Larry Lessig on the corrupting influence of money

Larry Lessig has a new book called Republic, Lost which discusses the corrupting influence of money on politics. I would highly recommend the book, because it gets to the heart of why things so many things in Washington, D.C. seem broken today and how to fix them.

If you don’t have the time to read the book right now, you’re in luck. Lessig recently stopped by Google and gave a brief overview of the themes from the book. I had the honor of introducing him, and the video is live on the web now. Lessig’s talk is about 45 minutes long (the rest of the video is questions and answers from Googlers), and I promise it’s worth your time: Lessig is a fantastic presenter. Watch the talk right here:

If you’re wondering what you can do–besides buying Lessig’s book, of course–Lessig has joined with a new organization that just launched called United Republic. It’s coalition of people from the right, center, and left tackling the problems of money in politics. And if you agree with United Republic’s ideal that “Democracy is not for sale” then you can sign up to volunteer, organize, donate, or just stay in touch.

Progress against SOPA

When I did my blog post about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) last week, things looked quite grim. The fight isn’t over, but there’s been a lot of great developments in the last few days. If you’re not familiar with SOPA (and the PROTECT IP Act in the Senate), here’s a video that covers the basics:

This internet censorship under SOPA editorial by Rebecca MacKinnon also describes why SOPA would be really bad for the internet.

I also wanted to take a minute and thank everyone who called or wrote their Congressperson to speak out against SOPA and PROTECT IP. As a result of people speaking up in the last few days, a lot has happened:

- Republican Representative Darrell Issa and Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi came out against the bill. Rep. Issa said “I think it’s [SOPA] way too extreme, it infringes on too many areas that our leadership will know is simply too dangerous to do in its current form.”

- On the Senate side, Maria Cantwell, Jerry Moran, and Rand Paul all came out against PROTECT IP.

- The European Parliament passed (by a large majority) a resolution criticizing SOPA. The resolution emphasizes “the need to protect the integrity of the global Internet and freedom of communication by refraining from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names.”

- Sandia National Laboratories, a part of the U.S. Department of Energy, concluded that the SOPA legislation would “negatively impact U.S. and global cybersecurity and Internet functionality.” Sandia joins Republican Representative Dan Lungren, who also worried that SOPA would undercut efforts to secure the internet with DNSSEC.

The response from regular people has been just as incredible. Consider:

- Tumblr made it easy for anyone to call their representative, resulting in over 87,000 calls to Congress. If you haven’t called yet, this page on Tumblr makes it easy to call your congressperson.

- A ton of web users now have this issue on their radar. The Hill noted that “at one point on Wednesday four of the top 10 searches on Google were related to the bill. ‘Internet censorship’ was still the second most searched-term as of Thursday evening.”

- SendWrite offered a way to send a physical letter to Congress. SendWrite eventually had to put on the brakes after over 3000 people submitted letters to send.

I think this overreach on SOPA will actually make the internet community much stronger. Let me tell you why.

The forces in favor of SOPA have been outspending the tech industry almost 10 to 1 in Washington, according to a recent article in Politico. Here’s an image from that article that illustrates the vast gulf in spending:

Spending of content industry vs. tech industry

And members of Congress are not always the most tech-savvy: the Congressional Research Service tallies only six engineers in Congress. But if you look further out, the picture is quite different.

In 20-25 years, a generation of “digital natives” who grew up with Facebook/Twitter, search engines, and cell phones will start entering Congress. The digital generation will protect technology like the internet from especially bad regulation. They’ll protect technology because they grew up with it and embrace it. So if we can make it through the next 20-25 years, the people in power will protect technology for us, not fear it.

At least, I thought we’d have to wait 20-25 years before a critical mass of people would defend the net. But SOPA has brought that day a lot closer. SOPA galvanized the tech community, from start-ups to venture capitalists to the largest web companies. SOPA was an unexpected shock and a wake-up call. Well, guess what? Now the internet is awake. And I don’t think it’s going back to sleep any time soon. We might need to rally again in the near future, but we can do that. The internet learns fast.

What you can do?

- Sign up at American Censorship to send a note to Congress and get updates.
- Call your congressperson with Tumblr’s easy web page.
- I believe anyone inside or outside the United States can sign this White House petition. If you’re outside the United States, you can also sign this petition.
- Follow groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on Twitter.
- Sign up with United Republic, a new organization dedicated to the larger problem of money in politics.
- Sign up to have Senator Ron Wyden read your name on the Senate floor when he filibusters against this legislation.

I need your help–please. Call your congressperson?

(This is post is my personal opinion.)

Normally I don’t like to ask people for help, but I could really use your assistance. If you’ve ever watched one of my webmaster videos, or if I’ve responded to you on Twitter, email, or somewhere else online, please take 5-10 minutes to help me out today.

Here’s what I need:
1. Take a few minutes to learn about the SOPA/E-PARASITE/PROTECT IP bills. They’re really bad bills.
2. Take five minutes to call your Congressperson on the phone. If you live in Texas, Michigan, Vermont, or Iowa, this goes double for you.
3. Get the word out. Tell your friends on Facebook, Twitter (maybe a hashtag like #stopsopa), or Google+. If your parents live in a different state, ask them to call their Congressperson too.

I would really, really appreciate the help. If you’re the kind of person who reads my blog or follows me online, I’m pretty sure the more you read about SOPA, the less you’ll like it.

If SOPA becomes law, it could stifle the innovation (and jobs) that the technology industry creates. That’s why Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Google, Yahoo, eBay, AOL, LinkedIn, and Zynga all oppose SOPA. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue–Red State thinks SOPA is a bad idea too.

I could go on and on (and I’m sure I will in the future) about the abuses that these bills would allow. But for now, I need your help. Please call your Congressperson right now and explain that this bill overreaches and would do serious harm to the internet. Thank you!

Halloween costume: stickman from xkcd

For Halloween this year I asked people on Google+ what I should be for Halloween, and someone suggested going as the blackhat stick man from xkcd. You know, this guy:

Black hat stick man from xkcd

That sounded like a good challenge. I finished the costume and taped a video, but unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to get the video to the quality level that I wanted. Here’s the video:

A couple quick things: 1) I know the video is cheesy and lo-fi, but that’s what I was going for. 2) With a little more time and more work on the video (e.g. better lighting, turning off automatic brightness on the video camera, a little more time spent on the greenscreen key) I think it could have been pretty great. But sometimes you run out of time, and October was a busy month. :)

Maybe I’ll write a bit more about the costume and the video later. Happy Halloween everyone!

Busy few weeks

I’ve been out of town (hiking in Yosemite and traveling to the East Coast) for two out of the last three weeks, so things are a bit crazy. Besides the usual email overload, there’s a project at work–not related to webspam–that will need some attention for the next 4-5 weeks.

I’m triaging email as best I can, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get a response from me. Likewise, I’m planning to decline non-essential meetings for the next several weeks. I just wanted to give folks a heads-up.