White House in favor of phone unlocking

I got an email a little while ago from the White House, saying that the Obama administration agreed with a petition I'd signed arguing that the recent ban by the library of congress on unlocking your phone so it can be used on different networks should be overturned.  (More accurately, as the official response explains, the Librarian of Congress has the power to create exemptions from the DMCA, and recently chose to rescind the exemption for cell phones that is otherwise implied by the law.) From the official response:

The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties. In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones. And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network. It's common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers' needs.

I waited to write about it, though, until at least one professional source commented on it, because the petition came out in favor of phone unlocking, but also admitted that there was very little the administration could do about it.  Slate covered it about an hour and a half ago, and brought up the context I was most interested in:

Skeptics of the petition, which Slate first reported on in January, have pointed out that Obama might not have the power to overturn the Library of Congress' fiat even if he wanted to. But the White House works in mysterious ways. On the same day that the administration released its response, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski also came out in favor of legalizing unlocking, and the Library of Congress itself released a statement agreeing that the unlocking rule "would benefit from review and resolution" in the context of telecommunications policy.

That doesn't mean the Library of Congress will necessarily reverse its October decision to remove the exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that had made unlocking legal. But there's a chance it could lead to something a lot of techies, libertarians, and consumer advocates would appreciate even more: reform of the controversial copyright act itself. The cellphone unlocking restrictions could turn out to be an excellent demonstration of the many ways in which the act overreaches the goals of legitimate copyright protection.

How to become president: a guide for sixteen-year-olds

Futility Closet, "an idler's miscellany of compendious amusements," quotes legal scholar Mark V. Tushnet explaining by way of example that there's no element of the constitution, no matter how apparently obvious, that does not require interpretation:

“Suppose that the guru’s supporters sincerely claim that their religion includes among its tenets a belief in reincarnation. Even on the narrowest definition of ‘age,’ they say, their guru is well over thirty-five years old even though the guru emerged from the latest womb sixteen years ago.

“Further, it would have been an establishment of religion for the President of the Senate to reject their definition of ‘age,’ and it would violate their rights under the free exercise clause … for the courts to overturn the decision made by the political branches.”

Petition to reclassify the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group

Boing Boing reports on a Huffington Post report about three petitions on whitehouse.gov's "We The People" platform, which allows Americans to create petitions to the government.  The website's rules require the US government administration to promptly respond to the demands made by any petition that reaches 25 thousand signatures within 30 days. All three of the petitions in question have met that requirement -- though the website's FAQ points out that the administration may choose to write one response that covers the administration's position on multiple, similar petitions, so we can probably only expect one response about this issue.

The first petition in question, Legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, is according to the Huffington Post the most popular petition in We The People's history, at over 275 thousand signatures at the time I'm writing.

The second, Revoke the tax exempt status of the Westboro Baptist Church & re-classify Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, covers the overlap in ground between the other two petitions, asking for both terms to be met.  The petition points out that "By granting their tax exemption we are FUNDING THEIR HATE." (Capitalization copied from the source.)  As of writing, they are at over 60 thousand signatures.

The third, which is probably the least inflammatory, but easily the most genuinely threatening to the WBC, is called Remove the Westboro Baptist Church's 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, and make it retroactive.  It is at almost 45 thousand signatures.

I'm going to sign all three of these petitions.  I'm against tax exempt status for religions in general, but I don't think it's hypocritical to take the opportunity to support one particular removal from the exemption, especially one of the worst ones.  It's a foot in the door for the government to begin responding reasonably to the difference between allowing free speech and endorsing organized hate.  I hope the Obama Administration responds to this popular outcry by throwing everything they have at the WBC.

My favorite foreign law

(via Did You Know on Tumblr) There are a lot of laws in foreign countries that I like a lot better than the corresponding laws in the US.  I think that's probably true of most Americans -- there are few things in our culture that haven't been turned into massive disagreements on the most fundamental levels.

My favorite foreign law, though, and the law I think I might hate most in America, is Sweeden's speeding tickets system.  I could have sworn I first read about it in Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal, but I just pored over my copy of the book and I can't find it anywhere.

I'm reminded of it now because smh.drive.com.au has an article about a 1.1 million dollar fine for going almost 200 mph.  His fine is that high because Sweeden's ticketing system scales the cost of the ticket to the income of the person receiving it.

I'm often surprised, when I bring this up, that a lot of people disagree.  They claim it would be unfair for some people to get higher fines than others just because they make more money -- or, they think that what I'm saying is fines should be cheaper for poor people.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that I think the fines we have now are appropriate for the people with the lowest incomes who can still manage to own a car.  Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that it's okay for a speeding ticket to cost so much that the person receiving it has to skip rent to pay it.

The punishment we're passing on to this transgressor is the risk of having to live out of the car they were speeding in.  So, if that's fair for the poorest people in the country, why is it okay for the richest to be charged, for the same crime, the amount of money they might spend on a day's food?

Tickets should be scaled so that we can get the severity of the punishment right.  If it's okay for someone caught speeding to be thrown from their home, then when a billionaire does it, the government should take their mansion.  If it's not, then the poorest people should pay a lot less.