US trade rep demands end to other nations' healthcare, privacy rules, food labelling...

Public Citizen analyzes the new Obama 2014 National Trade Estimate Report, in which the US Trade Rep demands that: Japan abolish its privacy rules and its requirement that food be labelled with its ingredients; Canada abolish its rules limited pharmaceutical patents; Malaysia get rid of its tariffs on pork and booze; Mexico nuke its junk food taxes, and more. It's great reading, and leaves little room for doubt about the neoliberal future, in which anything that's bad for corporate profits -- even if it's good for society or reflects national values -- is killed in the name of free trade. Read the rest

Obama official responsible for copyright chapters of TPP & ACTA gets a job at MPAA; his replacement is another copyright lobbyist

Stan McCoy is the assistant US Trade Representative who oversaw the creation of the disastrous, far-reaching copyright provisions in ACTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership. He's left the Obama administration for a high-paid job at the MPAA, which represents companies that stood to reap massive profits and permanent control over Internet governance and innovation thanks to his efforts while in government. Now, the Obama administration has headhunted a software industry lobbyist (who supported SOPA) to take over his job. McCoy is one of more than a dozen USTR officials who've left the government to work for copyright lobbying bodies, including former Obama copyright czar Victoria Espinel, who now gets her paycheck from the Business Software Alliance.

Timothy Lee has an excellent piece on the revolving-door relationship between the USTR and the entertainment industry and other copyright lobbyists. When Obama was campaigning for office, he vowed that "lobbyists won't work in my White House." Read the rest

Obama whirls the copyright lobbyist/government official revolving door

The Obama administration has a new negotiator in its effort to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretly negotiated treaty that includes broad powers to censor and surveil the Internet: Robert Holleyman, one of the chief SOPA lobbyists. Holleyman just retired from serving as head of the Business Software Alliance. His successor is Victoria Espinel, who just quit the Obama administration, where she served as "IP Czar." Obama promised to shut down the revolving door between lobbyists and government, but it's spinning quicker than ever. Read the rest

US Trade Rep can't figure out if Trans-Pacific Partnership will protect the environment

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a secretly negotiated trade agreement let by the USA. Though the text is secret, enough drafts have leaked to make it clear that one of its goals is to ensure that foreign corporations can sue governments over laws that impact their profits, especially when it comes to the environment.

The US Trade Representative and the Obama administration have asked Congress to "fast track" the treaty, passing it without any debate or revisions. Naturally, Congress wants to know what the treaty is likely to say before they agree to this.

So in a hearing on Jan 28, Rep Mark Pocan (D-WI) asked Michael Froman -- the US Trade Rep running the TPP show -- about the environmental standards in TPP. Froman listed four areas in TPP that were "absolutely non-negotiable from a US standpoint," including "tough new environmental standards."

When the meeting ended, Pocan asked "So does that mean that if we give you fast track, you won't send us a deal that doesn't have that stuff in it?' At which point, we learned that the US Trade Rep uses a highly specialized meaning for the phrase "absolutely non-negotiable," meaning "totally up for grabs," because he immediately said, "I didn't say that." Read the rest

Choosing a Secure Password

As insecure as passwords generally are, they're not going away anytime soon. Every year you have more and more passwords to deal with, and every year they get easier and easier to break. Bruce Schneier says you need a strategy.

Obama's top Trans-Pacific Partnership officials were given millions by banks before taking the job

The top Obama administration officials working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership came to government from investment banks who will benefit immensely from its provisions, which severely curtail countries' ability to pass laws regulating banks and other corporations. These top advisors, who came from Bank of America and Citigroup, were given multimillion-dollar exit bonuses when they left their employers for government. For example, the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, was handed $4M from Citigroup as a goodbye gift on his way into his new job.

This is standard operating procedure for America's financial industry, where the largest players all have contracts guaranteeing millions to employees who leave the firm for government jobs. Read the rest

Comic book explains why the Transpacific Partnership serves no one but the ultra-rich

In 2012 I reviewed Economix, a terrific cartoon history of economics by Michael Goodwin and illustrated by Dan E. Burr. (After reading it, I bought a few copies of the book to give as gifts.)

Today, Michael emailed to let me know that he and Dan have posted an excellent and free 27-page online comic called The Transpacific Partnership and "Free Trade," which describes how the negotiated-in-secret treaty is a "global coup that's disabling our democracies and replacing them with multinationals and Wall Street," and is making the US "police state more extensive, more restrictive, and global." Read the rest

Save the Internet: Stop Fast Track

Evan from Fight for the Future writes, "Want to help save democracy? The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a super-secretive trade agreement that threatens everything you care about. It's been negotiated behind closed doors with ample input from over 600 corporate lobbyists -- but no access for journalists or the public. Sound bad? It gets worse. The corporate interest groups pushing for the TPP are the same folks that brought us SOPA, ACTA, and NAFTA." Read the rest

Leaked: environmental chapter of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty

Most of our coverage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has focused on its Internet-regulating provisions. But the treaty -- which has been negotiated in unprecedented secrecy, with heavy-handed shoves from the US Trade Representative -- also has disturbing implications for the environment. Today, Wikileaks published a leaked consolidated draft of TPP's environment chapter, which sets out the ways in which corporations will be able to prevent countries from passing environmental laws that interfere with profit making. Read the rest

Trans-Pacific Partnership: how the US Trade Rep is hoping to gut Congress with absurd lies

The US Trade Representative is pushing Congress hard for "Trade Promotion Authority," which would give the President's representatives the right to sign treaties like the Trans-Pacific Partnership without giving Congress any chance to oversee and debate the laws that America is promising to pass. With "Trade Promotion Authority" (also called "fast track"), Congress's only role in treaties would be to say "yes" or "no" to whatever the US Trade Rep negotiated -- so if the USTR papered over a bunch of sweetheart deals for political cronies with a single provision that politicians can't afford to say no to, that'll be that.

Not coincidentally, the TPP is one long sweetheart deal with a couple of political sweeteners that no Congresscritter can afford to kill.

The USTR's push for Trade Promotion Authority contains some of the stupidest, easy-to-debunk lies I've ever read. Either the Obama Administration figures that Congress is thicker than pigshit, or the USTR drafted this to give tame Congresscritters cover for selling out the people they represent to the corporations that fund their campaigns.

Techdirt's Mike Masnick has undertaken the unpleasant chore of documenting and rebutting the Trade Rep's falsehoods point-by-point. Read the rest

Public Domain Day 2014: bad times ahead, urgent action needed

It's Public Domain day again -- the day when music, books and movies enter the public domain in countries where copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years (hint: not the USA).

But as John Mark Ockerbloom points out, the list of life+50 countries keeps getting shorter, as more and more countries are arm-twisted into extending their copyright terms by the US Trade Representative. And increasingly, countries are passing regressive copyright laws that take works out of the public domain and put them back into copyright -- an insane policy that ends up criminalizing new art that incorporates the old, and that provides no new incentive to create (give Elvis or the Beatles 50 more years of copyright if you like, they're still not going to record any more music).

It's not all bad news: between the Hathi Trust lawsuit (which held it legal to scan old, in-copyright books under some circumstances) and the growth of Creative Commons licenses.

There's urgent work to be done. We need to fight copyright term extension, to expand fair use and fair dealing, increase access to orphan works, and discredit and destroy the new practice of making global copyright law through secretive treaty negotiations like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, and the Open Knowledge Foundation are all working to bring copyright into line with the modern world, and to stop its from being used for censorship and surveillance. Read the rest

Secretive TPP treaty could kill creator's right to get copyrights back from studios, labels and publishers

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has new analysis of the leaked Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty, a secretive trade deal being hammered out without any public oversight, and set to be fast-tracked through the US Congress without substantial debate. EFF's piece focuses on the treaty's provisions that affect "termination rights," an obscure but important part of copyright law that allows creators to take their assigned copyrights back from the companies who bought them after 35 years. The studios, labels and publishers hate this, as it allows creators who scored big hits early in their careers when they were getting paid peanuts for their work to take those successful works back and re-sell them at a more appropriate price. EFF's view is that the TPP draft endangers Termination Rights.

It's more proof that just because many creators are on the side of the big entertainment companies, it doesn't follow that the companies are on the side of their creators. Any creator who endorses TPP, thinking that expansions to copyright will always benefit them, had better look again: TPP is a way of taking away one of the most valuable rights that creators have and handing it over to Big Content to make billions off of. Read the rest

Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership sucks: short, funny animation

Spocko sez, "Here's a short animated video explaining why the Trans-Pacific Partnership sucks. starring my imitation of Ross Perot! Remember, Ross knew all about the 'Giant sucking sound from the South' that became NAFTA. I pulled concepts from both the left and the right to inform this video." Read the rest

75% of American silent feature films lost

A September report from the Library of Congress's National Film Preservation Board called The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912–1929 [PDF] paints a dismal picture of the archival record of silent movies. In all, "14% of the 10,919 silent films released by major studios exist in their original 35mm or other format," although some of the missing items are extant in lesser transfers and foreign editions. But in all, "we have lost 75% of the creative record from the era that brought American movies to the pinnacle of world cinematic achievement in the 20th century."

It's a sobering reminder of the fragility of even relatively recent media, and the need for preservation. An appreciable slice of the missing archival materials are still in copyright, with attending difficulties in clearing them for the purpose of striking and circulating new prints. As we close in on 2018, the date at which materials from 1928 onward will begin entering the public domain again, this is an important reminder of what can happen if we let the profitability of a tiny slice of commercially viable ancient materials trump the preservation of the vast bulk of cultural materials. Read the rest

Democratic lawmakers share a squalorous house in DC

A group of top Democratic lawmakers live in a squalorous group house in DC. The house was once the family home of Rep. George Miller (D-CA), but he relocated back to his California district with his wife and family. Now, three decades later, Illinois senator Dick Durbin shares the house with New York senator Chuck Schumer and congressman Miller, amid dusty, filthy and disused furnishings dating back to the 1980s. The lawmakers only spend three nights a week at the house, and come and go at odd hours between meetings, fundraisers, and appearances. They use the Congressional gyms and other facilities for the majority of their needs, and boast about the holes in the stovetop and the dumpster-dived furniture, as well as Durbin's comfort-food of choice: raisin bran. Read the rest

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