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."
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A group of steampunk cosplayers arranged to meet up at Westfield Plaza Camino Real near San Diego to ride the mall's Victorian carousel. But Westfield's mall cops were terrified of the cosplayers and evicted them all, escorting them to the door, calling the cops, and making them wait until the police arrived (the police basically shrugged and said, "Look, it's stupid, but it's their mall").
The mall cops -- and their corporate overlords -- cited a variety of dumb policies in support of the action, including a ban on wearing costumes that obscured the wearer's face (which didn't describe the cosplayers' outfits), a ban on gathering in groups larger than three (ORLY), a ban on photography without the subjects' permission (the steampunks, having gathered to have their photos taken, can be presumed to have consented to the pictures). Basically, it's a case of mall cop authoritarianism followed by the usual bland corporate doubling-down.
Of course, kids -- especially kids who happen to be brown -- already know that malls are capricious and fraught replacements for the public square. Mall cops basically hate anything that doesn't accord with their view of what a shopper should be and relentlessly discriminate against anyone they don't like. Back when I was in high school, more than half of my school had been banned from College Park, the mall in Toronto that was across the street from the school, by sneering jerks from Intercon security, who had the full backing of their management and the mall management.
The irony of ejecting people for wearing steampunk clothes in rich: malls are full of steampunk-inflected clothing, as the commodification mills of the fashion industry relentlessly mine subculture for new looks to put under glass. And here, too, is another parallel to the much more widespread discrimination against brown kids, who are often ejected on the pretense of wearing "gang" clothes -- clothes whose styles have been snaffled up, denatured, and repackaged for sale in the stores whose rent keeps the mall in business.
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One of the RIAA's best friends in congress, Jerry Nadler, has been appointed to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet
Obama Congressional Democrats
. The history of this committee is nothing short of grotesque: every time it looks like a copyright moderate/friend of the Internet might get appointed to it, it is declared redundant and shut down. Then, once the danger has passed and there's another loony, Internet-hating, censorship-happy copyright maximialist in place to fill a vacant seat, the committee once again becomes relevant and is resurrected.
Lloyd Kaufman, cofounder of Troma Entertainment (the people who brought us such films as the Toxic Avenger) has a brilliant, profane, and stirring editorial in support of Net Neutrality on Techdirt. Kaufman explains how an open Internet is the only competitve hedge against the communications giants that own "cinemas, newspapers, T.V. stations, radio and even Broadway 'legitimate' theaters." Thanks to the failure of the FCC to give Net Neutrality their full protection, and the court ruling that gutted the FCC's weak protections, Net Neutrality is in real trouble. Kaufman's editorial a great arguments for its preservation.
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Evidence of the widening wealth gap: Across America, brands that serve middle class customers are shutting down, while businesses that serve the rich are thriving
. Good bye $16.50 dinners at Olive Garden, hello $71 checks at Capital Grille. (via Mitch Wagner
Canada's Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has led a brutal attack on government libraries: literally burning the country's environmental records and doing such damage to the Health Canada libraries that scientists have set up clandestine libraries in the basements of their offices. But that was just for starters. In all, the Harper government has demolished the library collections of twelve ministries, including:
The Canada Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration, Employment and Social Development Canada, Environment Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada, the Public Service Commission, Public Works and Government Services, and Transport Canada.
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The Writers Guild of America submitted an exemplary set of comments to the U.S. Government's Internet Policy Task Force green paper on the future of American copyright. The WGA calls for balance in copyright law, and stresses that censorship, surveillance and chilling of critical speech have no place in copyright policy. It's amazing to see artists' groups taking a stand for free expression when it comes to copyright -- far too often, arts groups are staunch free speech defenders except when it comes to unproven accusations of copyright infringement, which they hold to be sufficient grounds for arbitrary censorship.
But artists who think the issue through know that communications policies like copyright can't do their job if they compromise free expression. Artists have a wide variety of business-models and commercial opportunities, but if you're making art in a way that requires total surveillance and arbitrary censorship, you're doing art wrong.
Torrentfreak summarizes the best of the WGA submission. It's an important read: it shows that the entertainment industry's regulatory agenda doesn't serve the creators they employ (and exploit).
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Inspired by the news that King.com -- creators of the game "Candy Crush" -- had received a trademark on the use of the words "candy" and "saga" in connection with video games (and other things) and were using it to censor its competition, Michael Brough's created a fun -- and trenchant -- text-adventure called Candy Quest 3: Edge of Sweetness. It's part of The Candy Jam, an indie game-jam created entirely to troll the butthead corporate overlords at King.com.
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Here's more bad news from historic computing site Bletchley Park, where a new, slick museum is being put together with enormous corporate and state funding. Last month, it was the fact that McAfee had apparently banned any mention of Edward Snowden in a cybersecurity exhibit.
Now there's this heartrending BBC report on how volunteers who've given decades of service to Bletchley have been summarily dismissed because they don't fit in with the new plan. The museum of Churchill memoribilia that shared the Bletchley site has been evicted.
For people like me who've donated over the years, fundraised for it, and joined the Friends of Bletchley, this is really distressing news. I've always dreamt of Bletchley getting enough funding to do the site and its collection justice, but if it comes at the expense of decency and integrity, they may as well have left it as Churchill did -- abandoned and forgotten.
Update: Bletchley Trust has clarified to me that while this volunteer was dismissed from guiding tours because he refused to conduct the tour to the new spec, he still volunteers with the Trust in its educational department.
BBC News Bletchley Park s bitter dispute over its future
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a letter by Tom Perkins (the "Perkins" in the venture capital firm "Kleiner Perkins") in which he compared rhetoric about the unjust riches of the "1 percent" to the events of Kristallnacht, the overture to the Holocaust. In a terrific editorial, Josh Marshall explains why the hyper-rich turn into such crybabies when it's pointed out that they've gamed the system so that they grow richer and richer while everyone else gets poorer:
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Robbo sez, "Coke has set up a web site where you can design and share your own branded can of Coke. The idea, of course, was to have people slap their own name on the iconic can image and send it flying around the net to further embellish the Coke brand. But many are making use of the web page to insert a myriad of unintended messages. Everything from 'Boycott Coke' to 'Puck Futin' - that one is because the web app doesn't allow you to use the words 'Fuck' or 'Putin'. But the English language is a remarkably wonderful and versatile thing - and it's only a matter of time before Coke realizes they've opened the door very wide for a lot of very angry people to reach their foot in and kick 'em hard in the nads. Enjoy it, and share it, while you can."
Art writes, "Using the word 'gay" in your Coke label results in the following message: 'Oops. Let's pretend you didn't just type that.' The word 'straight' is, however, perfectly okay to use.
Americablog has been quite vocal about Coke's hands-off policy when it comes to gay rights and the Sochi Olympics. For example, when security guards wearing Coke logos on their uniforms took down a protester holding a small rainbow flag
. Coke's response was essentially 'meh
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In Graduated Response Policy and the Behavior of Digital Pirates: Evidence from the French Three-Strike (Hadopi) Law a team of business-school researchers from the University of Delaware and Université de Rennes I examine the impact of the French "three-strikes" rule on the behavior of downloaders. Under the three-strikes law, called "Hadopi," people accused of downloading would be sent a series of threatening letters, and culminating with disconnection from the Internet for a period of a year for everyone in the household. Hadopi is the entertainment industry's model for global legislation, and versions of it have been passed in the UK and New Zealand, and it has also been proposed for inclusion in the global Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty.
The researchers carefully surveyed French Internet users to discover what effect, if any, the Hadopi law had had on their behavior -- specifically, whether they were encouraged to download more from legitimate sites and pay more for music as a result of the threat of Hadopi. Their conclusion: [Hadopi] has not deterred individuals from engaging in digital piracy and that it did not reduce the intensity of illegal activity of those who did engage in piracy.
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Representatives of the MPAA and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency confirmed that they worked together to yank a Google Glass wearer out of a movie theater, detain him in a small room against his will, confiscate and inspect his electronics (including his phone) and coerce an interview out of him with legal threats. They believed, incorrectly, that their victim had been recording the movie with his gadget. The Google Glass set he wore had been fitted with prescription lenses and he was watching the movie through them because they corrected his vision.
The MPAA's and ICE's statements are bland and anodyne (ICE says that the interview was "voluntary," though the man's account contradicts this). Neither of them explain how it is that a movie theater employee can call an MPAA hotline, and how the MPAA can then command ICE law-enforcement officials to drop everything and rush down to a multiplex to roust a potential camcorderer and treat him like a presumptive criminal.
The problem for the MPAA of camcordering is that they would like to stagger the release of their films -- first to the theatrical exhibition channel, then to airplanes and hotel rooms, then to pay-per-view and streaming services and DVD, etc. This makes them more profitable, but only if they can keep each channel discrete. Lots of businesses struggle with their profit-maximization strategies, but only the MPAA gets to command the forces of federal law-enforcement in the service of their business-model, putting the cost of that strategy onto the tax-payer.
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Graham Henderson, the chief spokesjerk for Music Canada -- the voice in Canada for the big US labels represented by the RIAA -- wants Parliament to regulate the Internet, creating a regime of censorship and surveillance in the name of protecting Canadian musicians (whose worst enemy, it must be noted, are the labels who pay Henderson's handsome wages, and not the fans he wants to attack). Henderson wants to control search-engine rankings because, he claims, the first seven pages' of results for Canadian musicians are pirate sites. Only one problem: he's lying
Tim Wu is the law professor and activist who coined the term "net neutrality" -- the principle that ISPs should get you the data you request, as efficiently as they know how, without deliberately slowing down some sites unless they've paid bribes for "preferred carriage." The FCC had made a halfhearted and legally doomed rule to protect American net neutrality, refusing to use its full regulatory power for fear of offending the powerful telcoms corporations it is meant to regulate.
A recent court decision struck down the FCC's rule, confirming critics' fears about the weakness of the FCC's legal position. Now, in a Washington Post interview, Wu explains what a blunder the FCC made (he calls it "a FEMA-level fail") and sets out the next steps the Commission should take if it is to ameliorate the consequences of its timidity and deference to the telcos:
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