Dear Microsoft: Please Stop Helping Russia Abuse Advocates

This weekend's New York Times article was a wake up call to Microsoft and the entire Information and communications technology industry about the dangers of complying with government actions aimed at limiting freedom of expression and stifling dissent.

To date, the most publicized repression has been censoring web content or surveillance of Internet users. The Russians took a different tack, using anti piracy laws to crack down on independent non-governmental organizations and non-violent government critics. Microsoft has a vested interest in anti piracy enforcement - piracy is rampant in Russia. But targeting human rights activists and news organizations for enforcement is clearly aimed not at protecting Microsoft's intellectual property, but at crippling political opponents and curbing basic freedoms. And Microsoft's representatives in Russia cooperated in those proceedings, providing the legal pretext and evidentiary basis for raids, criminal and civil charges and penalties that effectively closed down the targeted organizations.

One of our human rights colleagues in Russia was a victim of this practice, and we reached out to Microsoft to try to find a solution, both to this specific case and to the wider pattern of abusive enforcement over the past several years. Microsoft's recently announced policies to address several of these concerns.

Importantly, Microsoft will undertake an independent investigation of its Russian anti piracy team and its role in collaborating with Russian authorities. We encourage Microsoft to ensure that the individuals and civil society groups targeted for selective enforcement are interviewed as part of this review. We have also recommended that Microsoft maintain headquarters level oversight of its Russian anti piracy efforts to ensure that its responses to future Russian anti piracy investigations do not facilitate repression. As our letter to Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer points out, and as our Russian colleagues have cautioned, local representatives will likely remain vulnerable to pressure from Russian authorities to collaborate in politically motivated proceedings.

Our Russian human rights colleagues would welcome a working relationship with Microsoft. As defendants in these cases, and targets of potential abuse, they are well positioned to advise on risks and development of new policies. Microsoft should make every effort to consult with them as it develops new practices and procedures to respond to the concerns. The Global Network Initiative can also play an important role in helping Microsoft and other companies at risk to develop strategies to address government abuse of intellectual property laws to curb dissent, and to respond to such demands appropriately.

We welcome Microsoft's commitment to extend access to its free software problem. But as the New York Times story makes clear, without Microsoft's continuing leadership and engagement, civil society will remain at risk of selective prosecution. We have recommended that Microsoft join with Human Rights First to host consultations with Russian civil society for the purpose of obtaining their insights on the best way forward.

Two years ago, Human Rights First joined with Microsoft and other stakeholders to launch theGlobal Network Initiative. We believed that companies could not "go it alone" in confronting government demands to curb online speech. Russia is not alone in using technology and selective prosecutions to crack down on civil society. We now know that these threats can come from many places, and that companies need to work in partnership with civil society to address them.

 

 

What the Russian Spy Scandal Really Tells Us

Much has been made of the recent Russian spy swap, in which ten Russian infiltrators were exchanged for four American infiltrators. The overall reaction has been one of amusement. Russian spies combined with Desperate Housewives? Straight out of a Cold War movie thriller!

In fact, the reaction to the spy scandal reveals far more about American attitudes towards Russia than most classified information would. Simply put, the United States no longer regards Russia as its number-one nemesis and rival. In the days of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union had ten thousand nuclear missiles pointed at America, the reaction would have been far different – far more hostile, and far less amused.

In the United States today, the role of number-one rival has shifted from the USSR to mainland China. Think about what would have happened if the story had been about ten Chinese spies, not ten Russian spies. The media would have had a heart attack warning about the Chinese threat. The New York Times and the Economist – America’s newspapers for the elite – would be filled with dire articles analyzing so-called American decline and Chinese military strength. Fox News would probably warn earnestly about more Chinese spies in the midst of America. (Though those looking for Chinese spies would do well to consider the substantial community of Americans hailing from Taiwan instead of the mainland; telling the difference between Taiwanese and mainland Chinese is about as easy as was telling East Germans apart from West Germans during the Cold War.)

The Russian spy scandal also reveals much about the way American media operates. For the past few months, very little of note has occurred in either the domestic or international front. Perhaps the most notable events have been financial reform’s passage, the Gulf of Mexico spill, and – most importantly – the World Cup. None of these stories is enough to sustain a month’s news coverage (although the World Cup certainly comes close). This is why papers like the Times turn to things like Russian spies.

The spy affair, then doesn’t actually reveal much about Russia that isn’t already known – that it is spying on the United States. What it really does is tell a story about America itself – about Russia’s threat level in American eyes, and about what the media latches onto when there is nothing else to report.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

What the Russian Spy Scandal Really Tells Us

Much has been made of the recent Russian spy swap, in which ten Russian infiltrators were exchanged for four American infiltrators. The overall reaction has been one of amusement. Russian spies combined with Desperate Housewives? Straight out of a Cold War movie thriller!

In fact, the reaction to the spy scandal reveals far more about American attitudes towards Russia than most classified information would. Simply put, the United States no longer regards Russia as its number-one nemesis and rival. In the days of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union had ten thousand nuclear missiles pointed at America, the reaction would have been far different – far more hostile, and far less amused.

In the United States today, the role of number-one rival has shifted from the USSR to mainland China. Think about what would have happened if the story had been about ten Chinese spies, not ten Russian spies. The media would have had a heart attack warning about the Chinese threat. The New York Times and the Economist – America’s newspapers for the elite – would be filled with dire articles analyzing so-called American decline and Chinese military strength. Fox News would probably warn earnestly about more Chinese spies in the midst of America. (Though those looking for Chinese spies would do well to consider the substantial community of Americans hailing from Taiwan instead of the mainland; telling the difference between Taiwanese and mainland Chinese is about as easy as was telling East Germans apart from West Germans during the Cold War.)

The Russian spy scandal also reveals much about the way American media operates. For the past few months, very little of note has occurred in either the domestic or international front. Perhaps the most notable events have been financial reform’s passage, the Gulf of Mexico spill, and – most importantly – the World Cup. None of these stories is enough to sustain a month’s news coverage (although the World Cup certainly comes close). This is why papers like the Times turn to things like Russian spies.

The spy affair, then doesn’t actually reveal much about Russia that isn’t already known – that it is spying on the United States. What it really does is tell a story about America itself – about Russia’s threat level in American eyes, and about what the media latches onto when there is nothing else to report.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Hydrocarbon Man

Oxy, otherwise known as Occidental Petroleum, has produced this spot asking consumers to consider how much of our world depends on petroleum based products. But in the realm of unintended consequences, the ad is a hit within the peak oil & alternative energy community simply because it drives home the point that unless we act now to replace the hydrocarbon economy that underpins our lifestyles we're doomed. Our dependency is laid threadbare literally as the ad leaves its hero in his skivvies. 

David Leonhardt, the business editor over at the New York Times had a great article yesterday that I meant to touch on before the Andrew Breitbart's video lynching of Shirley Sherrod took hold of the news cycle.

This city just endured its hottest June since records began in 1872, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So did Miami. Atlanta suffered its second-hottest June, and Dallas had its third hottest.

In New York, the weather was relatively pleasant: only the fourth-hottest June since 1872. Then again, New York is on pace for its hottest July on record.

Yet when United States senators and their aides file into work on Wednesday, on yet another 90-degree day, they may be on the verge of deciding to do approximately nothing about global warming. The needed 60 votes don’t seem to be there, at least not at the moment.

Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and President Obama may still find a way to cobble together the votes, as they did on health care and financial regulation. Perhaps they can somehow persuade moderate Republicans to support a market-based limit on power plant emissions — a policy that power plants themselves seem open to.

Or perhaps Mr. Reid and Mr. Obama can get Democrats to support a less ambitious set of rules that would require vehicles, buildings and power plants to meet certain energy standards. Several Republicans support that approach. Democrats are divided between thinking that it’s the most realistic chance for progress and worrying that it’s a fig leaf that may delay more significant action.

Either way, most Senate watchers, inside and out, think the odds of a major climate bill are not great. And if this White House and this Democratic Congress can’t pass one, you have to wonder what the future of climate policy looks like.

All the while, the risks and costs of climate change grow. Sea levels are rising faster than scientists predicted just a few years ago. Himalayan glaciers are melting. In the American West, pine beetles (which struggle to survive the cold) are multiplying and killing trees.

According to NASA, 2010 is on course to be the planet’s hottest year since records started in 1880. The current top 10, in descending order, are: 2005, 2007, 2009, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2004, 2001 and 2008.

Hot is the new normal.

It is not just the eastern United States that is sweltering, most of European Russia has suffered through 38 C degree weather, that's a 100 F, for a record nine days straight. In the process, over a thousand Russians have died just from drinking while swimming. Russia's wheat crop harvested from next month may come in at 51 million metric tons, down from 61.7 million tons last year, because of the heat-related drought. Overall, the annual Russian wheat crop is expected to be just 77 million tons as opposed to 97 million tons harvested in 2009. That's a 20 percent fall in Russia's wheat production, the world fourth largest producer and it has driven wheat prices to a 19 month high.

In India, the thermometer hit 50 C or 122 F in late May killing hundreds of people across Gujarat and Maharashtra states. Northern Thailand is struggling through the worst drought in 20 years, while Israel is in the middle of the longest and most severe drought since 1920s. In Britain, this year has been the driest since 1929. The Philippines also sizzled the past summer, with parts of the country registering scorching temperatures of 38.5 degrees Celsius in April. Also, Arctic sea ice has melted to its thinnest state in June.

Mexico, meanwhile, is facing a perfect storm of floods, rising heat and humidity that breed mosquitoes, prompting a big increase in the number of hemorrhagic dengue cases. While the milder form of dengue is on the decline, Mexican officials are worried about the rise of the more serious hemorrhagic form which has spiked to about 1,900 cases this year, compared with about 1,430 in the same period of 2009. So far, 16 people have died. Nor is Mexico the only place currently battling a mosquito plague caused by hotter weather. In Mumbai, a record 9,000 cases of malaria have been reported in the last fortnight.

In China, the problem is torrential summer rains. The rains, which began in May after a severe drought in southern China, are inundating cities and villages throughout the country. Well over half of China's provinces are now enduring monsoon-like downpours, flooding and landslides. Over 700 people have died so far and millions have been displaced. The rain are even putting pressure on China's massive Three Gorges Dam as 70,000 cubic metres per second, considerably higher than the 50,000 figure recorded in 1998, flow into the reservoir. As Chinese engineers cope with the increased water, Chinese authorities are recommending the permanent relocation of a further 300,000 people - in addition to the 1.2 million who have already been forced to leave their homes - to create an "eco-buffer" belt in the worst affected areas.

There's more...

Hydrocarbon Man

Oxy, otherwise known as Occidental Petroleum, has produced this spot asking consumers to consider how much of our world depends on petroleum based products. But in the realm of unintended consequences, the ad is a hit within the peak oil & alternative energy community simply because it drives home the point that unless we act now to replace the hydrocarbon economy that underpins our lifestyles we're doomed. Our dependency is laid threadbare literally as the ad leaves its hero in his skivvies. 

David Leonhardt, the business editor over at the New York Times had a great article yesterday that I meant to touch on before the Andrew Breitbart's video lynching of Shirley Sherrod took hold of the news cycle.

This city just endured its hottest June since records began in 1872, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So did Miami. Atlanta suffered its second-hottest June, and Dallas had its third hottest.

In New York, the weather was relatively pleasant: only the fourth-hottest June since 1872. Then again, New York is on pace for its hottest July on record.

Yet when United States senators and their aides file into work on Wednesday, on yet another 90-degree day, they may be on the verge of deciding to do approximately nothing about global warming. The needed 60 votes don’t seem to be there, at least not at the moment.

Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and President Obama may still find a way to cobble together the votes, as they did on health care and financial regulation. Perhaps they can somehow persuade moderate Republicans to support a market-based limit on power plant emissions — a policy that power plants themselves seem open to.

Or perhaps Mr. Reid and Mr. Obama can get Democrats to support a less ambitious set of rules that would require vehicles, buildings and power plants to meet certain energy standards. Several Republicans support that approach. Democrats are divided between thinking that it’s the most realistic chance for progress and worrying that it’s a fig leaf that may delay more significant action.

Either way, most Senate watchers, inside and out, think the odds of a major climate bill are not great. And if this White House and this Democratic Congress can’t pass one, you have to wonder what the future of climate policy looks like.

All the while, the risks and costs of climate change grow. Sea levels are rising faster than scientists predicted just a few years ago. Himalayan glaciers are melting. In the American West, pine beetles (which struggle to survive the cold) are multiplying and killing trees.

According to NASA, 2010 is on course to be the planet’s hottest year since records started in 1880. The current top 10, in descending order, are: 2005, 2007, 2009, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2004, 2001 and 2008.

Hot is the new normal.

It is not just the eastern United States that is sweltering, most of European Russia has suffered through 38 C degree weather, that's a 100 F, for a record nine days straight. In the process, over a thousand Russians have died just from drinking while swimming. Russia's wheat crop harvested from next month may come in at 51 million metric tons, down from 61.7 million tons last year, because of the heat-related drought. Overall, the annual Russian wheat crop is expected to be just 77 million tons as opposed to 97 million tons harvested in 2009. That's a 20 percent fall in Russia's wheat production, the world fourth largest producer and it has driven wheat prices to a 19 month high.

In India, the thermometer hit 50 C or 122 F in late May killing hundreds of people across Gujarat and Maharashtra states. Northern Thailand is struggling through the worst drought in 20 years, while Israel is in the middle of the longest and most severe drought since 1920s. In Britain, this year has been the driest since 1929. The Philippines also sizzled the past summer, with parts of the country registering scorching temperatures of 38.5 degrees Celsius in April. Also, Arctic sea ice has melted to its thinnest state in June.

Mexico, meanwhile, is facing a perfect storm of floods, rising heat and humidity that breed mosquitoes, prompting a big increase in the number of hemorrhagic dengue cases. While the milder form of dengue is on the decline, Mexican officials are worried about the rise of the more serious hemorrhagic form which has spiked to about 1,900 cases this year, compared with about 1,430 in the same period of 2009. So far, 16 people have died. Nor is Mexico the only place currently battling a mosquito plague caused by hotter weather. In Mumbai, a record 9,000 cases of malaria have been reported in the last fortnight.

In China, the problem is torrential summer rains. The rains, which began in May after a severe drought in southern China, are inundating cities and villages throughout the country. Well over half of China's provinces are now enduring monsoon-like downpours, flooding and landslides. Over 700 people have died so far and millions have been displaced. The rain are even putting pressure on China's massive Three Gorges Dam as 70,000 cubic metres per second, considerably higher than the 50,000 figure recorded in 1998, flow into the reservoir. As Chinese engineers cope with the increased water, Chinese authorities are recommending the permanent relocation of a further 300,000 people - in addition to the 1.2 million who have already been forced to leave their homes - to create an "eco-buffer" belt in the worst affected areas.

There's more...

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