JPBlog

A Weblog of The Jackson Progressive

An Awful Solution to a Non-Existent Problem

The legislative session that recently ended is positive proof that otherwise moderately intelligent and presumably sane persons can assemble together to form a perfectly insane corporate body. What has this legislature accomplished worthwhile? If a reader of this blog (and alas there are not many of them) can think of any laws, any appropiations, any resolutions, or any other beneficial actions that the solons accomplished, the reader is invited to list them in the comments below.

The damages wrought this year by our legislature in league with a governor whose limitations are painfully obvious, have been legion. Let me count some of the ways:

* With estimated revenue inadequate to fulfill the minimum functions of state government, it appropriated over half a billion dollars for business tax breaks;

* State income tax is slated to be drastically reduced over the next six years. The wealthy puppetmasters of our Republican legislators have been pushing for years to eliminate the only progressive tax the state collects and it appears that they are going to get part of their wish. Total taxes in Mississippi are already regressive. For example, using the latest available figures for state and local taxes (2015), families in the second income percentile ($15K-$26K) pay 10.8% of their income in state taxes, including sales and income taxes, whereas families in the top 1% ($306,000+) pay ony 6.3%. Eliminating the state income tax will worsen this disparity.

* The “Protecting Preedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act” is probably the silliest law passed this season. It immunizes persons who violate the civil rights of anyone whose sexual orientation violates their religious beliefs. It is clearly unconstitutional and will fall as soon as it comes before a federal judge.

Our legislature paid itself untold sums of taxpayers’ money debating and enacting a law immunizing almost any form of discrimination against almost anyone a person believes should be the object of discrimination (in most cases this will be a person not a white heterosexual, anglo-saxon, right-wing, self-proclaimed Christian, so long as the discrimination is required by a "sincerely held religious belief.

The state superintendent of education has been threatened by the governor and a number of Republican legislators with losing her job if she follows the Federal guidelines. This places her in an impossible position, for if the Department of Education follows the Mississippi statute, the state stands to lose around $700 million in federal funding for education. Smart.

* The legislature made a brazen takeover of Medger Evers Airport by creating a new airport authority, called the Jackson Metropolitan Area Airport Authority. Again, this was undoubtedly motivated by racial prejudice, because there was little criticism of the current administration of the airport from any quarter. Look at the composition of the new board:

1. The Adjutant General of the Mississippi National Guard, or his designee;

2. The Executive Director of the Mississippi Development Authority, or his designee;

3. One (1) commissioner appointed by the Mayor of the City of Jackson appointed for an initial term of one (1) year;

4. One (1) commissioner appointed by the City Council of the City of Jackson appointed for an initial term of two (2) years;

5. One (1) commissioner appointed by the Board of Supervisors of Madison County appointed for an initial term of three (3) years;

6. One (1) commissioner appointed by the Board of Supervisors of Rankin County appointed for an initial term of four (4) years;

7. Two (2) commissioners appointed by the Governor from the City of Jackson appointed for terms of (5) years one of whom shall be the holder of a valid pilot’s license or certification issued by the Federal Aviation Administration; and

8. One (1) commissioner appointed by the Lieutenant Governor from the City of Jackson appointed for a term of five (5) years.

Count’em. A real coup. There is some question, however, as to whether the change requires FAA approval and whether the FAA would approve the transfer.

There is also talk that Mark Baker, R-Rankin County, is drafting legislation to authorize the state to take over government of the City of Jackson, much like the Governer of Michigan has taken over the City of Flint. How this could not be motivated by racial prejudice is hard to imagine. Jackson residents would be wise to keep testing their water. We can see how Flint turned out.

Perhaps Mr. Baker can promise Jackson that the state will actually do something, like filling the potholes, funding our public schools at a reasonable level instead of starving them with the snake oil of charter schools, and promoting job formation in the city. You know how likely that is. The attitude of the Republicans in our legislature is that Jackson and Hinds County vote Democratic, so screw them.

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Letter from Two Fourth-Grade Students in North Carolina

I received two form letters in the mail yesterday from two students of the Charlotte Latin School, which I have combined into one. If you find it in your heart to send these fourth graders something that would tell them about Mississippi, I would encourage you to do so.

Tom Lowe


Dear People of the Great State of Mississippi,

Hello! I am a fourth grade student in North Carolina. In fourth grade, we do state reports and I have chosen your state! I am very excited to learn more about the great state of Mississippi as I work on my report.

Most of the information that we get for our reports will be from books and web sites. We also like to get information from people who live in the state, too. This is why I am writing to you. I was hoping that you would be willing to send me some items to help me learn more about the best things in your state. It could be things like postcards, maps, pictures, souvenirs, general information, this newspaper article, or any other items that would be useful. You can mail items to the address below. I really appreciate your help!

Sincerely,

Azure & Leyla

Mrs. Dodds’s Class
Charlotte Latin School
9502 Providence Road
Charlotte, NC 28277

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Clinton v Sanders - A Comparison

Both candidates have much in their favor.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

HRC certainly has the intelligence and experience to be president, No other candidate comes close by these measures.

But

(and it's a big BUT) (no pun intended),

1) She has revealed herself to be a tool of Wall Street and the financial sector (think Bankruptcy Bill). She has a stable of economists from which to choose her advisors. These will undoubtedly be the same very serious persons that brought us, or failed to predict, the crash of 2007.

2) She is an enthusiastic hawk who voted for Bush and Cheney's Iraq invasion, knowing (as all of us with eyes and more that half a brain knew) that the evidence to support the invasion was cherry-picked by the Bush administration to deceive the public. As Secretary of State, she must bear most of the responsibility for the human and political tragedy that Libya is today. Hawks, especially chickenhawks, are the bought and paid-for pawns of the defense industry, advocating military action because that is the only thing that keeps their owners in business. An acquaintance who worked for the World Bank in the early '90s overheard the CEO of a large defense contractor admit in private that Desert Storm kept his company in business for 1.5 years;

3) HRC hasn't come clean on the personal mail server in her home. I've been worked in IT off and on since 1967, and there's something missing from the story that worries me. I can't imagine that HC would have had a server installed in her home without military-grade security. Who installed the server? Did the installers have security clearances? Was the installation physically secure, or was it stuck in a closet? Did she pay for the server and installation herself? Why did she need it? It's easy to send personal email free. Although it lacks military-grade security, traffic is securely encrypted between user and servers, which is sufficient privacy for personal messages. Her home mail server is a mystery for which I don't have even a clue to the purpose stronger than mere conjecture and speculation. When voting for a candidate under these circumstances, it is wise to assume that HRC is concealing something that would seriously damage her chances of being nominated and elected, or might even expose her to criminal liability.

It's a harsh evaluation, but we are engaged in choosing the occupant of the most powerful office in the world for the next four years. No examination or evaluation can be too harsh under these circumstances.

Bernie Sanders

I really like Sanders (unfortunate initials), and agree almost completely with his New Deal philosophy. He is right about the evil of extreme inequality. He is right that the largest banks are a threat to the entire world and should be broken up. He is right that health care, education, decent housing, parental leave, sick leave and generous vacation time are basic human rights and ought to be enacted into law. He wants changes to make elections fair and representative. He opposes trade agreements that benefit only large corporations and the extremely wealthy--it has turned out that every single trade agreement over the past 35 years has done exactly that. He advocates a doubling of the minimum hourly wage, whereas I believe it should be set to the same purchasing power of its highest historical level and then indexed to the earnings of the 90th income percentile, including capital gains. He would probably agree, but consider it politically impossible. By all accounts, Sanders is honest, incorruptible, intelligent, and likable.

But

1) He is 74 years old, an advanced age for a president. He will be 79 when his first term ends, so unless he has the luck and stamina of Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, as well as extraordinary popularity, he will serve one term. He can resolve doubts about his advanced age by choosing a young, vigorous, democratic socialist. He has zero chance of being elected if he fails to do this.

2) Considering the current and probable makeup of Congress over the next four years, Sanders will not be able to change the present political system without a electoral miracle. The best he can hope for is to change the things that most desperately need to be changed and do his best to convince the American people that if the neo-conservative, neo-liberal, climate change denying, plutocratic, austerity-mongering, corrupt, and race-baiting Republican Party, along with a significant minority of the Democratic Party, continue to dictate our destiny, we might as well resign ourselves, along with our surviving descendants, to a poverty-stricken, disease-ridden, inhospitable planet, plagued with unstable and lethal weather, and a political system so dysfunctional and oppressive that our current republic (already an empire) will seem like a paradise in comparison. HRC would have the political power and influence to accomplish far more than Sanders, but there is no evidence from her past that she will have the slightest inclination to do so.

3) Sanders proposals lack specificity. He gives the impression that he has not thought through them sufficiently. HRC has compared Sanders’ plans unfavorably to her already-drawn-up plans. Elections for high office, however, are not held for the purpose of who has the most detailed, or even the most, plans.

Most voters are abysmally ignorant of the important issues of the day. The issues they are familiar with are the ones they learn from the evening news, their preacher at church, and their drinking buddies. They want to know what kind of a person a candidate is. They want a candidate whose values are close to their own. They want their candidate to be intelligent, capable, and experienced, if possible. Most of all, they want to know where the candidate’s heart is--and what kind of future the candidate envisions.

Experience just isn't all that important this year. Since 1988, no elected (or appointed) president has assumed office with any federal executive experience. Being regarded as the outsider bestows an advantage, even if the outsidership is a complete fabrication. To be seen as the choice of the establishment--an insider--is usually a handicap. The voters are looking for vision; competence comes second, or even third, behind sincerity. Certainly not bureaucratic expertise, which is HRC's forte.

Conclusion

My conclusion: Time will tell. The candidates will hopefully reveal to us the kind of persons they are before the nomination is locked up. It's too early to make the choice. I really like Bernie, but at this moment I put my money on Hillary.
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The Difference Between France and the United States

In the face of a vicious attack by guerrillas acting on behalf of ISIS, the French have responded, not with abject fear, but with resolve that their freedoms—indeed, their entire civilization—will not be undone by an enemy working to sow fear and uncertainty.

We Americans, on the other hand, are succumbing to fear and uncertainty—cowardice, in other words—over an enemy thousands of miles away.

Our Mississippi governor is in the front ranks of those who would turn away refugees from Syria. He panders to fear. He invokes the worst in us. He awakens the deep currents of racism in Mississippi whites—yes, dammit, whites—that has plagued this benighted state for centuries.

Our Mississippi culture holds fast to the belief that compassion—Christian compassion included—only applies to people like us: WHITE FUNDAMENTALISTS. I omit the word Christian because this rationing of compassion is utterly unchristian. How many passages from the gospels have you read that justify the turning away of refugees? Name just one. How many of the words of Our Lord would I have to read to you for you to understand that rationed compassion is no compassion at all. It only means “I got mine.” Like the parable of the rich fool.

Certain natives of India catch monkeys by cutting a small hole in a coconut which they fasten to the ground. The hole in the coconut is just large enough for a monkey to insert its hand through the hole. They place a nut or other attractive object in the coconut. The monkey approaches the coconut, thrusts his hand through the hole and grasps the nut. When it tries to withdraw his hand from the hole while holding the nut, he finds that he cannot. His fist is too large. When a human approaches, the monkey, instead of dropping the nut and running away, refuses to drop it and is easily captured.

We humans do the same thing. We grasp tightly to our “nut”—our version of what kind of world we want to live in—and we are caught. No matter how hard we try, we cannot escape the conditioning of our racist culture without letting go of the “nut” we are grasping, our “southern way of life,” that rests upon a deeply unjust class system based on race. We cannot open our hearts and minds and at the same time tightly grasp the very thing that is doing us in. We must first let go of the nut.
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How Stupid Can Mississippi Republicans Get?

By not expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, the state is depriving its less fortunate of medical care and seeing its state Medicaid expenses increase at about twice the rate of states who have expanded Medicaid. Since when did the Mississippi Legislature and governor leave money on the table? It is irrational, vindictive and just plain stupid (for which there is unfortunately no cure).

The only reason for this intransigence seems to be that the Affordable Care Act was passed by the Democrats during the Obama administration. The Republicans’ dislike of Obama has become so intense (racial prejudice is the only explanation that fits) that they have shamelessly abandoned any sense of responsibility for the well-being of the state and its people, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable.

Screwing the poor, especially those of color, has been the policy of the power elite of this state since statehood. A large pool of extremely poor unemployed workers has kept wages below subsistence level since the Civil War, and they aim to keep it that way, because cheap labor boosts profits. It has also resulted in our state being the poorest in the nation. Refusing to expand Medicaid is just another method of squeezing the poor and forcing them to pay more of their income for necessary medical care.

An overwhelming majority of our legislators call themselves Christian, but it is patently obvious that either they have never cracked the pages of the Good Book or taken its teachings seriously. Catholic philosopher Jaques Maritain calls such people “practical atheists,” because pretending to believe is socially advantageous in a Bible-thumping society. A ravenous wolf can wear sheeps’ clothing and be thought a fine Christian in this environment.

I would prefer to spend my time with confessing atheists, for at least they are honest.

An article in Mother Jones prompted this column:
Red States Spent $2 Billion in 2015 to Screw the Poor

The Mother Jones article was based on a Kaiser Family Foundation study.
http://kff.org/report-section/medicaid-enrollment-spending-growth-fy-2015-2016-issue-brief/ Scroll down to Figure 5. The study did not break out the data by state (except with maps), but by Medicaid expanders and non-expanders.

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The EFF Analyzes the Intellectual Property Provisions of the Completed TPP

The Electronic Freedom Foundation published the following article yesterday on its website. It is republished here with permission under a Creative Commons license. Read and heed.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

October 9, 2015 | By
Jeremy Malcolm

The Final Leaked TPP Text is All That We Feared



Today's release by Wikileaks of what is believed to be the current and essentially final version of the intellectual property (IP) chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) confirms our worst fears about the agreement, and dashes the few hopes that we held out that its most onerous provisions wouldn't survive to the end of the negotiations.

Since we now have the agreed text, we'll be including some paragraph references that you can cross-reference for yourself—but be aware that some of them contain placeholders like “x” that may change in the cleaned-up text. Also, our analysis here is limited to the copyright and Internet-related provisions of the chapter, but analyses of the impacts of other parts of the chapter have been published by
Wikileaks and others.

Binding Rules for Rightsholders, Soft Guidelines for Users

If you skim the chapter without knowing what you're looking for, it may come across as being quite balanced, including references to the need for IP rules to further the “mutual advantage of producers and users” (QQ.A.X), to “facilitate the diffusion of information” (QQ.A.Z), and recognizing the “importance of a rich and accessible public domain” (QQ.B.x). But that's how it's meant to look, and taking this at face value would be a big mistake.

If you dig deeper, you'll notice that all of the provisions that recognize the rights of the public are non-binding, whereas almost everything that benefits rightsholders is binding. That paragraph on the public domain, for example, used to be much stronger in the first leaked draft, with specific obligations to identify, preserve and promote access to public domain material. All of that has now been lost in favor of a feeble, feel-good platitude that imposes no concrete obligations on the TPP parties whatsoever.

Another, and perhaps the most egregious example of this bias against users is the important provision on limitations and exceptions to copyright (QQ.G.17). In a pitifully ineffectual nod towards users, it suggests that parties “endeavor to achieve an appropriate balance in its copyright and related rights system,” but imposes no hard obligations for them to do so, nor even offers U.S.-style fair use as a template that they might follow. The fact that
even big tech was ultimately unable to move the USTR on this issue speaks volumes about how utterly captured by Hollywood the agency is.

Expansion of Copyright Terms

Perhaps the biggest overall defeat for users is the extension of the copyright term to life plus 70 years (QQ.G.6), despite a broad consensus that
this makes no economic sense, and simply amounts to a transfer of wealth from users to large, rights-holding corporations. The extension will make life more difficult for libraries and archives, for journalists, and for ordinary users seeking to make use of works from long-dead authors that rightfully belong in the public domain.

Could it have been worse? In fact, yes it could have; we were spared a 120 year copyright term for corporate works, as earlier drafts foreshadowed. In the end corporate works are to be protected for 70 years after publication or performance, or if they are not published within 25 years after they were created, for 70 years after their creation. This could make a big difference in practice. It means that the film Casablanca, probably protected in the United States until 2038, would already be in the public domain in other TPP countries, even under a life plus 70 year copyright term.

New to the latest text are the transition periods in Section J, which allow some countries a longer period for complying with some of their obligations, including copyright term. For example, Malaysia has been allowed two years to extend its copyright term to life plus 70 years. For Vietnam, the transition period is five years. New Zealand is the country receiving the most “generous” allowance; its term will increase to life plus 60 years initially, rising to the full life plus 70 year term within eight years. Yet Canada, on the other hand, has not been given any transition period at all.

Ban on Circumventing Digital Rights Management (DRM)

The provisions in QQ.G.10 that prohibit the circumvention of DRM or the supply of devices for doing so are little changed from earlier drafts, other than that the opposition of some countries to the most onerous provisions of those drafts was evidently to no avail. For example, Chile earlier opposed the provision that the offense of DRM circumvention is to be “independent of any infringement that might occur under the Party's law on copyright and related rights,” yet the final text includes just that requirement.

The odd effect of this is that someone tinkering with a file or device that contains a copyrighted work can be made liable (criminally so, if willfulness and a commercial motive can be shown), for doing so
even when no copyright infringement is committed. Although the TPP text does allow countries to pass exceptions that allow DRM circumvention for non-infringing uses, such exceptions are not mandatory, as they ought to be.

The parties' flexibility to allow DRM circumvention also requires them to consider whether rightsholders have already taken measures to allow those non-infringing uses to be made. This might mean that rightsholders will rely on the walled-garden sharing capabilities built in to their DRM systems, such as
Ultraviolet, to oppose users being granted broader rights to circumvent DRM.

Alongside the prohibition on circumvention of DRM is a similar prohibition (QQ.G.13) on the removal of rights management information, with equivalent civil and criminal penalties. Since this offense is, once again, independent of the infringement of copyright, it could implicate a user who crops out an identifying watermark from an image, even if they are using that image for fair use purposes and even if they otherwise provide attribution of the original author by some other means.

The distribution of devices for decrypting encrypted satellite and cable signals is also separately proscribed (QQ.H.9), posing a further hazard to hackers wishing to experiment with or to repurpose broadcast media.

Criminal Enforcement and Civil Damages

On damages, the text (QQ.H.4) remains as bad as ever: rightsholders can submit “any legitimate measure of value” to a judicial authority for determination of damages, including the suggested retail price of infringing goods. Additionally, judges must have the power to order pre-established damages (at the rightsholder's election), or additional damages, each of which may go beyond compensating the rightsholder for its actual loss, and thereby create a disproportionate chilling effect for users and innovators.

No exception to these damages provisions is made in cases where the rightsholder cannot be found after a diligent search, which
puts the kibosh on ideas for the introduction of an orphan works regime that would cap remedies available against those who reproduce these otherwise-unavailable works.

One of the scariest parts of the TPP is that not only can you be made liable to fines and criminal penalties, but that any materials and implements used in the creation of infringing copies can also be destroyed (QQ.H.4(12)). The same applies to devices and products used for circumventing DRM or removing rights management information (QQ.H.4(17)). Because multi-use devices such as computers are used for a diverse range of purposes, this is once again a disproportionate penalty. This could lead to a family's home computer becoming seized simply because of its use in sharing files online, or for ripping Blu-Ray movies to a media center.

In some cases (QQ.H.7), the penalties for copyright infringement can even include jail time. Traditionally, this has because the infringer is operating a business of commercial piracy. But under the TPP, any act of willful copyright infringement on a commercial scale renders the infringer liable to criminal penalties, even if they were not carried out for financial gain, provided that they have a substantial prejudicial impact on the rightsholder. The copying of films that are still playing in movie theaters is also subject to separate criminal penalties, regardless of the scale of the infringement.

Trade Secrets

The severity of the earlier language on trade secrets protection has not been abated in the final text. It continues to criminalize those who gain “unauthorized, willful access to a trade secret held in a computer system,” without any mandatory exception for cases where the information is accessed or disclosed in the public interest, such as by investigative journalists or whistleblowers.

There is no evident explanation for the differential treatment given to trade secrets accessed or misappropriated by means of a computer system, as opposed to by other means; but it is no surprise to find the U.S. pushing such a technophobic provision, which mirrors
equivalent provisions of U.S. law that have been used to persecute hackers for offenses that would otherwise have been considered much more minor.

Top-Down Control of the Internet

ICANN, the global domain name authority, provoked a furore earlier this year over proposals that could
limit the ability for owners of domain names to shield their personal information from copyright and trademark trolls, identity thieves, scammers and harassers.

The TPP has just ridden roughshod over that entire debate (at least for country-code top-level domains such as .us, .au and .jp), by cementing in place rules (QQ.C.12) that countries must provide “online public access to a reliable and accurate database of contact information concerning domain-name registrants.”

The same provision also requires countries to adopt an equivalent to ICANN's flawed Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), despite the fact that this controversial policy is overdue for a formal review by ICANN, which might result in the significant revision of this policy. Where would this leave the TPP countries, that are locked in to upholding a UDRP-like policy for their own domains for the indefinite future?

The TPP's prescription of rules for domain names completely disregards the fact that most country code domain registries have their own, open, community-driven processes for determining rules for managing domain name disputes. More than that, this top-down rulemaking on domain names is in direct contravention of the U.S. administration's own
firmly-stated commitment to uphold the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. Obviously, Internet users cannot trust the administration that it means what it says when it gives lip-service to multi-stakeholder governance—and that has ramifications that go even even deeper than this terrible TPP deal.

ISP Liability

The provisions on ISP liability (Appendix Section I), as we
previously found in the last leaked text, are not quite as permissive as we hoped. It will still require most countries to adopt a version of the flawed U.S. DMCA notice-and-takedown system, albeit with a few safeguards such as penalties for those who issue wrongful takedown notices, and allowing (but not requiring) a Japanese-style system of verification of takedown notices by an independent body of ISPs and rightsholders.

It is true that Canada's
notice-and-notice regime is also allowed, but effectively only for Canada—no other country that did not have an equivalent system as of the date of the agreement is allowed to benefit from that flexibility. Even in Canada's case, this largesse is only afforded because of the other enforcement measures that rightsholders enjoy there—such as a tough regime of secondary liability for authorization of copyright infringement.

Similarly Chile's system under which ISPs are not required to take down content without a judicial order is explicitly grandfathered in, but no other country joining the TPP in the future will be allowed to have a similar system.

In addition, although there is no explicit requirement for a
graduated response regime of copyright penalties against users, ISPs are still roped in as copyright enforcers with the vague requirement (Appendix Section 1) that they be given “legal incentives…to cooperate with copyright owners to deter the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyrighted materials or, in the alternative, to take other action to deter the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyright materials”.

Good Points?

Quite honestly there are no parts of this agreement that are positively good for users. Of course, that doesn't mean that it's not improved over the earlier, horrendous demands of the U.S. negotiators. Some of the areas in which countries rightly pushed back against the U.S., and which are reflected in the final text are:

• The exhaustion of rights provision (QQ.A.11) that upholds the first sale doctrine of U.S. law, preventing copyright owners from extending their control over the resale of copyright works once they have first been placed in the market. In particular, this makes parallel importation of cheaper versions of copyright works lawful—and complementing this is an explicit authorization of devices that bypass region-coding on physical copies of such works (QQ.G.10, though this does not extend to bypassing geoblocking of streaming services).

• A thoroughly-misguided provision that would have extended copyright protection to temporary or "buffer" copies in a computer system was one of the earliest rightsholder demands dropped by the USTR, and rightfully so, given the damage this would have wreaked to tech companies and users alike.

But we have struggled to come up with more than two positive points about the TPP, and even then the absence of these tragic mistakes is a pretty poor example of a positive point. If you look for provisions in the TPP that actually afford new benefits to users, rather than to large, rights-holding corporations, you will look in vain. The TPP is the archetype of an agreement that exists only for the benefit of the entitled, politically powerfully lobbyists who have pushed it through to completion over the last eight years.

There is nothing in here for users and innovators to support, and much for us to fear—the ratcheting up of the copyright term across the Pacific rim, the punitive sanctions for DRM circumvention, and the full frontal attack on hackers and journalists in the trade secrets provision, just to mention three. This latest leak has confirmed our greatest fears—and strengthened our resolve to kill this agreement for good once it reaches Congress.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement


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Is The Christian Coalition Christian?

I receive newsletters from the Christian Coalition of America on a regular basis. Recently, the newsletter referred to the agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons as “the president’s surrender to the Islamic State of Iran deal.” This is in the face of public announcements by numerous general grade military officers, nuclear scientists, and leaders of the other nations involved in negotiating the agreement, expressing a contrary opinion.

The newsletter exulted in the fact that every Republican in Congress voted against the agreement. It also made clear that the lemming-like support of Republicans for Israel played a great part in their decision to vote against it.

I seem to recall that Our Lord made His position on the issue of war and peace very clear: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9. In light of the fact that Iran hasn’t attacked anybody in hundreds of years and has now submitted to an inspection regime that our own government would reject in a second, one is compelled to ask “exactly what is this “Christian” Coalition all about, anyway? It’s hard to discover anything Christian about it. It supports a policy vey likely to lead to war, not a policy that would enhance our national security.

Sadly, The Christian Coalition has acted as merely another propaganda wing of the Republican Party, intended to pander to fundamentalist Christians by supporting unthinkingly whatever the Israeli government does, no matter how evil. And all for the purpose of inveigling ignorant and gullible Mississippians to vote into office the very representatives that have held back the state for more than a hundred years.

We elected lemmings. Let us congratulate ourselves for electing these moral idiots.



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A Short Note to Bernie Sanders

Bernie,

I just read an article in Counterpunch magazine that is highly critical of your policy position regarding the Middle East. You are venturing into areas in which you clearly have no expertise.

Suggestion: before you make any more statements about what our mid-eastern policy should be, get a real expert on board. This is a very serious business, and your opponents will take you apart if you continue with the same policy recommendations you are putting forth now. You would be wise to consult Dr. Juan Cole at the University of Michigan on the middle east in general. For Syria, specifically, Josh Landis at the University of Oklahoma would be a good choice.

The administration’s middle east policy is a mess, chiefly because neither the Obama or Bush administrations really knows or knew very much about the middle east and didn’t seem to want to know. Obama has enough sense to resist the pressure to become deeply involved in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, and a knowledgeable candidate who can speak with authority on this issue will, if nothing else, reinforce the president’s spine and help him keep the neo-cons, who are dying to put other people’s boots on the ground, at bay.

A president is only as good as his advisors. The same goes for a presidential candidate. Having good and forthright advisors is the key to wise governance.
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The Greeks and the Euro

Now that the dust is beginning to settle after the close of Greek/German negotiations, it’s time to assess what has been accomplished by the agreement. I use Germany to represent the collective membership of the banks, governments and other agencies of the Euro Zone, because Germany, with its huge economy, has been calling the shots all through the negotiations.

The “politically correct” problem is the debt racked up by Greece to the European banks (mostly German) since its admission to the Euro Zone, and the assumption by the national governments of that debt in 2012, thus letting the banks off the hook and saddling the governments and international financial institutions with potential losses of € 323 billion ($352.7 billion).

Reckless lenders are at least, if not more, culpable than reckless borrowers, because lenders are usually in a better position to evaluate the creditworthiness of the latter. The Germans have not yet been willing to accept any blame at all, despite this obvious truth. In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made political hay by characterizing the Greeks as lazy freeloaders who ought to be forced to pay back the money loaned by the virtuous, industrious Germans.

By thus characterizing the Greeks, Merkel has painted herself into a corner. She cannot now be honest with her nation and tell them the truth: those debts are bad debts; Greece cannot pay its debts to Germany and will never be able to pay its debts, and that the austerity that has been forced on Greece has wrecked the Greek economy and made it even less likely that it will be able to pay the debt, ever. A debt that cannot be repaid will not be repaid.

Haven’t Merkel and her ministers learned from their history classes to know what a mindless insistence on reparations did the last time it was tried?

Read More...
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Why the Republicans Oppose Infrastructure Funding

I’ve puzzled for years over the fact that when in power, the Republicans have steadfastly refused to fund basic research, even though much basic research is not immediately applicable or profitable and therefore not something the corporatocracy would want to do itself. I’m still wondering.

Similarly, I have often wondered why the Republicans in Congress have refused to either raise the gasoline tax to maintain the Highway Trust Fund (authorized by 26 U.S.C. § 9503 and subsequent sections), which is due to run out of funds shortly without additional funding.

The condition of our highway system is not good, notwithstanding the reassurances of conservative think tanks, such as The Heritage Foundation, who point out that the percentage of deficient bridges has been cut in half since 1993. The improvement in the average condition of bridges since 1993, however, does not diminish the gravity of our current situation. For an overview of the national condition of bridges, see Deficient Bridges by State and Highway System on the Federal Highways Administration website. (SD = “Structurally deficient”; FO = “Functionally Obsolete”) That’s still a lot of deficient bridges, and if the Highway Trust Fund is not sufficiently funded, it will take far longer than the 23 years it took to repair or replace the first half. In fact, the average condition will almost certainly become worse, because newer bridges (<10 years old) as well as older bridges will deteriorate during that time.

The near-insolvency of the Trust can be squarely laid at the doorstep of the Republicans in Congress. They have stymied all efforts to cure the problem, either by refusing to raise the gas tax to compensate for inflation, or replenishing the fund out of general funds. This is utterly irresponsible behavior, and their failure to act will lead to more and more lethal collapses of bridges as their condition inexorably becomes worse. Blood will be on their hands.

Of course blood is on Bush’s and Cheney’s hands, and they are riding high.

A post on the Daily Kos by RETIII attributes the deliberate failure to take action on the part of the Republican Congress to five causes:

1. The large majority of transportation expenditures are in Democratic-leaning states and legislators of the southern states that dominate the Republicans in Congress refuse to spend on states that don’t vote Republican. Witness the Republican reluctance to vote relief for Hurricane Sandy and contrast it with its alacrity in appropriating relief for the southern states hit by Katrina. This is shameful behavior.

2. The Trust is a perfect hostage to be used by the Republicans to defund programs that benefit the middle and lower classes. They justify defunding by invoking the need to balance the budget, a position they never take when they are in power. Shortly after he was elected, Bush approved a tax cut for the wealthy and made no apologies for unbalancing the budget. The budget-balancing mantra is a scam, just like the salvation through austerity religion.

3. By letting the transportation infrastructure of the nation deteriorate to a dangerous condition, they can claim that “government is the problem” and that the roads should be privatized. Remember that when you have to pay a toll to back out of your driveway, because the street’s been privatized;

4. By refusing to fund highway construction and repair, the Republicans can demand repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act that requires contractors to pay the prevailing wage on all public works projects for laborers and mechanics. Republicans have whined about Davis-Bacon since 1931, when it was passed as part of the New Deal. Recall that the Bush Administration waived requirement for reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina and contractors promptly trucked in Mexican migrants—legal and illegal—to work at minimum wage or lower.

Read the entire post on the Daily Kos website for a much fuller explanation of how the Republicans in Congress are holding our roads and highways hostage to advance the corporate agenda of their sponsors. Part of that agenda is to privatize any federal or state program that produces a large income stream, like the highways, the schools, and the military, which has already been largely privatized. They are succeeding because they have managed to hide their neo-liberal agenda from the public and keep themselves in the shadows. The corporate media, largely owned—if not completely owned—by the same corporations and financial institutions that profit from the neo-liberal agenda, filter out all contrary points of view, even when they program an occasional “liberal,” in order to claim impartiality. They are quick, however, to squelch a radio or TV personality that gets out of line. Remember Phil Donahue, who in 2003 was fired by MSNBC for opposing the Iraq invasion, even though he was the most popular host on the network. The corporate owners of MSNBE needed that war for their bottom line. Losing Phil was pocket change for them. So it goes.


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