the latest from Joebloggers

moveon v. facebook

Moveon and Facebook are at war. Okay, maybe it's more of a catfight - with the lefty e-activist giant (Moveon) clawing at the ankles of the godzilla of online social networking sites (Facebook).

The issue: Right to Privacy.

To read the anti-Facebook Facebook group "Facebook, stop invading my privacy," the tussle started when some poor couple's lives were ruined after the GF discovered what her birthday gift from her BF would be before she received it because, devastatingly, Facebook had made the BF's online purchase public on her "newsfeed." (Explainer for non-FB users: the joy of being a member of Facebook is that you not only get to do lots of pointless activities - you also get a "newsfeed" that tells you all the pointless activities that your friends are doing on FB too.)

Facebook apparently isn't making enough money with good ol' fashioned online advertising, so it's figured out a way get advertisers into the "newsfeeds" by, yes, publicly outing its users' purchases on other sites and, in doing so, trampling on our constitutionally given right to privacy.

ooh, big brother's watching me, yes me!

Tom Sanderson, who deftly led our "The Spy Who Bugged Me" conversation in NYC last week, forwarded me a fun and spooky Washington Post article about how we are slowly, unsuspectingly slipping into a total-surveillance Orwellian state.

Personally, I love freaking out over the prospect of our world turning into a “Minority Report” nightmare, but my better judgment tells me there are at least three reasons all this talk of “lost anonymity” and having our independence thwarted by constantly being in the public eye is ridonculous:

did anyone see my "top secret" file?

I'm not trained in counter-terrorism or anything, but something tells me a good strategy is to not hand suspected terrorist groups your "top secret" files, as did the FBI to a group suing the government for illegal surveillance:

"A charity in Oregon, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, had perhaps the best evidence of anyone of being singled out by the wiretapping program, based on a secret document that the F.B.I. mistakenly gave the group in 2004." (NYT)

In a subsequent move, which is part scary and part sad, the feds asked a judge to keep the charity from using the document in court because it was, well, a secret - you know, the kind you would never want to get into the hands of suspected terrorists.

Pakistan: a lesson in boat rocking?

Back in 2002, when I was wearing my anti-war cap (removed after our troops landed on Iraqi sand) and pestering friends and innocent NYC commuters with leaflets and all the reasons I thought invading Iraq was a bad idea, one of my spiels was that "invading Iraq could lead to fundamentalist rule in Pakistan, a country which just happens to have nuclear warheads." That is, not good stuff. It was a bit of a far out argument, and - needless to say - my better self was glad to find that I was wrong. In recent weeks, though, I've been wondering - and worried - about how wrong I was.

What about that far out argument? How does invading Iraq lead to fundamentalist rule in Pakistan? Here's the theory:

a) Bombs and wars tend to destabilize things. They get people pissed off. They often result in massive migration. They create opportunities for criminal gangs and corruption. They disrupt economic progress. A quick, clean war can avoid those ripple effects, but as we all now know, it's hard to guarantee a quick clean war.

Benazir Bhutto on House Arrest as Riots Spread

Yesterday, amidst a storm of protests across Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, leader of General Pervez Musharraf's main opposition group, was put on house arrest to "... prevent her from attending the rally, which had been banned under the emergency decree." (NYTimes). A government spokesman also said there had been "... warnings of potential attacks against her in Rawalpindi [the city the rally Bhutto planned to hold was in], and did not want a repeat of the suicide attack against her last month...".

A Crucial Step Towards Homosexual (Gay) Rights

Johanna Neuman of the Los Angeles Times reported today that a controversial gay employment anti-discrimination bill passed through the House. Those for the bill say it is similar to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. However, those against the bill argue that it would infringe on the rights of the religious, some of which consider homosexuality "an affront to God."

I do not see what people have against homosexuals. The ones I have known act almost exactly like heterosexuals do, and they are just as human as everyone else. The oppression of others, due to race, disability, gender, or otherwise, is something I have never sympathized with. Oppressing others based on their sexual orientation is no different.

Pakistan's "State of Emergency"

The New York Times yesterday said that General Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan. Many believe that this was a last, desperate attepmt by Musharraf to remain in power, though he contends it was to "preserve the democratic transition that I initiated eight years back." For those of you in the dark, Musharraf ran for Pakistani president in October and won in a landslide vote. However, his victory is contested by opposition parties who claim "it was undemocratic and unconstitutional for [Musharraf]... to run while still army chief." (CNN).

evolved like an economist

Democracy would be a fine idea - if we were all Vulcans. That's not exactly the thesis of Bryan Caplan's "The Myth of the Rational Voter," a must read for those trying to crack the code of improving US democracy, - but it's a major theme.

Economists suspect that humans - we average Joes - are riddled with biases. Caplan walks his readers through the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy to show exactly how differently I and Alan Greenspan think. There are four big ways: I (and you, most likely, if you're not an economist) tend to be really pessimistic about the future; we think good economic policy should be aimed at creating more work rather than creating more efficiency; oddly, even though we don't trust the government to regulate business, we also don't trust the market to solve our problems; finally, and least surprisingly, we're biased against foreigners.

the Iran hype

Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International and one of the smartest and most level-headed policy wonks around (his 2003 "The Future of Freedom" pretty accurately described why democracy wouldn't stick in Iraq) makes a clear case of how we've lost our collective marbles when it comes to Iran.

In this week's Newsweek, Zakaria makes hay of hype that Iran is a world threat (our GDP is 68 times theirs and our military 110 times stronger) or that its leaders are any less rational and deterrable than Stalin or Mao (who both - deliberately or accidentally - killed millions of their own people).

It's a refreshing, yet scary, read. Scary because given the Zakarian realpolitik view that Iran is a minor threat vs. the administration's view that it's raring to bring on WWIII, only two conclusions can be had: Zakaria is wrong or the administration has a need to exagerrate the threat of Iran. I remember the last time this administration exagerrated the threat of a small nation; the results aren't pretty.

Excessive Border Security

I can presume one is aware of the ongoing Mexican border conflict: building a fence to keep immigrants out and whether this is a good or a bad thing, and whether or not it will work. So what I didn't expect when I opened the New York Times website was an article about tighter border security and terrorists (see the article at NY Times). All things considered, I thought we were worried about immigrants, and now we're worried about terrorists crossing the border? I don't know about you, but this seems to be getting weirder and weirder.