I invented the web. Here are three things we need to change to save it | Tim Berners-Lee | Technology | The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/11/tim-berners-lee-web-inventor-save-internet?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits

 — excerpt below —

Today marks 28 years since I submitted my original proposal for the worldwide web. I imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities, and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries. In many ways, the web has lived up to this vision, though it has been a recurring battle to keep it open. But over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool that serves all of humanity.

1) We’ve lost control of our personal data

The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data. Many of us agree to this – albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents – but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for free services. But, we’re missing a trick. As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realise if we had direct control over this data and chose when and with whom to share it. What’s more, we often do not have any way of feeding back to companies what data we’d rather not share – especially with third parties – the T&Cs are all or nothing.

This widespread data collection by companies also has other impacts. Through collaboration with – or coercion of – companies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, it’s easy to see the harm that can be caused – bloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizens’ best interests at heart, watching everyone all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, such as sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.

2) It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web

Today, most people find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines. These sites make more money when we click on the links they show us. And they choose what to show us based on algorithms that learn from our personal data that they are constantly harvesting. The net result is that these sites show us content they think we’ll click on – meaning that misinformation, or fake news, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases, can spread like wildfire. And through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.

3) Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding

Political advertising online has rapidly become a sophisticated industry. The fact that most people get their information from just a few platforms and the increasing sophistication of algorithms drawing upon rich pools of personal data mean that political campaigns are now building individual adverts targeted directly at users. One source suggests that in the 2016 US election, as many as 50,000 variations of adverts were being served every single day on Facebook, a near-impossible situation to monitor. And there are suggestions that some political adverts – in the US and around the world – are being used in unethical ways – to point voters to fake news sites, for instance, or to keep others away from the polls. Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?

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 Sir Tim Berners-Lee: how the web went from idea to reality

These are complex problems, and the solutions will not be simple. But a few broad paths to progress are already clear. We must work together with web companies to strike a balance that puts a fair level of data control back in the hands of people, including the development of new technology such as personal “data pods” if needed and exploring alternative revenue models such as subscriptions and micropayments. We must fight against government overreach in surveillance laws, including through the courts if necessary. We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem, while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is “true” or not. We need more algorithmic transparency to understand how important decisions that affect our lives are being made, and perhaps a set of common principles to be followed. We urgently need to close the “internet blind spot” in the regulation of political campaigning.

Our team at the Web Foundation will be working on many of these issues as part of our new five-year strategy – researching the problems in more detail, coming up with proactive policy solutions and bringing together coalitions to drive progress towards a web that gives equal power and opportunity to all.

I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today. All the blogs, posts, tweets, photos, videos, applications, web pages and more represent the contributions of millions of you around the world building our online community. All kinds of people have helped, from politicians fighting to keep the web open, standards organisations like W3C enhancing the poweraccessibility and security of the technology, and people who have protested in the streets. In the past year, we have seen Nigerians stand up to a social media bill that would have hampered free expression online, popular outcry and protests at regional internet shutdowns in Cameroon and great public support for net neutrality in both India and the European Union.

It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want – for everyone.

The Web Foundation is at the forefront of the fight to advance and protect the web for everyone. We believe doing so is essential to reverse growing inequality and empower citizens. You can follow our work by signing up to our newsletter, and find a local digital rights organisation to support here on this list. Additions to the list are welcome and may be sent to contact@webfoundation.org

Click here to make a donation.

Daily chart: The best and worst places to be a working woman | The Economist

http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/03/daily-chart-0?fsrc=scn/pn/te/bl/ed/

— excerpt below —
The best and worst places to be a working woman
The Economist’s glass-ceiling index measures gender equality in the labour market

Graphic detail

Mar 8th 2017

by THE DATA TEAM
MARCH 8th is International Women’s Day, a date designated by the UN to celebrate and advocate for women’s rights. To provide a benchmark for progress on gender equality in the labour market, The Economist has published its fifth annual “glass-ceiling index”. It combines data on higher education, workforce participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity and paternity rights, business-school applications and representation in senior jobs into a single measure of where women have the best—and worst—chances of equal treatment in the workplace. Each country’s score is a weighted average of its performance on ten indicators. 
The overall picture painted by the data is that the long trend of improving conditions for working women has flatlined within the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries. In 2005, 60% of women were in the labour force; ten years later, this ratio had edged up only slightly to 63% (it was 80% for men in both years). With relatively few women climbing the ranks, and strong old-boys’ networks helping men reach the top, female representation in well-paid and high-status jobs is closer to a third than half. And the gender wage gap—male minus female wages, divided by male wages—is still around 15%, meaning women as a group earn 85% of what men do. 
These broad averages conceal wide variation between countries. The Nordic countries clearly lead the world on gender equality at work. The top four positions this year belong to Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Finland, just as they did in 2016 (though Sweden and Norway did switch places). Women in these countries are more likely than men to have a university degree and be in the labour force. They make up 30-44% of company boards, compared with an average of 20% across the OECD. And voluntary political-party gender quotas mean that women are well-represented in parliaments. In October, women won a record 48% of the seats in Iceland’s lower house. At around two-fifths, Scandinavian women’s share of parliamentary seats ranks in the top 10% globally.

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At the other end of the index are Japan, Turkey and South Korea. Women make up only around 15% of parliaments in these countries, and are underrepresented in management positions and on company boards. In South Korea, just 2% of corporate directors are female. Similarly, fewer women than men have completed tertiary education and are part of the labour force. Only 35% of Turkish women are working or looking for work, and a mere 16% have graduated from university.
Progress in gender equality has a tendency to build upon itself. In Iceland, which currently provides the most equal working environment for women according to our index, female workers staged a protest last October in which they marched out of their offices early to call attention to the country′s 14% gender pay gap. If Japanese women were to do likewise, they would be leaving much earlier.
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The 45th president: Making sense of Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated accusations against his predecessor | The Economist

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2017/03/45th-president?fsrc=scn/pn/te/bl/ed/

— excerpt below —

The 45th presidentMaking sense of Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated accusations against his predecessor
There are three explanations for Mr Trump’s accusation that Barack Obama ordered his phones to be tapped. None of them is comforting

Democracy in America

Mar 5th 2017
by LEXINGTON
American democracy has suffered a wound that, however it heals, will leave nasty scars. On March 5th the White House announced that President Donald Trump is asking congressional intelligence committees to probe unspecified “reports” that the administration of Barack Obama abused its executive powers to launch, “potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election”.
The formal White House statement was, in effect, an attempt to comb the hair and clothe in a suit and tie a string of four wild and unsubstantiated tweets by the president of America. In those tweets, issued around dawn the day before, the 45th president accused the 44th of a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at Trump Tower, his campaign and business  headquarters in New York. This alleged wire-tapping was an attempt to meddle in the “very sacred election process”, and shows Mr Obama to be a “bad (or sick) guy!” charged Mr Trump. “Nothing” was found by this spying, he added, concluding: “This is McCarthyism!”
There are a number of explanations for Mr Trump’s allegations, none of them cheering. The first is that Mr Trump’s stated suspicions are well-founded, and Mr Obama and his administration did, in fact, illegally spy on the nominee of one of the two main political parties.
Mark Levin, a conservative media firebrand, is said to have provoked Mr Trump’s outburst with a broadcast on March 2nd. Mr Levin cited a series of news reports from 2016 and 2017 that federal investigators at various times sought warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to monitor communications involving Mr Trump and several of his advisers, seeking evidence of potentially troubling business or espionage ties with Russia. Mr Levin called this “police state” tactics and suggested that Congress should probe this “silent coup” by the Obama administration, rather than allegations that Russia interfered in the election. Mr Levin’s show was later written up by the right-wing website Breitbart News, whose former chairman, Stephen Bannon, is now Mr Trump’s chief strategist. Roger Stone, a flamboyant political operative and informal adviser  to Mr Trump, declared: “The buck stops here. Obama responsible for illegal surveillance of @realDonaldTrump—must be charged, convicted and jailed.”
The second explanation is that the FBI or other federal investigators legally spied on Trump Tower, the Trump campaign or figures close to the president. The bar for obtaining a FISA warrant is high—typically requests come from the attorney-general, a deputy attorney-general or the head of a spy agency, and must show a federal judge that there is probable cause that a target for surveillance is an “agent of a foreign power”. A spokesman for Mr Obama pushed back hard at Mr Trump’s claim that the former president, or his White House team ordered such surveillance, saying “neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen”, adding that it was a “cardinal rule” of the Obama White House not to interfere in any investigation led by the Department of Justice.
In an intervention that did little to unfurrow the brows of those following this tale, James Clapper, who was until January the Director of National Intelligence, told NBC television that he knew of no FISA warrants against Trump Tower, at least for the spy agencies that he oversaw. “There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign,” he said. Mr Clapper added that he stands by his formal finding, issued in January, that the Russian government meddled in the presidential election to help Mr Trump, but said he had seen no evidence of active collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians.
A third explanation for Mr Trump’s outburst is that he was trying to rally his supporters and discomfort his opponents after a bumpy few days, once again involving furtive contacts between Team Trump and Russians. This time the problem involved Mr Trump’s attorney-general and ideological mentor, Jeff Sessions. To Mr Trump’s semi-public fury Mr Sessions felt obliged to recuse himself from overseeing federal investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. This decision to step aside from any probes came after Mr Sessions had to concede that his testimony to senators during his confirmation hearings had some large holes in it, roughly the same size and shape as Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s burly ambassador to America. Sleuthing by the Washington Post and other news outlets revealed that Mr Sessions met Mr Kislyak twice during the campaign, despite telling senators he had “no communications with the Russians”.
Under this theory of events, Mr Trump’s dramatic tweets bring to mind the owner of a Chicago speakeasy, who while being questioned by G-Men about why so many Mob bosses drink at his establishment, bellows: “FIRE!” and pulls the fire alarm. For when Mr Trump’s tactics are examined coolly, his claims of treachery by Mr Obama are a way to make Americans focus on a large, invented allegation—that Democrats, the media and other “enemies of the people” are conspiring to destroy or at least delegitimise his presidency. In fact, the allegations about Russia that continue to dog Mr Trump are narrower but still troubling.

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In a world of political smoke and mirrors, here are some things that definitely happened. During the presidential election campaign Mr Trump repeatedly broke with Republican Party orthodoxy to advocate friendlier ties with the Russian government of Vladimir Putin, in part because Mr Putin had the good judgement to praise Mr Trump (“Putin called me a genius” Mr Trump noted at rallies), and in part because Russia might, in his words, be willing to “knock the hell” out of the Islamic State extremist group in Syria and other theatres of war, sparing America much blood and treasure.
During the summer of 2016 WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of e-mails stolen from the servers of the Democratic National Committee and from the e-mail account of the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. American officials accused Russian hackers of being behind these leaks, as did Mrs Clinton but Mr Trump poured scorn on such claims, calling them an attempt to smear him, and wondering whether the hacker might be somebody “sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds”. In a press conference in July, Mr Trump invited Russia—“if you’re listening”—to search e-mail servers belonging to Mrs Clinton or government archives and find thousands of e-mails that the Democrat had deleted as private, after leaving her post as Mr Obama’s secretary of state. Mr Trump later said that this was a joke.
These events are beyond dispute. Lots of e-mails embarrassing to Mrs Clinton were stolen and appeared online, to Mr Trump’s public glee: “I love WikiLeaks”, he said in October. Someone hacked them, and after a lot of havering around Mr Trump, in January of this year, did at last say he believes that the culprit is Russia. Mr Trump gave Russian officials ample reason to think that their country might benefit from his election.
If so much smoke still swirls, it is because it remains unclear whether a natural coincidence of interests between Russia and Team Trump was buttressed by actual collusion. The Trump administration has suffered some of its worst early blows as a result of obfuscation around Russia. Michael Flynn, a retired three-star general, had to resign as Mr Trump’s first national security adviser after misleading the vice-president, Mike Pence, among others, about his own contacts with Mr Kislyak. Though he initially denied any substantive contacts, it emerged that Mr Flynn had spoken to the ambassador several times in late December, urging Russia to be patient and not to retaliate after Mr Obama imposed sanctions on Russians as punishment  for election meddling.
Trump partisans are currently lining up behind their man. But to return to that analogy with a Chicago bar-owner trying to avoid tough questioning, Mr Trump may be about to discover that when you pull a fire alarm in a crowded beer-hall, there are real-world consequences, some of them hard to control.
Though most Republicans remain intent on passing long-cherished bills and sending them to Mr Trump’s desk for signing, some members of his party are already signalling disquiet. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a thoughtful and principled conservative, issued a statement saying: “We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust, and the president’s allegations today demand the thorough and dispassionate attention of serious patriots.  A quest for the full truth, rather than knee-jerk partisanship, must be our guide if we are going to rebuild civic trust and health.” A member of the Senate intelligence committee, Marco Rubio of Florida, told NBC television he had seen “no evidence” to back Mr Trump’s claims. “The president put that out there, and now the White House will have to answer as to exactly what he was referring to,” said Mr Rubio.
The Florida senator is correct. In coming days the White House will have to explain what the president meant in his early-morning tweets on Saturday. Some observers felt that Mr Trump himself seemed to tire of his own outburst, tweeting his thoughts about a casting change on a reality-television show some 30 minutes after accusing his predecessor of something close to treason. Others see sincere rage, even paranoia. A conservative media boss and old friend of Mr Trump’s, Chris Ruddy, claims that the president believes his own allegations about wire-tapping with a fierce rage, telling him this weekend: “I will be proven right”.
Either way, the president has told his country and the world that American democracy came under a serious attack. He cannot now wish that charge away.

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Copyright © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2017. All rights reserved.

We No Longer Have Three Branches of Government – POLITICO Magazine


POLITICO Magazine

THE BIG IDEA

We No Longer Have Three Branches of Government

I served in Congress for 16 years and taught civics for 13 more. Our government no longer looks like the one I told my students about—or the one the Constitution describes.

 

February 27, 2017

For more than a dozen years, teaching government classes to graduate students at Harvard and Princeton, I filled my students’ heads with facts that no longer seem to be true. They have become “alternate facts,” or perhaps just outdated ones.

It has been my habit to begin each semester by slowly taking students through the Constitution, each article and section in turn, emphasizing not only each provision but why it was included. Fundamental to the constitutional process, I taught, was the unique delineation of authority and responsibility: the separation of powers that so cleanly distinguished American government from those that had gone before it. There were three branches, independent of each other, with varied duties and roughly equal. The greater power—overtaxing, spending, deciding whether to go to war, confirming members of the president’s Cabinet and justices of the Supreme Court—had been placed in the Congress, I said, because while the Founders had created a republic, they also added a sprinkling of democracy: The people would choose who would do the actual governing. I would underscore this point by noting the provisions that made clear the Framers’ deliberate rejection of a parliamentary system like the ones they had known in Europe, where legislative and executive power were joined. Here, it was to be the people, not the parties, that ruled, I told my students.

I believed it to be true—certainly it was what the Founders intended, and it was pretty close to the reality when I was first elected to Congress 40 years ago. But it’s no longer accurate. Instead of three equal, independent branches, each a check on the others, today’s federal government is, for practical purposes, made up of either two branches or one, depending on how you do the math. The modern presidency has become a giant centrifuge, sucking power from both Congress and the states, making de facto law through regulation and executive order. Yet the growing power of the executive is not merely a case of presidential power lust. For decades, the Supreme Court has consistently held that on most policy questions, foreign as well as domestic, statute trumps fiat (as recently as 2014’s decision Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the court declared that “the executive is not free from the ordinary controls and checks of Congress merely because foreign affairs are at issue”). But if Congress subordinates its constitutional duties to political concerns, what then?

Presidents have managed to accumulate such a prominent place at the top of what is now increasingly a pyramid rather than a horizontal structure of three connected blocks because for more than a generation, Congress has willingly abandoned both its constitutional responsibilities and its ability to effectively serve as a check on the executive even when it wishes to do so.

***

In the days after Donald Trump’s election, even after the new Congress was sworn in, congressional leaders waited eagerly to receive direction from the incoming president on budgetary, and even legislative, priorities. It is, at this point, a familiar pattern. When Barack Obama was president, Congressman Steve Israel, who had been tasked with overseeing House Democrats’ messaging, noted that Obama was, in fact, “our messenger in chief.” To a considerable extent, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have taken to seeing themselves not as part of a separate and competing branch of government, but as arms of their respective political parties.

Under the speakership of Newt Gingrich, in an attempt to demonstrate its new cost-cutting zeal, the Congress began to unilaterally disarm itself. Staffing (and thus expertise) was reduced. Foreign travel was scaled back, leaving members of Congress dependent on whatever information the executive branch wished to share with them about important international issues, or what they could discern from reading newspapers. That diminished capacity was further decreased in 2011, when Congress stripped itself of the ability to designate specific spending priorities through appropriations earmarks. As a result, members of Congress were not only deprived of an important tool for negotiating with their colleagues, but power over spending decisions—a fundamental congressional responsibility—was ceded to executive branch bureaucrats whose decisions about which government projects would be funded lacked any public transparency.

Congress’ abdication of responsibility predates Gingrich, however. The Constitution clearly provided that the United States would not send its children to fight and die in foreign wars unless the people themselves, through their elected representatives, thought the sacrifice necessary. Although presidents command the military, they do not decide when troops are to be sent into combat, except in the case of invasion or civil insurrection. Reacting to presidential overreach (beginning with Truman taking the nation to war in Korea without first seeking congressional authorization, and continuing through an undeclared war in Vietnam during the Johnson and Nixon years), Congress eventually stepped in, years later, in an attempt to reassert its authority but clumsily did the reverse: Under the 1973 War Powers Act, hailed by its sponsors as a means to restrain the executive, presidents were given free rein to go to war so long as they notified Congress first. Members of Congress congratulated themselves for providing that they could step in within 60 days to call a halt to a presidentially initiated conflict although it was not likely that Congress would pull back support with American troops engaged in combat. In that one spectacularly ill-considered action, the Congress stepped back from its single-most important obligation: deciding, as the peoples’ representatives, if and when America would wage war.

Other international issues speak to a similar trend of congressional retreat from constitutional responsibilities. During the just-ended presidential election, both Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders were sharply critical of international trade agreements that they believed disadvantage the United States. Since Congress is the only body authorized to write American law, it had acted over the years to provide safeguards on matters ranging from environmental protections to worker safety. But for decades, it has repeatedly surrendered its power to protect American interests in trade deals, bowing to presidents’ requests to simply accept whatever agreements the executive strikes with other countries (often without any congressional input). As a result, Congress has agreed to take up trade pacts on a “fast track,” denying its members the right to make any changes in the terms of the agreement, even though the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the authority to make the laws that govern international commerce. Congress has stripped itself of the power to insist that international trade be conducted in a way not harmful to American national interests and, specifically, the interests of American workers.

Americans have become accustomed to seeing Congress—especially when it’s controlled by the same party that holds the White House—wait for presidents to submit their proposed federal budgets before beginning serious discussions about spending decisions. But presidents prepare national budget proposals not because they are entitled to tell Congress what to do, but only because Congress has tasked the president with doing so in order to give the legislature a better sense of his thinking—and give members of Congress the chance to gather the information they need from the executive branch to decide how much to spend (and on what) and whether to increase taxes to pay for it. By stripping itself of sufficient resources to compete with the executive, Congress has made itself not the parent of the national budget, but a secondary player often forced by its own inadequacy to tinker at the edges with what presidents demand.

***

Of course, there remains another branch of government which, like the Congress, is theoretically and constitutionally separate and independent. But in reality the separateness is a bit fuzzy. That’s because even in this age of hyperpartisanship, there is at least one important area in which Democrats and Republicans think alike: both parties view the federal courts, and especially the Supreme Court, not as a neutral, Constitution-bound, arbiter, but as a de facto branch of the legislature.

Whether by a president, presidential candidate, or member of Congress, potential jurists are evaluated not on judicial temperament, quality of reasoning, or other examples of what were once considered “judicial attributes.” Today, the dominant question is how a nominee for the court will rule on controversial political questions. Last year, both Hillary Clinton and Trump, like presidential candidates before them, announced, as a part of their political campaigns, a “litmus test” for potential court nominees.

While many previous Supreme Court nominees were confirmed by the Senate with little or no dissent, Democrats and Republicans in today’s Senate announce their support or opposition at the instant of the nomination’s announcement—often even before a specific nominee is chosen—in anticipation of how the nominee will vote on questions of abortion, immigration, regulations, firearm ownership, and so on. Whether Merrick Garland or Neil Gorsuch, the question is not whether the nominee is qualified to function judicially, but whether he or she is “one of us”—that is, a fellow liberal or conservative. Each Supreme Court nominee is viewed as if he or she were to be a 101st vote in the Senate.

Today’s “separation of powers” is no longer between the three original, constitutionally created, branches of government, but between, on the one hand, a branch consisting of the president, his supporters in Congress and their mutual supporters on the federal bench; and on the other hand, a branch made up of the party in opposition to the president, his opponents in Congress and their co-partisans on the bench.

America’s Founders recognized the truth in Hobbes’ declaration that governments were needed to prevent abuses of the weak by the powerful. But they recognized that government, too, would need to be prevented from committing its own abuses—hence the need for the sometimes frustrating but nonetheless necessary divisions of authority between the state and federal governments and between the branches of the federal government. That is the system described in the Constitution and the system I taught. But it is not the system by which America operates today—a persistent war between competing political clubs.

I taught my students a system of government based on the Constitution. I thought I was teaching about current events. Instead, I now realize, I was teaching ancient history.

Mickey Edwards is a former eight-term member of Congress and chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. After leaving office in 1993, he taught government for 13 years at Harvard and Princeton, and became a vice president of the Aspen Institute, where he directs a political leadership program.

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