February 29, 2012

“Taken together, the [Canadian] music industry demands make SOPA look like some minor tinkering with the law”

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:51

Michael Geist on the representatives of the Canadian music industry and their breathtaking demands for modifications to Bill C-11:

The steady procession of Canadian music industry representatives to the Bill C-11 committee continues today with the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) ready to add to an already long list of industry demands to completely overhaul the bill. The music industry demands keep growing, but CIMA’s list is the most radical to date as it would create liability risk for social networking sites, search engines, blogging platforms, video sites, aggregators, and many other websites featuring third party contributions. If that were not enough, the industry is also calling for a new iPod tax, an extension in the term of copyright, a removal of protections for user generated content, parody, and satire, as well as an increase in statutory damage awards. Taken together, the music industry demands make SOPA look like some minor tinkering with the law.

Note that industry had already called for SOPA-style reforms such as website blocking and expanded liability that could extend to sites such as YouTube before the hearings began. This week has seen an industry lawyer inaccurately portray global approaches to digital lock rules and a musician association demand full statutory damages of up to $20,000 per infringement for non-commercial infringements by individuals.

Those demands are nothing compared to what CIMA has in mind, however. Topping the list is a massive expansion of the enabler provision. The music industry wants to remove a requirement that the so-called pirate sites be “designed primarily” to enable copyright infringement.

[. . .]

There is virtually no limit to prima facie liability under this provision as most sites can be said to enable some infringement, particularly if they allow for users to post or interact with the site. This includes sites like Google, Facebook, Reddit, and Youtube. All of these sites — indeed virtually any blogging platform, social network, search engine, or website that offers third party contributions — would face the risk of a prima facie claim under the music industry’s vision of the enabler provision.

NY Police domestic spy operation in Muslim neighbourhoods gets little press attention

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:11

Natalie Rothschild on the rather disturbing use of NYPD resources to conduct surveillance operations in Muslim areas of New York City and New Jersey:

It has emerged that the White House has funded the New York Police Department’s surveillance of entire Muslim neighbourhoods with money earmarked for fighting drug crime. The revelations were detailed in reports by the Associated Press this week. In response, senior law enforcement officials and politicians have been either unapologetic or silent. Most tellingly, the Obama administration, which has championed Muslim outreach and has said law enforcement should not put entire communities under suspicion, said on Monday that it has no opinion on the matter.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the Bush and Obama administrations have provided $135million to the New York and New Jersey region through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area programme (HIDTA). It’s unclear exactly how much of that money was spent on surveillance of Muslims because the programme has little oversight. But the AP discovered that the White House money has paid for cars that plainclothes NYPD officers used to conduct surveillance of Muslim neighbourhoods in New York and New Jersey, and for computers that stored information about Muslim college students, mosque sermons and social events. It also helps pay rent for the NYPD’s intelligence unit.

This is, effectively, a spying programme used to monitor American Muslims as they shop, work, socialise, pray and study. Police have photographed and mapped mosques and recorded license plates of worshippers. They have compiled lists of Muslims who took new, Americanised names, eavesdropped on conversations inside businesses owned or frequented by Muslims, infiltrated Muslim student groups and monitored websites of universities across north-east US. In the name of counterterrorism, Muslim American citizens have been catalogued, their private conversations and everyday activities recorded and stored in databases.

[. . .]

On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration has no opinion on how the HIDTA grant money was spent and that the White House has no authority to direct, manage or supervise any law-enforcement operations. If the administration truly has no power to influence a NYPD programme used for intrusive monitoring of scores of American citizens, then that would indicate great political impotence. After all, both in the domestic and international arenas, the Obama administration has warned against demonising and singling out Muslims in America and turned Muslim outreach into a priority. Well, it is hard to think of any starker way of ‘singling out’ a group than by stalking anyone who looks or sounds like they belong to it.

The US Navy’s mirror-image cost problems with aircraft carriers

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:51

Strategy Page talks about the ever-rising cost of building aircraft carriers:

The first of the new Ford class aircraft carriers keeps getting more expensive. The price for the first one has gone up $161 million in the last ten months. The USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) was originally supposed to cost $8 billion, plus $5 billion for R&D (research and development of new technology and features unique to this class of ships). Now it appears that the cost of the Ford will not be $13 billion, but closer to $15 billion. The second and third ships of the class will cost less (construction plus some additional R&D). Thus the first three ships of the Ford class will cost a total of about $40 billion.

The current Nimitz-class carriers cost about half as much as the Fords. Both classes also require an air wing (48-50 fighters, plus airborne early-warning planes, electronic warfare aircraft, and anti-submarine helicopters), which costs another $3.5 billion. Three years ago, the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), the last of the Nimitz class carriers, successfully completed its sea trails and was accepted by the U.S. Navy. The Bush was ready for its first deployment in 2010.

At those costs, it should be no surprise that few other navies operate carriers at all, and none operate the size of carrier that the US Navy does. Build costs are rising rapidly, and although the Ford class will carry significantly fewer crew members, they’ll still be very expensive to operate.

The costs don’t end there, however, as all warships have limited lifespans. Disposal of the retired ships is another area where costs are headed ever higher:

Last year, the U.S. Navy decided to go back to the breakers (where ships are broken up for scrap). Four retired aircraft carriers (USS Constellation, USS Forrestal, USS Independence and USS Saratoga) were to be scrapped instead of sunk, or simply allowed to rust away while tied up. These ships were taken out of service between 1993 and 2003 and have been waiting since then while a decision was made on their disposition. But there are seven carriers waiting to be scrapped and the navy has an economic disaster on its hands. Keeping carriers in reserve costs $100,000 a year, but it can cost over a billion dollars to scrap one of them.

Since the 1990s, sending warships to the scrap yard has not been considered a viable alternative. It’s all about pollution, bad press and cost. The largest warship to be scrapped, the 45,000 ton carrier USS Coral Sea, took until 2000 (seven years) to be broken up. Thus the process is not only expensive, it takes a long time. Then the navy discovered that the cost of scrapping the carrier USS Enterprise would be close to a billion dollars. This was largely the result of lots more environmental and safety regulations. With so many navy ships (especially nuclear subs) being broken up in the 1990s, and all these new regulations arriving, the cost of disposing of these ships skyrocketed. This was especially true with carriers.

[. . .]

It gets worse. With the really vast number of single hull tankers being scrapped and large numbers of old, smaller-capacity container ships laid up and likely to be offered for scrap fairly soon, the market for difficult-to-scrap naval ships is going to shrivel, and the price for scrap steel will drop. Efforts to get the navy include the costs of disposal in the budget for lifetime costs has never caught on, and now it’s obvious why not. The real nightmare begins in 2013, when the first nuclear powered carrier (the 93,000 ton USS Enterprise) is to be decommissioned. The cost of dismantling this ship (and disposing of radioactive components) will be close to $2 billion.

Ireland introduces the doomsday scenario: allowing voters to have a say on the Euro

Filed under: Europe, Government, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:33

The EU is not a democratic institution, and is actively hostile to any attempt to consult the people as it tries to become a super-state. Ireland just tossed a medium-sized spanner into the works:

Premier Enda Kenny said Dublin was acting on legal advice from Ireland’s attorney-general that “on balance” the fiscal compact requires a vote under the country’s constitution. “It gives the Irish people the opportunity to reaffirm Ireland’s commitment to membership of the euro,” he told ashen-faced members of the Dail.

All three major parties back the treaty but analysts say there is a high risk of rejection by angry voters in the current fractious mood. The compact gives the EU intrusive powers to police the budgets of debtor states, and has been denounced as feudal bondage by Sinn Fein and Ireland’s vociferous eurosceptics. The Irish voted “No” to both the Nice and Lisbon treaties before being made to vote again. Dublin has ruled out a second vote this time.

The Taoiseach’s announcement sent the euro into sharp dive against the dollar, though it rebounded later. Europe’s leaders thought they had tweaked the wording of the text just enough to avoid an Irish vote.

Note that last sentence closely. Avoiding consulting the very people who’ll be most affected is standard practice in the EU. Good for Ireland that they aren’t willing to be steamrolled yet again.

Is it time to abandon the RCN’s submarine experiment?

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:05

John Ivison recounts the ill-fated story of the Royal Canadian Navy’s current submarines in the National Post:

The Liberal government bought four second-hand subs for $750-million from the British in 1998 and renamed them the Victoria class — HMCS Victoria, HMCS Windsor, HMCS Chicoutimi and HMCS Corner Brook.

Since then, billions more have been spent trying to “Canadianize” the subs, including thousands of dollars blown trying to stop pigeons roosting in them, such is the length of time they have been in dry-dock. At various times over the past 10 years, the whole fleet has been out of commission.

The history of Canada’s submarine fleet would be laughable, were it not so tragic. People in government at the time remember the surprise expressed by Liberal ministers that the Defence department accepted the British military’s statement of quality assurance, without doing their own due diligence. That the buyer should have been more wary quickly became apparent.

The Chicoutimi caught fire on her maiden voyage from Faslane in Scotland in October 2004, with the death of one sailor and smoke-inhalation injuries to nine others. The sub has been in dry-dock ever since and is scheduled to return to service in 2013, although some stories have suggested 2016 is more realistic and others that she may never again be operational.

I blogged about HMCS Chicoutimi at the old blog, when it was expected that she’d be back in service in 2010.

Last year, HMCS Corner Brook had what some wag at the Department of National Defence characterized as a “fender bender”:

Some fender. The CBC reported on the extent of the damage:

The Canadian navy admitted that the submarine crashed off British Columbia in June, but it never described the extent of damage or released a photograph.

“I was gobsmacked. I had no idea that this level of damage had occurred,” said Senator Colin Kenny, the former head of the Senate defence committee. “That may explain why the navy took it out of the water at night.”

[. . .]

Some familiar with the submarine say its pressure hull, the area in which the sailors are housed, may be heavily damaged and that would mean the sub will never go to sea again.

“Canada needs a submarine fleet, and to have this boat not be available would be tragic,” Kenny said

The RCN claimed that there was no cover-up and that they have been completely above-board and “transparent” about the incident. It’s an odd definition of “transparency” that requires you to submit a formal Access to Information request to get the report — and the photos of the damage to the hull were censored from the report anyway.

Back in 2004, it was reported that our submarines were without torpedo armament, but that they would be “fully armed” by 2006. The CBC report mentioned in passing that eight years later, they’re still lacking torpedoes:

The navy said HMCS Windsor is to undergo trials “in the coming months” and is also expected to be back in operation later in 2012.

Not one submarine is capable of firing a torpedo, however the navy said Tuesday that a test firing of a torpedo from HMCS Victoria is planned for the coming weeks and the submarine is supposed to be operational this year.

Back to John Ivison:

In all this time, the fleet has hardly been crucial to our defence. According to people familiar with its role, it has spent time at sea monitoring fishing fleets and acting as “prey” for U.S. forces, who don’t have diesel-electric subs of their own and like to use ours for hunting practice.

Peter MacKay, the Defence Minister, recently lamented the decision to buy the British diesel-electric subs, which are not capable of diving below ice in the Arctic. “In an ideal world, I know nuclear subs are what’s needed under deep water, deep ice,” he mused.

That we do not live in an ideal world was quickly made apparent by Government House Leader Peter Van Loan, who all but disowned the fleet in a response to a question in the House. “There is no plan to replace the diesel-electric fleet purchased by the Liberals,” he said.

But if there is no plan to replace the fleet, is there a plan to scrap it?

[. . .]

The Navy defines “full operational capability” as having a weapons-ready sub on each coast. It has yet to put one sub to sea that meets that standard, a decade after the first one was received.

The hope is that two boats will be fully operational within two years, with a “swing boat” available to take over when one goes for refit. That may prove wildly optimistic. Submarines may be a useful addition to our battery of defences — but only if they work. And not at any cost.

These subs have proven themselves to be lemons, they are already past mid-life and the odds are against us having even three boats with operational capacity at any one time.

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