Early this morning, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), police, and civil administrators razed two buildings in Mitzpe Yitzhar in the West Bank. The structures in the settlement outpost, the name given to nascent settlements of often ramshackle buildings, were constructed illegally according to Israeli law. Despite attempts to halt the action, the demolition went off without incident. The move comes on the heels of an attack by right-wing settlers on an IDF base. Here’s a photo of a destroyed home from this morning:
The National Organization for Marriage is applauding Newt Gingrich for signing its “marriage pledge” today, even though just four months ago it didn’t consider him a “major candidate.” NOM believes that allowing same-sex couples to marry is somehow a threat to the “institution of marriage,” but has expressed no concern that Gingrich is on his third marriage and is notorious for his infidelity. According to the pledge, candidates will advocate for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and appoint a commission to investigate claims of supposed harassment against individuals who oppose marriage equality. Here is the full text of the pledge, which has now been signed by Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich:
I, _______, pledge to the American people that if elected President, I will:
One, support sending a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the states for ratification.
Two, nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court and federal bench judges who are committed to restraint and to applying the original meaning of the Constitution, appoint an attorney general similarly committed, and thus reject the idea our Founding Fathers inserted a right to gay marriage into our Constitution.
Three, defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act vigorously in court.
Four, establish a presidential commission on religious liberty to investigate and document reports of American who have been harassed or threatened for exercising key civil rights to organize, to speak, to donate or to vote for marriage and to propose new protections, if need.
Five, advance legislation to return to the people of the District of Columbia their right to vote on marriage.
In the few short years it has existed, NOM has become a huge force against LGBT equality. More and more, the organization pushes fringe messages such as ex-gay therapy, links between homosexuality and pedophilia, and the work of hate groups like the Family Research Council and MassResistance. The group also jumps at opportunities to insert same-sex marriage as a wedge issue in elections using its multi-million dollar budget. Jeremy Hooper regularly showcases NOM’s antics and recently highlighted a week’s worth of NOM’s harmful anti-gay messaging.
It’s worth noting that Gingrich has signed this pledge, whereas he merely affirmed The FAMiLY LEADER’s marriage pledge, though that seems to be enough to appease Bob Vander Plaats, who has forgiven Gingrich’s infidelities. The $350,000 Gingrich contributed to help recall the Iowa Supreme Court judges last year may have helped convince VanderPlaats that Gingrich didn’t need to sign that pledge, though he clearly capable of signing others.
NOM points out that Ron Paul is now the the only candidate to have not signed its pledge, casually ignoring Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, Fred Karger, and others who also have not. With Gingrich’s signature, NOM has committed to an “intensive communications program to inform Iowa voters who will stand with them to preserve marriage.” Given NOM’s president Brian Brown was recently seen at a high-profile (and expensive) fundraiser for Gingrich, it seems this was the signature the group was waiting for.
Here's your Christmas shopping solution: books for everyone, ordered from a stupendous independent bookseller in Los Angeles. Skylight Books manages to combine concrete support for Occupy LA with a brilliant marketing ploy Adam Smith would love.
Any of you Occupiers out there who were arrested the night the LAPD evicted Occupy LA - November 30th - still have holiday shopping to do, or want to read up on civil rights? Good news from your local independent book store, Skylight Books:Following this week's events at OccupyLA, Skylight would like to introduce an "Unlawful Assemblers' Discount": Did you stand up for your right to publicly assemble, and to challenge economic inequality through the Occupy movement? The police may not give you a break, but we'd like to. For the next month, bring in a booking slip or proof of your 409.PC charge from the night of the eviction and get 15% off your entire purchase.
I spoke with Megan Wade of Skylight earlier today, whose arrest during the raid on Occupy LA inspired the "Unlawful Assembler's Discount." "I believe it's really important to stand up when there are situations like those we're facing today with our economy and other issues," Megan explained. "We need to have a national dialogue that will help solve the problems faced by the majority of people in the country...protests and books are both great mediums to stimulate conversation."
Happy reading, all you brave outlaws.
You can find Skylight Books here:
1818 North Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90027
Phone: (323) 660-1175
Open 10am to 10pm daily.
National Review says Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachman, Ron Paul,
and Rick Perry should be excluded from consideration for the 2012 Republican nomination.
The editors of National Review must be too embarrassed to endorse Mitt Romney, because instead of actually coming out and throwing their weight behind him, they are saying no to Newt. Their case against Newt? That he cannot win next November:
We fear that to nominate former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the frontrunner in the polls, would be to blow this opportunity. [...] We will render further judgments in the weeks to come as the candidates continue to make their cases and are, just perhaps, joined by new candidates. At the moment we think it important to urge Republicans to have the good sense to reject a hasty marriage to Gingrich, which would risk dissolving in acrimony.
The editorial goes on to tear apart Gingrich's character apart piece by piece, but they aren't stopping there. The entire issue of their next magazine will be dedicated to destroying him.
And, just as importantly, Newt isn't the only one they are ruling out:
Gingrich is not the only candidate whom we believe conservatives should, regretfully, exclude from consideration for the presidency.
Who else does National Review believe should be excluded? Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul. That leaves them with four options: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, or someone who isn't yet running.
To put it another way, the candidates they think Republicans should consider are Mitt Romney (who they endorsed in 2008 and say would "make a fine president"), a pair of one-percenters (when it comes to the polls), and a magic pony (who has yet to make an appearance). I can't imagine a weaker vote of confidence in Romney, but I guess he'll take whatever he can get. After all, it doesn't matter to Mitt Romney whether he wins or his opponents lose: the result is the same either way.
(Chart by Economic Policy Institute)
The data have only been gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 11 years. That limits their overall usefulness. But what they show is that the number of job openings across the nation in October dropped by 110,000. In case you're wondering, the BLS derives the JOLTS report from a random sampling of 16,000 businesses. It includes both part-time and full-time openings and makes no distinction between them.
The October numbers mean there is one job slot for every 4.25 men and women looking for work. Things were slightly better in September. But, as the chart above shows, the situation has been miserable a long time. For 34 consecutive months there have been at least four out-of-work Americans for every job opening. When the series began in December 2000, the ratio was what now feels like a miraculous 1.1 to 1. But that was the Clinton boom.
It's been much worse recently. At one point in the summer of 2009, the figure was 6.9 to 1. But the improvement hasn't made things easier for the three out of four people for whom there simply are no jobs.
As Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute writes:
There are 5.7 million people in this country who have been unemployed for more than half a year, up from 1.2 million in 2007. Of course, the reason for this is not that these millions of workers have become lazy, unskilled, or unproductive; it is that there are not enough jobs available. This is no time to cut the number of weeks of benefits, as the House of Representatives appears ready to do. With the Congressional Budget Office projecting an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent at the end of next year, continuing federally funded unemployment insurance benefit extensions through 2012 would extend a lifeline to the families of millions of long-term unemployed workers, and generate spending that would support well over half a million jobs.
Lose those half-million jobs as the policies being pushed by Republicans would do, and the JOLTS ratio would be back to five job-seekers for every opening.
If you are desirous of a more detailed discussion of JOLTS, with more charts, you can find one here by Robert Oak at the Economic Populist.
STORY CITY, IOWA?Before the pro-life
seminar film debut last night, Mike Huckabee took to the stage to address his most adoring fans. Iowans still love the former Arkansas governor and winner of the 2008 Iowa Caucus. Sure there were four current presidential candidates on the docket, but many people seemed more interested in what their former favorite candidate had to say.
Before things kicked off, Huckabee told ABC News that he would not be endorsing any candidates before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. But that didn't stop him from signaling his persuasion when he spoke yesterday. Huckabee, in effect, lent his support to the four candidates who attended the event, while dinging the candidates who didn't show: Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul. "My heartfelt and deep appreciation for the candidates who are here tonight," he said "and it speaks volumes that they are here?I do want you to take note, that there are four candidates who cleared their schedules and made this a priority event."
It's an especially harsh dig at Paul and Romney, who both stopped by Fox News in New York earlier this month for a forum hosted by Huckabee.
Standard economic models show that tariffs cost jobs. The reason is that they make consumers pay more money for the protected product. This pulls money away that could be spent in other areas. If the spending took place elsewhere, it would create more[...]
Read The Full Article:
Hey, folks:The following link is to a scathing article on the extremely archaic, brutal and inhumane conditions under which the workers at Amazon.com's warehouses are regularly subject to, as well as being forced to work at an unattainable and[...]
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In February 2008, Ninja Video went online and quickly distinguished itself in the unsightly, often malfunctioning world of Internet piracy. The site?s silver, black, and crimson palette spoke to a punk aesthetic, but the content and layout were fastidiously organized. The main page posted a nightly lineup of colorful movie and television banners, rather than the drab link text found on most pirate sites. Popular TV programs like Lost and Fringe would be up five minutes after the latest episode ended. New movies were often on the site before their nationwide premieres. The Ninja staff curated cinema packages devoted to LGBT issues, classic films, and presidential debates. News services otherwise unavailable in the U.S., like Al Jazeera and the BBC, were streamed live, and Ninja offered one of the largest documentary collections on the Web. Everything was free. All a user had to do was click a logo and press play. PC World named Ninja Video one of the top 100 products of 2009, alongside the App Store, Facebook, and Twitter. Ninja Video?s audience grew to 250,000 unique visitors a day. The site?s motto slashed across the home page in a script reminiscent of Nintendo: ?This shit is Ninja.?
Hana Beshara?screen name: Phara?was the head administrator of Ninja Video. Many of its devoted followers called her ?Queen.? A diminutive 29-year-old, with sphinxian eyes and disobedient dark ringlets, she is an unlikely face of digital piracy. She grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey, the daughter of strict Egyptian-born parents who discouraged friendships. After school, she and her younger brother were directed to the Ryder Library in Brooklyn; wandering the stacks for hours, Beshara developed a deep love of books and an even deeper attachment to the serenity of an orderly collection. She was valedictorian of her high school and studied political science at New York University, where she was an ambitious undergrad, interning at the Clinton Foundation in Harlem and the East West Institute in Prague. After graduating in 2003, she moved back home and began applying for jobs at the United Nations and other international organizations. In the meantime, her mother got her a job through a friend as secretary for a local dentist. Beshara?s LinkedIn page lists just one job since graduation: office manager at Blah, Inc.
At night, Beshara became an uploader, scouring the Web for digital files of popular movies and television shows and sharing her bounty on a popular hosting site that streamed the content. ?There was something soothing about it,? Beshara says. ?Something about seeing your lists grow and seeing people enjoy what you put up. It?s the love of the collector.?
Her lists of movie and television links became legendary in the online community devoted to uploading and piracy. Her hundreds of files were posted online in pristine order?episodes listed in sequence, movies listed by genre. She got to know other uploaders on chat board, where many of the conversations revolved around the unpredictability and poor quality of so many streaming sites. Matthew David Howard Smith (screen name: Dead1ne), a 21-year-old from North Carolina with prodigious tech skills, told her he could build a better site, but he needed a strong personality to be its head administrator. Beshara recruited another active uploader she had grown close to, Justin Dedemko (screen name: Afr1ka), to join the start-up as an administrator. ?You don?t need them,? she told Dedemko. ?We?ll build a home ourselves.? A week later, Ninja Video went online.
?I don?t think I ever had anything I was so impassioned about,? Beshara says. ?It was my life?s work.? Every night on Skype, she set lineups and coordinated assignments for a team of uploaders, located as far away as Scotland and Australia, who hunted the Web for the highest-quality digital files. In just four months, the site was hosting 10,000 links to movies, television shows, classic cartoon series, and scanned comic books. On the chat forum, Beshara deputized moderators to maintain civility and bolster participation. Ninja opened separate discussion sections with broad topics like philosophy, science, politics, current events, and culture. Strict rules were set for debate etiquette. Behavioral infractions ranged from bossiness to belligerence. Penalties, imposed at the discretion of Beshara and her moderators, might entail a friendly reminder or a permanent ban.
The forums weren?t the only original content on the site. ?Lost Citizen? was Beshara?s curatorial project featuring performances, art exhibitions, and interviews with underground artists and musicians. ?We all seek out our lost tribe, those people that are on the same wavelength that we would just love to sit down with,? Beshara says. Her lost tribe had gathered in this new online community: citizens united by Ninja.
Beshara was a dominant presence on every section of the site. ?It was palpable when Phara wasn?t on the boards,? says Shannon Schwarz (screen name: chronicpeace), a former moderator. ?You?d log in and be like, oh, no queen.? But relations with the community of 60,000 registered members were not always harmonious. Beshara admits a tendency to impulsively speak her mind, and the punishments she administered were frequently swift and harsh. Her style irked some of the more vociferous users. The Urban Dictionary entry for Phara reads: ?The high and mighty Queen of Ninja Video is quite possibly the most arrogant, narcissistic, hateful, immature, petty, repulsive (her personality and physical appearance) twenty-something on the internet.?
Ten hours a night, Beshara was the online piracy queen, commanding a time-sensitive video-streaming service, a six-topic chat forum, and an artists? showcase operating on a monthly release schedule. Eight hours a day she administered a dentist?s office. ?My hair was one big dread,? she says. ?I gained like 30 pounds.? Finally Beshara brought in three more site administrators. Josh Evans of Washington state (screen name: wadswerth) supervised the North American uploaders; Zoi Mertzanis of Athens, Greece (screen name: Tik) oversaw European uploaders; and Jeremy Andrew of Oregon (screen name: htrdfrk) headed site security and technical assistance. ?It was such a cool community of people,? Evans says. ?I was on the site all day anyway. So I said why not??
As traffic grew, so did Ninja?s monthly server fees. What once cost $200 a month soon ran to $3,000. Beshara solicited minimum $25 donations in exchange for more exclusive access to the private chat boards. ?Our biggest donors,? Evans says, ?were people living internationally and members of the military who would write letters thanking us for allowing them to keep up with their favorite shows.? In two and a half years, Ninja Video earned about $500,000, with about $60,000 coming from donations and the rest from advertising. Beshara says she split the money ?more or less evenly among the other operators.? She earned about $33,000 a year.
But as the operation flourished, a cloud hung over the Ninja empire: When would a legal challenge come? Beshara and her team hoped to exploit the ?safe harbor? that allows sites like YouTube to operate. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA), copyright owners are responsible for sending takedown notices to sites hosting infringing content. Anyone on YouTube who has ever read the statement ?This video has been removed due to terms of violation? has seen the result of a DMCA notice. ?We believed that if we didn?t host the content but linked to it elsewhere on the Web, our only legal consideration was complying with takedown notices,? Beshara says. ?And we always complied.?
But it wasn?t so simple. The DMCA takedown process allows intermediaries like YouTube to avoid liability because it?s their users uploading the infringing content. Ninja Video was both the intermediary and the uploader. Independent storehouses called ?cyberlockers? hosted the content Ninja Video streamed, but Ninja?s uploaders put it there.
Especially after the media giant Viacom filed a $1 billion copyright suit against YouTube, the Ninja administrators knew they would eventually face a legal challenge. (YouTube won its case, based on the ?safe harbor? provision, in June 2010.) ?We expected there to be a civil action taken against us,? Beshara says. ?We never thought they would come after us like criminals.?
On June 30, 2010, Beshara awoke to knocking. She had blown out her knee dancing a few weeks earlier and was still using a cane. As she hobbled wearily to the door, she saw a figure surface outside the window on her second-floor balcony. The knob rattled. Someone was toying with the lock. When she opened the door, she found a federal agent at her feet about to pop the bolt.
More than a dozen Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided her house. The other five stateside administrators were simultaneously raided as well. Evans, who lives outside Seattle with his father and grandfather, awoke at 6 A.M. to a swarm of assault rifles in his bedroom. The raid at Beshara?s was comparatively subdued. The agents wore flak jackets but kept their pistols holstered. Beshara sat on the couch chain-smoking while they confiscated her tricked-out desktop, three laptops, cell phone, and PlayStation III, along with ?everything that had writing on it?my journals, my meeting notes, all of my papers.? She immediately knew ?it had all crashed. I had to tell my parents, I have to move back home. It was such a sadness.?
Carting away her possessions, agents volleyed interrogations. ?What?s this?? one asked, flashing the stub of a $12,000 check from an advertising service. ?Paper,? Beshara replied. ?White paper.? Ninja Video was dead. Beshara and the other U.S. administrators were arrested on charges of conspiracy and criminal copyright infringement.
At 9 A.M. in Burbank, California, as ICE agents were finishing their Ninja Video raids, the agency held a press conference on a Walt Disney Studios sound stage. Disney President Alan Bergman introduced John Morton, the agency?s assistant secretary, with glowing praise for having ?shown true dedication to meaningful enforcement of the IP [Internet protection] laws that drive creativity and innovation in this country.? Morton took the lectern and said he had a message for the ?criminal cells? stealing the proceeds of American creativity. ICE, he announced, was heading a new program called Operation in Our Sites, aimed at shutting down websites that illegally offer copyrighted media and consumer goods. To correspond with the announcement, he said, ICE had seized nine popular TV and movie sites, including Ninja Video. ?Working with industry,? he promised, ?we will systematically target websites that offer counterfeit or pirated products. We will seize the websites. We will prosecute the owners.?
Operation in Our Sites was by far the most aggressive federal enforcement effort ever launched against copyright infringement online. A joint effort between the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Coordination Center, the program would use an unprecedented tactic, site domain seizure, to shut down websites offering copyrighted material. In the case of movie and television sites like Ninja Video, users expecting navigation to a media-rich content site would instead find an ICE-owned page displaying the DOJ, ICE, and IPR Center shields?each emblazoned with an eagle?and the message, ?This site has been seized by ICE.?
It had long been ICE?s job to interdict counterfeit consumer products?an effort that increasingly involved policing websites. But the entertainment industry, convinced that online piracy was stealing billions in revenues, pressured the agency to intervene on behalf of its products as well. ?The private sector continued coming in and talking to us, saying we need to do something to stop this,? says ICE Special Agent William Ross, a field-unit chief at the IPR Center. That wasn?t the only source of pressure. From 2004 to 2010, with increasing concerns about sites like Ninja Video, the entertainment industry?s federal lobbying budget rose from $48 million to $111 million. ?It doesn?t make sense to say that broadband Internet is going to be a pillar of 21st-century society and continue to say it?s a completely lawless Wild West environment,? says Rick Cotton, NBC Universal general counsel and chair of the anti-piracy arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Entertainment conglomerates supplied the targets for ICE?s initial raids. Almost a year before Operation in Our Sites was announced, ICE agents asked NBC Universal, Time Warner Cable, Viacom, Disney, News Corporation, Sony, and a handful of other companies to submit their lists of the most damaging sites. They came back with about 50. ICE agents spent the next six months watching movies, sitcoms, and professional sports illegally available online. Ninja Video made the cut as agents winnowed the industry?s list of ?rogue sites? down to the nine most egregious, both in terms of offerings and traffic. ?We wanted to take down the worst of the worst,? Ross says. The agents used Alexa ratings, which provide up-to-the-minute popularity rankings of all sites on the Web, to help narrow the list. But site traffic wasn?t the only consideration. ?One of the reasons we targeted Ninja Video was because it had such a strong social element,? says Kevin Suh, senior vice president of Internet content protection at the Motion Picture Association of America. ?We wanted to send waves through this community.?
Before requesting seizure warrants from U.S. attorneys? offices, ICE checked with the entertainment companies to make sure they considered the nine sites serious infringers. Once federal judges approved the warrants, a domain-hosting service called Carpathia Hosting redirected the nine Web addresses to ICE takedown banners. With one click, the nine domain names that, according to Morton, once led users to ?pirated American films and TV shows on a grand scale??sites where 37,000 watched Sex in the City 2 in a day and 6.7 million people visited every month?now accessed a static seizure notice.
For a decade now, digital piracy has made the media market look increasingly like utopian anarchy, a lawless world where no demand is compromised because the supply is seemingly infinite. From Napster to Kazaa, Limewire to The Pirate Bay, RapidShare to Megaupload, illegal file-sharing sites have established their own stable of name brands. For people using the Internet as a tool to get the media and information they want, the system works well. For the content industries, it?s a terrifying picture.
The movie, music, and television industries have a long history of resisting new methods to copy and distribute media more easily and cheaply. At different stages, their representatives have decried the player piano, the jukebox, the photocopier, the VCR, and DVD-writing software for destroying the will to create and dissolving millions of U.S. jobs. Duke law professor James Boyle, who specializes in online intellectual-property law, calls it ?20/20 downside vision,? where ?downside dominates the ?eld, and the upside is invisible.? The attitude was symbolized by the flamboyant Jack Valenti, longtime president of the Motion Picture Association of America, proclaiming to a congressional panel in 1982 that the ?VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.? Mike Masnick, who runs the influential Silicon Valley blog, TechDirt, sees an acute irony in comparing the video recorder to a rapist and murderer. ?Movie and television studios are now saying the biggest threat that online piracy poses to their business models is lost DVD sales and rentals,? Masnick says. ?That market only exists because of the VCR.?
The music market was hit hard by piracy. In the decade after Napster launched in 1999, music-industry sales dropped 30 percent. Music companies blame piracy, but recent analysis suggests changing consumer demands might be another cause. Digital music players, most notably the iPod, replaced the market for CDs?and consumers increasingly wanted to buy singles. ?Between ?99 and ?03, there weren?t great digital ways to buy à la carte music,? says Joel Waldfogel, an economist at the University of Minnesota. Perceiving the demand, Apple opened the iTunes store in 2003 and sold one million tracks the first week. Today, digital files are a $6.3 billion-a-year business. New music services like Spotify and Rdio that allow users to ?rent? access to a near-unlimited library have offered new models to monetize music. Music sales have recovered but haven?t returned to their 1999 levels.
When television shows and movies began turning up online, networks and studios feared they would meet the same fate. NBC representatives say the company first realized it might have a piracy problem when a Saturday Night Live short, ?Lazy Sunday,? went viral on YouTube in 2005. That same year, the Motion Picture Association of America estimated $6.1 billion in losses due to online piracy.
?You can?t compete with free,? has become an unofficial industry motto. Movie and television studios have recruited some of their biggest stars to support the anti-piracy effort. In one public-service announcement, Jack Black says, ?Don?t be a douche. Stop piracy.? Leveraging the livelihoods of its estimated 2.2 million employees, networks and studios have formed an unlikely alliance with labor unions as well. At a recent press event held by the Motion Picture Association, an IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) representative named Scott Harbinson said, ?I usually wouldn?t sit at the same table with network and studio heads, let alone the president of the Chamber of Commerce.? But Harbinson agreed with the Motion Picture Association?s senior executive vice president, Michael O?Leary, about the threat of piracy. ?This is about protecting American jobs and the work of America?s creators,? O?Leary said.
The day of reckoning has yet to arrive, though. Movie and television revenues are up $14 billion combined since 2005. The ten most-pirated movies in history averaged 17 million illegal downloads?and $780 billion in revenues. Avatar holds the double distinction of being the highest-grossing and most-downloaded film of all time, with nearly $2.8 billion earned and an estimated 21 million illegal user downloads.
High media prices, low incomes, and changing consumer patterns drive demand for pirated products. Only more receptive business practices that make content affordable and accessible for an otherwise lost audience?like Hulu, which streams many recently aired TV shows for free, and Netflix, which makes TV series and movies available for a modest fee?can address these factors. Networks, waking up to the new market, are increasingly streaming their own shows online.
But while their distribution methods are catching up to a revolution in consumer demand and delivery, the content industries, and their government enforcers, are not taking any chances.
Operation in Our Sites has seized well over a hundred domain names thus far and made seven arrests. One week before last year?s Super Bowl, ICE agents shut down ten websites that offered live streams of sporting events. Brian McCarthy, a 33-year-old who lives with his father in a Houston exurb, ran a sports-streaming site called channelsurfing.net. His father, David, describes him as a quiet guy who keeps to himself. ?He didn?t think he was doing anything wrong,? David McCarthy says. Brian McCarthy allegedly earned $90,000 in advertisements while operating the site for five years. A month after the Super Bowl, the McCarthys? modest Texas home, with its requisite worn basketball hoop and twin-cab pickup out front, erupted in the middle of the night as ICE agents raided the house with guns drawn. The younger McCarthy was cuffed in his bed and then held by U.S. marshals in downtown Houston.
In November, McCarthy pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and copyright-infringement charges. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison. Another administrator whose sports site was taken down prior to the Super Bowl, a teenager from Queens named Mohamed Ali, was arrested in his family?s home in August but has yet to be indicted.
Corynne McSherry, the intellectual-property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, finds the enforcement methods disturbing. ?I think people should be asking themselves, Is this really how we want to deal with alleged online infringement?? McSherry says. ?Arresting people and putting them in jail for having some links online doesn?t really strike me as a good way for us to invest our time and energy.?
ICE agents disagree. ?I am a law-enforcement officer,? says Special Agent Ross. ?I want to put people in jail.?
Opponents of the crackdown see a vital constitutional question at stake: Is streaming a form of piracy or free speech? According to Andy Sellars, a legal fellow at Harvard?s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, ?The difference between pure speech and infringing speech is blurry.? For one thing, most of the sites seized contain non-infringing content?like Ninja Video?s chat rooms and ?Lost Citizen? section. ?They haven?t really thought about this as being a speech issue. But in fact, it is,? McSherry says. ?They are using tools to take down speech, and they have to deal with the implications of that.?
Every takedown unearths a host of legal complexities regarding rights of property, privacy, and speech. ?This law enforcement raises a lot of issues and to just say, well, these are criminals and therefore we don?t care is incredibly shortsighted and frankly, silly,? says Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge, an open-Internet advocacy center in Washington, D.C.
Early in 2011, Operation in Our Sites attempted to seize one child pornography site. But the takedown accidentally caused 84,000 websites owned by small businesses and hobbyists, which operated under the popular domain mooo.com, to redirect to a banner alerting viewers that ?possession of child pornography? is a crime. After mooo.com?s administrators alerted ICE of the error, it took three days before the sites were fully restored.
Streaming sites are increasingly used by artists to promote their products?another fact that ICE?s enforcement efforts haven?t taken into account. In November 2010, two well-known hip-hop blogs were seized as part of an 82-site ?Cyber Monday Crack Down.? One of the blogs, OnSmash.com, had posted leaked tracks off hip-hop artist Kanye West?s CD, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. West, far from peeved, retweeted a link to the popular blog. The CD topped the charts, selling almost 500,000 copies in its first week before going platinum with well over a million copies sold its first year. ?Leak is now a marketing verb,? OnSmash.com?s operator Kevin Hofman told The New York Times.
There is a larger pragmatic problem: Operation in Our Sites can target just a fraction of infringing sites. ICE agents only have jurisdiction to seize domain names hosted in the United States, but the most prolific sites have traditionally been based overseas, largely in Europe and China. This problem was highlighted when a popular sports-streaming site called Rojadirecta was seized. Based in Spain, the website operates under a number of domain names tied to the country where the name is hosted. Rojadirecta.es is hosted by a server in Spain. Rojadirecta.com was hosted in the U.S. until ICE seized the address during the pre?Super Bowl sweep. The site is challenging its dot-com seizure on the grounds that it only linked to other sites streaming intercepted live broadcasts. The case is currently moving through the appeals system and looks to be the first major challenge for the First Amendment right to share links to copyright-infringing material. No matter the outcome, anyone in the U.S. can still access Spanish-hosted Rojadirecta.es, which offers content identical to that of its now-seized counterpart. Not surprisingly, the Spanish-based Rojadirecta enjoyed a sizable bump in traffic immediately following the seizure of its U.S.?based site.
The limited jurisdiction would change if Congress passes either the Protect-IP bill, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, in 2010, or its much more expansive counterpart, E-Parasite, introduced by Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, in October. Both bills would broaden federal law enforcement?s ability to block U.S. Web browsers from accessing foreign-based sites ?dedicated to infringing activities.? Law enforcement would be able to require both Internet service providers and domain-name servers based in the U.S. to remove foreign sites suspected of piracy from their networks. Search engines and other ?information-location tools? would be forbidden to display hyperlinks connecting to such sites, and advertisers and payment processors like PayPal would have to cease offering them services as well.
The bills have open-Internet advocates stewing. In July, more than a hundred law professors specializing in First Amendment rights and IP law signed a letter to Congress recommending it reject Protect-IP. The authors of the letter said the bill would ?compromise our ability to defend the principle of the single global Internet?the Internet that looks the same to, and allows free and unfettered communication between, users located in Boston and Bucharest, free of locally-imposed censorship regimes.?
Protect-IP proposes full-scale site removal of ?sites dedicated to infringing content.? That vague terminology puts more sites within its reach. ?An Information Location Tool can be a browser, it can be a hyperlink, it can be anything that?s giving you somewhere else on the Internet. So it?s basically Web 2.0,? says Markham Erickson, executive director at the NetCoalition, an organization that represents the policy interests of Google, Amazon, and PayPal, among others. If a critical mass of people on Facebook or Twitter used those platforms to illegally share digital files, federal agents would have the power to request a warrant to remove the sites from the Internet in the U.S. While those sites? economic stature makes such a scenario unlikely, many opponents worry that either bill could stunt future online innovation. ?If this bill passed ten years ago,? says Julie Samuels, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ?we would not have YouTube today.?
James Boyle, the Duke law professor, also sees a contradiction here. ?Hillary Clinton?s office, and the State Department, gave ?Remarks on Internet Freedom? at the same time that they are launching this proposal,? he says. ?There?s no apparent understanding that these things are completely at odds with one another. I totally agree that what is being done in China and Russia suppressing speech is infinitely worse than what we?re doing here, but do we really want to paint ourselves in the same set of colors??
A number of open-Internet advocates see a more elegant solution to stopping commercial piracy: targeting ad services and payment processors like Paypal for working with piracy sites, rather than seizing the sites and arresting the owners. ?We think that?s a proven way of attacking illegal sites in a way that doesn?t create all the collateral damage that some of the technological proposals do,? says Erickson of the NetCoalition.
Senator Leahy says the concerns of open-Internet advocates are overwrought. In a written statement, he said the issue was simple: ?Digital copyright infringement and the sale of counterfeit goods on the Internet are reported to cost American businesses billions of dollars, and result in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs.?
But Protect-IP and its stronger counterpart bill would not stop piracy. Sites can easily crop up under new domain names, and online innovators have developed popular plug-ins to bypass ICE?s interception. Federal officials say that?s no reason to stop trying. ?These are criminal enterprises,? says Victoria Espinel, the intellectual property enforcement coordinator in the White House. ?They will constantly be looking for ways to evade law enforcement. That is true of any kind of crime that we try to tackle.?
Unlike other seized sites, Ninja Video never tried to go back online. ?We were one of the few that actually stayed down,? Evans says. ?It?s shocking getting raided at 6:30 in the morning with shotguns and assault rifles.?
The day after its seizure, Ninja Video posted a ?manifesto? on YouTube. The screen displays just a drawing of a young female wearing a balaclava and over-ear headphones, but the voice is distinctly Hana Beshara?s. Her slight accent and cool intonation bear the marks of a well-educated Brooklyn-raised child of immigrants. Her sharpest comments were reserved, as usual, for the entertainment industries. ?You and only you opened the door for Ninja Video,? Beshara says. ?Sites like mine are a direct manifestation of your apathy. You can?t hold entertainment hostage anymore.? She asks the media industries to see in sites like Ninja Video a more receptive business model that gives users affordable access to the content they want, when they want, anywhere in the world. ?Use us,? Beshara said. ?Don?t shut us down.?
Facing charges that could land her in prison for up to five years, Beshara burned through six prepaid cellular phones searching for a criminal-defense attorney with experience in Internet intellectual-property law. ?There is literally no one in the country that could help me,? she says. More than once after explaining her case, she says there would be a pause on the line, and the attorney would ask, ?So what is a streaming site??
A mixture of desperation, naïveté, and impulsiveness led Beshara to make two unfortunate legal decisions. The first came when Jason Watkins, who owns a law firm in Las Vegas, sent Beshara a message on Facebook saying that while his wife was hospitalized a year prior, Ninja Video?s links to movies and television shows had eased the grueling bedside hours. He now felt moved to offer his services, he said. ?This was the first person who offered to help,? Beshara says. ?It sounded like the best thing on the table for us.?
Beshara had previously started a legal fund on the Ninja Video forum, and she agreed to transfer the total sum, nearly $10,000, to Watkins. Once in Vegas, she felt the firm was not earning its fee?and this was soon confirmed. ?My parents contacted me,? Beshara says. ?The feds were sending letters that none of my papers were being turned in.?
Meanwhile, she read a story on the front page of the Las Vegas Sun that, she says, resonated like the ?universe talking.? An article featured the Vegas-based law firm, Cristalli and Saggese, which had inspired the CBS sitcom, The Defenders, starring James Belushi. It seemed a perfect publicity stunt, which appealed to Beshara?s promotional instincts: Pirate television site hires famous television firm. She hired Michael Cristalli, the next day, and signed a ?pre-indictment? deal for the value of the donation fund. She drafted a Web post to tell the world about her newly appointed star counsel. But Cristalli said she could not mention the firm publicly. ?To this day, I wonder if I just should have released it without asking him,? Beshara says. Cristalli listed a number of liability issues to justify his refusal. ?I knew then we were getting fucked,? Beshara says.
Eight months later, Beshara was indicted, and the federal court in Virginia assigned her a public defender. A week later at her arraignment meeting, the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Prabhu, told Beshara that during the eight months Cristalli represented her, they had spoken for no more than two hours.
In September and October, Beshara, Smith, Dedemko, Evans, and Andrew pleaded guilty on all charges. Dedemko escaped the conspiracy indictment because he agreed to testify before the grand jury. Beshara, on the other hand, had a clause included in her plea agreement stipulating her refusal to cooperate with the investigation. ?It was probably the only thing in this whole situation that I had any control over,? Beshara says. ?I might have to pay for that lack of cooperation upon sentencing, and that would be a bit saddening, but I will never speak a single word about Ninja Video to investigators, ever.?
Her sentencing was set for January 6. Federal guidelines suggested a four- to five- year prison sentence, but her lawyer was hopeful she would get closer to three years and with good behavior, would only serve two and a half.
In the months leading up to her sentencing, Beshara developed an expanded version of ?Lost Citizen,? her artists? forum, called ?Evolution.? It?s sort of an online talent agency that allows visitors to bid on the efforts of her underground-artist clients. ?I?m hoping ?Evolution? becomes something viable, and I can advocate a certain model by doing it,? Beshara says. She will charge a gratuity on whatever artists earn through the site. ?I would allow the artists to be comfortable,? she says. ?We won?t take more than we deserve.?
Beshara deflects questions about the politics of copyright infringement. ?I was not trying to be Queen of Piracy,? she says. But she is proud of Ninja Video, and her government?s refusal to regard it as anything more than a criminal enterprise is, she says, what hurts the most. ?I just think that things that reach a certain level of uniqueness should be studied,? she says, ?not smashed.?
The head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division will announce the results of a long running investigation into in Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in Arizona on Thursday.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez has a press conference at the U.S. Attorney's office in Phoenix scheduled for 12 p.m. EST to discuss the results of their probe into the office run by the man known as America's Toughest Sheriff.
For years, Arpaio has been accused of discriminating against Latino residents by targeting them during immigration raids. DOJ's investigation began during the Bush administration in 2008 and was publicly disclosed in March 2009. Arpaio held up the investigation by refusing to turn over records, leading the Justice Department to sue him in September 2010.
Federal officials aren't expected to announce a lawsuit today. Their report will focus on whether Arpaio's office had a pattern or practice of discriminating against Latinos. Ideally, they would reach an agreement with Arpaio's office and he would institute a number of reforms to relieve their concerns. But given Arpaio's defiance of the feds so far, that prospect seems unlikely.
DOJ's announcement of the press conference had been embargoed, but the Arizona Republic had a story about the press conference on Thursday morning.