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Declan McCullagh, CNET chief political correspondent live!

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / January 22, 2008 2:53 AM PST

Ask the Editor Live!

Topic: Who would make the best tech president?

Our next upcoming Ask the Editors Live chat event begins at 11 a.m. Pacific Time (2 p.m. Eastern), Thursday, January 31. Our special host will be CNET chief political correspondent, Declan McCullagh, who will be here to answer questions about technology, politics, and the 2008 presidential election.

The topic can range from: Which candidate is the most tech-friendly? Who will protect online liberty the best? to How much does any of this matter when candidates are talking about Iraq, taxes, and healthcare instead? <br/><br/>

Declan, has spent a decade in Washington, D.C. writing about this and covered this year's New Hampshire primary. So mark your calendars, bookmark this page, get your questions ready, and join us for this live event!

Click here for the Event calendar.

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by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:02 AM PST

Welcome, folks. I'm at your disposal for the next hour (or as long as you find me at least somewhat interesting). The February 5 primaries are just a few days away, so let's chat.

One useful link, BTW, is our 2008 Tech Voter's Guide in which we surveyed the candidates about things like copyright, Net neutrality, and the Real ID Act. It's here:

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FreeBSD and plan9
by welrdelr / January 31, 2008 3:03 AM PST

Have yopu ever used these systems?

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by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:06 AM PST
In reply to: FreeBSD and plan9

Nope. I've been a Unix user since buying a NeXT in 1989 and have a colo'd server that runs Linux. On the desktop now I run OS X on a MacBook Pro. I've never felt the urge to switch from Linux to FreeBSD.

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How many
by welrdelr / January 31, 2008 3:07 AM PST

systems, architectures, languages, and programming hours do you have, had had experience with, and know?
Have you built and rebuilt systems?

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Um, let's try this again
by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:11 AM PST
In reply to: How many

My dear porch-a-geese, one of us seems to be suffering from a misunderstanding. I suspect it is you. The purpose of this chat is to talk about technology, politics, and the 2008 presidential race. See above. My friendly suggestion is that we chat instead about which systems, architectures, languages, and programming hours the presidential candidates know. Deal?

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Clinton Vs. Obama

So what would be your take on the techology positions?

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Clinton vs. Obama
by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:18 AM PST
In reply to: Clinton Vs. Obama

One way to separate them is to look at our 2006 technology voter's guide, which rates them on tech-friendly votes:

Obama gets a 50 percent (a failing grade unless we grade on a curve) and Clinton does even worse at 33 percent. These are not especially impressive scores, though Obama didn't have that many votes available to score.

Who you prefer between the two depends on where you stand. Both support Net neutrality. Both oppose retroactive immunity for telcos. Obama is more likely to amend the DMCA and change the Real ID requirements.

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Doesn't all this rather depend on what your priorities are?

If you assume everyone supports net neutrality you can prioritise support for net neutrality among the candidates. But if you hold a different view on that and other topics - for example if you think government's job is just to stay out of the way - then isn't that what you should be looking for in a candidate?

Do you think it breaks down along Republican (conservative) and Democratic (liberal) lines? Or is it more complex than that?

Would it make most sense to advise who is the best among the Democrats, given those voters' likely priorities, and then do the same for the Republicans?

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Yes and no
by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:28 AM PST

You're absolutely right that what you see in a candidate depends on where you stand. Net neutrality is probably one of the best issues to demonstrate this because reasonable people (and even some of the Internet's leading technologists) can disagree. More precisely, many folks like the idea of Net neutrality in theory, but not all of them want to see the Federal Communications Commission have more authority over the Internet, which is what nearly all of the legislative proposals involve. So, kind of oddly, you can be in favor of Net neutrality but against the "pro" Net neutrality legislation.

That's the "yes" part of my answer. The "no" part is that there are some common principles that technologically sophisticated Internet users generally share. Those are that laws should be technologically-neutral. We don't need special laws and regulations singling out the Internet. Laws that make little sense from a technological perspective (anti-encryption laws of the 1990s come to mind) are another category of, I hope, agreement.

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DRM Presidents
by Stasco / January 31, 2008 3:14 AM PST

Have any of the candidates showed any support for for opposition towards the RIAA's recent bully tactics in the ongoing situation with the "copyright wars"?

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by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:22 AM PST
In reply to: DRM Presidents

Good question. A good acid test is whether they'd amend the DMCA to allow Americans to make a single backup copy of a legally-purchased DVD (or Blu-ray disc or videogame, etc.).

Clinton would "review" this, which is a non-answer -- kind of the equivalent of creating a committee. Obama says yes but only in "in concept." McCain ducked the question when we asked him, basically saying that copyright is important but not answering directly.

Ron Paul would "protect the rights of consumers to make a backup copy of materials they have purchased" which is probably the most pro-fair use statement of the lot.

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Telecommuting Saves Money

Will any of the candidates push for more telecommuting jobs, saving gas, time and money in various areas which could really boost productivity and personal savings?

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Obama and Clinton
by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:55 AM PST

Another good question.

Of McCain, Romney, Clinton, and Obama, only the two Democrats appear to mention telecommuting anywhere on their Web sites. (We didn't include this in our voter's guide published earlier this month so that doesn't help us.)

Clinton says she wants to "promote telecommuting by encouraging its use at federal agencies, and by committing up to $50 million per year to support state and local initiatives." Obama would "institute a program that would help businesses create flexible work opportunities, and would increase federal incentives for telecommuting."

Personally, I'd say that except for federal employees, telecommuting should be the decision of individual companies. My employer, CNET, treats it on a case-by-case basis. There's absolutely no special reason to believe that some politician in Washington (who happens to be elected president) has any unique insight into the matter.

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Who's the best?
by Romriech / January 31, 2008 3:17 AM PST

Which Democrat and which Republican candidate has the most progressive approach to tech?

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Progressive approach
by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:38 AM PST
In reply to: Who's the best?

It depends on what you mean by progressive. I'm not being coy here; it's a serious point.

If you mean socially liberal and fiscally liberal, I'd say it would be McCain among the Republicans and Obama among the Democrats.

If you want the numbers to back up my hunch, take the American Conservative Union ratings and invert them ( Clinton gets a 9 life rating; Obama gets an 8; McCain gets an 82; Paul gets an 82. Romney isn't rated because he's not in Congress.

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Website Tax

Will any of the candidates tax small time publishers like me ( out of business so only the Wal-Mart's of the world can have a live site available to everyone?

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Who's the best on taxes?
by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:44 AM PST
In reply to: Website Tax

Well, the tax issue is pretty tricky because it means a lot of different things to different people (personal income taxes, corporate income taxes, online sales taxes, tax code simplification, Internet access taxes, etc.).

I think it's no surprise that, relatively speaking, the Democrats are going to be more in favor of raising taxes than Republicans.

When we asked Clinton whether she'd support a permanent moratorium on Internet access taxes, she ducked the question by saying she supported "legislation to extend the moratorium." Obama said he would. McCain said he would. Ron Paul said he would.

Between the Republicans, McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts (but seems to have come around, probably to court Republican support in the primaries). Romney would make the Bush tax cuts permanent, eliminate the death tax, and lower the corporate income tax rate. Ron Paul has won an award from the National Taxpayers Union as the "taxpayer's best friend" in the entire Congress, so that's pretty clear.

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Series of Tubes

Will any candidate actually understand that the internet is NOT a series of tubes and pipes?

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by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:49 AM PST
In reply to: Series of Tubes

Actually I'm almost tempted to rise to the defense of Sen. Stevens on this point. Almost.

I'm not so concerned about whether a candidate personally understands how a compiler works, or how to apply kernel patches, or whether Perl or PHP is better for a certain application.

I'm more concerned about two things: their broad views about the role of the federal government -- that is, what principles guide their actions? Are they clear and firmly-rooted, or do are they more ephemeral and change day-by-day?

The second thing I'd look at in a candidate is the type of people they surround themselves with. (This is in part a function of the first point.) Those people will be the ones making the day-to-day decisions.

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McCain Vs Romney
by jbf75 / January 31, 2008 3:23 AM PST

You did a break down on the Democrat side. How about an short breakdown of the two front runners on the Republican side?

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Republican front-runners
by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:34 AM PST
In reply to: McCain Vs Romney

Sure. The problem with this is that Mitt Romney is something of an unknown on many tech topics; we don't have a congressional voting record of the sort that we have for McCain and Ron Paul. His Web site is devoid of much details except for saying "children are being exposed to adult material at an alarming pace" on the Internet. And, alas, he refused to answer 10 tech questions we posed to him even though we gave him over a month. On Internet taxes, given his history, I'd suspect him to be reasonable, but this is a guess.

So that leaves us with McCain and Ron Paul. McCain scored a 31 percent, which is really pretty bad. Ron Paul scored an 80 percent, the best in the entire U.S. Congress (this is probably why you have a lot of technologists supporting him). The scorecard is here:

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Internet activity of candidates

Do you know which of the candidates have done the most online, both before and after they started running for president? Do you think it's a clear sign as to who would make the best tech candidate?

Obama was actively running a podcast up until he announced his candidacy (which left him no time), so I suspect he's relatively progressive in that regard. Official White House podcast, anyone?

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Most online candidate...
by declan00 / January 31, 2008 3:59 AM PST

The truth is the candidates hire campaign managers who in turn hire people to take care of these things. I may be in a minority, but I don't pay that much attention to who has the flashiest web site. Their voting records (and the political principles that the voting records highlight) are far more important to me.

If we just cared about who has the best-designed Web sites, all of us would have to vote for the Libertarian Party candidates:

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by Romriech / January 31, 2008 3:53 AM PST

Which candidate would be best for going after monopolies or abusive business practices and protecting consumers? Like breaking up Microsoft, separating iTunes and iPods, or preventing google from logging all of our personal information.

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by declan00 / January 31, 2008 4:22 AM PST
In reply to: Monopolies?

Your question assumes that consumers are necessarily helped by aggressive pursuit of alleged monopolists. The Justice Department has been after Microsoft for over a decade, and the primary legal result has been a consent decree that really doesn't do much at all. Were the benefits worth the cost? Check out this book for a view probably contrary to yours:

If you don't want Google to log your personal information, don't use it. Seriously. There are competitors out there like with Ask Eraser. Nobody's forcing you at gunpoint to go to, and not every business practice you dislike needs to be addressed by the next president. (Personally, I use Google but don't allow it to set cookies, which I find to be a decent compromise.)

But to answer your question, we can use our questions to the candidates about the Google-Doubleclick merger as a proxy. Clinton said she wants a "thorough review process." Obama ducked the question. McCain said he was a "vocal advocate of antitrust laws." Ron Paul said he would oppose blocking the merger, adding: "Congressional hand-wringing about the violation of privacy by private businesses is a distraction from the massive invasions of privacy conducted on a daily basis by the federal government."

Huckabee and Romney refused to answer the question even though we gave them over a month to reply.

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ISP responsibility?

Which candidate is most likely to agree with the notion that ISP's should be held legally responsible for data that flows through their networks?

Which is least likely to agree with that statement?

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ISP responsibility
by declan00 / January 31, 2008 4:02 AM PST
In reply to: ISP responsibility?

Egads. That's a difficult one. Internet service providers are generally not responsible for what flows over their networks, which is a good thing. Holding Comcast liable because a customer commits libel or downloads child porn would be simply silly (and would guarantee that nobody would ever start an ISP -- incentives matter).

So I'm pleased to say that not one current candidate I'm aware of would change this law. If anyone would have, it might have been Dennis Kucinich, but then again that allegation might be a little unfair to him. Happy

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Is there any discussion on the topic of outsourcing tech jobs to other countries in the political arena? If so, where do the candidates stand on this issue?

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by declan00 / January 31, 2008 4:17 AM PST
In reply to: Outsourcing

I think the answer is that there's not much discussion anymore. There was a lot last summer, especially if you count the immigration bill. And there was even more in 2004; here's something I wrote at the time:

This is a difficult issue for Democrats, especially, and Clinton and Obama were giving somewhat mixed messages last year. They're trying to keep two different groups happy that have two different political agendas: technology companies and labor unions.

In the long run, though, if there are federal restrictions on outsourcing jobs, companies will be more likely to simply move overseas in their entirety. It's not something that has a simple answer.

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personal privacy
by jack7650 / January 31, 2008 3:58 AM PST

Does any candidate support strengthening personal privacy through means such as requiring opt-in rather than opt-out sign-ups; a "do-not-email" type list (like do-not-call); clearer , and in plain English, EULAs; and severely restricting government access to personal files and information that may be stored on Google's and others' servers forever?

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