Tag: Twitter

Do Bring a Phonecam to a Snowball Fight

By now, you’ve probably heard the story—and seen the video.  During the weekend’s Snowpocalypse™ in DC, a gaggle of young urbanites, using Twitter and other social media, announced a big group snowball fight at the corner of 14th and U Streets.  For a while, it was all good fun, with the participants periodically stopping the skirmish to help dislodge a motorist for a snowdrift, amid collective cheers. But an off-duty plainclothes cop whose Hummer had been hit by a few snowballs lost his cool—and advanced on the crowd to berate them with his gun drawn. You’d think an angry, out-of-uniform guy brandishing a gun might set off a dangerous stampede in the snow, but true to form, the DC crowd responded with chanting: “You don’t bring a gun to a snowball fight!”

Initially, the Metropolitan Police Department “reviewed the evidence” and concluded that the officer had only been holding a cell phone after all—folks who’d said it was a gun must have just imagined it, what with all that snow. But it turns out there were a whole lot of video cameras and phonecams there, and still shots and recordings began to circulate on the Internet, making it impossible to deny what had happened.  By Monday, the chief of police had issued a statement calling the officer’s behavior “totally inappropriate” and announcing that he’d be relegated to desk duty pending further inquiry.

As anyone who follows the excellent work of my colleague Radley Balko will be well aware, things often play out quite differently—with departments circling the wagons, and no serious accountability for far more egregious abuses of authority. But video—increasingly ubiquitous and portable—can make a difference. And it strikes me that, in one sense, it helps remedy other kinds of social inequality.  Reviewing that video of the snowball scene, you might point out that the crowd is full of white 20-somethings, many of whom (given the city’s demographics) are almost certainly college-educated professionals, while police misconduct toward less privileged groups is far more likely to be ignored.

What is privilege, though? In cases like these, it consists largely in the ability to be seen and heard—to attract media attention, to articulate your story in a clear and compelling way, to be considered credible by press and the community. All of these, unfortunately, depend enormously on class, status, race, and education. Unless there’s video. And video is democratic these days. You’d have to poke around a bit to find even a bottom-of-the-line cheapo cell phone that didn’t come with at least a still camera, and likely video capture to boot. So while there’s been some attention paid to the potential of this kind of “Little Brother” surveillance to increase accountability—the to lessen disparity in power between citizen and cop—it’s also worth stressing the way it can lessen certain kinds of disparities between citizens.

That said, and just going by memory, it seems like most of the stories I encounter in this vein still involve white, middle-class, college-educated young people. One possibility is that this shows I’m wrong, and that other aspects of privilege still play into their videos circulating while others languish. Another, though, is just that they’re both accustomed to this kind of routine use of technology and sharing of data, and that they take their social power for granted. That is, it occurs more naturally to them that the right response to this kind of misbehavior is to record and circulate it. If it’s mostly the latter, we’re on an interesting precipice, where the main remaining precondition for the leveling effect to kick in is just awareness that the other preconditions are in place.  If that’s right, the next few years should be interesting.

Internet Companies’ Bogus Plea for Regulation

Some of the most prominent Internet companies sent a letter yesterday asking for protection from market forces. Among them: Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Twitter.

A Washington Post story summarizes their concerns: “[W]ithout a strong anti-discrimination policy, companies like theirs may not get a fair shot on the Internet because carriers could decide to block them from ever reaching consumers.”

No ISP could block access to these popular services and survive, of course. What they could do is try to charge the most popular services a higher tariff to get their services through. Thus, weep the helpless, multi-billion-dollar Internet behemoths, we need a “fair shot”!

Plain and simple, these companies want regulation to ensure that ISPs can’t capture a larger share of the profits that the Internet generates. They want it all for themselves. Phrased another way, the goal is to create a subsidy for content creators by blocking ISPs from getting a piece of the action.

It’s all very reminiscent of disputes between coal mines and railroads. The coal mines “produced the coal” and believed that the profitability of the coal-energy ecosystem should accrue only to themselves, with railroads earning the barest minimum. But where is it written that digging coal out of the ground is what creates the value, and getting it where it’s used creates none? Transport may be as valuable as “production” of both commodities and content. The market should decide, not the industry with the best lobbyists.

What happens if ISPs can’t capture the value of providing transport? Of course, less investment flows to transport and we have less of it. Consumers will have to pay more of their dollars out of pocket for broadband, while Facebook’s boy CEO draws an excessive salary from atop a pile of overpriced stock holdings. The irony is thick when opponents of high executive compensation support “net neutrality” regulation.

Another reason why these Internet companies’ concerns are bogus is their size and popularity. They have a direct line to consumers and more than enough capability to convince consumers that any given ISP is wrongly degrading access to their services. As Tim Lee pointed out in his excellent paper, “The Durable Internet,” ownership of a network service does not equate to control. ISPs can be quickly reined in by the public, as has already happened.

A “net neutrality” subsidy for small start-up services is also unnecessary: They have no profits to share with ISPs. What about mid-size services—heading to profitability, but not there yet? Can ISPs choke them off? Absolutely not.

Large, established companies are not known for being ahead of trends, for one thing, and the anti-authoritarian culture of the Internet is the perfect place to play “beleaguered upstart” against the giant, evil ISP. There could be no greater PR gift than for a small service to have access to it degraded by an ISP.

The Internet companies’ plea for regulation is bogus, and these companies are losing their way. The leadership of these companies should fire their government relations staffs, disband their contrived advocacy organization, and get back to innovating and competing.

Cato Health Care Experts Live-Blogging Obama’s Address

Cato health care policy experts offered live-commentary to President Obama’s address to Congress on Wednesday night. To review their comments, click the replay button below.

The video player has the speech in full.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Using Twitter to Confront an Anti-Semitic Attack in Chile’s Paper of Record

After a morning workout and attending Mass this Sunday, I read El Mercurio (Chile’s paper of record) online. Although I seldom read Chilean newspapers blogs (too many attacks and too much dirt), I did so that morning because I was impressed by the indignation expressed by my friend Luis Larraín in his Sunday blog (titled “Canallas” – Shameless). I had named Larraín Superintendent of Social Security when he was 25 years old. At that time I was 30 and Secretary of Labor and Social Security.

With astonishment I discovered that a certain “Mr. Murillo”, in the comment number 10 on the blog (which I copied immediately, and backed up electronically), explicitly attacked another commenter, Mr. José Fregoso Edelstein, by saying that his previous comment was due to the fact that he is from a “bad race” because he is Jewish.

I immediately logged in to Twitter and posted a ‘tweet’ demanding El Mercurio delete the blog comment, because it is a terrible insult directed at a group of people that have suffered indescribable horrors, not only in the 20th Century, but throughout history. I would have done the same thing if the insult was directed at Palestinians, Lebanese, Croatians, or any other racial/religious/national group.

However, I found an unexpected surprise. Instead of receiving immediate support for an action I thought just and reasonable, several people on Twitter attacked Jews, and me for defending them (one wrote, “You have used your enormous prestige in Chile to become “a shield for the Jews”). They also accused me of “encouraging censorship”, suggesting a “media dictatorship”, etc… . I replied inmediately in Twitter to the least offensive ones. Fifteen minutes later I received a ‘tweet’ from an editor at El Mercurio, saying that they had seen my complaint in Twitter and that they were studying the situation. With another tweet I insisted on immediate deletion of the comment. Twenty minutes later the newspaper editors deleted the offensive comment number 10. I want to emphasize that the editorial mistake, even this grievous one, does not compromise the newspaper El Mercurio as a whole, and its fast action in regard to the issue speaks to the newspaper’s chief editor’s integrity. It was an extraordinary triumph of the fast boat Twitter over the “media carrier” in Chile, another demonstration of the liberating potential of the wonderful new technologies being developed in the land of the free and the brave.

What left me very worried, and the reason I wrote this, is having detected a worrisome anti-Semitic sentiment among my fellow countrymen. Is this unjust anti-Semitic sentiment widespread, though hidden, in Chile, or was this only a “black swan?” I declare myself in a state of alert. We are building a free and good country. There should be no place whatsoever for the language of hate and the discrimination of minorities. As the great Albert Einstein said: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

Twitter and Iran - It’s Not About the U.S. Government

It’s fascinating to watch developments in Iran via Twitter and other social media. (Notably, when I turned on the TV last night to look for Iran news from a conventional source, there was nothing to be found - just commercials and talking heads yapping about politics.)

It was laudable that Twitter delayed a scheduled outage to late-night Tehran time in order to preserve the platform for Iranian users, but contrary to a growing belief, it wasn’t done at the behest of the State Department. It was done at the behest of Twitter users.

Twitter makes that fairly (though imperfectly) clear on its blog, saying, “the State Department does not have access to our decision making process.”

As Justin Logan notes, events in Iran are not about the United States or U.S. policy. They should not be, or appear to be, directed or aided from Washington, D.C. Any shifts in power in Iran should be produced in Iran for Iranians, with support from the people of the world - not from any outside government.

People are free to speculate that the State Department asked Twitter to deny its involvement precisely to create the necessary appearances, but without good evidence of it, assuming so just reflects a pre-commitment that governments - not people and the businesses that serve them - are the primary forces for good in the world.

Week in Review: A Speech in Cairo, an Anniversary in China and a U.S. Bankruptcy

Obama Speaks to the Muslim World

cairoIn Cairo on Thursday, President Obama asked for a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” and spoke at some length on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Cato scholar Christopher Preble comments, “At times, it sounded like a state of the union address, with a litany of promises intended to appeal to particular interest groups. …That said, I thought the president hit the essential points without overpromising.”

Preble goes on to say:

He did not ignore that which divides the United States from the world at large, and many Muslims in particular, nor was he afraid to address squarely the lies and distortions — including the implication that 9/11 never happened, or was not the product of al Qaeda — that have made the situation worse than it should be. He stressed the common interests that should draw people to support U.S. policies rather than oppose them: these include our opposition to the use of violence against innocents; our support for democracy and self-government; and our hostility toward racial, ethnic or religious intolerance. All good.

David Boaz contends that there are a number of other nations the president could have chosen to deliver his address:

Americans forget that the Muslim world and the Arab world are not synonymous. In fact, only 15 to 20 percent of Muslims live in Arab countries, barely more than the number in Indonesia alone and far fewer than the number in the Indian subcontinent. It seems to me that Obama would be better off delivering his message to the Muslim world somewhere closer to where most Muslims live. Perhaps even in his own childhood home of Indonesia.

Not only are there more Muslims in Asia than in the Middle East, the Muslim countries of south and southeast Asia have done a better job of integrating Islam and modern democratic capitalism…. Egypt is a fine place for a speech on the Arab-Israeli conflict. But in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, or Pakistan he could give a speech on America and the Muslim world surrounded by rival political leaders in a democratic country and by internationally recognized business leaders. It would be good for the president to draw attention to this more moderate version of Islam.

Tiananmen Square: 20 Years Later

tsquare1It has been 20 years since the tragic deaths of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, and 30 years since Deng Xiaoping embarked on economic reform in China. Cato scholar James A. Dorn comments, “After 20 years China has made substantial economic progress, but the ghosts of Tiananmen are restless and will continue to be so until the Goddess of Liberty is restored.”

In Thursday’s Cato Daily Podcast, Dorn discusses the perception of human rights in China since the Tiananmen Square massacre, saying that many young people are beginning to accept the existence of human rights independent of the state.

A few days before the anniversary, social media Web sites like Twitter and YouTube were blocked in China. Cato scholar Jim Harper says that it’s going to take a lot more than tanks to shut down the message of freedom in today’s online world:

In 1989, when a nascent pro-democracy movement wanted to communicate its vitality and prepare to take on the state, meeting en masse was vital. But that made it fairly easy for the CCP to roll in and crush the dream of democracy.

Twenty years later, the Internet is the place where mass movements for liberty can take root. While the CCP is attempting to use the electronic equivalent of an armored division to prevent change, reform today is a question of when, not if. Shutting down open dialogue will only slow the democratic transition to freedom, which the Chinese government cannot ultimately prevent.

Taxpayers Acquire Failing Auto Company

After billions of dollars were spent over the course of two presidential administrations to keep General Motors afloat, the American car company filed for bankruptcy this week anyway.

Last year Cato trade expert Daniel J. Ikenson appeared on dozens of radio and television programs and wrote op-eds in newspapers and magazines explaining why automakers should file for bankruptcy—before spending billions in taxpayer dollars.

Which leaves Ikenson asking one very important question: “What was the point of that?

In November, GM turned to the federal government for a bailout loan — the one final alternative to bankruptcy. After a lot of discussion and some rich debate, Congress voted against a bailout, seemingly foreclosing all options except bankruptcy. But before GM could avail itself of bankruptcy protection, President Bush took the fateful decision of circumventing Congress and diverting $15.4 billion from Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to GM (in the chummy spirit of avoiding tough news around the holidays).

That was the original sin. George W. Bush is very much complicit in the nationalization of GM and the cascade of similar interventions that may follow. Had Bush not funded GM in December (under questionable authority, no less), the company probably would have filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 1, at which point prospective buyers, both foreign and domestic, would have surfaced and made bids for spin-off assets or equity stakes in the “New GM,” just as is happening now.

Meanwhile, the government takeover of GM puts the fate of Ford Motors, a company that didn’t take any bailout money, into question:

Thus, what’s going to happen to Ford? With the public aware that the administration will go to bat for GM, who will want to own Ford stock? Who will lend Ford money (particularly in light of the way GM’s and Chrysler’s bondholders were treated). Who wants to compete against an entity backed by an unrestrained national treasury?

Ultimately, if I’m a member of Ford management or a large shareholder, I’m thinking that my biggest competitors, who’ve made terrible business decisions over the years, just got their debts erased and their downsides covered. Thus, even if my balance sheet is healthy enough to go it alone, why bother? And that calculation presents the specter of another taxpayer bailout to the tunes of tens of billions of dollars, and another government-run auto company.