Posts about obama

What are you thinking, Mr. President?

I wrote this for the Guardian, where the discussion is quite lively, approaching 1,500 comments. I’m posting it here a few days later for the purposes of my own archive.

What are you thinking, Mr. President?

Is this really the legacy you want for yourself: the chief executive who trampled rights, destroyed privacy, heightened secrecy, ruined trust, and worst of all did not defend but instead detoured around so many of the fundamental principles on which this country is founded?

And I voted for you. I’ll confess you were a second choice. I supported Hillary Clinton first. I said at the time that your rhetoric about change was empty and that I feared you would be another Jimmy Carter: aggressively ineffectual.

Never did I imagine that you would instead become another Richard Nixon: imperial, secretive, vindictive, untrustworthy, inexplicable.

I do care about security. I survived the attack on the World Trade Center and I believe 9/11 was allowed to occur through a failure of intelligence. I thank TSA agents for searching me: applause for security theater. I defend government’s necessary secrets. By the way, I also defend Obamacare. I should be an easy ally. But your exercise of power appalls me. When I wrote about your credibility deficit in the Guardian, I was shocked that among the commenters at that great international voice of liberalism, next to no one defended you. Even on our side of the political divide, I am far from alone in urgently wondering what you are doing.

As a journalist, I am frightened by your vengeful attacks on whistleblowers — Manning, Assange, Snowden, and the rest — and the impact in turn on journalism and its tasks of keeping a watchful eye on you and helping to assure an informed citizenry.

As a citizen, I am disgusted by the systematic evasion of oversight you have supported through the FISA courts; by the use of ports as lawless zones where your agents can harass anyone; by your failure on your promise to close Guantanamo, and this list could go on.

As an American often abroad, I am embarrassed by the damage you have caused to our reputation and to others’ trust in us. I find myself apologizing for what you are doing to citizens of other nations, dismissing the idea that they have rights to privacy because they are “foreign.”

As an internet user, I am most fearful of the impact of your wanton destruction of privacy and the resulting collapse of trust in the net and what that will do to the freedom we have enjoyed in it as well as the business and jobs that are being built atop it.

And as a Democrat, I worry that you are losing us the next election, handing an issue to the Republicans that should have been ours: protecting the rights of citizens against the overreach of the security state.

Surely you can see this. But you keep doubling down, becoming only more dogged in your defense of secrecy and your guardians of it. I don’t understand.

The only way I could possibly grant you the benefit of doubt is to think that there is some ominous fact about our security that only you and your circle know and can’t breath or the jig will be up. But I don’t believe that anymore than I believe a James Bond movie or an Oliver Stone conspiracy theory. You can’t argue that Armageddon is on the way and that al Qaeda is on the run at the same time.

No, I think it is this: Secrecy corrupts. Absolute secrecy corrupts absolutely. You have been seduced by the idea that your authority rests in your secrets and your power to hold them. Every attack on that power, every questioning of it only makes you draw in tighter, receding into your vault with the key you think your office grants you. You are descending into a dark hole of your own digging.

But you know better, don’t you? In a democracy, secrecy is not the foundation of authority; that is the basis of dictatorships. Principles and their defense is what underpins your office.

First among those principles is the defense of our freedom. Security is only a subset of that, for if we are not secure we are not free. Freedom demands the confidence that we are not under attack, yes, but also that we are not being surveilled without our knowledge and consent. The balance, which we are supposedly debating, must go to freedom.

Transparency is another principle you promised to uphold but have trammeled instead. The only way to assure trust in your actions is if they are overseen by open courts, by informed legislators, by an uninhibited press, and most importantly by an informed citizenry.

As political and media attention turn away from you, you have an opportunity to rise again to the level of principles, to prove that your rhetoric about change was not empty after all, to rebuild your already ill-fated legacy, to do what is expected of you and your office.

You could decide to operate on the principle that our privacy is protected in any medium — not just in our first-class letters but in our emails and chats and calls — unless under specific and due warrant.

You could decide to end what will be known as the Obama Collect it All doctrine and make the art of intelligence focus rather than reach.

You could decide to respect the efforts of whistleblowers as courageous practitioners of civil disobedience who are sacrificing much in their efforts to protect lives and democracy. If they are the Martin Luther Kings of our age, then call off Bull Connor‘s digital dogs and fire hoses, will you?

You could decide to impress us with the transparency you still can bring to government, so that the institution you run becomes open by default rather than by force, as it is now, under you.

You could decide to support a free press and stop efforts — here and, using your influence, with our friends in the UK — to restrain their work.

You could decide that whether they are visiting our land or talking with our citizens by email or phone, foreigners are not to be distrusted by default.

You could try to reverse the damage you have done to the internet and its potential by upholding its principles of openness and freedom.

You could. Will you?

NSA by the numbers

Fear not, says the NSA, we “touch” only 1.6% of daily internet traffic. If, as they say, the net carries 1,826 petabytes of information per day, then the NSA “touches” about 29 petabytes a day. They don’t say what “touch” means. Ingest? Store? Analyze? Inquiring minds want to know.

ATTNSA

For context, Google in 2010 said it had indexed only 0.004% of the data on the net. So by inference from the percentages, does that mean that the NSA is equal to 400 Googles? Better math minds than mine will correct me if I’m wrong.

Seven petabytes of photos are added to Facebook each month. That’s .23 petabytes per day. So that means the NSA is 126 Facebooks.

Keep in mind that most of the data passing on the net is not email or web pages. It’s media. According to Sandvine data for the U.S. fixed net from 2013, real-time entertainment accounted for 62% of net traffic, P2P file-sharing for 10.5%. The NSA needn’t watch all those episodes of Homeland (or maybe they should) or listen to all that Cold Play — though I’m sure the RIAA and MPAA are dying to know what the NSA knows about who’s “stealing” what since that “stealing” allegedly accounts for 23.8% of net traffic.

HTTP — the web — accounts for only 11.8% of aggregated up- and download traffic in the U.S., Sandvine says. Communications — the part of the net the NSA really cares about — accounts for 2.9% in the U.S.

So by very rough, beer-soaked-napkin numbers, the NSA’s 1.6% of net traffic would be half of the communication on the net. That’s a fuckuvalota “touching.”

And keep in mind that by one estimate 68.8% of email is spam.

Screenshot 2013-08-10 at 8.02.09 PM

sandvine-top-traffic-apps

And, of course, metadata doesn’t add up to much data at all; it’s just a few bits per file — who sent what to whom — and that’s where the NSA finds much of its incriminating information. So these numbers are meaningless when it comes to looking at how much the NSA knows about who’s talking to whom. A few weeks ago on Twitter, I showed that with the NSA’s clearance to go three hops out from a suspect, it doesn’t take very long at all before this law of large numbers encompasses us all and our cats.

If you have better data (and better math) than I have, please do share it.

* “Reach out and touch someone” art inspired by Josh Stearns

Campaign by the internet, govern by the internet

The Guardian’s Comment is Free asked me to write a post about the new White House blog. I’m about to get on a plane so I’m crossposting it here before that link goes up…..

Two years ago, when I interviewed the then-head of David Cameron’s Webcameron, I asked whether—when and if he assumed office as Prime Minister—he would continue making his videos. “If it suddenly stopped,” the aide replied, “that would be seen as a very cynical move . . . You can’t stop communicating.”

Campaign by the internet, govern by the internet.

Now that Barack Obama is in the White House, he must continue to use and spread the tools of the internet and transparency that he so brilliantly plied to win the office or else it would make his promises of change empty.

We see the barest beginnings of his digital administration at the White House Blog. (Ah, how that link warms the heart of a blogger. Too bad that the president and vice-president of Iran beat the president of the birthplace of blogging to the platform. Oh, well, progress is progress.)

Dave Winer, one of the fathers of blogging, complained on Twitter and his blog that the presidential blog is weak tea. But I think 24 hours is too soon to judge a revolution.

The presidential blogmaster, Macon Phillips, promises communication, transparency, and participation and we’ll see how well he and his boss live up to their broad goals. Before taking office, they asked the public to suggest policy and action at Change.gov–as Starbucks and Dell do (it’s all the rage)–but, sadly, they took that down when they took office and linked instead to the new blog, where we can watch and read his inaugural address.

A new age of government openness, and collaboration with the citizenry won’t be made on one blog or Twitter or RSS feed or YouTube stage. It will be made by issuing and instilling a new ethic of transparency in government.

I argue that we should abolish the Freedom of Information Act and instead make transparency the default for government’s business, which should occur digitally and in the open, so citizens may search, link, comment on, and analyze it. Rather than our asking the government to release our information, the government should ask our permission not to.

And the President should also instill an ethic of listening in the agencies of his administration. Some collaboration may occur at the White House site. But the real voice of the people is already out here, on the internet, in blogs, on YouTube, all around us. All you have to do is search for it and listen. That will be a new age in government.

Celebration

I was a skeptic about Barack Obama, hearing emptiness in his words and fearing inexperience in his resume. No more. I was hoping to be proven wrong and so far it’s becoming clear that I was wrong. I have been delighted with his leadership since the election, his appointments with experience, his openness to former opponents, his magnetic attraction to a center, his image. I also underestimated his ability to carry the symbolism of his election. Dare I say it: When we most need it, he brings hope.

Fred Wilson is disappointed with inaugurapalooza because it isn’t different. I’m not. I think the symbolism is important: everything that existed is passed to the next generation. That doesn’t say that things aren’t changing. It says the platform is changing hands and that’s where the change comes: what you do with it.

All the Obama fans who growled at my doubts about him and my support of Clinton can nya-nya me now. But I don’t think that’s what this day is about. It’s about unity. At least for today.

Broadband nation

I’ve been offline in a UK castle with wi-fi only in the basement (but I suppose that’s a miracle) and then in a Holiday Inn (what a fall) with gawdawful and gawdawfully expensive so-called broadband so I’ll take this opportunity while sitting in the Apple store (bless it) to just join in the chorus of celebration that Barack Obama pledged to fix our gawdawful broadband status in America. Now let’s speculate about just how ambitious we can be.

At the conference I just attended (a few posts on that later, when I can be online for more than two minutes) there was talk of trying to tax broadband providers here to subsidize (or some would say compensate) content creators. I think that’s bassackwards.

If we wanted subsidy, there could be none better than assuring that the entire nation is on broadband. Then all consumers, all content, all advertisers could meet there. It would fast-forward the inevitable. It would spark innovation and jobs and trade and education.

To hell with public-service broadcasting. How about public-service connectivity?

Two presidents

Barack Obama says we have only one president at a time. That, apparently, is why Gail Collins and Tom Friedman want the old one to leave office now, which is silly if understandable wishful thinking.

What we need instead is, indeed, two presidents. And we’re beginning to get that. Barack Obama is revealing his path and is taking action. The fact that the stock market can reach orgasm just on his naming a Treasury secretary – and not a particular superstar at that (see Andrew Ross Sorkin’s leavening of the exuberance today) – shows how much he’s already in charge and how welcome that is. The more Obama acts presidential, the better off we will be.

I have been impressed with Obama post-election. He has been moving to the center, where I am glad to see him. He has been unafraid to work with strong characters from the Clinton administration, including his rival. He was unafraid to reach out with a peace offering to the left’s boogeyman, Joseph Lieberman. He has been decisive in showing leadership on the economic crisis – and the more he acts the part of the president in power, the better. In the small arenas I watch – the FCC and the web – had has made extremely savvy moves.

My fear about Obama during the campaign, often stated, was that I hadn’t seen enough of him and thus worried he’d be a Jimmy Carter. Now my fear is the opposite: that so much hope is invested in him, he will disappoint his most devoted followers as he necessarily opens wide the tent and compromises to accomplish. But he’s not disappointing me. He’s giving me, uh, hope.

I don’t have a lot to say in this but some folks have asked why I’ve been silent since the election. It’s because I didn’t have much of anything to say – see, I can say that – and I was watching. In answer to those folks: I like what I see so far, very much. Damned glad I voted for him.

In good hands

The Obama administration has named two of the greatest brains online to its FCC review team: Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach. And there are few agencies that need review so badly. Bravo!

Not so fast

Dana Milbank hilariously skewers the presumptive Democratic nominees presumptuousness.

Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, “This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for,” adding: “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”

As he marches toward Inauguration Day (Election Day is but a milestone on that path), Obama’s biggest challenger may not be Republican John McCain but rather his own hubris.

And you thought Bill Clinton had a big ego?

He could still lose this and hubris could lose it for him.

Or the media could help him lose it even as they try to help him by being just that much too enthusiastic. I heard journalists talk about “the ovation problem” when Obama came to address the Unity convention of minority journalists. The Tribune’s Swamp reports that he did get an ovation — as we can see from this video, a standing O:

At UNITY, the applause was restrained, after organizers reminded conference participants that the appearance was being nationally broadcast and they should make every effort to maintain “professional decorum.”

Still, Obama received a standing ovation from many in the audience at the start and end of his appearance. There was also a rush toward the stage after his speech, as Obama shook hands and signed autographs.

One journalist was also overheard wishing him luck, while another squealed, “He touched me!” as she left the ballroom.

Before Obama arrived, a panel discussed the question of journalistic objectivity, including whether journalists should clap for politicians when they appear.

: LATER: There are predictable snipes in teh comments — go take a look. My response:

Let’s talk tactically, folks. Gore may not have lost the election (just the Supreme Court) but he did blow a big lead by being – why do you think? – dull. Kerry lost what should have been a victory by being – what? – awkward and dull. Obama is neither of those. But he could still lose this election. That’s my point. This level of hubris is unbecoming. If voters feel as if he is being shoved down their throats, as if he is a fait accompli, then I think there could be a backlash.

Milbank’s piece was a good warning: Hubris is becoming an issue.