According to the Register, Prof. Terry Fisher of Harvard has calculated that charging $6 a month to each broadband Internet user in the U.S. will generate the $1.67 billion that the RIAA and MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) supposedly"lost" last year to Internet downloads.
I'm not an economist, but even I can see four flaws in this scheme.
1. Non-users get screwed. I know many people who have broadband Internet access and don't download any music or movies. These people would now get stuck for an extra $6 per month for a service they don't want and won't use, in order to subsidize others. (We have a similar situation here in Canada, where the"CD-R tax" I pay on my computer backup discs goes to line the pockets of the music industry.)
2. Nowhere to go but up. $6 a month is calculated on the current estimated"loss" of 20 percent of RIAA retail sales and five percent of MPAA. As downloads increase, you can bet the RIAA and MPAA will start screaming for hikes in the tax, until it reaches the roughly $60 a month it would take to compensate all their current retail sales. And then they'll start whining about theoretical sales that they've"lost."
3. It won't stop harassment. Despite our"CD tax" that supposedly compensates the industry for file downloading and duplication, the Canadian Recording Industry Association is already making plans to copy the RIAA's"sue everyone" strategy. So even with a nice juicy slice of broadband revenue, the RIAA may still sue music-sharers.
4. Market mechanisms are inoperative. This is perhaps the most damning criticism of all. With cost unrelated to consumption, there's an incentive for consumers to download more and more. (Think"price controls" or"tragedy of the commons.") Also, consumers can't"shop around" for lower-cost providers, so there are no incentives to improve the quality of the service. (Think U.S. Post Office.) All the RIAA has to do is sit back and rake in the cash. Heck, this even kills the incentive to find and cultivate better artists.
I.e., socialized music will work about as well as socialized steel-making.
I haven't read Fisher's report, so it's possible that he addresses these objections. But to my eyes this looks like a tax, walks like a tax, and quacks like a tax. And I'm not sure how much precedent there is in U.S. law to impose a tax that will be funneled directly to a private enterprise, with no pretense of"public works."
I'm sure there are those who believe that the RIAA should be prosecuted under the anti-trust laws for price-fixing, restraint of trade, anti-competitive behavior, and so forth. I'm not one of them. Crying for government enforcement of government-mandated restrictions on excesses resulting from government-granted privileges has only one certain outcome: more government. Lots more government.
Instead, I say get the government out of the picture entirely.
Brad For more commentary, please see McBlog.
"After two years, the public has finally learned that Northwest Airlines did indeed give the National Aeronautics and Space Administration sensitive consumer data for use in a bizarre research program that combined data-mining and"brain-monitoring" technology. There was a more naive time when it seemed the 21st-century total federal takeover of airport security would merely involve swarms of overpaid, un-fireable federal employees harassing hapless harried travelers with interminable baggage and body searches. But the dangers of"mind-reading" technology didn't occur to even the most strident skeptic. Or did it? Maybe we need to ask NASA.
It was revealed back in 2002 that scientists from NASA asked Northwest Airlines for"system-wide Northwest Airlines passenger data from July, August, and September 2001." The data was to be used in the still-mysterious program the federal space agency was working on with a commercial firm -- the idea was to use both data-mining and"brain-monitoring" technology installed at airport terminals to somehow identify"threats." The proposed brain-monitoring technology would detect EEG and ECG signals from the brain and heart and then have that data analyzed by software, in combination with previously-floated plans to cross-reference passengers' travel history, credit history, and other information from hundreds or even thousands of databases as part of the Computer-Aided Passenger Pre-Screening (CAPPS) program.
In a press release, Robert Pearce, the Director of NASA's Strategy and Analysis Division, disavowed the report, assuring the populace that"NASA does not have the capability to read minds, nor are we suggesting that would be done." Yet another NASA spokesman, Herb Schlickenmaier, confirmed that reading the brainwaves and heart rates of airline passengers was a goal of NASA's -- the thinking being that such data combined with body temperature and eye-flicker rate could make a sort of super-lie detector. However, the PowerPoint presentation delivered by NASA to Northwest in December, said NASA has"Non-invasive neuro-electric sensors under development as a collaborative venture between NASA Ames and commercial partner." This contradicts the NASA statement that"We have not approved any research in this area." If this is how NASA assembles policy, it's little wonder their hardware assembly has a dismal track record.
The most plausible explanation I've heard comes from my friend Gordon Pusch who pointed out that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld seems to have bought into what has been called the "Vision for 2020" -- a space age "Project for the New American Century" -- that calls for U.S. military superiority (and exclusivity) in space. This goal requires (and does not yet have) a"heavy lift" capability into space: launchers that could put massive payloads into orbit. (The Shuttle won't lift enough payload, and can't launch frequently enough.) A few billion won't get very far along the road to Mars, but it will pay for launcher development. And, as it happens, heavy launchers would be the first thing needed by the Moon/Mars program. Moon/Mars is a lovely" civilian" cover to develop these heavy lifters, which otherwise can't be justified -- weather and communications satellites need only small launchers.
With heavy lifters, the U.S. could then deny the use of space to other nations. But to militarize and to enforce a monopoly, the development and operation would have to be under U.S. government control: thus, NASA.
The international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders -- Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) -- has completed its investigation of the US Army's attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on April 8, '03 in which two reporters staying there died. RSF concluded that the deaths"were not a deliberate attack [by the US] on the media. However, it [RSF] said US soldiers should have been told by their commanders that many journalists were based in the hotel....It was an act of criminal negligence for which responsibility should clearly be established." In short, the accusation is not murder but manslaughter.
But blame is laid at the feet of the Pentagon and military commanders, not soldiers in-the-field who fired upon the hotel. According to story in the UK Independent,"Despite information being available to the Pentagon, the report said `the soldiers in the field were never told that a large number of journalists were in the Palestine Hotel. If they had known they would not have fired. When they did know, they gave and received instructions and took precautions to ensure the hotel was not fired on again'." RSF accuses US authorities of concocting lies to hide what happened and calls their subsequent official `investigation'"nothing more than a whitewash." RSF is calling for the US to launch a formal investigation into the deaths of Ukrainian cameramen Taras Protsyuk (Reuters) and Spaniard José Couso (Telecinco). The report can be downloaded in full [.pdf] from the RWB site.
The Bush adminstration's love affair with the media is starting to crack and be revealed as a heartless flirtation that lasts only as long as the object of"love" comes across. Domestically, prominent sources like the Washington Times are reporting daily on touchy matters, like the unusually high and quickly rising suicide rate for U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Or the fact that about 2,500 soldiers who have returned from the war have to wait for medical care at bases in the US. And, in Iraq, now that embedded journalists from major American news sources -"embedded" was the term used to refer to journalists allowed to accompany American troops on the march toward Baghdad, otherwise known as"in bed" journalists -- now that they have been largely replaced by foreign ones who have not been bought off in some manner or intimidated, there are increasing cries of the US military brutalizing the press. Last week, for example, Reuters filed "a formal complaint to the Pentagon following the 'wrongful' arrest and apparent `brutalisation' of three of its staff this month by US troops in Iraq."
I am sorry to say that the left is in the forefront of protest against Bush's systematic, transparent and sometimes savage quashing of truth. Tim Robbins' play"Embedded," opens February 24th at the Public Theater in New York. (It premiered on Nov. 15, 2003, at The Actors' Gang in Los Angeles; the promotional art for that performance captures the essence of the play}}.)"Embedded" has been described as"a ripped-from-the-headlines satire about the madness surrounding the brave women and men on the front lines in a Middle East conflict. [It] skewers cynical embedded journalists, scheming government officials, a show-tune singing colonel, and the media's insatiable desire for heroes." Robbins has come under a great deal of criticism for his opposition to the war, the most famous incident being the cancellation of a scheduled screening of the Robbins baseball comedy"Bull Durham" explicitly because of the actor's views.
Best to all, Wendy McElroy
The Jerusalem Post reports"Iraqi governing council members described Saddam Hussein as 'unrepentant, defiant and sarcastic' about the Iraqi people at a news conference transmitted live on nearly all broadcast channels worldwide....Earlier, Chalabi told the Pentagon-funded Al-Iraqiya TV station, 'Saddam will stand a public trial so that the Iraqi people will know his crimes.' Chalabi is a leading member of the U.S.-appointed council who has close links to the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush." It seems clear that Saddam will be tried in Iraq by the US-dominated Governing Council (or, rather, its judicial creation -- the special tribunal established last week to try top members of the Saddam government for crimes against humanity.) But a question hangs as to whether there will be a"World trial" as well. The latter would be a risky venture for the US because that trial could not be easily controlled, especially if France, Germany or Russia were prominent players. article in JP may explain why there is a comparatively muted reaction from the Arab press at this point:"Many in the Arab world greeted news of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's capture with disbelief. Then, when it became official, emotions ranged from joy, to hunger for revenge against the tyrant, to sadness that an Arab leader - even Saddam - should come to such a tawdry end." It may take awhile for reactions to sink in and settle...tho' with the situation so fluid, reactions may have erupted before I post this entry. Certainly, the Palestinians know where they stand: Saddam's arrest is bad news for them.
But the Geneva protections have already been violated, as Rumsfeld well knows from his experience with the Guantanamo prisoners. 3GC (Article 3) states that POWs must be spared"outrages upon personal dignity,""humiliating and degrading treatment," as well as"insults and public curiosity." Rumsfeld has openly acknowledged that the GCs forbid showings PoWs -- an acknowledgement occasioned by the criticism surrounding widely-publicized photographs of prisoners at Guantanamo. At that time, the defense offered was that the photos were blurred and did not show the prisoners' faces. No such defense can be offered for the degrading photographs of Saddam that are saturating the globe: Saddam's hair being searched for lice; his mouth being probed by a tongue-depressor... Months ago, when the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera in Qatar showed Iraqi footage of interviews with American prisoners, Rumsfeld declared,"The Geneva Convention indicates that it's not permitted to photograph and embarrass or humiliate prisoners of war.'' In respect for the GCs, most American news sources restricted the airing of that footage.
His interrogation raises further questions about possible violation of the GCs, which guarantee a right to silence...other than stating minimal info such as rank, that is. Now Time and other sources are reporting that Saddam is unco-operative and defiant. Is he also being accorded the right to silence?
The question is not whether Saddam deserves to be humiliated, treated humanely, etc. As I stated yesterday, Sic Sempris Tyrannis -- Thus perish all tyrants! The question is whether the GCs are being applied as Rumsfeld insists. Clearly, they are not. And for an obvious reason. An unphotographed, silent Saddam makes for bad PR and the Bush administration wants to maximally-bask in the happy glow of an event that goes to its pre-election credit.
For one thing...why mention the death penalty? It was akin to throwing gas on a raging fire for the joy of making sparks. As the UK Independent notes,"the death penalty issue could cause friction between the United States and Europe. All 15 member nations of the European Union have abolished capital punishment, and they often encourage other countries — most notably the United States — to abolish it. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also has said the world body would not support bringing Saddam before a tribunal that might sentence him to death." Ever the faithful lapdog, Tony Blair courageously stated that, although Britain opposed the death penalty, it would have to accept an Iraqi decision to execute. My point: why even raise the issue of executing Saddam...and so prominently? It is as tho' Bush sat down and pondered,"How can I possibly make the situation worse?" The answer is obvious, of course. He doesn't care how his statements impact the world as long as they please the American electorate.
Don't expect to see a trial or public process of any sort surrounding Saddam in the near future. The US is already announcing a long delay before a trial date is set. After all, what Saddam could say in a public trial might prove tremendously embarrassing to the Bush administration. As the BBC reports,"Iraq had invaded Iran in 1980 but the Iranians had held the advance and were striking back with human wave attacks. Iraq was known, by 1983, to have used chemical weapons to stop these. A US State Department memorandum in 1983 stated: 'We have recently received additional information confirming Iraqi use of chemical weapons.' President Reagan determined nevertheless that Iraq should be supported and he sent Mr Rumsfeld to Baghdad with a personal letter from himself to Saddam Hussein. Mr Rumsfeld had been defence secretary under President Ford and was then head of a private pharmaceutical company. Minutes of their meeting in December 1983 were taken by an American diplomat and later released in edited form under the Freedom of Information Act. They were published by the National Security Archive, a private research group." I doubt if Bush wants photos, like this one of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam, to circulate before the elections next fall.