more than a few directions.

Love that analogy.

Government is like XML. Just when you think it can't get any more bloated they decide it also needs to do X!

Fyi, I don't know any libertarians who wouldn't also agree that the problem lies with the unfettered ability of corporations to use money as a way of buying favourable governance.

And that if we just took government off the market (in the discontinued product sense, so to speak), there would no means by which corporations could buy undue or coercive influence, because of course no one else would step up to sell force or influence.

Is that sarcasm?

I agree that the feedback loop between corporations who contribute to political campaigns with money and politicians that can regulate/deregulate and who need money to run their campaigns to get (re)elected is corrupting. They are extorting each other for money and regulatory influence. This does not mean that rich corporations, regulation or money in political campaigns are inherently corrupting.

It just means that the way it works need to be adjusted.

"For example, to borrow an idea from Yale’s Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres, if elections were funded by what we could call “democracy vouchers,” where citizens could allocate up to $50 to any candidate and candidates could receive money only from citizens in their districts, then a dependency upon voters might well be the same as, or close enough to, a dependency upon contributors." http://bostonreview.net/BR35.5/lessig.php

If we're to argue that citizens could allocate up to $50 spread between candidates in any election in which they are eligible to vote, and that shall be the only permitted funding, what's the point in having votes at all; have we not just defined a preferential voting system?

How is this different from public election funding? In Australia political parties receive several dollars per vote over a minimum threshold. It doesn't seem to improve their behaviour all that much.

Wow. I hate SOPA. But I'm sorry, you are so wrong about some of your Constitutional reading. I'll ignore the remarks about economic disruption because of regulation because they seem to veer a bit too far from the topic at hand.

“Regulation of the internet, or communications of any kind, is not an enumerated power of the Federal Government. This means that when the federal government does this, it is doing it without authorization.”

What? In what universe could the Internet NOT be considered interstate commerce? Or international commerce? It is both! There is no argument whatsoever that you can make that says it is not Constitutional for Congress to pass laws about the Internet, especially piracy, which is the very essence of interstate and international commerce.

“Further, the Bill of Rights forbids congress from engaging in censorship. SOPA clearly authorizes censorship so they're also in violation of the Bill of Rights.”

Unfortunately, this isn't as straightforward as you make it seem. The Constitution doesn't just say you can't limit speech. There are years of jurisprudence and years of common law precedent that form the true vision of what the First Amendment means today. The fact that you can't falsely yell fire in a theater is a typical example. And there are even other parts of the Constitution—including the right to pass laws to protect “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. All of these temper the First Amendment, as the First Amendment tempers them. You can't just ignore them because you disagree with a law.

Thus, while I think SOPA is a terrible, terrible law, and that its implementation would be catastrophic to the very progress that the Congress is claiming to promote, I don't know that it is unconstitutional, if they truly believe (as some may well do) that it will promote this progress. To ignore this gray area dilutes one's argument to the point of being inconsequential in a true debate about this horrible piece of legislation.

“I think that the only possible solution is a technological one. I think that the only way to to fight them is with technology and disobedience to the very idea that they have the right to restrain speech or control the internet.”

I agree that disobedience is a solution. Indeed, it is and has always been the ultimate and only solution when the government ignores and harms its people.

"Government is a disease masquerading as its own cure."

Thus the irony that groups have never successfully lived without one for any measurable period of time. Government is another word for hierarchy. We may be approaching a time when we can break free of hierarchy, but I do not think we are there yet.

The Internet is not commerce. It is a medium of communication.

You might as well call writing in a newspaper commerce, or a telephone system, or a city plaza.

That commercial acts transpire through the medium does not make the medium an actualization of platonic commerce.

More specifically, the Internet is a channel or instrumentality of interstate commerce, both of which the US Supreme Court has held fall under the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.

That implies that the internet's primary purpose is commerce, which I wouldn't say is the case.

It is great for advertising goods, just as a newspaper or magazine is. That doesn't make a newspaper just a medium for commerce.

I think your definition of commerce is much narrower than the accepted legal definition. Communications is commerce, hence why the FCC can regulate radio transmissions.

Is commerce taken to mean any action that crosses state boundaries, then? Could you point me to a source that backs that up?

Probably the most recent authority outlining the limits of the commerce clause would be the case of United States v. Lopez (1995).

Search for "channels of commerce." Congress can regulate things such as roadways, waterways, etc, where commerce flows.

But that case has nothing to do with communications, and congress lost the case.

The case lays out the current understanding of Congress's power over commerce:

"Consistent with this structure, we have identified three broad categories of activity that Congress may regulate under its commerce power... First, Congress may regulate the use of the channels of interstate commerce... Second, Congress is empowered to regulate and protect the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, or persons or things in interstate commerce, even though the threat may come only from intrastate activities... Finally, Congress' commerce authority includes the power to regulate those activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce, i.e., those activities that substantially affect interstate commerce."

Thanks for clarifying, that does seem to imply pretty widespread authority. What if commerce is only an incidental use of something, though? Commerce is related somehow to a huge number of things which couldn't be considered primarily commercial. There has to be some reasonable limit placed on these things. The internet, radio, newspapers, and so on are not used primarily for commerce.

The power to regulate commerce encompasses the mediums of commerce. This issue was litigated in 1824 and decided in favor of the broad reading of the commerce power espoused by the federalist camp of framers.

Neither is a navigable river, but the federal government regulates then under the commerce power and has virtually since inception.

Thus the irony that groups have never successfully lived without [a government] for any measurable period of time.

Well, that depends strongly on your definitions. If you believe that any hierarchy is government, you're undoubtedly correct. If you have a definition that involves a monopoly on force, as many libertarians and anarchists do, then there are historical periods where sizable populations (for their milieu) lived without a government for generations.

One might be led to think that the First Amendment amends the original text and should therefore prevail if in irreconcilable conflict with Congress' right to pass copyright laws, but you're right that judges try to harmonize the two as much as possible, though they recognize the inherent tension between them and try to balance both.

There are years of jurisprudence and years of common law precedent that form the true vision of what the First Amendment means today.

I always find this argument irritating. You don't need to be an attorney or a jurist to twist words around, postulate social contexts, and invent hidden meanings. The minute that society agrees that the phrase "Congress shall make no law" means something other than "Congress shall make no law," I'm as qualified as you are, or as qualified as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is, to decide what that phrase really means. At that point, we can no longer even pretend to be honoring the founders' intents, so we might as well go full retard.

I rather like the Bill of Rights the way it was written, but I would understand if the nation decided to hold serious discussions about if, and how, amendments such as the First, Second, Fourth, and Fifth should be modified and adapted to better accommodate modern society's needs. Even though I might disagree with the outcome, I still think it would be better if we reviewed the Constitution regularly and changed it where we felt it was necessary, than to continue paying lip service to the entire document and the intent behind it while ignoring both at will.

The question isn't so much about whether you're as qualified as the courts to interpret the Constitution, but rather that particular debates have been litigated already and a particular interpretation chosen.

Serious discussion of revisions feels like a core part of jurisprudence.

What if constitutional language-seeking behavior were more human, and evolved with us?

It is philosophical, but psychologically healthy to recognize what needs governing now. Is a government contextually present more able to fit reality?

If no question is stupid. "A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer."..... Why is it felt governing and law is unquestionable? Sometimes our definition of stable is wrought?

A different angle, in same direction. Better constituting our futures is important.

The federal government does not have the power to regulate interstate commerce, as you're describing, under the constitution. The federal government has the power to ensure that no states forbid the importation of other states goods, or apply duties or tariffs to them. You're using "regulate" in the modern form and applying it to language that was written when the term had a different meaning. "Well regulated militia" means a militia free of encumbrances such that it can be functional, not one with a lot of extra-legislative rules applied to it. This is logical if you think about it- if they wanted the militia to be regulated, they would have laid out the ways he militia should be regulated, or at least enumerated the power to regulate the militia, in the enumerated powers clause. They did not. Further, "regulations" as we commonly understand them, are forbidden by the constitution, which explicitly denies the legislative branch the power to delegate its power to unelected bodies or to other branches.

The fist amendment states, "congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech". Blocking access to websites clearly violates that. Thus congress is explicitly in violation of the constitution, without regard to anything any court might say. Further, US Code 18-242 makes it a crime (a felony if one is armed) to violate the constitutional rights of any citizen. This means that passing SOPA would be, itself, a crime, at least in my interpretation.

The "shouting fire in a crowded theater" example does not refute the protections for free speech. In that case, the crime is not speaking the word fire while inside a theater, but in causing a panic, which is quite different.

I'm sure the word "Fire" can be heard, often shouted, on broadway quite regularly, when the author of the play included it in the dialogue.

I suggest that you take some time and read the constitution in its entirety. In fact, even better would be to get one of the many books that cover its writing, including citations of the intents and comments of the writers and past editions. The constitution is quite readable and quite explicit.

It is also quite different from the result after "years of jurisprudence" and precedent, which, like I pointed out in my original post, suffer from the intrinsic corruption endemic to government.

As Lysander Spooner once said, "either the constitution authorized such government as we have, or it has failed to prevent it." No ruling of any judge can overrule what is said in the constitution, and the constitution does not need to be interpreted very much, it is quite straight forward.

The reason it is this way is that the founding fathers were no fools. They knew judges and politicians would use emotion, expidents and pressures to try and change the system for their ends. It is a testament to their foresight that the system has lasted as long as it has, but they knew it would ultimately fail.

Thus they wrote a constitution that any american could read and comprehend, and they were quite clear that americans needed to take up arms against their government to ensure that the government remained restrained by the constitution:

"The tree of liberty must be renewed from time to time by the blood of patriots and tyrants, it is its natural manure."

To the extent that our government bears little resemblance to the one outlined by this document, our government is one that is not authorized by the document, and thus wholly illegitimate. No amount of laws or court rulings can change this.

To the extent that this divergence has persisted, we as a people have failed to uphold the vigilance that was required of us.

Hierarchy simply means an arrangement between people with division of roles. Corporations are hierarchies but they are not governments.

There is a key difference. Governments impose their will on those who are subjugated by force, with violence. If you're subject to the rule of a government you don't have a choice, even when the government is violating your rights (as it would be with SOPA).

This is not the case with corporations, as employees, customers and owners of corporations all participate in the hierarchy on a voluntary basis. You are free to boycott them, resign your position, or sell your shares, if you disagree with the policies of the corporation.

You have almost no recourse when you disagree with government.

People can live in peace, and they can do it without governments, and they have successfully for centuries, under quite a variety of arrangements. The only reason for the prevalence of government we see today is the technology of warfare gave small bands of people the power to conquer and subjugate larger populations.

But it is not the natural state of man, any more than other forms of slavery were a natural state when they were more prevalent.... and slavery in the form practiced in the United States in the past, and elsewhere in the world has lasted essentially as long as governments.... for exactly the same reason.

I've enjoyed your comments in the past and am (surprisingly) enjoying the heck out of this particular argument between you and Antonio Salazar Cardozo.


I think you have to question whether you're on sure footing when your argument requires you to relitigate Marbury vs. Madison.

Between these alternatives there is no middle ground. The constitution is either a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.

If the former part of the alternative be true, then a legislative act contrary to the constitution is not law: if the latter part be true, then written constitutions are absurd attempts, on the part of the people, to limit a power, in its own nature illimitable.

Certainly all those who have framed written constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation, and consequently the theory of every such government must be, that an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void.

If an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void, does it, notwithstanding its invalidity, bind the courts, and oblige them to give it effect? Or, in other words, though it be not law, does it constitute a rule as operative as if it was a law? This would be to overthrow in fact what was established in theory; and would seem, at first view, an absurdity too gross to be insisted on. It shall, however, receive a more attentive consideration.

IT IS EMPHATICALLY THE PROVINCE AND DUTY OF THE JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT TO SAY WHAT THE LAW IS. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.

--- 8< ---

You can't look at the Constitution and declare that, for instance, Congress has no power to "regulate", as that isn't one of its enumerated powers. The authority to do that is vested with the Supreme Court. The track record of your underlying argument --- that Congress should keep its hands off X or Y or Z, because it has no enumerated power to tamper with it --- is not encouraging.

Great points! Also:

1) the Commerce Clause has broad, powerful language. It was interpreted in its broad sense only a few decades after the Constitution was ratified, both by the court and the first few Congresses.

2) the framers, at least many of them, did intend this broad reading. They intended to have a national government with broad power to regulate commerce, as a response to the articles of confederation. This "camp" won not only at the drafting stage, but in the few decades after as it was interpreted.

3) a reading of the First Amendment incompatible with other clauses of the constitution, and the common law incorporated by reference is purely non-sensical. The framers knew what patents and copyrights were-the first Copyright Act was passed in 1790.

SOPA is a stupid law, but in broad terms it's within the heart of Congress's enumated power: the power to regulate the interstate flow of property created directly pursuant to a constitutional provision.

Maybury v. Madison is one of the key examples for my position[1], as it is a ruling in which the Supreme Court usurped for itself the power to decide the constitutionality of laws. The constitution doesn't grant them that power.[2] So, no the constitution doesn't vest that authority with the supreme court. Unless I'm mistaken, all the constitution says is that the supreme court shall be the highest court in the land.

Regarding the track record of my argument, I will not disagree, it is not encouraging.

If it were encouraging, I might believe that a just government were possible.

Unfortunately the track record you point out only serves to confirm the theoretical argument that I've been slightly making, which could be:

tl;dr: Power corrupts, and the corrupt seek government power.

[1] It should also be noted that in this ruling ,the Supreme Court also rightly ruled that any law passed that was in violation of the constitution was null and void the moment it was passed, and it did not need the supreme court to rule as such for it to be null and void. Further, they are correct that when two "laws" are in conflict it is right for them to judge which one holds, their key error is in thinking that one of the laws they can decide to very rule is the constitution.

[2] I'm open to quotes from the constitution itself, or the framers that disagree with this perspective, but I'm not likely to debate it much further.

At the end of the day, most people have this perception that the supreme court is "naturally" or "rightfully" the decider of whether things are constitutional or not, and my opponent above seems to think that the documents meaning can change over time. I can't dissuade people of that belief... but I can only point out that if that is the case, the inevitable result is eventually tyranny. -----

Consider this. How can any law, morally, that is not enumerated in the constitution as a power granted to the federal government, even if passed by the congress unanimously, signed by the president, and upheld by the supreme court as "constitutional"-- be legitimate?

The very existence of these institutions is created by the constitution.

They must rely on the constitution to claim any legitimacy at all.

Thus it matters not, logically, even if all three of them agree to do something, if that something is not authorized by the constitution, its not authorized at all.

I know this is essentially irrelevant because all three have simply chosen to ignore the constitution for the most part.

I just want to address the theoretical argument that the supreme court, or any of the other branches, or all three together, can decide to ignore the constitution and have any legitimacy.

You understand of course that it's awfully hard to have a discussion about Constitutional Law with someone who rejects most of its concepts from first principles. You, for instance, seem to literally reject outright the concept of judicial review, despite the fact that judicial review is a process that was established during the time of the founding fathers, indeed in a dispute between Adams and Jefferson.

I respect your strong feelings on this matter, but you aren't arguing from US jurisprudence at all.

Now, that's quite unfair. Why did you go from arguing the point to characterizing me? It is false to claim I reject judicial review, I have never done so, and courts reviewing laws is one of the legitimate powers granted to them. Are you unable to distinguish between courts holding laws to be in conflict or unconstitutional, and courts deciding that the constitution is subservient to their opinion? In one they are taking the powers granted to them and exercising them, in the other, they are deciding that they are the supreme power, a clear usurpation. Even if you have trouble making this distinction yourself, or disagree with my perspective, it must be obvious that I do, and thus the characterization is quite unfair.

It's also unfair to say I'm not "arguing from US jurisprudence at all", because essentially you're saying "I'm not arguing without already conceding that the constitution is meaningless.", only you're putting it in terms that imply I'm being unreasonable.

Actually, I'll take that as concession of my points in full.

The constitution says what it says. IF you don't like it, or the government doesn't like it, it has provisions for how to amend it.

Ignoring it is something they cannot do, because when they do that, they lose authorization under it.

This is quite logical, and I think irrefutable.

Anyway, I understand your general line of attack, I don't find it compelling and feel that I've already refuted it... and comments on HN often go off into the weeds so, I'm done.

Good day!

Just to be clear: you reject the concept of judicial review, and believe Marbury v Madison is a "usurpation".

Marbury v Madison didn't come out of left field. Hamilton presaged it in the Federalist Papers, explaining not only that the judiciary under our constitution is responsible for "interpreting" the law (his words), but that the gravity of that responsibility is one of the reasons they have permanent tenure, to keep them independent of the legislature.

Hamilton envisioned a government in which conflicts between the "people" (e.g. the Constitution) and the courts would be resolved simply by amending the Constitution. As could just as easily be done to, for instance, end all regulation and (one supposes) the 2-centuries-old concept of judicial review.

I understand what you're saying and agree that there's insufficient compatibility between our worldviews to productively argue about the Constitutionality of laws arising from conflicts between the explicitly enumerated concerns in the Constitution (here: the enumerated power of Congress to secure copyright, and the First Amendment).

Out of curiosity, by what process, in your view, is it supposed to be concluded whether a law passed is in violation of the constitution? You seem to reject the idea that this decision can be arbitrated at all. Is everyone just supposed to agree on this because it's obvious?

"The constitution is quite readable and quite explicit... It is also quite different from the result after 'years of jurisprudence' and precedent"

Yes, those years of jurisprudence and precedent which were produced by people who were taking cues from the same quite readable constitution.

All of whom are, of course, not only wrong but illegitimate, to the extent they don't read the constitution the way you and your favorite thinkers do.

"Governments impose their will on those who are subjugated by force, with violence. This is not the case with corporations, as employees, customers and owners of corporations all participate in the hierarchy on a voluntary basis."

Sure. The state is legitimized coercion, so if we can only get rid of it or limit it enough, there won't be any coercion!

You seem to think the constitution is a legislative document. This is not the case, at all. That's why it provides for courts and a legislature.

“You're using "regulate" in the modern form and applying it to language that was written when the term had a different meaning.”

The meaning of language, as with the meaning of law, evolves with the times. It's irrelevant what they meant in 1787. In 1787, landowners were a minority of the population, we were barely figuring out how to make machines, the concept of a calculating machine was a century away (ignoring, admittedly, the abacus), and communicating from one end of the then-tiny-by-comparison US to the other was a multi-day affair at best. Everything had a different meaning. Judicial review and amendment are the two processes that exist to help the law evolve with the times. What I am stating isn't my own interpretation of the regulation of interstate commerce, it is the current interpretation as the law of the land. I'm sorry you have a problem with that, but that's what the amendment process is for.

“Further, "regulations" as we commonly understand them, are forbidden by the constitution, which explicitly denies the legislative branch the power to delegate its power to unelected bodies or to other branches.”

You are once again acting as if judicial review is nonexistent. Your love of the Constitution evidently excludes a love of the underlying system that carries it forward, even though these are part and parcel of the package of American government. You don't get one without the other. If something is interpreted incorrectly in your mind by the Court, the thing to do is to amend the Constitution to make it clearer what the correct interpretation is.

“The fist amendment states, "congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech". Blocking access to websites clearly violates that. Thus congress is explicitly in violation of the constitution, without regard to anything any court might say. Further, US Code 18-242 makes it a crime (a felony if one is armed) to violate the constitutional rights of any citizen. This means that passing SOPA would be, itself, a crime, at least in my interpretation.”

If you argue that there is no power to regulate interstate commerce in the modern sense, obviously this follows. However, you are factually wrong, as current interpretations of the Constitutional allowances on interstate commerce clearly allow regulation of the Internet. Again, this is not to mention the Constitutional allowances for copyright enforcement. At which point, free speech is a much less clear argument, as it clashes with other provisions in the Constitution. In these cases, it is up to the judicial system to decide where that blurry line is.

The argument being made for SOPA, not that I agree with it, is that piracy is harmful to the creators of Art, much like the panic would be harmful to the people within a theater.

“It is also quite different from the result after "years of jurisprudence" and precedent, which, like I pointed out in my original post, suffer from the intrinsic corruption endemic to government.”

There it is again.

(a) The Constitution does not stand alone. It stood alone for as long as it took to people to start interpreting it in court. The very fact that the meaning of the document has evolved makes it obvious that despite how readable and explicit it may seem to be, there are many nuances to be found.

(b) It is not 1787. It will never be 1787 again. Things change. The Constitution has some great concepts that we have moved away from and should perhaps move back towards, and it has some really shitty concepts that we tossed by the wayside, and good riddance. But to hold it up as a golden example of everything that was ever right with this country, and state repeatedly that if we only returned to its silken word everything would be glorious once more, is... Just incredibly frustrating.

"The tree of liberty must be renewed from time to time by the blood of patriots and tyrants, it is its natural manure."

We do need periodic reminders that Thomas Jefferson could be a total nutcase, so thanks for that. The fact that he spoke the words doesn't make them scripture (and yes, I am getting more sarcastic as the arguments turn more religious).

“Hierarchy simply means an arrangement between people with division of roles. Corporations are hierarchies but they are not governments.”

Corporations only have no consequence if you can find another job once you leave. Arguably the current recession is an excellent example of a place where, for many people, corporations are like government, insofar that you have a choice of working for the corporation, or starving. Except you won't starve, because the government will provide some modest attempt at letting you survive.

That said, you bring up governments and their imposition via violence. Yes. As it turns out, a hierarchy is meaningless if there is no enforcement of the decisions made higher up. In the case of government, your recourse is to leave your country and its government and go elsewhere. Especially as a US citizen, that is easier for you than it is for other people.

I do want to see the examples you have of sustained, government-less establishments. I suspect that it will reveal more about what you define as government than it will new insight on the human condition.


All of this said, by the way, I don't necessarily think SOPA is Constitutional. It seems like it may very well not be (or perhaps more accurately should not be), and I don't like it one bit. But your dogmatic interpretation of the Constitution, and your lack of acknowledgement of the entire judicial infrastructure that keeps it functioning and evolving, is just as harrowing.

"Your love of the Constitution..."

You're attacking a strawman. I do not love the constitution. I consider it a complete failure, and I would think this should be obvious to anyone who reads my words carefully. Further, in both of your responses you have failed to bring any evidence, logic, reason, or more importantly, law, to bear against my case. Your position is an ideological one, which is probably the reason you feel comfortable being sarcastic, calling arguments based in law "religious" and referring to people as "nutcase", etc. You don't need me for that, so I'm bowing out.

Congress is greatly pleased that Google and others in IT has shown interest in stopping SOPA. It means that they can pass SOPA, and then take bribes - I mean, donations - from the IT sector to repeal it. Then they can collect further donations from MPAA etc., and pass another egregious bill. And so on and so forth, in a to and fro of extortion.

At this point, the purpose of Congress is to pass laws that increase donations so that they can be reelected. Lessig puts the case fairly clearly in Republic, Lost.

Speaking of Lessig, I think it is a very good time to re-read "How to Get Our Democracy Back": http://www.thenation.com/article/how-get-our-democracy-back

I doubt that a technological solution is the best answer to SOPA-like legislative nightmares. A true, lasting solution would likely involve deep, structural government reform. (Very hard to accomplish, but likely to be effective.)

Here's one idea:


Probably not the best solution, but a decent candidate, a good initial stab at the problem.

Not to be pedantic, but there has already been an initial stab at the problem. There have been many. The current government is just one step in a very long history of attempting to find an ideal structure to manage humans in large societies. As with most aspirations to perfection, we'll probably never reach the ideal. But every step is worth considering, and some of them are worth taking, and some of them will even be improvements.

> (governments) regulate industries which work in ways they don't understand

Careful. Governments don't (or, at least shouldn't) exist in a vacuum. It's society's failure too if they don't represent or don't have an accurate notion of how things actually work. IIRC, the Office of Technology Assessment had this role since the 70's, but was closed in the mid-90's by decision of elected representatives, again, IIRC, as part of cost-cutting measures.

If you don't have independent non-partisan advisory bodies responsible for representing reality accurately, we leave that space to lobbyists who will certainly fail to present an unbiased picture.

> I think that the only possible solution is a technological one. I think that the only way to to fight them is with technology and disobedience to the very idea that they have the right to restrain speech or control the internet.

Remember, governments also can employ technological solutions to this problem - guns and organized violence - at scales most civilians would be easily overwhelmed.

No. The solution is not to disobey the government, but to fix it.

>> These guys aren't corrupt, the system is corrupt.

I disagree. I think that all systems are perfectly capable of working just fine. The people that run them (on every level) are the ones that distort them and corrupt. Maybe not because they have ill intent, but simply because they don't act as agents of the system but of themselves, their interests which are often conflicting with the role they should be playing.

As long as there are people involved, there will be corruption. I'm also not suggesting that people should not be involved, but rather that we acknowledge the role of individuals in the system and work toward restraining influence and power leaks.

I'm sure there are bad systems. Perhaps they fail so fast that we never appreciate how many.

> "Government is a disease masquerading as its own cure."

Apparently, this one is usually attributed to Robert LeFevre. Do you have any sources attributing it to L. Neil Smith?

Its quite possible that Robert LeFevre first said it. I first came upon the phrase in one of L. Neil Smiths books. I think it was the second book in the Probability Broach series, the one where he starts each chapter with a quotation, and this was one of them (attributed to a fictional character, according to memory.)

I'm voting against every fucker in my district who supports it. That's the only non-violent way.

Additionally, you could also boycott all the products of SOPA backers such as the MPAA or RIAA.

Unfortunately, every time I try to explain to my friends that I don't want to see a Pixar movie and would rather see a movie at an indie theater instead, no one seems to really understand what the problem with Pixar or Disney or Sony or UMG is.

It turns out, almost no one cares about the DMCA or SOPA or Protect-IP or anything that requires more than 30 seconds to explain. It is quite depressing...

Unfortunately corporations have become the new governments/armies, and so if you boycott every corporation that does something you don't like... you're screwed.

It's like telling people in Soviet Russia that if they don't like Communism, they should boycott the communist food lines. It's an unreasonable request. The free market is no longer free, corporate oligarchies might as well be called Soviet Planning Committees. (What the Soviets called their authoritarian overlords who owned and distributed all the resources)

> Additionally, you could also boycott all the products of SOPA backers such as the MPAA or RIAA.

And by that, you mean the artists and actors and directors who the MPAA and RIAA claim to speak for.

Are you trying to imply that by seeing an indie film, you are somehow not supporting artists and actors?

No, not in the least. I'm obviously referring to artists and actors that belong or work with these groups.

You have to let them know now before their vote.

But by then it will be too late.

Already too late, they're falling all over themselves to proclaim their ignorance and vote this into tragic existence.

For this bill, but it would show them that need to be representing their constituents.

Why is everyone so worried about SOPA?

patriot act has already passed.

It's rather interesting to see members here proclaim in one breath that legislators are money-grubbing old-fashioned idiots who are just out to make a bunch of laws, and in another remark complain of them calling people "nerds". Other groups garnering mentions are corporate, capitalist monsters and economy-destroying bankers.

As I see it, the biggest problem gripping our country right now is a refusal to understand someone else's point of view and come to a reasonable solution that is pretty good for everyone. All we seem to have are multiple sides shouting over each other, simultaneously ignoring everyone else and complaining that no one is listening to them. It is as though somewhere along the way we forgot how to be reasonable adults and have normal conversations. People cease to be caricatures when you understand their concerns and motivations.

I agree that some of the SOPA proposals are way out of line, and I also agree that people passing laws without a full understanding of the ramifications are not helping matters. But we also are not helping matters by trying to oversimplify everything and fit everyone and everything into neat little boxes. That's simply not how the world works.

There's no fundamental reason why Google can't provide media companies and luxury goods manufacturers with easy tools to report issues of copyright and counterfeit goods. Sure, it will cost development money that should be borne by those who stand to gain from the tools, but those are details. The point is, working together we actually have a chance to solve problems. Shouting past each other and appealing to authority (read: lobbying Congress) is never going to solve anything.

So let's try to understand the problems and work together to solve them. It's ludicrous to expect that kind of behavior from our politicians but not to exhibit it ourselves.

You're right when you bring up things like "confirmation bias" where people believe "my opinion is just as valid as your facts" but that is the problem we're seeing here.

It has nothing to do with the fact that one side may not understand one another, that's the point of debate: to persuade the other or a group. What we're seeing here is one side plugging their ears and shouting "LALALALLA" when the opposition tries to create a point.

We simplify stuff for the less tech oriented to help them understand. This committee sitting for SOPA doesn't understand the internet yet they're trying to regulate it. When someone with knowledge comes along and wants to make an analogy to something they will understand they have none of it!

I understand your points but you're viewing everything through rose coloured lenses. What you want is unattainable because you need complete cooperation from all sides; if even one player breaks the rules then the whole system crumbles back to where we are now. Sure Google could provide those tools but the moment one party doesn't get their way (probably because it wasn't fair to the others) they'll go shouting to congress to make it happen, just like we have now. DMCA wasn't enough for MPAA/RIAA so they're in the back pocket of the government to make it worse. Hell, look at what's happening between UMG and MegaUpload right now!

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