Amazon got WikiLeaks. Google got The Innocence of Muslims.
Each company hosted the controversial content, on Amazon Web Services and YouTube respectively. Both of these are self-service platforms. Members of the public upload what they wish and are legally responsible for it. The companies neither vet nor admit any legal responsibility for the content. Both companies have terms-of-use clauses that prohibit interfering with IT (flood attacks, etc) and copyright violations. Amazon also has a catch-all “no content that might reflect badly on us” clause, and YouTube doesn’t.
When the stories broke out, Amazon quickly kicked WikiLeaks off their servers. This was not motivated by a legal or political request – Amazon just decided to do so. See their statement here: http://aws.amazon.com/message/65348/ So far, Google is still hosting the anti-Islam video but is blocking it in the Middle East. The White House asked Google to consider taking it down, but Google declined.
No-one has been harmed by WikiLeaks as far as I know, other than the source of the leak who is detained in the US. There was grave risk that people in the spy services, their informants, and perhaps well-meaning dissidents might be imprisoned, tortured, or killed as a result of being identified. The WikiLeaks team made a diligent effort to minimize this risk by redacting, and as far as I know there were no confirmed or officially claimed victims. Of course given the secrecy we may never know. So far, several people have been killed in Libya as a result of anger at the anti-Islam film, including the US ambassador, and there have been riots elsewhere.
I tend to disagree with the common public expectation of “privacy”. I respectfully disagree with the privacy laws common in Europe that put limits on collecting and keeping data on people. Although professionally I greatly respect medical privacy rules, I personally wish we had a different set of rules that put the focus of protection elsewhere. When some court or civil rights organization in some country accuses Google of a privacy breach I tend to think that they bring an outdated, basically wrong, idea of privacy to the debate.
The reason I disagree with privacy is that there’s no such thing. It doesn’t actually exist.
When we think loosely about privacy, in fact, we think about three distinct things:
Europe has two big problems. Doubtless one of them is political, or to put it more precisely, it’s in the space of national politics.
The post-national European project has stalled. It has certainly taken us a long way, from warring nation-states to an open community where we feel free and entitled as citizens throughout the continent. We’ve largely lost our national identities, and it may come as a surprise to Americans that we don’t care about our flags. National cultures are cherished as heritage, but not something to be defensive or overly proud of – certainly not something to kill or die for. The nation state was born in Europe in the 1700s and it died in Europe in 1945. Generations of visionary leaders have taken the people of Europe from the aftermath of an existential war to a point where the state is little more than an old-fashioned cultural and administrative unit. It took a lot of paternalism and manipulation to get us here, but on the whole we are grateful. Even the insular British do not prefer to go back to a time of animosity where crossing the border to Germany or France had the significance that entering Israel or Iran has today.
The problem is that after the Maastricht treaty and the introduction of the Euro the post-nationalist transformation has stopped. The Euro obviously came too soon for Europe, but also obviously it was the first of a sequence of bold steps that the then heads of state could not take all at once. Having the Euro is like putting one foot on a moving streetcar, but not climbing on board, instead limping desperately after it with the other foot on the street. The onward steps were very much expected and obvious, but they didn’t come: an elected European presidency; real powers for the European Parliament or some reformed elected chamber; continent-wide taxation, social security, and pension systems; business reform to allow companies to operate across the zone without country subsidiaries; stronger education, development, and technology agencies. None of this happened. The Euro and the ECB were the last post-national institutions that Europe saw.
We haven’t stopped to ask why. Continue reading
There’s no shortage of voices explaining what Europe needs. I tried to collect the main recommendations here. The de-facto leaders of Europe, Merkel and Draghi, are doubtless very smart individuals who can clearly see what ought to be done if one had the common good in mind. I don’t believe the hyperinflation argument is anything but a populist stalling tactic.
What we are observing is the elite of the Eurozone accurately picking up a democratic demand and then deliberately offering something that sounds like the demand but is in fact the opposite, an attempt to distort and defuse what is earnestly demanded.
Eurobonds – what is needed:
Eurozone states need to pool their debt into a common type of bond, or “Eurobond”, so that a billion Euros of Greek debt is indistinguishable from a billion of German debt, much like US treasury bonds are all alike and not denominated by state. Bond markets initially perceived Euro sovereign debt that way, creating a somewhat unhealthy credit boom in the periphery. When markets realized the bonds were not the same they attacked the debt rollover of the weakest economies in turn, Greece being the first, with loan shark rates that predictably destroy the indebted economy. Eurobonds would restore the ability for the whole zone to manage debt at the same rate, which will be low since zone-wide deficit is a few percent.
Eurobonds – what was offered:
The red-blue Eurobond proposal by a German think tank was an attempt to offer something called a Eurobond that expressly doesn’t have the desired effect. That proposal calls for “blue”, essentially high credit rating, bonds that meet tight fiscal criteria and “red” junk rated bonds that don’t. The scheme is no different from the status quo, as countries like Greece would package some existing “senior” debt as blue bonds and would only be able to issue new red bonds for their deficit and rollover needs. The red-blue Eurobond proposal is thus a distraction that protects creditors and bond speculators.
Recently, philosopher Michael Sandel headed this debate (essays, public lecture) on the moral dynamics that result when money is introduced to activities that are normally motivated by other means: duty, friendship, etc. Sandel makes an argument of two pillars: One, money may somehow corrupt the transaction it is involved with; two, given existing inequality, making everything a product can yield very negative distributional outcomes.
To be honest, I think he uses too many words. Let me try to do better:
1. Subjective transactions
Sometimes, we care not just about the objective goods or services that are produced and exchanged, but also for the subjective experience of the participants in the transaction. We care that a gift is an expression of love and not a forced or calculated gesture. We care that expert or legal judgements are free of personal interest, and that honour is given according to merit rather than in exchange for favours. Men care that women are at least happy with sex, unless they’re sadists and want the opposite. Most of us are alarmed when others make transactions that are too invasive or too damaging to the self, such as selling organs, being a soldier or a prostitute, or working under hazardous or unhealthy conditions, because we suspect these people are facing terrible choices that we would like to not have to face. When people volunteer to do something worthy or refrain from something selfish out of a sense of community, duty, or justice, we care not just that they do the right thing but also that they maintain and nourish these valuable feelings.
I’ll vote against Angela Merkel in the upcoming Greek elections, and I think it’s very important that all with the right to vote in Greece do so. The choice is as follows:
If Antonis Samaras, the conservative New Democracy party gets elected his government will implement the austerity, deflation, and asset-stripping recipe/punishment prescribed by big European Capital through the German government. The economy will continue to deteriorate, a lot, until whatever is left of Greek capital (mostly small and medium business) is destroyed and Greece becomes a cheap labour and no social safety net state. There will be riots, fascism, and widespread hardship in Greece especially amongst old people and the self/family employed. The successful enforcement of austerity and de-capitalisation will be roundly seen as a triumph by EU and international capital, and Spain and Italy will be next in line for the same treatment. That is why the Greek press and even the German edition of the FT are practically intimidating Greeks to accept it. Vote this way or unspecified bad things will happen.
If Alexis Tsipras of the left SYRIZA (means “from the root”) party wins, his government will reject the terms of the austerity and impoverishment package and force a re-negotiation. He is not especially anti-Euro and neither is Greek public opinion. A hard rejection of the austerity terms by Greece will force the Eurozone, meaning the ECB and Ms. Merkel, to shelve the “austerity for the losers” doctrine and come up with something else. There will be a period of frantic deliberation, whose possible outcomes include: very optimistically reforming the Euro to a model that works and is under political control like the US Fed; realistically some form of flawed compromise with the Euro and ECB in the hands of private capital but with a human face; and pessimistically and unlikely a breakup of the Euro. In the latter case, Greek savers will lose another chunk of their savings (unless they move them to other EU banks, in which case they may lose them outright due to unpaid Target 2 balances). Germany will be stuck with a strong currency and exposed banks, which will require inflation. More to the point, the Merkel government will be seen to have presided over a colossal failure and will likely lose power, perhaps prematurely.