Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: Barack Obama

Links from June 12th

Obama likes eavesdropping more than torture

Threat Level reports on the Obama administration’s decision to fall in line with a Bush administration request to keep evidence classified in a wiretapping case involving two American lawyers. Obama has taken a strong stand against torture, but his positions on surveillance have been less encouraging.

It would be ideal if the Obama administration would clearly outline its philosophy on the government’s right to spy on Americans. The actual mechanisms can stay secret, but we should know how much power the executive branch is claiming to possess.

Update: David Kris, an outspoken opponent of warrentless wiretapping, has been nominated to run the Justice Department’s national security division.

Don’t be evil

A lot of people have made fun of Google’s informal corporate motto — “Don’t be evil — since it was originally disclosed in 2001. And clearly it’s a motto that they’ve failed to live up to at times, but what I really like about it is that it sets the standard to which Google expects to be held.

If Google is evil, every critic can say that the company doesn’t live up to its word. That’s a powerful thing.

Indeed, it’s something that I’ve come to appreciate about the Obama transition. They’ve made a lot of promises, now it’s up to us to measure their performance against those promises, and hold them accountable when they’ve failed to live up to the standards they set.

Yesterday Dan Froomkin, the Washington Post writer who tirelessly chronicled the misdeeds and mistruths of the Bush administration, talked about how he plans to cover the Obama administration. His starting point is that he plans to hold them to the standards that they have promised.

Self-imposed standards are a shortcut to establishing trust. By creating these standards and then living up to them, you demonstrate that other promises you make can be trusted as well.

On a personal level, I’d rather deal with a person or entity that sets high standards and sometimes fails to meet then than one that refuses to claim any standard at all.

Today, Obama set a high mark for himself and his administration: “Let me say it as simply as I can, transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” Let’s hope they live up to it.

Obama’s pedestrian speech

Paul Krugman illustrates why many knowledgeable speech-watchers found Obama’s speech yesterday somewhat pedestrian. That said, I found the speech to be quite good. My guess is that Obama felt like soaring rhetoric would put the nation in the wrong mood for what’s immediately ahead. What I get from Obama is that for him, being elected President was not mission accomplished but rather mission accepted, and he’s not going to take any victory laps or speak from an aircraft carrier anytime soon.

Discussion: is Obama too close to Google?

Over at Talking Points Memo, they’re holding a panel discussion on Barack Obama’s relationship with Google. Are they too close?

Here’s a specific question that was asked today:

Today over at the Mothership (that’s the TPM Front Page) we see one of the “wire” stories that the General Services Administration is negotiating with YouTube (a Google service) to post federal hearings, etc.

Given the uncomfortably close relationship between Google execs and Obama, should we be worried about this? I think so. YouTube is already the default video platform on the Web. But it does not have to be. And there is no clear reason for the government to solidify YouTube’s market dominance. In fact, there is no reason why the GSO could not mandate that all federal agencies post their videos in open forms — accessible, repostable, and mashable — on their own sites.

Then We the People could repost them on YouTube with commentary and maybe some cartoon graphics mixed in. Better yet, because .gov can’t deal with the bandwidth demands of too many folks pulling down popular videos, the federal government should post open format video as bittorrent files.

I can see both sides of this argument. Contracting with YouTube to host the videos clearly further cements Google’s position as the dominant player in hosting videos on the Web. At the same time, there’s no reason not to put them on YouTube. Many people expect YouTube to have what they’re looking for when it comes to online video. If you leave the videos off, people won’t find them, or they’ll find the remixed mashups people make and have no idea where to get the originals. That’s a problem.

I think BitTorrent is a terrible response to bandwidth issues. I love BitTorrent, but it’s not very user friendly.

At the same time, YouTube’s Flash videos are hosted in a closed format. If the US government is going to post videos online, they should be posted in a format that’s easy for end users to repurpose, for broadcasters to use, and so forth. So if YouTube is going to be the only place these videos are hosted, that’s a problem. If the US government is going to host videos there to stay in the mix, I think that makes sense.

As to the larger question, presented in the opening post in the series, as to whether the government should start looking at Google from an antitrust perspective, I think the answer right now is negative. There’s nothing to suggest that if some other company came out with a better index tomorrow that Google wouldn’t find itself losing traffic like it’s going out of style. Google is hardly the first search engine to dominate. Doubt it’ll be the last.

Update: Looks like we have our answer on downloadable videos. They’ll be made available through YouTube.

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