Author Archives: jon

EFF’s Blog-a-thon

EFF, to celebrate its 15th anniversary [], is asking folks this week to blog about their their “click moments” — as they put it, “the very first step you to took to stand up for your digital rights.” This is a hard question to answer for me. I've done a variety of things over the years that count as online activism, but it's difficult, thinking about it, to separate that stuff from my day job. After all, I'm an academic. I get paid to sit around and figure out what I think is correct and say so. It's my job to speak truth to power (and anyone else).

But I remember my first contact with EFF. It came in the form of the September 1991 EFFECTOR, EFF's newsletter (it was printed on dead trees at the time), and it contained this summary by Esther Dyson of EFF's basic message: “There's a new world coming. Let's make sure it has rules we can live with.” I scissored out the membership form on the back and sent it in with my $40 — and I started reading what EFF had to say.

I drew on that stuff in a column I sent out two years later to the law-professor members of the American Association of Law Schools Mass Communications Law section. Parts of it are funny reading now. One of the things I said was that while we “hear a lot about electronic home shopping … I think I'd be perfectly happy living the rest of my life without” it. Little did I know.

Some of the rest of it, though, was on target. My point was that in building the information superhighway, we needed to develop a switched network in which anybody could become a content provider — not some monopoly content provider giving you 500 channels and interactive shopping, not any one-way system with a fixed number of channels, but a two-way, switched, many-to-many communications infrastructure that looked like the Internet. A system like that, I wrote, “could transform the nature of mass communications.”

It did.

This is my last post as a guest blogger here — Michael should be coming back tomorrow. Thanks for putting up with me. I had a great time.

Posted in Communications | Comments Off on EFF’s Blog-a-thon

Proving that Michigan politics can be as wacko as Florida’s?

Ward Connerly's American Civil Rights Coalition has spent more than half a million dollars to get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot here. It's the “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,” which would ban any affirmative-action consideration of race by the state of Michigan or its units and subdivisions (including my employer, Wayne State University).

Initially, the effort was derailed by a state-court ruling that MCRI — a proposed amendment to the state constitution — was improperly worded. Plaintiffs urged, and the court agreed, that the initiative's proposed ballot presentation obscured what the amendment would really do. The ballot language presented the amendment as one to bar state entities from “discriminating or granting preferential treatment” on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. The Michigan constitution, though, already makes it illegal for the state to “discriminate” on those grounds; the only change made by the proposed amendment is to bar “preferential treatment” — that is, affirmative action. The lower court held that the ballot proposal violated state law because it didn't make that clear. Our (Republican) state attorney general appealed, though, and the appellate court reversed, finding no violation of state law in the proposed wording.

Near as I can tell, most of Connerly's money went to paid petition circulators. In due course, MCRI organizers presented more than 500,000 signatures in support of the proposed initiative to Michigan's Board of State Canvassers; many of them came from (overwhelmingly African-American) Detroit. Finding this a little odd, opponents took a random sample of 500 petition signers, located the 87 of those 500 who lived in Detroit, and found that nearly all had been given to understand that the initiative would support affirmative action. Among the initial petition signers were two Michigan circuit-court judges; they've provided affidavits that the circulators told them that the petitions favored affirmative action, and that — on that basis — after glancing at the title and lengthy caption language, they signed. It appears that circulators routinely made similar statements (along with the statement that the NAACP favored the proposal).

The Board of State Canvassers held its hearing yesterday, and found itself unable to decide what to do. One Republican member of the Board voted to put the measure on the ballot; another abstained from voting, citing her conviction that fraud had taken place, and urged our state legislature to set up a panel to investigate. The two Democratic members of the Board say that the Board itself should subpoena petition circulators and signers to testify. The state attorney general's office, though, responds that the Board hasn't the authority to do that.

So it all goes now to the courts. Last year, an anti-gay marriage initiative failed to get past the Board of State Canvassers, and the courts reinstated it to the ballot. We'll see if they do it again.

Posted in Law: Elections | 2 Comments

Iraq Body Count

The people at the Iraq Body Count project and the Oxford Research Group have released what appears to be a quite careful and judicious report counting and analyzing Iraqi civilian casualties since the beginning of the war. They count 24,865 civilians (just civilians, not soldiers or recruits or insurgents) killed in Iraq in the two years stretching from March 20, 2003 to March 19, 2005, and they estimate that there have been more than three injuries for every death. Nearly half of the reported deaths were in Baghdad (likely that proportion is so high in part because Baghdad is the best-reported of Iraq's conflict-ridden areas, and because of the good quality of mortuary data there); about one in every 500 Baghdad civilians has been killed violently since March 2003. Baghdad didn't have the highest number of civilian deaths per capita, though; that honor, among the larger cities, went to Fallujah, where the number rose to 1 in 136.

About 37% of those folks were killed by U.S. forces. Just under 11% were killed by insurgent forces, and about 5% were caught in cross-fire in which both groups participated. That leaves 36% killed in the continuing wave of violent crime that followed the war, enabled by the absence of police and the easy availability of weapons (this is an “excess” figure, subtracting out the average number of pre-war killings over a two-year period), and 11% who could not be classified.

The vast bulk of the 9,270 civilian killings by U.S.-led forces took place either in March 20-April 30 2003 (6882 reported civilian deaths, or 164 per day), or in April-November 2004 (2038 civilian deaths, or between eight and nine per day for the eight-month period). During other calendar periods, U.S.-led forces have killed, on average, fewer than one Iraqi civilian per day.

On the other hand, the number of civilian killings by insurgent forces, criminals, and unclassifiable actors (14,337 in all) has steadily increased over the two-year period, from a low of under 10 per day in April 2003 to a high of 35 per day in February 2005 (the last complete month in the study). As a result, the total number of civilians killed in the second year following the announced end of major hostilities was almost twice as high (11,315) as in the first (6,215).

(I should note that this was an actual count of actual deaths, not an estimate. It's limited to deaths that actually got reported to somebody whose records were good enough that they could be counted. For a more wide-ranging estimation, see Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample study, published last fall in the Lancet, and concluding that “about 100 000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion”).

Posted in Iraq | 2 Comments

Another Middle-Aged White Guy?

It turns out that John Roberts, Jr. will not be another middle-aged white guy on the Supreme Court. Yeah, Roberts is a middle-aged white guy; but, in fact, the Court doesn't have any others. Roberts will be joining a Court with one (middle-aged) black guy, a white woman (in her 70s), and six more white guys each of 'em old enough to collect full benefits from Social Security. So you can see this nomination as real progress in the direction of diversity on the Supreme Court.

What more to say? He's apparently a very good lawyer. He's a pillar of the Federalist Society and the Washington conservative establishment, described by a friend as “as conservative as you can get.” But he's spent the key years of his professional career either in the (Reagan) Solicitor General's office, where the positions in the briefs he submitted didn't necessarily reflect his personal opinions, or as a litigator at Hogan and Hartson, where the positions in the briefs he submitted … didn't necessarily reflect his personal opinions. So he's got no paper trail.

He'll be confirmed, but there'll be fireworks first. How Appealing reminds us that during Roberts's last Senate Judiciary hearing, Orrin Hatch took the position that fellow Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer was asking Roberts “dumbass questions” (and Roberts, for what it's worth, didn't answer them). Expect more of the same.

CORRECTION: I made an error, above, in describing Roberts's bio. While he spent four years in the White House Counsel's Office under Reagan, his stint as Principal Deputy Solicitor General was under Bush I.

Posted in Law: The Supremes | 7 Comments

Lauren Weinstein Explains Karl Rove to You

Lyrics and mp3.

Posted in Politics: The Party of Sleaze | 1 Comment

Department of Lost Opportunities

It looks as if the Bush administration's outing of an intelligence source last year, during the week of the Democratic National Convention, may have undercut the British intelligence efforts aimed at preventing the recent London bombings.

ABC News reports that, a year ago, U.S. and British authorities learned of plans for a coordinated series of attacks on the London subway system (as well as on financial buildings in the U.S.); the plans were on the laptop computer of al Qaeda operative Naeem Noor Khan. The British, ABC News continues, responded by arresting a bunch of young men of Pakistani descent in Luton linked to al Qaeda. The story, though, turns out to be a little more complicated. DHS used the laptop information to justify a heightened terrorism alert, publicizing it at a press conference. Those actions seem to have led directly to the public disclosure of Khan's name — though it's not clear whether the name was leaked by U.S. officials, or by Pakistani officials responding to questioning by reporters following up press conference leads. This was a problem because Khan had continued, after his arrest, to communicate with Al Qaeda contacts, allowing Pakistani authorities to monitor the communications; once the fact of his arrest became known, those contacts scattered. British authorities had to scramble to make arrests; according to Juan Cole and others, the leak caused the British to have to move hastily against the Al Qaeda cell Khan had been in contact with. Five members got away entirely; others couldn't be charged. The British were furious at all of the information becoming available on this side of the Atlantic; Chuck Schumer was quoted by CNN at the time as explaining that Home Secretary Blunkett “expressed displeasure in fairly severe terms that Khan's name was released, because they were trying to track down other contacts of his.”

So when the British attempted to move against the Luton cell last year, who weren't they able to arrest, thanks to the Administration's at best incompetent and “seriously unclever,” at worst crass and politically motivated August 2004 actions?

Links courtesy of AMERICAblog

Posted in 9/11 & Aftermath | Comments Off on Department of Lost Opportunities