A good part of the reason I started blogging was because I went to a history conference at a UT branch up between Dallas and Fort Worth and found that, contrary to belief, many well known academic historians have found community history projects to be invaluable because of their focus and details. Photos rated high. Photos with details rate high. Interviews with participants in events rated high. Interviews with older people rated high if you cover their experience and perspective.
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The last place you will hear about the new American labor movement is in big American outlets.

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The CIW is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Via.


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The government's subversion of Silicon Alley

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

Prior to 9/11 the Bush administration had the National Security Agency (NSA) approach telecommunication giants and essentially coerce them into allowing the NSA to engage in warrantless surveillance. The one company - Qwest - that resisted was apparently retaliated against for its troubles. The rest, though, faced legal exposure - and were desperate to escape it. Further, it was urgent that the lawsuits be derailed before discovery could begin; if the public got to see the details of the indiscriminate spying its phone companies had engaged in against them it would have been a PR nightmare. So the president insisted Congress pass a law conferring retroactive immunity on them.

Interestingly, while researching for this post I came across multiple references to a New York Times article titled “Bush Presses Congress on New Eavesdropping Law” by David Stout. These contemporaneous accounts quote the article as follows:

President Bush prodded Congress on the issue of eavesdropping today, warning that he will not sign a new law unless it confers immunity on the telecommunications utilities that helped the National Security Agency eavesdrop without warrants. The issue of whether the telecommunications companies should have immunity has emerged as the most contentious point between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. President Bush is pushing hard for the companies to be immunized from civil suits for past actions.

The link now points to an article titled “House Panels Reject Appeal on Eavesdropping” by Stephen Labaton, and the text above is nowhere to be found. Please drop a note in the comments if you can shed some light on this curiosity! (Incidentally, this also might be an outstanding justification for bloggers generously copying and pasting from big outlets. If links can apparently get redirected without notice, a site like CovenantNews.com might be our only resource for even fragmentary originally-published material.)

Senator Barack Obama, desperate for some traction against Hillary Clinton in the fight for the Democratic nomination for president announced (via) he would support a filibuster if it contained retroactive immunity, but in the end he supported it. The phone companies were off the hook (har) and no one had to find out anything.

Why dredge up this ancient history? Because it sent the message to the business community that if the government comes calling it is best to go along. There is no downside to cooperating, apart perhaps from some anxiety while the pretty theater in the capitol plays out. There is a definite downside to pushing back, though.

This scenario appears to be repeating, this time with Internet companies. Twitter just received a subpoena for user data along with a gag order preventing it from telling the targets. To its enormous credit, it fought back, challenging and quashing the gag order. WikiLeaks - the target of the investigation - raised the entirely reasonable question of whether, say, Facebook and Google have received similar orders. What assurance can anyone have that their data is being protected from US government surveillance?

Other countries are already wary of the widespread collection of data by some American companies, as well as their cavalier treatment of it. Google in particular is having a devil of a time convincing foreign governments of the purity of its intentions. Its Street View program is drawing lots of unwanted attention - particularly in societies with unhappy histories of spying - and its nonchalant collecting of unsecured WiFi data is drawing fire too. Its IP address tracking program, innocuously titled Google Analytics, is also starting to receive scrutiny.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter dominate the relatively new spaces of search, aggregation and social media. For as much as we like to think of Planet Internet as existing in the ether, everything gets passed along and kept (even if only briefly in cache) on a device. That device exists in a physical space, and the country where it sits will be uniquely well positioned to get its contents.

Obviously that is true everywhere, but it is not hard to imagine a scenario where the US turns into an IT pariah. Would you do business with, or even allow into your country, a company that might quietly work with a foreign government to turn over data on your fellow citizens? Or one that might not even be forthright about whether that was happening? Or retroactively cleared of lawbreaking?

Given America’s recent past there might be developing a powerful incentive for countries to develop their own alternatives to these companies, with the server farms located on their own soil thank you very much - even if those alternatives are much-diminished versions of the originals. Twitter might be fighting for more than just the integrity of its data. It might also be fighting for the long term relevance of its industry.

Reader Comments (4)

Covenant News is a seriously weird site, Dan. I wouldn't base any decision on whether the NYT is editing stories based on text from there.

That said, I believe Lexis-Nexis keeps complete records of edits on stories. Maybe not anymore,I don't know.

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

Thanks for the heads up, Charles. It was one of several sites where I found some of the text in question so I didn't use it as my only source.

I thought Lexis-Nexis was subscription only, do you know if that's true?

This all actually started with a Wikipedia link. For all the skepticism about its accuracy I think it's a great resource for links to more generally well regarded outlets.

This issue is a bit of a conundrum to me. If the NYT changes an article without noting it, what is left? Lexis-Nexis is the obvious choice, but if it's a fee-based service modeled on use by organizations then it may be prohibitively expensive for an individual. So then you rely on Wikipedia, Covenant News, etc. Maybe a sufficient number of independent corroborations from sites of unknown quality adds up to reliable. I don't know.

January 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterDan

The best way to get access is to enroll in a class at a university/college that provides access.

As for seriously weird sites, they often have useful links. Free Republic may well be the single best web community for news links, though DK is a lot better organized. The problem comes when you try to analyze something based on quoted text. One widely read wingnut website inserts stuff into wire service reports. Newspapers do, too, except they insert reasonably sane things. Usually.

Wikipedia is terrible. Their analysis of the Honduras coup (which I covered in depth) was ridiculously bad. But it looks good, because of all those links to supposedly mainstream news sources.

I don't think there's a good answer. I think that citizens lack the tools they need to make informed decisions in a complex society. One of those tools is Lexis-Nexis and similar databases which are, as you say, pretty pricey for the average citizen. I do think you can get some guidance in communities like Daily Kos, where there are some experts posting on almost any given topic.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

Re: Wikipedia, the section on its treatment of naked short selling in the Deep Capture report is pretty amazing. That's why I use it as a starting point to find links to other resources, not as a rock solid resource itself. And as you note, even links to traditional outlets is misleading if the analysis itself (or heaven forfend the linked outlet) is deeply biased. [Sigh.] Start at news, end in epistemology.

January 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterDan

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