What is even happening?

I, like many of you out there, are really wondering what the hell is going on right now. Has our country gone crazy? Have we elected a man that is going to bring ruin down on us all? Should we protest? Should we resist?

To put it bluntly, this is something our country hasn’t seen before. We’ve had issues before where there were disagreements over how to run the country, but there really weren’t blatant attempts to completely destroy the current political infrastructure in place. There was an implicit acceptance that while you may be a Democrat and the President a Republican, you’d still do your job and be trusted to do so. That trust has been breached. Furthermore, there were norms to ensure that the experts at least had a crack at what was going to be turned into an Executive Order, but that’s gone now too.

Our Executive Branch has gone crazy, the rest of the country hasn’t, well maybe the silent majority of the Republicans in office have, but everyone else is still doing the right thing.

You see, I think that America should be a shining light on the hill. Our ideals and values, in many ways contentious, really have the opportunity to lift people out of a rough life and into something that is greater. Right now, we aren’t even a flash light shining on a puddle of mud as a government. As a people, we’re doing right by our ideals. Protesting, one of the most American things you can do; welcoming refugees, originally, the US was founded by refugees or asylum seekers – it is only right we continue in this vein. Fighting injustice and oppression – we’ve gotten this wrong, a lot, but we also have had a history of continually moving in the right direction, despite our fits and starts. We Americans are doing this now in the face of what is only the beginning of push back from Trump.

We have a pretty clear idea of what will happen to anyone that is a government official and they refuse to obey trump. They will be fired and if possible I’m sure trump will figure out a way to prosecute that individual. Today, trump fired Sally Yates for up holding her oath as a public servant. His response is absurdly juvenile and was clearly penned by the president himself.

Trump's note for firing Sally Yates

Trump’s note for firing Sally Yates

This is an embarrassment, but this is the type of person that we are dealing with here. I don’t think that this is even a partisan issue at this point either. When the president of the US decides that he can ignore the rule of law we’re at the point where the government itself is at risk of no longer being a democracy. I believe that we can put aside our differences here and protest together. Pushing for Mike Pence or other subordinates to impeach trump. If he is unable or unwilling, I believe that an organization like the ACLU will ultimately sue to impeach trump regardless. However, this is a time when the leaders on the right need to stand up and say, “No, country before party, we will not be pulled into a dictatorship, we are a democracy. In a democracy you must obey the rule of law.”

Should you protest, though? I think this is a really personal question, but I think that you must protest in some form or another if you want to see this stop. There are many ways to protest that don’t include holding a sign, but you must at least commit time, energy, and possibly money instead. I have already donated $20/month to the ACLU and another $10/month to an anti-corruption organization (which is non-partisan looking to elect both D and R). You can write, you can tweet, you can also run for office. There are a lot of ways to stop this, but you need to decide what you can or cannot do. For me with my travel, it’s difficult to get my bearings in whatever city I’m in to effectively protest. Instead I will write, donate, and support anyone willing to make a difference. I am also working on a podcast with a few friends. The goal, like my goal on this blog, isn’t to preach or really push my ideals, but to try to educate so you can make your own informed decisions.

So, let’s make America the shining light on the hill. Let’s fight against corruption, fight to level the playing field so that everyone has an equal chance, fight so that women feel like they have control over their own body, and to fight to make sure that we can take in those huddled masses.

What is the right to assemble online?

Sorry for the long delay in posts. I’ve been a little busy and I’ve had some trouble coming up with topics as well. So, if there are any topics you’d like to see written about feel free to shoot me a message.

In the US we have an amendment to our constitution which ensures our right to assemble. This amendment is important because it allows us to protest governmental action and activities we do not like. We do not always like the way that this right is being expressed, such as the Westboro Baptist Church protesting fallen soldiers, gay suicides and a range of other things. It also protests our right to counter protest the WBC.

In the case of a protest over a company, it’s possible to protest in front of their headquarters or in front of individual branches such as Bank of America. In many ways these tactics are effective because it drives media attention do to it’s location. If someone is protesting a bank in small town America, such as my home town, Grove City, PA no one is going to care. You might get a piece written about it in the Allied but it’s unlikely to attract the attention of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette which is only 60 miles south. Even if some how it did make the news in Pittsburgh, it’s unlikely to remain in the news, which that’s something a protest in Pittsburgh would actually be able to do.

Why does this matter? Well, for a company like Amazon.com much of it’s physical locations are in small town America. They don’t have large presences in many major cities. How do you effectively protest a large internet based company? How do you protest a company when the people that want to do the protesting are scattered throughout the world?

In the past I’ve written about LulzSec and Anonymous, these groups still operate and have had some interesting ideas about how to protest. The first is what is called a Denial of Service (DoS) attack, where a company’s website is overwhelmed with requests for access to the site and it kills the server. This would be the physical equivalent of creating a lined of linked arms across the doorway to the company’s headquarters or branch. Typically, these sort of attacks don’t last very long because IT departments have become very good at finding the sources of these attacks and stopping them.

It is not possible to respond by moving across the street to continue protesting where people to see you. It is also not possible to post ads in the area as a form of protest. However, it is possible to buy ads on Google or other such sites that will display something if you type Bank of America, however, I’m not sure if this is effective or not.

Another type of protest employed is the internet petition. I’ve signed plenty of them, but it’s fairly obvious that these are as worth as much as the paper their printed on (which is to say none). These really just make you feel better, without much work.

At this point, I think that when it has come to massive protests online, Reddit has created the blueprint. Redditors have worked extremely hard to protest SOPA. This has included call your senator day, getting websites to agree to an internet blackout day, where sites will completely black out all content. This is a representation of the impact of censorship that SOPA will enact.

However, this type of protest isn’t really possible for all types of government or private business action. While the denial of service attacks aren’t very effective, they do raise awareness and have lead to other types of attacks, such as hacking and the release of data that users thought was secure. Despite the fact that it is theft of data, these actions have done more to change company behavior than any other type of internet based protests.

Is that the future of assembly online? I don’t know. It’s easy to block websites that act as a rallying point, so it will be important for people to actually meet to do their protesting as protesting on the internet doesn’t really have the same impact, unless something big gets leaked. We do need to define what is acceptable as a society for online protesting. DoS might be a way to allow protests.

Economics, Philosophy and Science

The Occupy Wall Street movement has spawned a great deal of branch protests. It has increased our awareness of economic, educational and governance issues. We have seen a series of aggressive police actions and amazing responses from victims. Historically, universities have been a sites of unrest. Berkeley had it’s riots in the 60’s, there’s the famous Kent State shooting picture and there are many other examples. What do much of these have in common? The state has used it’s authority and power to overly aggressively clamp down on protesters. However, violent protesters can’t be accepted, but non-violent protesters cannot be met with force. It’s part of our heritage to protest the government.

However, it’s important to understand what we’re protesting and why. It was clear from the beginning of the OWS movement that most of the people didn’t really understand what they were protesting. Very broad general things like Wall Street making too much money or the fact that no one has gone to jail. I think it’s important that for protesting to be effective the leaders and a majority of the protesters need to be well educated on what it is exactly they are protesting.

In this case the protesters needed to be educated on economics and philosophy/morality. Why economics, those guys are like the bad guys man? Well, sadly, to have an actual conversation with these people you need to speak their language. You don’t have to actually accept their assumptions as true or accurate, but you need to be well educated on the topics. Additionally, if you are well educated on economics, you’ll know there are different capitalist perspectives on economics that indicate that a more equal society is a safer and happier society. Using evolutionary economics, policies can be crafted to help protect economies from crashes. In addition, being educated in slightly beyond the basic supply demand curve, it will help prevent the wool from being pulled over our eyes. This will also allow more members of our society to enter public discourse and understand and speak intelligently about the topics that impact all of us. People will actually understand what socialism and communism actually mean.

In addition to a good economic ground work, we also need to understand some basic philosophy. People are accused of moral relativism, we need to know what it actually means (morality is flexible based on the situation) and how that impacts people’s actions. We also need to know when our leaders are behaving morally, immorally and what sort of freedoms we should be giving to people. Our country is founded on the philosophical ideas of the enlightenment. The US government was founded on rights, which all people should have regardless of sex, race or whatever. This includes speech and protest. If these are within our rights, then we need to protect them from people that believe it is their right to physically assault you when you exercise your rights. Morality and ethics can also drive our legislature to define laws based on humanist principles to ensure living wages and the right to live for all people. Or at least the need to create the social mobility claim to have in our society. Decreasing costs of education reduces the initial burden after school which allows people to take more risks, which may allow them to move from one social strata to the next. These should be done for moral reasons and because education and research has been shown both neoclassical economics and evolutionary economics to be a huge driver of sustained economic growth.

We also need a strong scientific foundation, which will provide a healthy dose of skepticism for government and data published by any group on either side. It gives the tools to decide if we should accept these data or open our tool box and figure out where the flaw in the data is. Science is the driver of current economic growth. It is what allows the next big break through at the platform level. We’ve had several platforms, coal, steel, rail, and we’re currently on the silicon platform/computing platform. To develop new platforms we need to continue to drive to the frontier of science.

Our founding fathers embodied these ideals. Jefferson was a philosopher that wrote his own version of the bible. He and Franklin were both accomplished scientists. All of them believed in the rights of the people that exist not because they are given to them by the government, but because they are natural rights all people have. It is important that we acknowledge these rights and make sure we are educated in these topics to ensure an actual debate over the problems we’re facing as a society. Without being educated in the importance of these topics we’ll begin to argue based on the best sound byte and not on the content of the message.

In closing, all people need to become literate in these topics to provide the best foundation for an argument. Without being able to speak the right language, you’ll sound like whining children that’s wondering like a child lost in the woods, or out of your element if you will. With these tools, anyone can talk coherently and powerfully against the very things our own government protests in other countries.

Occupy Wall Street

Since September 17th people have been having a live in protest on Wall Street in New York City. The protests are attempting to bring attention to the inequities between Wall Street, CEOs and the rest of the US and world. There has been a media blackout since it started until recently. The Daily Show has covered it twice (Here and Here). There were two reasons for this. First the media didn’t know how to deal with the protests. They act differently, the people protesting aren’t grandmothers yelling about the government, instead it’s a bunch of hippie like people that are protesting corporations. Another problem was that there was no cohesive voice coming out from the movement. However yesterday there was an actual list of “demands” released. Basically these demands explain the need for changes at all levels of government and how corporations behave towards both workers and the environment.

The protests are in their third week now. They have been growing every week. Initially, there were only a few hundred protesters now it’s been reported that up to 20,000 people have started to protest in NYC. The occupy movement has spread from only being in NYC to Boston, LA, DC, and several other cities as well. While the Daily Show is right that these protests are very similar to the Tea Party protests the problems they hope to address the end goals and the means are very different. Both groups also had a lot of uninformed people, for example you had the old lady saying keep the government out of my healthcare when she had medicare (government healthcare), and here you have people just saying they want Wall Street to take less money. These protests have gone beyond just the hippies, unions in NYC have also joined the protesters as well as more “responsible” people from other walks of life.

I think these protests could eventually make a difference. I don’t think it will happen in time for the next presidential election. The changes that they are demanding are structural changes that require socio-economic changes. They require complete changes in our ethics and our goals in lives. These are not changes that happen over night. There are some changes that we can do that will have immediate impacts though, and these aren’t popular among policy makers. We need to get money out of politics, we need to limit how politicians can make money off the laws they pass and we need to use public funds for elections (as well as have elections on the weekend or a holiday). Removing the money by creating public funds will eliminate the leverage that lobbyists can use on politicians. Preventing politicians from making money off the laws through stock purchases will prevent tit-for-tat behavior with lobbyists as well. Making it easy as possible to vote will increase the immediate participation in the government.

The reaction to OWS in NYC has been horrifying. The cops have been brutal towards the protesters and really show that the indignation our leaders displayed during violent responses to protest are just words. If US politicians cared about freedom and democracy they would support the protesters. Protesting is part of being American. It’s part of our constitution because it drives conversation and it drives democracy. Protesting is a form of participation. If we aren’t able to participate we don’t have a democracy. Arresting 700 people for going to the protest isn’t acceptable. Pepper spraying women that were corralled is not acceptable, it’s not how a democracy deals with protests. The right way to deal with these protests is to invite them into the conversation and really take a look at what they have to say. We aren’t doing that in the US. The 99% don’t have the same voice as the 1%. As can be seen from Fox News, that 1% is trying to divide the 99%.