Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mike Huckabee, Savior and Chief?

We all know the story about Mike Huckabee pushing for the parole of Wayne Dumond, who was convicted of raping a teenager. Huckabee asked for a meeting with the Arkansas parole board, where he pressured them for Dumond's release. After Dumond was paroled, he raped and murdered two women. Of course, Huckabee denies any involvement in Dumond's release, but members of the parole board tell a different story.

What you might not know is that Huckabee granted 1,033 pardons and commutations in his 10 years as governor of Arkansas. That's more than twice as many as his three predecessors, Bill Clinton, Frank White, and Jim Guy Tucker, did in the 17 years they served as governor. During his tenure as governor, Huckabee issued more commutations and pardons than all of the six neighboring states combined. Those states include Texas, which has more than 8 times the population of Arkansas.

Several of the criminals Huckabee wanted to set free were convicted murderers. Glen Green is one such murderer that Huckabee wanted back on the streets.

In 1974 Glen Green kidnapped Helen Lynette Spencer on Little Rock Air Force Base, where he beat and kicked her as he tried to rape her. She managed to break loose, but he caught her and beat her with a pair of nunchucks. Then he then stuffed her into the trunk of his car. Green told investigators that he did rape her several hours later because when he found that her body was still warm. Then he put her in front of his car and ran over her several times. Finally, he dumped her body in the Twin Prairie Bayou.

In 2004, the Arkansas Board of Parole reviewed Green's clemency case and found it to be without merit. Huckabee rejected the parole board's findings and decided that he would grant clemency to Green. Fortunately, a huge public outcry forced Huckabee to backtrack on his decision.

If this was an isolated case, then maybe it could have been considered nothing more than a grave oversight. Unfortunately, this is just one of many incidences where Huckabee used dubious judgment when deciding whether to set violent criminals free.

Huckabee claims that his belief in Christian redemption was the motivating factor in his decisions to release brutal rapists and murderers from prison. If Christian compassion was really the motivating factor for Huckabee, perhaps he should have saved some of it for the victims and their families. Yet, Huckabee's office often didn't bother to contact them about his pardons, even though Arkansas law requires such notifications.

How does Christian redemption explain Huckabee's pardon of Rolling Stones' guitarist Keith Richards for a traffic violation, after he met Richards at a concert? Who would even think about doing something as ridiculous as wasting time on a pardon for a traffic ticket that resulted in a $162 fine?

Perhaps a better explanation for Huckabee's orgy of pardons is that he was drunk with power. Huckabee was the potentate of a tiny, backwards state -- the same state that gave us the narcissistic Bill Clinton. The power to overturn the state's justice system with the stroke of a pen may have caused Huckabee's ego blow up larger than the Ron Paul blimp.

Just imagine how much power Mike Huckabee would have as President of the United States and what he might do with it.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

The tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto seems to have given neo-con pundits a collective sigh of relief. They view this as another vindication of their belief that the U.S. government must do whatever it takes to fight "Islamo-fascism", including continuing to prop up ruthless dictators like Pervez Musharraf.

Unfortunately for the neo-cons, Benazir Bhutto had a different view. In November, Parade Magazine asked her what she would like to tell President Bush. She replied: "Your policy of supporting dictatorship is breaking up my country. I now think al-Qaeda can be marching on Islamabad in two to four years."

The most troubling thing about the people who pass for "conservatives" nowadays is their stubborn refusal to understand Bhutto's point -- that U.S. government policy in the Middle East is a key cause of the troubles we face with terrorism today.

During the Cold War, the Soviets and the U.S. government propped up opposing dictatorships around the world. The Soviets had people like Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega. We countered with people like Augusto Pinochet and the Shah of Iran. I don't have any axe to grind whatsoever with what the U.S. government did during the Cold War. We were fighting an organized, ideological enemy, with a huge military capability that enslaved half the people in the world. We had to do whatever it took to win.

A funny thing happened when the Cold War ended. The U.S. government stopped propping up dictators in Latin America and Asia. However, it continued to do so in the Middle East. Billions of U.S. dollars continued to flow into the hands of some very nasty tyrants. That helped radicalize their populations against us.

The U.S. government has given over $50 billion to Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak has ruled Egypt under a state of emergency since 1981. Every 6 years, he stages a rigged election. Reports of the torture of political prisoners in Egypt are frequent, credible and widespread. The lead suicide pilot on 9/11 was Mohamed Atta, who was born in Egypt.

The Saudi Royal family has been a reliable ally for the U.S. government for 5 decades. They also run the most brutal regime in the world. Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia, as were 15 of the 19 hijackers.

The U.S. government has also given Musharraf over $10 billion and violent opposition to his dictatorship has only gotten worse.

Why is it so hard for neo-con pundits and politicians to understand that there might be some relationship between U.S. government support of tyrants in the Middle East and the suicide terrorists? The CIA knows there is. They call it "blowback". I actually think there are a lot of neo-cons who really do understand. They just won't admit it because they are scared. No, they aren't afraid of the terrorists. They are worried that the only thing keeping the old Reagan coalition together is the so-called war on terror. After all, given the last 7 years no one honestly believes that the GOP stands for small government and fiscal responsibility any longer.

Fighting communism was the one banner that the entire diverse Reagan coalition could rally behind. After the Cold War ended, some conservatives, most notably Pat Buchanan, started questioning the need for the U.S. to maintain troops in 130 countries. This potential crack in the coalition alarmed the neo-cons, so they went looking for a new villain. For a while it looked like that villain might be China and the neo-cons beat the war drums against them for 10 years. Then came 9/11 and they were handed their new focus of evil in the world, except that al-Qaeda isn't a state, with a huge army, and tons of nuclear weapons. Rather, it's nothing more than a tiny band of criminals who managed to pull off 9/11 largely due to the incompetence of the FBI.

The neo-cons are alarmed again today by Ron Paul because he is the only candidate brave enough to question whether U.S. government policy in the Middle East might have something to do with the terrorist threat we face today. The neo-cons are demonizing Ron Paul every bit as much as they demonized Buchanan.

Anyway, the quote from Benazir Bhutto will appear in Parade magazine on January 8th. That will be too late for the Iowa caucuses, but maybe it will start to wake enough people up before Super Tuesday to make a positive difference to our future.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dissing the Fed

One of the most interesting things about the current presidential campaign is the sudden interest in the Federal Reserve Bank. When was the last time monetary policy got this much public attention? During Carter's 21% inflation? When Nixon severed the last link between the dollar and gold? We might have to go all the way back to when Roosevelt confiscated gold in 1933.

Of course, all of the chatter is coming from one candidate --Ron Paul.

His most intriguing notion is that the Federal Reserve Bank needs some competition. At first, this sounds like a rather impractical idea. However, I can safely say that the technology needed to make this a reality is already in widespread use today.

Money serves two purposes in society. First, it's a "medium of exchange", which means that it facilitates buying and selling. Second, it's a "store of value", which means that it should retain its purchasing power into the future.

The dollar is a widely accepted medium of exchange in the U.S. because the government mandates it as such. However, the dollar has not been a particularly good store of value over the last 100 years or so. There are a lot of ways to compare the value of a dollar between the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 and today. All of them show that the dollar is now only worth between 1 penny and 6 cents. It's not a good track record.

Fortunately for us, the dollar has lost its value gradually enough as to not cause major social unrest. Other societies haven't been so fortunate. In Germany, government monetary shenanigans after WWI caused a hyperinflation that wiped out the middle class and set the stage for Hitler.

In the U.S., you both save and buy things in dollars. However, it's actually quite possible to save in one currency and buy in another. In fact, it's done all of the time. I've been in over 25 countries. In all of them, I can use the debit card from my American bank to withdraw money from an ATM or buy things in the local currency. The ATM network takes care of figuring how many dollars to deduct from my bank account given the amount of local money I'm spending.

It's also possible to have a system where you can save in multiple currencies. Swiss banks allow you to have accounts denominated in any number of currencies, including U.S. dollars, Euros, and Swiss Francs.

So, there isn’t any technical reason that you couldn't save in whatever currency you want and buy things that are priced in another currency. The only thing that prevents you from doing this today are government laws that exist to protect the monopoly of the Federal Reserve Bank.

The same technology that already exists to support multiple coexisting national currencies could also support multiple coexisting privately issued currencies. As is the case with anything else, competition in currencies could help create a more robust and sound monetary system. Currencies that lose value over time would lose customers to better currencies and wouldn't be widely accepted as either a store of value or medium of exchange.

What about cash? There are times when you want your purchases to be anonymous. No problem. There are many examples of cards that have the characteristics of cash on the market today. Pre-paid cell phone cards and Starbucks cards are just two examples. There isn't any reason why the industry couldn't evolve a set of interoperability standards for generic cash cards, just like they have for debit cards.

Who would issue these private currencies? Financial institutions would be a good bet. My guess is that some large technology companies might be eager to do this as well.

So, despite the horror displayed by myopic mainstream pundits, Ron Paul's idea about competing currencies really isn't so crazy after all.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Will Big Brother finally arrive in 2008?

Christmas has come and gone, so it looks like we're going to survive another year. At least we kind of did.

The housing market is in the tank. The dollar is on the verge of collapse. The situation in Afghanistan has gotten significantly worse. The current indept administration has destroyed our important relationship with Turkey. The bumbling of last two administrations have finally convinced the Russians that they really do need to be wary of our intentions. The leading Democratic presidential contender is an ex-first lady who is probably the coldest, most calculating and power hungry politician since Nixon. The leading GOP contender is an ex-mayor who believes that "freedom" is about submitting yourself to government authority (Yes, that is was he said: go Google it). Sure, there seems to be some good news in Iraq, but only because we've further entrenched ourselves there with more troops, with no apparent plan on how to get out without the country erupting into civil war. Oh yes, Osama Bin Laden is still at large.

Worse of all, our civil liberties are under attack like never before.

The government has already blessed us with the "Patriot Act", which among other things expanded the government's ability to spy on our electronic communications, as well as on our medical and financial records.

We are now faced with the even more troublesome "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007" (HR 1955), whose vague language could be used by the government to classify American activities like civil disobedience as "terrorism".

Together, these acts present the greatest danger to liberty in our history.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure George Bush and Dick Cheney are honorable men who are only trying to protect us from the terrorists, drug dealers, and whatever bogie man comes up next, right? Even if you believe that, these guys are only going to be in office another year and those laws will still be on the books when they leave. What happens when President Clinton declares that we need her protection from the "vast right-wing conspiracy"???

Remember, that Hitler came to power through legal means and then used "terrorism" as an excuse to pass the enabling act, which allowed him to assume complete power.

I know, this is the land of the free and the home of the brave so it can't happen here, right? Well, during the presidency of John Adams, the "Alien and Sedition Act" was passed, which made it a criminal offense, punishable by two years in jail, to criticize the government. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus so that he could jail his critics. Woodrow Wilson feared widespread dissent against his plans to get America involved in the Great War, so he passed the "Espionage Act" and the "Sedition Act" and used them to silence and even jail his critics. During WWII, Franklin Roosevelt locked up natural born American citizens of Japanese and Italian ancestry.

Here's what is really disturbing this time: Information technology has become a means for government to target average citizens who dissent, rather than just people who are in visible, public opposition.

We all know that the National Security Agency has been snooping on electronic communications coming in and out of the country for years. Now, they are working with all of the major telcos to snoop on communications within the country, without court orders. The administration is currently pushing legislation to protect companies from lawsuits who help the NSA spy on you.

The "Real ID Act" morphs state drivers licenses into a national id card. Starting in January 2010, employers won't be able to hire you, financial institutions won't be allowed to do business with you, and you won't be able to do anything involving the federal government, including boarding an airplane, unless you have a compliant id.

A few years ago, the administration proposed their "Total Information Awareness" program, which among other things used data mining and social network analysis to discover, extract and link sparse information across databases to analyze your behavior. After a huge outcry the original program was defunded by Congress, but many of its original projects have quietly continued under other funding.

The "Patriot Act" and the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007", enabled by information technology could make 2008 the year Big Brother becomes a reality.

Despite these and other misuses of information technology to violate our civil liberties, I am absolutely certain that such technology will turn out to be the great enabler of positive change for our world. After all, who would have guessed even six months ago that a group of political neophytes could have harnessed the power of the Internet to propel the presidential candidacy of a mild mannered Texas OBGYN to national prominence? Hopefully, the government is not testing their data mining and social network analysis on Ron Paul’s 50,000 Facebook friends!

There is little doubt that 2008 will be a critical juncture in our history. Thomas Jefferson told us that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We must decide whether we will allow the government to use technology to restrain us or whether we will use technology to restrain the government.

The year of Social Networking

I think that it’s safe to say that 2007 was the year of social networking. The year started with Facebook opening their APIs to third party developers in April. Since making its APIs available, Facebook has signed up 100,000 developers who have created 6,000 applications. Microsoft’s response was to invest $240 million in Facebook, valuing the company at a whopping $15 billion! Myspace followed suit, opening their APIs as well. Then Google got into the fray, teaming with Myspace and others to create a set of open standards for building social-networking aware applications.

The really big news was how a group of Ron Paul supporters used the internet, including various social networking sites, to bypass the brain dead talking heads in the mainstream media and mount a truly grassroots, insurgent campaign for President.

Facebook and MySpace aren’t the only companies whose aim is to redefine the entire computing landscape towards a reusable, web-based, utility-oriented, “social”, and composable architecture. Others notable companies include Amazon, SalesForce, Google, and now even Microsoft itself with its set of Live services.

The staggering thing about all of this is how fast the computing landscape is changing. Who would have thought even a year ago that a social networking site that was originally designed to enable Harvard University students to hook up, would become one of the driving forces in this new era?

How did this new model seem to just spring out of nowhere and position itself to challenge how computing resources are defined, delivered, managed, and used?

We’ve all heard of Moore’s law -- the number of transistors in integrated circuits would double ever 2 years. Moore’s law points to a more general law – the law of exponential change. So, Kryder’s law states that hard drive capacity will double every 24 months; Butler’s law states that the amount of capacity over an optical network doubles ever 9 months; Hendy’s law – the number of pixels per dollar in a digital camera…

The amount of data is doubling in the world every year as well. In 2005, 5 exabytes of information was created, enough to line a 12 foot long bookshelf for every person on earth – all 6.5 billion of us. Last year, it was 12.5 exabytes. It will double again this year. In 2010 the number of bytes generated by digital cameras, mobile phones, and business IT systems will equal the number of grains of sand on the world's beaches.

Think about what exponential change really means. Imagine that you have a sheet of paper and you fold it in half. Then fold it again and again and again. After 6 folds, it’s as thick as a fingernail. Not very impressive, huh? After 15 folds it would be about as tall as the average woman in the U.S. At 37 folds it would nearly stretch from Seattle to Tokyo. After 100 folds, it would be the larger than the known universe – more than 13 billion light years across.

This is essentially what we are faced with – accelerating technological change that is helping remake the world in unpredictable and rather dramatic ways.

What does all of this mean to us as individuals in the computing field? The short answer is unbounded opportunity and peril.

First, the peril part. When I first entered the field a little more than 20 years ago, I remember this “old-timer” (who was about 30) telling me that he intended to spend the rest of his career as a PROFS administrator. For those of you who never heard of PROFS, go “Google it” and then tell me if this guy still has a job doing that.

What about the opportunity part? As we’ve seen over the last few years, the opportunities are endless, at times very exciting, and potentially rather lucrative.

Whether we wind up in peril or in prosperity largely depends on our ability to continually apply new technologies to society’s most pressing challenges and opportunities.

Are you ready for the challenge?