Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Situational Ethics Of WeHo/Beverly Hills Dem Club Prez Lillian Raffel

WeHo/Beverly Hills Democratic Club President, Lillian Raffel

Last week, an obscure Democratic club endorsement meeting in West Hollywood made headlines when WeHo Mayor John Duran was caught on videotape screaming obscenities at 50th Assembly District candidate Torie Osborn after the candidate he supported, Betsy Butler, lost the vote 28 - 43.

Apparently, he wasn't the only Butler supporter upset that night. Because Lillian Raffel, president of the club, made a beeline for the media to complain about the vote.

Weho-Beverly Hills club members say their endorsement process was hijacked by way of a slew of new members who allegedly joined the club for the sole purpose of securing the Osborn endorsement....

The organization has about 125 members, 35 to 40 of whom are actively involved, according to the club's president, Lillian Raffel. She said the club received 45 new members on Dec. 29—their memberships all paid for with a single check amounting to $1,125.

Some of those new members live in communities outside the area, including Glendale and Norwalk, which are not in the new 50th Assembly District. Club bylaws do not have any residency restrictions, just that a member voting on the endorsement must have joined within the previous 25 days.

Raffel is certainly entitled to voice her opinion, but there are a few things she conveniently left out of her narrative.

First of all, when Raffel complained to a Patch reporter that Osborn's campaign had "stacked" the room, she failed to mention she not only endorsed supported Betsy Butler she was a Butler delegate for the California Democratic Party. I later learned she didn't even disclose this to her fellow club members. She certainly never brought it up at Wednesday night's meeting.

Secondly, Raffel (and John Duran, for that matter) failed to explain to the media how it was the membership rejected her recommendation that WeHo/Beverly Hills dual endorse both Butler and Osborn.

Jeanne Dobrin
Osborn was prepared to accept the dual endorsement, but long-time club member and Butler supporter, 90 year-old Jeanne Dobrin, objected to the recommendation and called for a vote. That in turn started the dominoes falling - with a series of votes, motions, and counter-motions, which eventually lead to Osborn winning the sole endorsement of the club.

Lastly, Raffel claimed no one had ever paid for multiple club memberships with a single check before - a claim that proved to be untrue when Patch discovered a candidate for the West Hollywood City Council had done exactly the same thing the year before. At the time, some members and other candidates complained, yet nothing was done to amend the rules. So for club president Lillian Raffel to suddenly yell "foul!" because the candidate she didn't support utilized the same rules isn't just hypocritical, it's unethical.

Frankly, the time for Raffel to have voiced concern about a single check paying for multiple memberships was at the time she received the check, not a month later when her candidate lost (perhaps she was hoping the check was for Butler supporters?).

For the record, the Raffel cashed the check.

Look, I get that Butler's campaign and her surrogates need to gin up controversy about club endorsements to inoculate her against both the lack of local support and against what's about to happen at the CDP convention in San Diego.

Assembly Speaker John Perez "stacked" the AD50 pre-endorsment caucus with 42 of the 64 votes Butler received - giving Butler 57% of the vote - enough to send the question to another caucus vote at the Convention. Perez pulled those delegate slots from Assembly members as far away as San Francisco and Yolo County. These same delegates will vote in San Diego, so there's probably no way for Osborn to block the endorsement.

I'm reasonably sure we won't hear a peep about this from any of Butler's supporters who previously complained about Osborn's endorsements.

Lastly, I'll say this - both the club endorsement process and the CDP endorsement process sucks. To the layman, club and party endorsements are assumed to mean that local activists have weighed the merits of each candidate and chosen one through a democratic consensus process. But as we've seen, club and CDP rules often produce the opposite result, with candidates winning endorsements by strategically utilizing those rules, as well as existing political connections to produce the desired result.

With our state's new "top two" primary system, where two Democrats could end up running against each other in the general election, the integrity of the CDP and local club endorsements will be very much in doubt unless the endorsement process is overhauled top to bottom.

Party insiders have refused to deal with this problem for years. Until they take their heads out of the sand they have no right to complain about candidates using the existing rules to gain competitive advantage.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Help AD50 Candidate Torie Osborn Win The DFA Endorsement

Good morning all! I just need five minutes of your time to make a HUGE difference in helping a local grassroots Assembly candidate overcome the machine in Sacramento.

If you've been reading my blog this month, you know I support community organizer Torie Osborn for the 50th Assembly District race. Osborn has an uphill battle against - ironically enough - my current Assemblywoman, Betsy Butler.

Please go to this link to help Torie Osborn win the Democracy for America endorsement.

I actually voted for Butler in 2010, but I can't support her decision to abandon our district and move north to a "safer" Democratic area because she wants to avoid running for reelection against a couple of Tea Party candidates.

As a party insider, Butler has the full backing of Sacramento, and the machine is working overtime to clear the field for her. Assembly Speaker John Perez has engineered the California Democratic Party's endorsement for Butler by pulling delegates from Assembly members as far away as San Francisco and Riverside. Grassroots delegates will do what they can to help Torie, but it's widely believed they won't be able to block the CDP endorsement when it comes up for a vote at the annual convention next month.

Winning the DFA endorsement would go a long way towards countering Sacramento's outsized influence in this local race, making sure it's the voters of the 50th Assembly District, not lobbyists and special interests, who will choose who they want to represent them.

Please go to this link to help Torie Osborn win the Democracy for America endorsement.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

EDITORIAL: Is It Time To Reform the California Democratic Party Endorsement Process?

In a word, yes. Yes it is.

Last night I had the "pleasure" of witnessing the end result of the most divisive and arcane political process the California Democratic Party has to offer - the local Democratic Club endorsement meeting.

As candidate Torie Osborn won her 8th club endorsement for the 50th Assembly District - this time from the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills Democratic club - supporters of her opponent Betsy Butler immediately descended on reporters in the room, claiming Osborn had cheated by "packing" the room with new members. Supporter (and Mayor of West Hollywood) John Duran was so incensed he stormed out of the room yelling "Bullshit!" at Osborn, saying "West Hollywood would not forget."

It's a claim Butler and her supporters have made repeatedly since the first endorsement meeting in Malibu - that Osborn's campaign had cheated by organizing - and sometimes even paying for - new members to join local Democratic clubs for the sole purpose of voting in endorsement meetings.

And some members of these clubs aren't happy either, believing this practice dilutes their endorsement by taking it out of the hands of local activists.

However, the reality is Osborn's campaign and her supporters followed club rules to the letter. Most clubs have deadlines for registration (usually 30 days before an endorsement meeting), but almost none of them have residency or attendance requirements. And club treasurers happily deposit new member's checks - whether that check comes from a single supporter or individually, from the new members themselves.

On their part, Osborn's supporters say they had to move aggressively to seek the support of local clubs because of Sacramento's outside influence and interest in the race. Assembly Speaker John Perez publicly backs Butler, and reportedly secured forty-two out of the sixty-four delegate votes Butler received at the CDP's pre-endoresment meeting by "borrowing" them from assembly members in districts as far away as San Francisco and Riverside.

Butler won 57% in that endorsement meeting, sending the recommendation for another vote at the yearly CDP convention in San Diego. It's widely believed Osborn will be unable to block the final endorsement.

Are these practices unfair? Do they reward the candidate who's best able to "game" the system? Yes. Absolutely.

But under CDP rules, neither of these candidates are cheating.

And that's the problem. To the layman, club and party endorsements are assumed to mean that local activists have weighed the merits of each candidate and chosen one through a democratic consensus process. But club and CDP rules often produce the opposite result, with candidates winning endorsements by strategically utilizing those rules, as well as existing political connections to produce the desired result.

With our state's new "top two" primary system, where two Democrats could end up running against each other in the general election, the integrity of the CDP and local club endorsements is very much in doubt.

So how do we fix this?

It has to start at the top. At a minimum, politicians from other areas should not be allowed to "lend" their delegates to candidates in CDP pre-endorsement caucuses. Both the delegates themselves and the politicians controlling the delegate assignments should be local to that election's district.

At the club level, clubs could require each member register and pay for their own memberships (the Santa Monica Democratic club requires this for instance). They could also require that members be registered Democrats within a certain geographical area. Or they could require members attend a certain number of meetings in advance of an endorsement vote. The clubs have many ways to skin this same cat.

But until that happens, it's a fool's errand to blame candidates for using the existing rules to gain competitive advantage.

Unless the California Democratic Party gets serious about reforming the endorsement system, the party risks endangering the integrity of the Democratic "brand" in this state, confirming the worst fears of a cynical and disengaged electorate that already believes our political system is broken and unresponsive.

We have a chance to fix this, but we need to do this, and we need to do it now.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

VIDEO: WeHo Mayor, John Duran, Storms Out Of Dem Club Meeting After Torie Osborn Wins Endorsement

From left to right - AD50 candidate Betsy Butler,
West Hollywood Mayor John Duran and LA City Councilman Paul Koretz 

(both have endorsed Betsy Butler in the AD50 race)

Tensions ran high in West Hollywood this evening as AD50 candidate Torie Osborn beat out opponent Betsy Butler for another local Democratic club endorsement.

When the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills Democratic club voted to give its endorsement to Torie Osborn by a vote of 43 - 28, West Hollywood Mayor John Duran stormed out of the meeting as Osborn thanked the club membership.


DURAN: You all come out to West Hollywood soon. We're not going to work for you, Torie! This is bullshit!

CLUB MODERATOR: Can we please come to order.....

DURAN: This is bullshit!

CLUB MODERATOR: Please come to order. 

DURAN:  (Pointing at Osborn) You divided our community. You divided our community.

CLUB MODERATOR: Will the meeting please come to order.

DURAN: West Hollywood will remember, Torie.

CLUB MEMBER: You get out-organized, you get out-organized... (unintelligible)

DURAN: I'm not being a misogynist, I'm working for a woman (indicates towards Butler) Wake up! They're not all lesbians!"

This morning, Duran tweeted this:

Duran has endorsed Butler in the race.

Despite losing the support of every local Democratic club that's endorsed in AD50, Betsy Butler is widely expected to win the California Democratic Party's endorsement at it's annual convention in San Diego next month - largely due to the intervention of Assembly Speak John Perez, who helped Butler win a "pre-endorsement" caucus vote last weekend.

More photos from the meeting at this link.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

AD50 Candidate Betsy Butler Loses Every Local Dem Club Endorsement, Yet Secures CA Dem Party Endorsement With Sacramento's Help

Betsy Butler at the Stonewall Democratic Club endorsement meeting.
She lost to opponent Torie Osborn.

Despite losing every Democratic Club Endorsement in the district to opponent Torie Osborn, AD50 candidate Betsy Butler managed to win the California Democratic Party's "pre-endorsement" caucus today with 57% of the vote.

So how did this happen, and more importantly, why should you care?

Every year, CDP delegates meet a few weeks before their yearly state convention to "pre-endorse" (aka recommend) Democratic candidates they believe are worthy of their party's institutional support.

In 2010, I wrote about the process during the Harman/Winograd primary battle:

If you're a registered Democrat in California, right around election time, some helpful soul will hang a brochure on your front door knob that lists all the official California Democratic Party (CDP) endorsements for the election in your district.

So here's how a Congressional candidate in California gets that endorsement: Local CDP delegates, county committee members and representatives of local Democratic clubs get to vote in something called a pre-endorsement conference for the Congressional candidate they would like to see endorsed. If 70% of the voters at that conference endorse a candidate, then that recommendation is sent to the full CDP Convention a month or so later where, usually, the recommendation is accepted by unanimous consent and placed on the coveted CDP Door Thingee.
That CDP Door Thingee can potentially mean thousands of votes for the endorsed candidate, especially in our new "open" election system, where two Democrats can potentially face off against each other in both the primary and the general election. Which is why candidates always scramble this time of year to secure the endorsement.

Theoretically at least, the delegates voting in these caucuses are supposed to be from the home district of the candidate they're voting to endorse. And actually, the delegates themselves are.

However, the politicians who "own" these delegates don't have to be.

You see, only about a third of CDP delegates are elected by popular vote. The other two-thirds are appointed by politicians or elected by Sacramento insiders. And in contested races like the one for the 50th Assembly District, delegates can be traded amongst politicians like playing cards.

That's exactly what happened today in the AD50 pre-endorsement caucus.

Of the 64 votes Butler received, 5 of those came from delegates she herself appointed. Forty-two delegates were assigned by Assembly Speaker John Perez, who pulled them from assembly districts as far away as San Francisco and Riverside.

Torie Osborn, on the other hand, not being an elected official, could not assign herself delegates. The numerous Democratic club endorsements she secured weren't particularly helpful either, since party rules severely limited the number of delegate they're allotted.

Sheila Kuehl, Torie Osborn, Jackie Goldberg

Butler failed to get the 70% needed for unanimous consent at the CDP convention, so she'll have to wait until February for convention delegates to give their seal of approval. It's entirely possible grassroots activists won't let this go without a fight, and could organize to block unanimous consent, forcing a full vote on the floor.

Such moves are rare, success rarer still.  As a group, convention delegates are an almost perfect microcosm of Sacramento itself - insular, inclined to protect the status quo and resistant to overcoming institutional inertia.

But in the age of "occupy",  grassroots activists seem less willing than ever to put up with the status quo.  As one young Osborn supporter put it, "Folks in Sacramento should take note that AD50 supports Torie Osborn without a doubt, and will fight to make her voice heard" 

Fasten your seat belts, kids, this could be a bumpy ride.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pacific Palisades Democrats: No Endorsement in AD-50 Race


Perhaps reacting to last week's Malibu meeting, candidate Betsy Butler packed the Pacific Palisades Woman's Club yesterday with vocal supporters, outnumbering both those who came to support competing candidates Torie Osborn and Richard Bloom as well as interested community members who just came to hear the candidates speak.

However, unlike Malibu, where the membership votes on endorsements, candidates need at least 60% support from the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club's 21-member board to win an endorsement.

Sources familiar with the process said Butler was eliminated in the first round of voting. Osborn was able to win a majority in the second round, but did not reach the 60% threshold needed for endorsement.

Club leadership declined to release the vote totals to the press.

Before the vote, candidates took pre-written questions from the Democratic club as well as questions from the audience. Topics touched on a variety of subjects, including the California budget crisis, education reform, the candidate's positions on the death penalty, health care reform and high speed rail.

One audience member, Palisades resident Liesel Friedrich, told Butler she had "no sense" of the Assemblywoman in the district, and asked her pointedly how long Butler had lived or worked in the district.

Butler gave a somewhat meandering response, saying she had lived in Marina del Rey, "in the district", for twenty-five years.

Marina del Rey is currently in Assembly District 53, and has never been a part of the district Butler is currently seeking office for.

When asked if she was satisfied with that answer, Friedrich replied, "No. Not really. I'm afraid she's got the Sacramento lingo down."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Open Letter To RedState and Daily Kos: On Jan 18 Join the SOPA blackout

Last Wednesday, I wrote an extensive piece on how I, as a Hollywood professional, cannot support the anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA. Out of everything I wrote, I received the most feedback for this passage:

What do Darrell Issa, Nancy Pelosi, the ACLU, Daily Kos, RedState.com, Markos Moulitsas and Ron Paul have in common? They all oppose SOPA/PIPA.

Personally, I've never agreed with Darrel Issa on any issue ever, but I agree with him on this.

How is this possible? Because the divide over SOPA/PIPA isn't political, it's between those who understand how the internet works and those who don't

Nowhere is this more apparent than at two websites which normally inhabit diametrically opposing ends of the political spectrum;  liberal Daily Kos and conservative RedState.

"There’s simply nothing partisan about this issue." wrote Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas for The Hill,  "Social media have been critical to both the Tea Party and Occupy movements, to trade unionists and anti-abortion groups alike.... The question isn’t whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, it’s whether you prize freedom of speech and freedom of the press for all, over the narrow intellectual-property concerns of a few."

RedState founder Erik Erikson is so incensed about the legislation, he's threatening to primary it's Congressional supporters......and - incredibly - called on left to join him in that fight. 

"This battle is so important — and is one of those rare fights where the left and right are united against Congress — that I suggest the left and right unite and pledge to defeat in primaries every person named as a sponsor on H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act.", Erikson posted. "This might mean some allies are taken out. It might mean we take out Marsha Blackburn on the right and Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the left. But sometimes a fight is that important..... Letting the Attorney General of the United States shut down the internet as he wants, whether it be Eric Holder or a future John Ashcroft, should scare the mess out of every American."

The bipartisan pressure seems to be working. In the Senate, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)  says he'll "delay" implementation of DNS blocking until "further study". In the House, Lamar Smith (R-TX) says he'll remove DNS blocking altogether. And yesterday, the White House issued a statement saying the President wouldn't support anti-pirating legislation "that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

It's a step in the right direction, but it's not enough. There are too many weasel words in all these declarations. Now simply isn't the time to let up.

Which is why I'm asking both RedState and Daily Kos to join a blackout action planned for Wednesday, January 18th. 

From 8am - 8pm EST, thousands of websites - including Reddit, BoingBoing, Mozilla, and TwitPic (to name a few) - will go dark. Users trying to access those sites will instead be redirected to a "blackout" page livestreaming a hearing called by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) to give technical experts and critics of the bills the chance to testify before the House Oversight Committee. Users will also be asked to contact Congress and voice opposition to the bills.

I can't think of a better way to send a powerful message to both Congress and the mainstream media that opposition to these bills transcends the political and should, as Erikson put it, "scare the mess out of every American."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Congress Back-Peddles On Internet Anti-Piracy Bills As Major Websites Threaten One-Day Strike

Anti-SOPA site www.sopastrike.com calls from a world-wide web strike Jan. 18th

Opponents of internet anti-piracy bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), got a bit of a victory today.

Senator Patrick Leahy, lead sponsor of PIPA, announced he would delay implementation of DNS blocking until further studies can be done. In the House, Lamar Smith, one of SOPA's biggest backers, announced DNS blocking would be removed altogether from the bill.

"After consultation with industry groups across the country," Smith said in a statement released by his office, "I feel we should remove DNS-blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the [U.S. House Judiciary] Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision.

"We will continue to look for ways," Smith continued, "to ensure that foreign Web sites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers.
Though DNS blocking will be removed, the bills would still compel domestic financial service providers like PayPal to cut off payment options to foreign illegal sites. Search engines like Google would also still be required to remove infringing sites from their search results. Copyright holders can still bring "private rights of action" against foreign Web sites they claim infringe on the intellectual property.

Although seen as a step in the right direction, opponents are far from satisfied. Many seem especially skeptical of Leahy's statement, claiming a delay in the implementation of DNS blocking is just a semantic trick, and won't result in removing it entirely from the bill.

Unfortunately, despite the clear words in the announcement, it appears that Leahy's staff is going around suggesting to the press that this means he's dropping DNS. Thus you get reports in Wired and in ReadWriteWeb saying that Leahy is offering to remove the DNS blocking provisions. That's exactly what Leahy's staff would like people to believe, in the hopes that this makes the bill palatable. First, it wouldn't actually make the bill palatable, but it's important to read what Leahy actually said:

As I prepare a managers' amendment to be considered during the floor debate, I will therefore propose that the positive and negative effects of this provision be studied before implemented...
That is NOT removing the DNS blocking provisions. It is merely delaying them.

Furthermore, since the DNS blocking was such a key component of the bill and, at the very last minute, Leahy is suddenly claiming that we can all ignore that section for the time being, isn't that reason enough to stop and wait, rather than rushing this bill forward?

Meanwhile, a coalition of major websites, including Reddit, MoveOn.org, Mozilla and Twitpic are still planning on a one-day "strike" January 18th in order to keep pressure on Congress.

It’s on — at least partially: Reddit has announced that it will go dark for 12 hours to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has said that he hopes to coordinate with the site so that Wikipedia does the same. Will other sites join in? Should we prepare for the Great Internet Strike of 2012?

Writing that it’s “not taking this action lightly,” Reddit announced on Tuesday that it will black out its site on Jan. 18 for 12 hours, starting at 8 a.m. E.T. During that period, the site’s content will be replaced with “a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action.”

The strike will coincide with that day's hearing for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Chaired by leading SOPA opponent, Congressman Darrell Issa, the hearing will focus Internet security, intellectual property and economic growth.  

Anti-SOPA/PIPA organizers are also asking the public to petition Google, Facebook and Wikipedia to join the strike as well.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Confessions Of A Hollywood Professional: Why I Can't Support the Stop Online Piracy Act

According to a report published by the AFL-CIO, online piracy costs content providers (mostly TV networks and movie studios) a lot of money. Around $20 billion annually. That, in turn, costs a staggering number of industry-related jobs - over 140,000 by some estimates.

As a freelance film editor, this scares the hell out of me.  If the networks and studios I work for don't make money, sooner or later I'm out of a job. And if I'm out of a job long enough, I lose my union health benefits, my pension, the whole ball of wax.

I know it scares the hell out of my union, IATSE, judging by numerous emails warning how my livelihood is in grave danger from "foreign rogue sites" dedicated to wholesale theft of the intellectual property of my employers.

On the flip side, there were petitions filing my inbox from internet watchdog groups urging me to tell Congress to "preserve free speech", and that if I didn't, the "internet as we know it" would cease to exist.

Now, if you don't know what they're talking about, you're not not alone. Until I started getting these emails, I too was blissfully ignorant about the alphabet-soup of anti-piracy legislation currently grinding it's way through the bowels of Congress - the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate.

But as I researched the bills and clawed my way though mountains of evidence on both sides predicting internet Armageddon, I quickly realized online piracy (and the solutions being put forth to curb it) is something we don't have the luxury to ignore. Because what happens in the next month could profoundly affect many aspect of our lives, not just how we interact online.

So I'll make you a deal: If you'll stick around to read this, I'll spare you the hyperbole and techno-speak and explain what I've learned in plain English.

Please, let my pain be your gain.


SOPA and PIPA are designed to close existing loopholes in online piracy enforcement.  To explain how, I first have to talk about another law: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,  otherwise known as DMCA.

Enacted in 1998, DMCA was Congress's first attempt to deal with the brave new world of illegal file sharing. In a nutshell, it criminalized online copyright infringement while protecting "Fair Use" doctrine, as well as giving "safe harbor" to internet service providers (ISPs), websites and search engines which unknowingly hosted or linked to pirated material.

(I'll circle back to "fair use" and "safe harbor" later,  but keep these terms in your head.  They're really, really important - it's why YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and even small sites like this blog aren't sued out of existence every time someone uploads a photo or links to a movie clip.)

However, DMCA was limited. It only applied to domestic ISPs, websites and search engines. Why? Because US copyright law ends at our borders. Domestic plaintiffs can't collect damages for overseas copyright infringement.

Of course, the first thing online pirates did after DMCA became law was set up shop overseas and out of the reach of US courts.

So ten years later,  Congress passed another law, the PRO-IP Act, which increased penalties and gave new enforcement powers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency most recently known for mistakenly deporting a 14 year-old girl to Columbia.

ICE could, with a simple affidavit, obtain a court order to seize the site's domain name and IP address.  Anyone clicking on a seized site would see this:

Even though hundreds of domains were seized ( a partial list here ), critics complained PRO-IP didn't solve the "foreign rogue websites" problem. Perpetrators - especially those operating overseas - disappeared easily, escaping fines and summary judgments, quickly setting up new and anonymous Internet storefronts at will. Even if found, there was often no way of tying the individuals who ran foreign sites to assets in the United States.

Got all that?

Good. Because this is where the fun starts.


SOPA and PIPA are designed to do one thing and one thing only - tie online pirates to assets in the United States so our justice system can get at them to collect civil judgments and cut off sources of revenue.

Of course, making that happen is not so simple. The internet is a complicated, borderless thing which changes faster than a teenager's hormones on a Pepsi high.

So the bill's authors tried to come up with a number of different ways to skin the same cat.

  1. Extend the authority to seize domain names and IP addresses to foreign websites determined to be in violation US Copyright law.
  2. Compel domestic ISPs, websites and search engines to block internet access to any foreign websites determined to be in violation US Copyright law.
  3. Prosecute developers who offer products or services that could be used to circumvent the blockade of foreign websites determined to be in violation US Copyright law.
  4. Compel domestic financial service providers (Paypal, Visa, Wells Fargo, etc....) and internet advertisers to close accounts and block payments to any foreign websites determined to be in violation US Copyright law.

The bills also includes a provision the American Bar Association labels "a rather novel reinvention of online"market-based" enforcement" by allowing copyright owners and their agents to initiate a "private right of action" to seek termination of an infringing site's advertising and financial services.

Lastly, this legislation gives blanket immunity to any US-based financial service providers, advertisers, ISPs, websites, and search engines which voluntarily blocks internet access or terminates its services. It does this even if the site's owners did not knowingly host pirated material, or the allegations later prove to be unfounded.


Even without SOPA/PIPA's First Amendment implications (you can read some pretty good arguments here, here and here),  the bills as currently proposed are horribly flawed documents devised by people who either don't understand how the internet works, or worse, understand it all too well and are trying to game the system for unfair competitive advantage.

SOPA's sponsor, Texas Republican, Lamar Smith, thinks any fears are "completely unfounded".
The criticism of this bill is completely hypothetical; none of it is based in reality,” said Smith, R.-Texas, in a statement. “Not one of the critics was able to point to any language in the bill that would in any way harm the Internet. Their accusations are simply not supported by any facts.....they need to read the language. Show me the language.”

You're on, Lamar.


As I said before, ICE has seized hundreds of domestic domains under the PRO-IP Act. Well, it turns out some site owners are fighting back, suing the government for violating their First Amendment rights, saying the law's "seize now, ask questions later" enforcement equals prior restraint. In at least one case, a judge agreed, throwing out part of the government's case and expediting the site owner's suit.

And then there's the Kafkaesque case of dajaz1.com, a popular hip-hop music site which had it's domain seized in 2010, then restored over a year later - all without a single charge being filed.
As the details came out, it became clear that ICE and the Justice Department were in way over their heads. ICE's "investigation" was done by a technically inept recent college grad, who didn't even seem to understand the basics of the technology. But it didn't stop him from going to a judge and asking for a site to be completely censored with no due process.
The site's lawyer, Andrew Bridges, filed a motion to get the site back. Instead of responding as the law required, the government stonewalled Bridges while they secretly pursued multiple filing extensions from the court in order to hold on to the site.
The government was required to file for forfeiture by May. The initial (supposed) secret extension was until July. Then it got another one that went until September. And then another one until November... or so the government said. When Bridges asked the government for some proof that it had actually obtained the extensions in question, the government attorney told Bridges that he would just have "trust" him.
You can read the whole story here.  It's not pretty. Eventually, the government unilaterally decided it didn't have probably cause after all and just dropped the case without comment. 


Don't expect oppressive regimes like Syria, Iran, or Burma to take our lectures about internet freedom seriously, not while Congress is proposing protocols for site blocking that China already uses  to restrict their citizen's access the web.   

Worse, if ICE starts going after software developers, they're going to have to go after contractors the State Department hired to do the very thing Congress just made illegal. 

Seriously. I'm not making this up.   Last June, the NY Times reported:
The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.

The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a suitcase.”

Financed with a $2 million State Department grant, the suitcase could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet......

Some projects involve technology that the United States is developing; others pull together tools that have already been created by hackers in a so-called liberation-technology movement sweeping the globe.......

“The cool thing in this political context is that you cannot easily control it,” said Aaron Kaplan, an Austrian cybersecurity expert whose work will be used in the suitcase project. Mr. Kaplan has set up a functioning mesh network in Vienna and says related systems have operated in Venezuela, Indonesia and elsewhere.


First, by mandating provisions completely incompatible with next-generation internet security standards and secondly, by throwing US software developers into legal limbo.

It turns out targeting software which could potentially be used for circumventing blacklisted websites also means targeting the same security software we use to keep our personal computers safe from malware, networked businesses safe from denial-of-service attacks and even payments to online financial service providers like PayPal safe from theft.

Meanwhile, as legitimate software developers sit around twiddling their thumbs, 20 year-old hackers have already created workarounds to domain blocking in anticipation of SOPA/PIPA.

Have fun with that.


Supporters, including my union, like to point out that SOPA/PIPA only affects foreign websites. This is demonstrably not true.

Remember, the Justice Department has no jurisdiction overseas, but it does have jurisdiction over domestic ISPs, websites, and search engines, domestic financial service providers and domestic software developers. SOPA/PIPA may target foreign sites, but all the legal liability and compliance costs would fall on American companies. As techdirt.com points out,
We've been trying to make this point for months, and the folks in favor of these bills just keep ignoring it insisting time and time again that this is just about foreign sites. Most of those people have never been entrepreneurs. They've never worked at a company where the threat of legal action is a BIG DEAL, that can massively disrupt operations (and cash flow). They don't realize that increasing liability, compliance costs and legal risks isn't just a nuisance -- it can force an entire business to shut down. We've talked about how these bills change things so that it's not just two engineers in a garage any more, but two engineers... who need a team of a dozen lawyers.


Remember how I mentioned "fair use" and "safe harbor" at the beginning of this post?  Let's circle back to that now.

I use a lot of social media - YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to share information, links, videos and other online content. And I do this under the "Fair Use" doctrine, which allows me to use copyrighted material without permission for "transformative" purposes such as commentary, criticism and parody.
What is a “transformative” use? If this definition seems ambiguous or vague, be aware that millions of dollars in legal fees have been spent attempting to define what qualifies as a fair use. There are no hard-and-fast rules, only general rules and varied court decisions, because the judges and lawmakers who created the fair use exception did not want to limit its definition. Like free speech, they wanted it to have an expansive meaning that could be open to interpretation.
Now, to illustrate my point, I'm going to embed this really cool video created by a fan of "Castle", the ABC Television show I work on. Go ahead, have a look. I'll wait.

Great video, isn't it?

It also happens to be made up of hundreds of copyrighted clips I'm reasonably sure ABC Television never gave permission to use. But that's OK, because I'm also reasonably sure the video is covered by Fair Use. But if I'm wrong about that, this is where DMCA's "safe harbor" provisions come in.

Safe Harbor assumes I didn't knowingly post anything which violates US copyright law.  So even if my ISP gets a take-down notice from ABC, Safe Harbor is supposed to protect me as long as I comply with the notice and remove the video.

Together, Fair Use and Safe Harbors allow for innovation because they create safe space for both free expression and honest mistakes. But content providers hate Fair Use and (more importantly) Safe Harbors because providers think these exceptions take the teeth out of enforcement, creating loopholes you could drive a truck through.

SOPA/PIPA gets rid of Safe Harbors. There is no safe space. A copyright holder can initiate a "private right of action", convince a judge to issue an injunction (which we now know is way too easy to do) get your domain blocked, your advertising pulled and your finances frozen.

And thanks to to SOPA/PIPA's immunity provisions, a copyright holder wouldn't even need a court order shut you down, just a letter to your service providers threatening to.
This section says that anyone who takes voluntary action "based on credible evidence" basically gets full immunity. Think about what that means in practice. If someone sends a service provider a notice claiming infringement on the site under this bill, the first thing every lawyer will tell them is "quick, take voluntary action to cut them off, so you get immunity." Even worse, since this is just about immunity, there are no counter notice rules or anything requiring any process for those cut off to be able to have any redress whatsoever.
Between blanket immunity, the loss of safe harbor, and the lack of any redress for impacted site owners, SOPA/PIPA actually incentivizes wholesale abuse.

It's already happening. Entire legal industries have been built around responding to DMCA takedown notices in bulk. Thin-skinned businesses routinely ignore Fair Use to issue DMCA takedown notices against sites which criticize them. Unscrupulous content providers also sue legitimate online competitors for copyright infringement just to bankrupt them.

In 2007, Universal Music Group (UMG) brought a lawsuit against Veoh Networks (Veoh), a video hosting website, alleging that Veoh facilitated copyright infringement by providing a website that hosted videos containing music owned by UMG. On December 20, 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a summary judgment in favor of Veoh and held that Veoh was protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) “safe harbor” provisions....
While Veoh’s website was found to be perfectly legal, its victory is bittersweet; the small startup company filed for bankruptcy early in 2010 from the high cost of defending its case.
At least under DMCA, Veoh could keep it's business running while the case was litigated.
The SOPA/PIPA bills, however, would have immediately shut Veoh’s website down before it even had its day in court, thereby keeping Veoh from running its business which, in this case, was ultimately found to be perfectly legal. There is cause for concern when copyright holders abuse the law to stymie innovative new startups.

There are also some nasty implications for political campaigns. Implications that ought to give the bill's Congressional supporters pause.
Imagine you are running for Congress in a competitive House district. You give a strong interview to a local morning news show and your campaign posts the clip on your website. When your opponent’s campaign sees the video, it decides to play hardball and sends a notice to your Internet service provider alerting them to what it deems “infringing content.” It doesn’t matter if the content is actually pirated. .... If you don’t take the video down, even if you believe that the content is protected under fair use, your website goes dark.

I'm sure nothing like that would ever happen, because, you know, it never has before.
During the waning days of the 2008 presidential race, there was an important but overlooked occurrence on the John McCain campaign. In mid-October, the McCain campaign awoke to find that its Web videos and online advertisements were disappearing from its YouTube page.

The culprit turned out to be a major television network claiming they owned portions of the videos and that posting the clips was a violation of copyright law. Even though the campaign, and many others in the online community, believed the content to be privileged under the “Fair Use Doctrine,” the videos were pulled down.

John McCain, by the way, is one of PIPA's co-sponsors.


What do Darrell Issa, Nancy Pelosi, the ACLU, Daily Kos, RedState.com, Markos Moulitsas and Ron Paul have in common? They all oppose SOPA/PIPA.

Personally, I've never agreed with Darrel Issa on any issue ever, but I agree with him on this.

How is this possible? Because the divide over SOPA/PIPA isn't political, it's between those who understand how the internet works and those who don't,  those who see opportunities for growth and innovation and those who fear change and are holding on to old business models for dear life.

During the House Judiciary Committee's SOPA hearings last December, it became nightmarishly clear Congressmembers who support these bills are in the "don't understand how the internet works" camp.

It’s exactly as we feared....this is like a group of well-intentioned amateurs getting together to perform heart surgery on a patient incapable of moving. “We hear from the motion picture industry that heart surgery is what’s required,” they say cheerily. “We’re not going to cut the good valves, just the bad — neurons, or whatever you call those durn thingies.”

This is terrifying to watch. It would be amusing — there’s nothing like people who did not grow up with the Internet attempting to ask questions about technology very slowly and stumbling over words like “server” and “service” when you want an easy laugh. Except that this time, the joke’s on us.

It’s been a truism for some time that you can tell innovation in an industry has ceased when the industry starts to develop a robust lobbying and litigating presence instead.

Which brings me back to my union,  IATSE.

I believe my union leadership is acting in good faith to look after the best interests of its membership. But I don't think my union leadership understands how the Internet works. By backing the industry's position on SOPA/PIPA, I believe they're tying themselves to a business model that simply can't be sustained and won't be rescued by badly crafted legislation.

Look, you can't un-ring this bell. Internet file sharing, streaming video, and movies-on-demand aren't going away.  Fans of American television shows and movies use the internet to form international online communities, upload their favorite clips via YouTube and share them on Twitter and Facebook. As an industry, we should encourage them. Because today's "pirates" are tomorrow's customers. 

It's a brave new world out there.

We've been down this road before with the music industry. Ten years ago, while all the major record labels responded to file sharing by locking up content and suing Napster into the ground, Steve Jobs quietly developed iTunes. By tapping into a market that was already habituated to file sharing and offering quality content conveniently and legally at a price point people were willing to pay, Apple dominated the music industry while the record labels tanked.

We either follow the path of the record labels or we follow the path Apple took.  I'd rather follow Apple. And frankly, I wish IATSE was leading the charge.


PIPA is scheduled for a cloture vote in the Senate on January 24th, meaning it would take 60 votes to break a filibuster. So far 49 Senators are on record as supporting PIPA, which means they'd need 11 more to advance the bill to the floor of the Senate for an up or down vote.

Opponents of SOPA/PIPA have set up this handy website so you can find out which lawmakers support the bills. If it turns out your Senator supports the bills, click on their name and the site will take you to a page with their contact information. Please call them right away.

If you're in California, and especially if you're in the entertainment industry,  CA Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein need to hear from you. Both are co-sponsors of PIPA. (Feinstein seems particularly clueless, stating she thought the tech industry were just fine with the bills)

Click on this link to get Barbara Boxer's contact information

Click on this link to get Diane Feinstein's contact information

Monday, January 9, 2012

Torie Osborn wins Assembly race endorsement in Malibu

Osborn and Malibu City Councilman
Jefferson Wagner
50th Assembly District candidate Torie Osborn beat out competitors Betsy Butler and Richard Bloom yesterday to win the endorsement of Malibu Democrats. In a lopsided victory, Osborn won 41 votes, Butler 5, and Bloom, none. Thirteen voted "no endorsement".

"I'm over the moon," Osborn said in an interview with Malibu Patch after receiving the endorsement. "It was decisive and it feels like a dry run for the whole campaign."

This is Osborn's second Democratic club endorsement. The Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains voted to endorse last October.

Osborn also garnered the endorsement of Malibu City Councilman Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner.

Richard Bloom
In a press release, Wagner said this was his second time seeing Osborn speak, and the debate between the three candidates was a key factor in his decision to endorse Osborn for the open seat in the newly configured district.

“Torie electrified the crowd, and demonstrated to me that we need her leadership, her vision, and her abundance of bold and new ideas in Sacramento,” said Wagner. “She has a deep understanding of the many issues that Malibu residents are concerned about. As an Independent, I look for candidates who can cross party boundaries, develop coalitions, provide answers and common-sense solutions that will help to fix our state. That’s why I am confident that she’ll be an exceptional representative of our community.”

The vote was not without controversy, however. Butler said the vote was not a reflection of the candidates' popularity in Malibu, claiming she heard Osborn's campaign signed up 42 people to join the club prior to the 30-day deadline. 

Ari Ruiz, political vice president for the Stonewall Young Democrats, and a volunteer organizer for Betsy Butler, commented on the Malibu Patch story,
I was at the meeting today. Staffers from City Hall (Los Angeles) were there in full presence supporting Ms. Osborn. I know that the room was stacked, you want names? I'll be happy to email a list.

Strategists I spoke with familiar with the Democratic Party club endorsement process were incredulous of the criticisms.

"If Betsy is unhappy with the outcome, there's an easy way for her to fix that, " said one strategist. "She can bring out her own people."

Apparently, Butler's campaign attempted to do just that, with this letter from campaign manager Lindsay Bubar,

As you know, it is critically important to receive the support from local Democratic clubs in races like these. With new Assembly districts and so many elections on the ballot next year, many people will rely on endorsement information from their local Dem club when they make their decision at the ballot box. We have the opportunity to secure support from key Dem clubs in the next month, but we will need your help to make that happen.

Below you will find a list of Dem clubs that are endorsing in Betsy's race. You can help by doing two things:

Betsy Butler
1) Join as many of the Dem clubs as possible (for most of the Clubs, the only requirement to join is that you be a registered Democrat. For
instance, you do not necessarily need to live in the Pacific Palisades to join the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club). In order to cast a vote for
Betsy, you will need to join by the deadline listed below AND attend the membership vote IN PERSON. If you can not attend on the date listed then please do not join the club.

2) Ask ask many friends as you can to also join and attend as many Dem clubs as possible.

Every vote counts and we need to make sure we do everything we can to secure these critical endorsements for Betsy.

Unfortunately for Butler, her campaign manager sent the email after Malibu's 30-day registration deadline.

Candidates give closing statements
Many long-time Malibu club members waited until they had heard from all three candidates before casting an endorsement vote. Marcia Hanscom, an environmental activist who who's been involved for years in both Ballona and Malibu Creek restoration issues, was one.

"I endorsed Torie Osborn last year -- before the district lines were changed and when I thought Torie's only opponent would be Richard Bloom." Hascom said in a comment to Malibu Patch,  "I told Betsy that I would consider a dual endorsement, and I was waiting to hear how things went at today's forum. If I had thought Betsy would half-way represent the things I care about in Malibu, where I lived for 10 years and where I work now on numerous issues - I would have voted for 'no endorsement' -- but I voted for Torie to be endorsed by the Club. A clear choice after today."

Malibu resident Athena Shlien came to the meeting undecided, but left supporting Osborn,  "Betsy Butler's first comment was about how Malibu is slow to develop, she shot herself in the foot with that statement. Doesn't she know that Malibu wants to retain its mountain and seascape charm?" Shlien commented,  "I went to the event with glazed eyes, thinking that this would be politics as usual. It turns out there are people who really do want to change the world for the better! Thank you Torie for giving me hope."

The next club endorsement meeting will take place in Pacific Palisades on Sunday.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

AD50 Candidate Torie Osborn Raises Over 500K In 2011

The deadline to report fundraising totals isn't until next Tuesday, but CA assembly candidate Torie Osborn has unofficially leaked her fundraising numbers almost a week early.

According to an email sent to donors and supporters, Osborn raised over $520K from 1,638 donors.

Never before has a first-time Assembly candidate raised this kind of money so far out from the primary. I’ve raised 13 times as many online contributions and 7 times the total dollars as my nearest competitor. And the average donation online to my campaign is 50% smaller, showing that grassroots strength will power this campaign to vicTorie in 2012.

Although fundraising totals on Act Blue - an online fundraising site for Democratic candidates - doesn't reflect offline or in-kind donations, it's still a good barometer to assess the comparative strength of a candidates' campaigns.

Osborn has raised $156,033 from 960 donors on Act Blue. Opponent Betsy Butler lists 61 donors who've donated a total of $20,460. Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, also running for the district, uses a different online fundraising site which does not make fundraising totals available to view online.

The official deadline for all candidates to report their 2011 fundraising totals is Tuesday, January 10th. The results should be made public a few days later.

On Sunday, all three candidates will meet at Malibu City Hall to compete for the Malibu Democratic Club endorsement. This will be the first of several endorsement meetings throughout the district to determine who - or if - the California Democratic Party will endorse a candidate.

A CDP endorsement is considered helpful since the top two vote-getters in the June 5th "open" primary, regardless of party affiliation, will face off in the general election in November.

The meeting is open to the public, but only club members are allowed to vote. Doors open at 11:45 a.m., the forum will start at 12:30 p.m. The event will take place in the Malibu City Hall Multipurpose Room.