Daily Archive: 02/13/2015

Feb 13 2015

Mean Trade

What POTUS wouldn’t tell Ezra Klein: The scary truth about America’s new trade deal

by David Dayen, Salon

Tuesday, Feb 10, 2015 07:00 AM EST

President Obama conceded that TPP won’t live up to even a minimal labor goal when he made the rhetorical statement that organized labor wants union recognition in Vietnam or open markets in Japan, replying, “well, I can’t get that for you.” (indeed, the U.S. just dropped their effort to require Japan to open their auto markets in the deal, something that has led to the displacement of over 800,000 jobs). He says that the best possibility is to make something somewhat better than the status quo. But Obama is a terrible messenger for this message, having spent six years presiding over and passing trade agreements that fit neatly into that status quo, and of course remaining mute on the real goals of TPP: expanding corporate power over sovereign countries. And an incremental improvement won’t alter the balance of power between the U.S. and China, which Obama says is his overall goal.

But the most amazing part of Obama’s pitch on new trade deals is this statement: “Those experiences that arose over the last 20 years are not easily forgotten, and the burden of proof is on us, then, to be very transparent and explicit in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Maybe Obama didn’t realize he was talking about one of the most secretive major policy deals in recent history. Most of what we know about the TPP has come from leaked texts, with periodic bombshells like the impact on copyrights, prescription drug access and even financial regulation. The public has no access to the text, and members of Congress can only view it in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, without staff members or experts, and without taking copies with them. The European Union recently published the entire text of a proposed U.S.-Eurozone trade agreement under negotiation, but the U.S. hasn’t come close to this level of transparency.

You’d think that, before Obama would say that his Administration must be transparent to the public in describing the benefits of free trade, he would at least share even a few lines of the text with the public. The TPP has been marked only by secrecy.

So the Administration case for the TPP is incredibly weak, based on “trust-us” arguments from those who haven’t earned that trust, who won’t discuss the real issues and who argue for transparency while hiding the true agenda. But the combination of a media that generally depicts anything with the word “trade” in it as a universal good, and a Republican Party hungry to reward their corporate funders, means that Obama’s arguments don’t have to be good to be successful.

Why We Should Rename TAFTA/TTIP As The ‘Atlantic Car Trade Agreement’

by Glyn Moody, Tech Dirt

Mon, Feb 9th 2015 8:54p

When TAFTA/TTIP was first announced, David Cameron said it would “have a greater impact than all the other trade deals on the table put together.” We were repeatedly assured that it would boost both the US and EU economies significantly. But when people started looking at the European Commission’s own projections for TTIP (pdf), they found that the reality wasn’t so impressive. Here’s the economist Dean Baker, in a post entitled “Why Is It So Acceptable to Lie to Promote Trade Deals?

Recognizing that claims of substantial growth don’t stand up to scrutiny, boosters of TTIP in Europe have resorted to a fallback technique: anecdote. If you can’t prove something is good in general, show that it will be good for someone — anyone — and then extrapolate. Of course, that means you need to find an example of an industry that would definitely benefit from a US-EU trade agreement. An EU document on regulatory harmonization (pdf) from September 2013 gave a strong hint of which that might be.

It is striking how the anecdotal stories about the various ways in which the automotive industry would benefit from TAFTA/TTIP have become even more widespread recently. Here’s the British MP John Healey, one of the main cheerleaders for TTIP in the UK, writing in October 2014 about the “potential gains” of the agreement. Guess which example he chooses?

A recent video from the German industry association BDI extolling the virtues of TTIP for small and medium-sized companies uses two examples — one of which is cars. And here’s a video from BBC News which is all about the fact that TTIP will make it easier to sell European products in the US, using cars as its example. The main CEPR study on the economic impact of TTIP does, indeed, predict that car sales will increase. In fact, as Martin Whitlock has noted, that boost to transatlantic trade in cars contributes half of TAFTA/TTIP’s total projected uplift to economies.

Negotiators Burn Their Last Opportunity to Salvage the TPP by Caving on Copyright Term Extension

By Maira Sutton, EFF

February 4, 2015

Negotiators have been made well aware [PDF] that there is no economic rationale that can justify this extension. The fact that they have chosen to ignore what is a clear consensus among economists points to the fact that this agreement has not been driven by reason, but by the utter corruption of the process by lobbyists for multinational entertainment conglomerates, who have twisted what is notionally a trade negotiation into a special interest money-grab. After all of the trouble that public interest advocates have gone to educate negotiators about the folly of term extension, the fact that they have gone ahead anyway is the last straw for us. We’ll now be pulling out all the stops to kill this agreement dead.

The White House justifies TPP by claiming it will promote economic growth and create jobs. But the continued enclosure of culture under exorbitant copyright terms would have the opposite effect. Creators who want to build new culture out of the shared building blocks of the public domain have to wait ever longer and use more and more distant and obscure materials. We squander the promise of the Internet and digital tools promise to make it more possible to make, sell, and distribute creative works if we cut out the common resources artists and authors would use to build them.

The copyright term extension provisions in TPP embody everything that is wrong with the TPP’s digital policy rules, namely that the rules are put there for and by corporate interests that are privy to these secret negotiations, at the expense of users and the public interest. If TPP passes with these copyright terms, the agreement will be pointed to as a standard for “copyright protection”, when in fact, they are just the result of lobbying from big corporate interests who got such laws passed in the US. TPP is just the latest vehicle for copyright policy laundering, and now more than ever, we need to stop it all costs.

Go to Prison for File Sharing? That’s What Hollywood Wants in the Secret TPP Deal

By Maira Sutton, EFF

February 12, 2015

The US is pushing for a broad definition of a criminal violation of copyright, where even noncommercial activities could get people convicted of a crime. The leak also shows that Canada has opposed this definition. Canada supports language in which criminal remedies would only apply to cases where someone infringed explicitly for commercial purposes.

This distinction is crucial. Commercial infringement, where an infringer sells unauthorized copies of content for financial gain, is and should be a crime. But that’s not what the US is pushing for-it’s trying to get language passed in TPP that would make a criminal out of anyone who simply shares or otherwise makes available copyrighted works on a “commercial scale.”

As anyone who has ever had a meme go viral knows, it is very easy to distribute content on a commercial scale online, even without it being a money-making operation. That means fans who distribute subtitles to foreign movies or anime, or archivists and librarians who preserve and upload old books, videos, games, or music, could go to jail or face huge fines for their work. Someone who makes a remix film and puts it online could be under threat. Such a broad definition is ripe for abuse, and we’ve seen such abuse happen many times before.

Fair use, and other copyright exceptions and limitations frameworks like fair dealing, have been under constant attack by rightsholder groups who try to undermine and chip away at our rights as users to do things with copyrighted content. Given this reality, these criminal enforcement rules could go further to intimidate and discourage users from exercising their rights to use and share content for purposes such as parody, education, and access for the disabled.

Like the various other digital copyright enforcement provisions in TPP, the criminal enforcement language loosely reflects the United States’ DMCA but is abstracted enough that the US can pressure other nations to enact rules that are much worse for users. It’s therefore far from comforting when the White House claims that the TPP’s copyright rules would not “change US law”-we’re still exporting bad rules to other nations, while binding ourselves to obligations that may prevent US lawmakers from reforming it for the better. These rules were passed in the US through cycles of corrupt policy laundering. Now, the TPP is the latest step in this trend of increasingly draconian copyright rules passing through opaque, corporate-captured processes.

These excessive criminal copyright rules are what we get when Big Content has access to powerful, secretive rule-making institutions. We get rules that would send users to prison, force them to pay debilitating fines, or have their property seized or destroyed in the name of copyright enforcement. This is yet another reason why we need to stop the TPP-to put an end to this seemingly endless progression towards ever more chilling copyright restrictions and enforcement.

Feb 13 2015

“Citizen Four”: An Interview

The Oscars are February 22. One of the nominations this year in the Documentary Feature category is “Citizen Four,” a film about computer analyst Edward Snowden who leaked NSA files that revealed the extent of government spying on US citizens. The film’s director Laura Poitras, investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and via satellite from Russia, the film’s subject, Edward Snowden were interviewed by the New York Times media critic, David Carr.

Sadly, this was Mr. Carr’s final interview. He passed away shortly after the interview concluded. Our deepest condolences to Mr. Carr’s family and friends.

Feb 13 2015

Obama’s Blank Check for His Neverending War

In an effort to get approval for a war that has been going on for the last six months, President Barack Obama sent a request to Congress for authorization for the use of force (AUMF) in connection with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. There are some in congress, on both sides of the aisle in both houses, feel that this is just another blank check for the perpetual war against terror. During a panel hearing, Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) asked some very pointed questions about the language in the letter. The panel members were former Ambassador James Franklin Jeffrey, Rick Brennan, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, and Dr. Dafna Hochman Rand, former staff member on Obama’s National Security Council.

GRAYSON: Thank you. Section 2C of the president’s draft authorization for the use of military force reads as follows: The authority granted in subsection A does not authorize the use of US armed forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations. Ambassador Jeffrey, what does ‘enduring’ mean?

JEFFREY: My answer would be a somewhat sarcastic one. Whatever the executive at the time defines enduring as, and I have a real problem with that.

GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan?

Brennan: I have real problems with that also. Not only because it’s… I don’t know what it means. I can just see the lawyers fighting over the meaning of this. But more importantly, if you’re looking at committing forces for something that you are saying is either vital, or important interest of the United States, and you get in the middle of a battle, and all of a sudden are you on offense, or are you on defense? What happens if neighbors cause problems? Wars never end the way that they were envisioned. And so I think that that’s maybe a terrible mistake to put in the AUMF.

GRAYSON: Dr. Rand?

Rand: Enduring, in my mind, specifies an open-endedness, it specifies lack of clarity on the particular objective at hand.

GRAYSON: Dr. Rand, is two weeks enduring?

RAND: I would leave that to the lawyers to determine exactly.

GRAYSON: So, your answer is you don’t know, right? How about two months?

RAND: I don’t know. Again, I think it would depend on the particular objective, enduring in my mind is not having a particular military objective in mind.

GRAYSON: So you don’t really know what it means. Is that a fair statement?

RAND: Enduring in my mind means open ended.

GRAYSON: Alright, section five of the draft of the authorization of the use of military force reads as follows: In this resolution the term associated persons or forces means individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL, or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. Ambassador Jeffrey, what does “alongside ISIL” mean?

JEFFREY: I didn’t draft this thing. But,

GRAYSON: Nor did I.

JEFFREY: Nor did you, but I would have put that in there if I had been drafting it, and the reason is, I think they went back to 2001, of course this is the authorization we’re still using, along with the 2002 one for this campaign, and these things morph. For example, we’ve had a debate over whether ISIS is really a element of Al Qaeda; it certainly was when I knew it as Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2010 to 2012, and these semantic arguments confuse us and confuse our people on the ground, in trying to deal with these folks. You’ll know it when you see it if it’s an ISIS or it’s an ally of ISIS.

GRAYSON: How about the Free Syrian Army, are they fighting alongside ISIL in Syria?

Jeffrey: No, they’re not fighting alongside ISIL, in fact often they’re fighting against ISIL, and ISIL against them in particular.

GRAYSON: What about Assad, is he fighting for or against? It’s kind of hard to tell without a scorecard, isn’t it?Jeffrey: It sure is.

GRAYSON: Yeah. What about you Dr. Brennan, can you tell me what “alongside ISIL” means?

Brennan: No, I really couldn’t. I think that what, you know, it might be… the 9/11 Commission uses the phrase “radical islamist organizations” and I think maybe if we went to a wording like that, it includes all those 52 groups that adhere to this type of ideology, that threaten the United States. But we’re putting ourselves in boxes and as you said Sen… Congressman, I’m trying to understand what that means, what the limits are… who we’re dealing with, it’s very confusing.

GRAYSON: Dr. Rand.

RAND: Well, first of all, I believe that the confusion is probably a function of the fact that this is an unclassified document, so it’s not going to specify exactly which groups are considered associates; that would be for a classified setting. But second, as I said in the testimony, the nature of the alliances within ISIL are changing and are fluid, and those who are targeting, the military experts, know exactly who is a derivative, or an associate, or an ally of ISIS at any given moment.

GRAYSON: Why are you so confident of that? It seems to me that it’s a matter of terminology, not a matter of ascertainable fact.

RAND: Based on my public service. I’ve seen some of the lawyers (?) and some of the methodologies, and-(cut off)

GRAYSON: Okay. Here’s the $64 billion question for you, Ambassador Jeffrey, and if we have time, for you others. If you can’t tell us, you three experts can’t tell us what these words mean, what does that tell us? Ambassador Jeffrey.

JEFFREY: That it’s very difficult to be using a tool basically designed to declare war or something like war on a nation-state, which has a fixed definition, against a group that morphs, that changes its name, that has allies, and other things. Do we not fight it? We have to fight it. Are we having a hard time defining it? You bet.

GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan?

BRENNAN: I’d agree with the ambassador. I think the issue we that need to be looking at is trying to broaden terminology and understand that it is a tenet, or organizations and groups that adhere to this ideology, and make it broad enough that if one pops up in a different country that is doing the same thing, that is a sister of this organization, the President has the authority to act.

GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan, I think you just described a blank check, which I’m not willing to give to the President or anybody else. But thank you for your time.

H/T John Amato at Crooks and Liars

Feb 13 2015

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Money Makes Crazy

Monetary policy probably won’t be a major issue in the 2016 campaign, but it should be. It is, after all, extremely important, and the Republican base and many leading politicians have strong views about the Federal Reserve and its conduct. And the eventual presidential nominee will surely have to endorse the party line.

So it matters that the emerging G.O.P. consensus on money is crazy – full-on conspiracy-theory crazy.

Right now, the most obvious manifestation of money madness is Senator Rand Paul’s “Audit the Fed” campaign. Mr. Paul likes to warn that the Fed’s efforts to bolster the economy may lead to hyperinflation; he loves talking about the wheelbarrows of cash that people carted around in Weimar Germany. But he’s been saying that since 2009, and it keeps not happening. So now he has a new line: The Fed is an overleveraged bank, just as Lehman Brothers was, and could experience a disastrous collapse of confidence any day now.

Zoë Carpenter: FBI Director on Police Violence: ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’

About halfway through what was billed as a groundbreaking speech on race and policing, FBI director James Comey reached for the wisdom of musical theater. “I am reminded of the song ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’ from the Broadway hit, Avenue Q,” he mused. He went on to quote the lyrics. “You should be grateful I did not sing that,” he joked.

That bit of levity summed up the rest of Comey’s speech, which amounted largely to an excuse for systemic discrimination by law enforcement. He received praise for being “bold” in addressing the subject, in comparison to other law enforcement leaders; that’s a pretty low bar. “I worry that this important and incredibly difficult conversation about race and policing has become focused entirely on the nature and character of law enforcement officers, when it should also be about something much harder to discuss,” Comey said. That “something,” he explained, is America’s history of racism, and the “unconscious bias” that “we all-white and black-carry…around with us.” [..]

That’s not a conversation that Comey controls, however. People around the country are keeping it going, and they’re spending less time talking about “seeing one another” than about what can actually be done, right now. Police accountability measures are pending in more than a dozen states. In Washington, DC, activists with the #DCFerguson movement are organizing against the use of “jump outs,” a policing tactic that involves plainclothes officers in unmarked cars descending suddenly to conduct stop and frisks.

“We all have work to do-hard work, challenging work-and it will take time,” Comey said in closing. “So let’s begin.” But he has arrived late to an ongoing discussion, and few are waiting for him to catch up.

Michelle Goldberg: The Most Common Type of American Terrorist Is a White Man With a Weapon and a Grudge

Yesterday, an outspoken white atheist murdered three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We don’t yet know for sure whether this was a hate crime or whether the killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, had some other motivation; police have said the crime may have grown out of a dispute over parking. We do know that had Hicks been a Muslim and his victims atheists, few would be waiting for all the facts to come in before declaring him a terrorist. We know that there would be the usual calls for other Muslims to condemn the killings, coupled with the usual failure to take note of the many Muslims who did. And we know that demands for Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins to distance themselves from Hicks are largely facetious, because no one really blames them. Violence perpetrated by Muslims is almost always seen as part of a global conspiracy, whereas white men like Hicks are usually seen as isolated psychopaths.

There is, of course, some truth there. An organized jihadist movement exists; an organized cadre of terroristic atheists does not. Yet in the United States, Islamophobia has been a consistent motivator of violence. Hicks’s killing of Yusor Mohammad, her husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, should not be treated like a man-bites-dog story, a reversal of the usual pattern of terrorism. After all, Muslims in the United States are more often the victims of ideological violence than the perpetrators of it.

Maria Margaronis: The New Greek Government Refuses to Agree to Unpayable Debts

At times the conflict between Greece and the rest of the Eurozone looks like a duel to the death. Last night, a seven-hour meeting of Europe’s finance ministers about Greece’s immediate funding needs ended in tetchy silence. There was no common statement; there wasn’t even (to borrow Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s phrase after his meeting last week with Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble) an agreement to disagree. On Twitter, Greece-watchers tried to come up with ways to marry Greece’s request for a bridge loan with the Eurozone’s insistence on an extension to the bailout memorandum, which the new governing party Syriza has promised to repudiate. Pier? Pontoon? Causeway? Schrödinger’s memorandum, simultaneously dead and alive?

Semantics will play an important part in any eventual solution, which will involve compromises and face-saving wording for both sides. But semantics can’t be all of it-something the Eurozone ministers may not yet have understood. The Syriza government is not just pushing for a better deal-they’re refusing to keep on playing the same self-destructive game, piling debt on unpayable debt tied to impossible conditions. The aim is to reclaim democracy and political possibility-and with them, human lives-from the failed and fatal dogmas of austerity. In this they are backed by 70 percent of the Greek people, twice the proportion that voted for them. Eighty percent also want to stay in the eurozone. The desire-perhaps quixotic, perhaps grandiose, but born of suffering and necessity-is not to abandon Europe but to change it.

Leslie Savan: Finally, Someone Pays for Iraq War Lies – Brian Williams

Everybody’s been asking whether Brian Williams can return as anchor of NBC Nightly News after his six-month suspension for exaggerating an attack on a helicopter ferrying him and an NBC camera crew to a military bridge site in Iraq back in 2003. It’s the big celebrity question of the week, totally replacing our collective wonderment over that weird hat Pharrell Williams (no relation) wore during his Grammys performance last weekend.

But just peaking above the surface in the past couple days is a far more important question: Will the media, prodded by what they’ve judged to be Williams’s “lies,” finally begin to question their own role in boosting the far more serious lies that led to hundreds of thousands of actual deaths in the Iraq war?

Jon Stewart, as usual, saw the ironies. After cracking some gentle jokes at his friend’s expense, Stewart allowed that he’s happy the media is piling on Bri Wi because ” finally someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq war.”

Feb 13 2015

The Breakfast Club (A Case of Do or Die)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Bruno Richard Hauptmann convicted in the Lindbergh baby kidnap-murder; The World War II bombing of Dresden begins; Konstantin Chernenko becomes Soviet leader; Peter Gabriel born; Waylon Jennings dies.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

Be yourself. The world worships the original.

Ingrid Bergman

Feb 13 2015

On This Day In History February 13

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 13 is the 44th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 321 days remaining until the end of the year (322 in leap years).

On this day in 1633, Italian philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy for advocating Copernican theory, which holds that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Galileo officially faced the Roman Inquisition in April of that same year and agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Put under house arrest indefinitely by Pope Urban VIII, Galileo spent the rest of his days at his villa in Arcetri, near Florence, before dying on January 8, 1642.

Galileo Galilei (15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642), commonly known as Galileo, was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations, and support for Copernicanism. Galileo has been called the “father of modern observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, the “father of science”, and “the Father of Modern Science”. Stephen Hawking says, “Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.”

The motion of uniformly accelerated objects, taught in nearly all high school and introductory college physics courses, was studied by Galileo as the subject of kinematics. His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour), and the observation and analysis of sunspots. Galileo also worked in applied science and technology, inventing an improved military compass and other instruments.

Galileo’s championing of Copernicanism was controversial within his lifetime, when a large majority of philosophers and astronomers still subscribed to the geocentric view that the Earth is at the centre of the universe. After 1610, when he began publicly supporting the heliocentric view, which placed the Sun at the centre of the universe, he met with bitter opposition from some philosophers and clerics, and two of the latter eventually denounced him to the Roman Inquisition early in 1615. In February 1616, although he had been cleared of any offence, the Catholic Church nevertheless condemned heliocentrism as “false and contrary to Scripture”, and Galileo was warned to abandon his support for it-which he promised to do. When he later defended his views in his most famous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Feb 13 2015

Winter Vacation

Jon & Co. are in repeats until at least the 19th.