Friday, October 31, 2008

A Happy Halloween Barack-o-Lantern



Image from the "Candidate Pumpkin Project."

Vote OBAMA-BIDEN '08

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Californians: No on 8

As a staunch supporter of civil rights for all, I will vote no on California proposition 8, and hope you'll do the same. I agree that this is a vote for loving gay families, and a pro-family stance which simply recognizes that not all families are of exactly the same configuration.

But it is also a matter of fairness under the law. Civil marriage is a civil contract. Proponents say that without Prop 8, the court has created a "protected class" and that allegedly makes all sorts of things mandatory under California law (teaching gay marriage in schools, for example). However, if Prop 8 passes, I say it will create a "rejected class" of people who are excluded from an important section of civil law. I believe that doing this undermines that section of civil law, and sets a precedent for further attacks on the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. It's not gay marriage, but that kind of "separate but equal" approach to civil unions vs. marriages, that serves to undermine the legitimacy of civil marriage.

Additionally, the freedom of religion argument in favor of Prop 8 is utterly bogus. The California courts ruling should not compel churches to perform gay marriage ceremonies against their beliefs, rather only require the state to recognize same-sex civil marriage as valid. On the other hand, Prop 8 will impinge upon the religious freedom of churches that do wish to allow same-sex couples to marry under their auspices. It is actually Prop 8 that is in opposition to religious freedom.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Plot Against Obama

Another plot against Obama's life has been stopped. It is repugnant enough what a few rotten individuals are saying at various political rallies about Senator Obama, but it is downright disgusting what at least three different sets of people have been plotting to do to Obama. I'm not blaming McCain for the words of a few of his supporters at his rallies, or these people (who are almost certainly not supporters of McCain, either). It's just sad that while America has come a long, long way to for Obama's candidacy to even be possible in the first place, this just goes to show that there's always someone out there who doesn't want the American Experiment to succeed.

Palin

Did McCain pick the wrong Palin? Some folks don't think the whole Palin thing is all that funny. John Cleese, on the other hand, does think it's funny. As much as I hate to split hairs with the great John Cleese, I'm going to have to go with the "Not Funny" camp on the Palin issue. Now if Tina Fey were running, then it might be a whole different story.

Never Mind Palin, Is McCain Ready To Be President?

McCain wants to be in charge of the world's most powerful, richest country, but he can't keep his own running mate with his program? And if elected, when negotiating with world leaders he didn't particularly like, would he not look them in the eyes? I used to think of John McCain as a respectable aisle-crosser who could control his temper when issues really were at stake, and who was willing to hear opposing views and negotiate positions so long as it was done respectfully. That has changed with this campaign. Not only has he picked an awful running mate, but his own behavior reveals him to be a temperamental Machiavellian with little substance who gives the appearance of having lost control of his own campaign. I wasn't going to vote for the guy to begin with, but now I'm having a hard time even respecting him.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Christopher Buckley, Colin Powell, and Me

Apparently, not only am I supporting Obama for President, but so is Colin Powell, Susan Eisenhower (Ike's granddaughter) and, of all people, Christopher Buckley. The obvious difference between us, besides the fact that they're all well known personalities and I'm not, is that they're all Republicans and I campaigned for Walter Mondale when I was 11 years old (actually, I turned 11 during the campaign). Unfortunately for me, as a New Yorker transplanted to California, neither Mike Bloomberg nor Arnold Schwarzenegger have joined the chorus of Republicans who realize that their own party's candidate isn't the best man for the job.

Get Your War On

Last night a friend told me that David Rees is now doing video versions of his brilliantly awesome clip-art comic Get Your War On. Amazingly enough, the voice acting sounds pretty close to what I'd always imagined in my head when reading GYWO.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Patriotism, by Ed Gorman

My friend Ed Gorman is a World War Two veteran, retired businessman, and long-time Democratic booster. He is a great guy who helped me out a lot when I was younger and needed a lot of helping out.

In his many years, he's seen many times good and bad. Ed's Veteran credentials are at least as strong as John McCain's, so when he decides to speak about patriotism, he's not wanting for experience putting his ideas into action. Here is a letter to the editor of my home town newspaper, the East Hampton Star, which Ed wrote and forwarded to me:

"Patriotism can be defined most simply as loyalty and love of one’s country and willingness to protect and preserve it for future generations. I do not think of America, as a certain area of mountains, rivers, fields and forests but as a set of long established principles modified as America has matured. Most Americans understand, accept and try to respect those principles even if they cannot readily articulate them.

Patriotism, therefore, implies a responsibility to the future.

We cannot know with certainty how a presidential candidate will manage the awesome burden that office imposes but it is our duty to look at past behavior for clues.

John McCain and Barack Obama have provided us with clues of unprecedented clarity by the choice each has made for his vice-president. Joe Biden, Obama’s choice, was a serious highly regarded presidential candidate of broad experience and proven capability. He is a sound and responsible choice capable of taking charge should something happen to the president.

Sarah Palin may prove to be a likable enough lady although her desperate last minute non-vetted selection was entirely political. The Republican Party could not afford the convention floor fight of Joe Lieberman, McCain’s preference.

More than most presidential candidates McCain, the oldest ever to run for that office, should have been particularly thoughtful about the future. It is frightening to think that a woman with Palin’s limited experience, high school education and questionable judgment could be only a geriatric heartbreak away from suddenly becoming the most powerful head of state in the world--if McCain were elected president.

What do we know about Sarah Palin’s judgment? She believes in the creationism fairy tale and approves teaching the widely discredited faux science called intelligent design. She acknowledges global warming but does not believe mankind is responsible. She is free to believe what she wants and as voters it is our responsibility to consider her judgment when we vote.

As both vice-president and a mother of five, her youngest requiring great extra attention plus a soon-to-be-grandchild what would be her priority? Will she neglect her demanding family responsibility? Will she neglect responsibility to her job? Can a working mom; can anybody really handle both?

But if McCain vetted her and knew all he needed to know it was irresponsible to settle for her. If she was not thoroughly vetted it was irresponsible to settle for her. Either way McCain is grossly irresponsible. Opting for Sarah Palin was McCain’s first executive action. How he made that snap decision is a terrifying insight into this complicated, confused and irresponsible man. He is scary.

What do we know about McCain’s judgment and intelligence? Although he now struggles to distance him self from George Bush he has consistently supported the Bush agenda as we watched in despair as Bush was destroying America. So much for McCain’s judgment.

What about McCain’s intelligence? The best evidence might be his record at the Naval Academy, which like West Point places a premium on academic achievement. Of the 899 graduates in McCain’s class he was 894--well within the bottom one percent of his class. We cannot afford another dim or flickering bulb in the White House

Am I saying that McCain is unpatriotic? Yes. He has made clear that political gain trumps duty and responsibility to America’s future. His overworked POW trump card is not acceptable. The stakes are much too high. He has created a very frightening future for America

To protect America’s future it is the duty of every responsible American to vote and to reject John McCain."

Ain't Funny

Check out the pro-Obama commercials at Aintfunny.org. If you like them, buy airtime to show them in a swing-state market. With only a few campaigning days left until the Nov. 4th election, if you've not done anything (or enough) yet to support your candidate (especially if he happens to be the same as my candidate), now would be the time to get to it. After eight years of Bush, it's definitely time for a change. For me, Obama is the correct agent of change for the particular times and challenges facing us. Whether or not you agree, you should not only get out and vote on election day, but also get out and do something for your candidate. The best part about Democracy is that you actually can participate.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Right Wing Watch

I stumbled upon Right Wing Watch this evening (it's a site run by People For The American Way). I'm sick tonight and want to go to bed soon, so I'll let you read it for yourself. It's not very in-depth, but is a quick-to-read clearinghouse for things to go do more in-depth reading on (and quotes of silly things people say, like claiming that Obama is the culmination of fifty years of Communism and Radicalism).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Steal Back Your Vote

As we head into the election, it's time to enjoy some voting irregularities in comic book form and other nonsense. Steal Back Your Vote is worth reading (it's a quick read), and it includes tips on how to make sure your vote counts, such as: do not accept a provisional ballot, and do not absentee vote. The comic, created by investigative reporter Greg Palast, cartoonists Ted Rall, Lloyd Dangle and Lukas Ketner, and attorney Bobby Kennedy, Jr., details various ways in which votes may go uncounted, and how to avoid them.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Nouriel Roubini on the Economy

My friend Mike A. just pointed me at RGE Monitor, a site run by Nouriel Roubini, who very precisely predicted this mess in February. Roubini is definitely a bandleader on the "sky is falling" bandwagon, but unfortunately much of what he has to say is backed by very compelling expert arguments. And he's been quite right so far. He is currently giving free premium access to the content of his sites, and I highly recommend reading as much of Mr. Roubini's writings as you can while that access is affordable -- I know I will be.

The Great Global Financial Cock-Up Of Aught-Eight

Someone at work was searching for an accepted term for the current economic crisis, and boring suggestions such as "The Mortgage Meltdown" (not fully accurate) and "The World Financial Crisis" (not fully interesting) were suggested. Should this go from downturn to recession to depression, I suggest "The Fair-To-Middling Depression," but as it is not yet there, may I suggest that we instead refer to it as "The Great Global Financial Cock-Up of Aught-Eight." The Britishesque blitheness of that terminology ought to inspire people to keep perspective, and a stiff upper lip, about the world economy's latest gigantic clusterfornication. Next time someone asks you what this mess is called, please join me in loudly proclaiming this "The Great Global Financial Cock-Up of Aught-Eight."

Addendum: Should it become a Depression, I recant my suggested nomenclature, and recommend Josh Muskovitz' brilliant suggestion: "The Manic Depression."
Which was, of course, precipitated by the event we shall call "The Great Global Financial Cock-Up of Aught-Eight."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Duh

This CNN article about how 80% of Americans are stressed about the economy definitely deserves a "beleaguering the obvious" award.

McCain "Lost" The Debate

This morning a Republican commentator cited the presentation of a plan to buy mortgages directly, rather than buying mortgage backed securities, as John McCain's big win from last night. Isn't that already part of the bailout plan, in that the existing law gives the Treasury permission to buy any debts it sees fit? This article claims such, and Joe Biden's comments that I mentioned previously also seem to indicate this.

So if reiterating a part of the existing plan, one which Biden had already commented on in his VP debate, was McCain's big splash in this debate, it's pretty clear to me that he didn't "win." Furthermore, given that the Town Hall style meeting was his choice, the fact that McCain didn't perform better is problematic for his campaign. To me, his inability to connect better with the Town Hall voters showed just how out-of-touch he's become.

McCain is so obsessed with winning, given that this is almost certainly his last chance at it, that he's become much less appealing in the process. Once upon a time he was one of the Democrats' favorite across-the-aisle politician. Now his independent resolve has become just pandering to the Republican base, and his policies are nothing more than reiterations of Bush's failed policies. His bitterness is seeping out in his speeches, and calls, including his own calls, for a calm response to the problems facing the country today make his famous temper a liability.

Since I'm already solidly in the Obama camp I suppose my analysis of McCain's performance here is suspect, but I did expect a better showing from McCain in the Town Hall setting.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

One Hundred Million

Barbara Boxer mentioned on KQED's Forum today that the bailout bill requires that the government give a company $100,000,000 before the Treasury is entitled to warrants against that company. She also mentioned that they are permitted, to her chagrin, to buy some classes of unsecured loans. Neither of these things seem to be great for protecting the taxpayer's dollars from give-aways to mismanaged, failing financial institutions.

We'll see what Congress does next to address these problems, since Boxer also admitted that here in California 95% of correspondents were against the bailout. With that kind of public pressure, Congress clearly will be on the hook for getting the Treasury's money back one way or another (simply reducing/eliminating tax credits for bailed-out entities so that when the economy does recover they pay back in at a faster rate seems, as I previously suggested, like a good idea to me).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Adjusting Principal Principles

I will be voting for the Obama/Biden ticket come election day, but I am not so sure about this statement by Joe Biden:

"Number two, with regard to bankruptcy now, Gwen, what we should be doing now -- and Barack Obama and I support it -- we should be allowing bankruptcy courts to be able to re-adjust not just the interest rate you're paying on your mortgage to be able to stay in your home, but be able to adjust the principal that you owe, the principal that you owe."

I am all in favor of helping people who need help, including food stamps and (non-permanent) welfare. But when someone else gets food stamps or welfare, it does not decrease the value of my assets. It is also nearly impossible to be a welfare speculator (despite the Reaganian myths about that). This leads to an entirely different situation with welfare and food stamps than with a housing bailout of this type.

Speculative purchasing underwritten with highly leveraged purchasing is a big part of this situation, as are people who cashed-out equity on existing homes (another form of speculation). Too many people who are in a foreclosure situation did this (rather than, say, being in foreclosure because they lost their jobs but had previously behaved responsibly).

If their principal is lowered by 10%, that lowers the value of their home by at least 10%, and given the scale of the situation, all homes will fall in value by at least 10%. I'll have just been charged an additional 10% of the value of my home, compounded over length of my mortgage, for the bailout. Bankruptcy is about to become too common, so this will become a somewhat widespread problem -- the issue is that in order to keep people out of foreclosure they will be pushed into bankruptcy.

Of course, if the government doesn't do what Biden suggests, the foreclosures will force down the value of my home even farther. Bankruptcy at least allows restructuring, mass foreclosures are a market crash. I understand that, but what proviso is there for the bailed-out to pay me back (by paying the Treasury back over time, and thus I can get paid back in lower taxes /
tax incentives for non-bailed-out homeowners)? Would there be different rates (or a cancellation of) the income tax mortgage write-off for bailed-out consumers? I think something like that is in order.

Bankruptcy restructuring protects other debtors, so I think the treasury should also become a de-facto debtor to the tune of the ten percent principal and any interest they assume (through buying and adjusting the mortgage). The mortgage becomes affordable, but the bailed-out do not double-dip by then also getting tax credits (until their bailout is paid off).

Also, is it part of the plan, to prevent speculators from profiting from bailouts, to have a cap of one on numbers of homes per person, and extent of leverage, in terms of who is qualified for bailout underwriting? I sure hope so.

Sorry to say, but some people on main street did get greedy. Not everyone was an innocent victim of predatory lending (and some who were became victims because they let short-term greed get the better of them). Speculation was rampant, even among amateurs. House-flipping was rampant, even amongst people who lived in their own homes. I saw it. I read about it. And everyone was told they needed to get into an expensive home because prices would just go up and up and then they'd be house-rich, and everyone would get a piece of the pie.

Everyone did want a piece of that pie. People very often talked about making a profit off their homes, and not always long-term. This market psychology is exactly how bubbles happen. It doesn't make these homeowners evil, villainous scoundrels, or even retards, but they did make mistakes. Problems with "the system" include actions taken by more than just a few people. Systemic problems come from the actions of many. Those actions likely stemmed from bad information circulating about various elements of the market, and were egged-on by wealthier, perhaps greedier players in the market, but the buyers are not guilt-free.

Wall St. made the bigger mistake -- by huge margins -- but Main St. was buying into the bad instruments and bubble fervor. Main St. greed allowed a stable, major asset class (home real estate) to become entangled with Wall St. greed and sketchy practices (like CDSes). It was because of this speculation mania that Wall St. had enough subprime mortgages to bundle into other financial instruments in the first place.

I sure don't think the people who behaved fraudulently, or unethically, in the big institutions should get off -- they should be arrested and/or fined heavily if what they did was illegal, prevented from profiting directly from taxpayer bailout dollars, and fired if what they did was legal or quasilegal but unethical. They caused the major problems in the economy, by far, and those big guys should pay back first and most.

However, if we're all going to bail-out the overextended individual borrowers, then the government should also make them responsible for paying back the treasury. Everyone who is getting bailed-out should be giving the American Taxpayer their money back over time, whether it be in warrants, reduced tax credits, or some other way. Reduced tax credits are probably the least painful. It's not a matter of punishment for punishment's sake, but requiring people take at least some responsibility for the repercussions of their actions.

I'm not generally particularly conservative, but I'm also not in favor of giving busted speculators a free ride on my back, even if they were poorly financed, poorly educated amateurs. Those people I'm willing to cut more slack than the big guys, and would not mind somewhat more generous terms for them, but if they are completely off the hook, that encourages this sort of thing to happen all over again.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

This Broken American Economy

Of all places, This American Life on NPR has a pair of shows which give the best, most detailed yet comprehensible to laypersons, account of our current economic problems.

Featuring NPR National Desk business reporter Adam Davidson, the shows explain the market instruments and practices that led to the crisis, how and why it happened, and what some of the repercussions may be. The shows do a particularly good job of giving clear and detailed explanations of financial instruments like Credit Default Swaps, and terminology like hedging and netting.

The 10/03/08 show I heard last night led me to also check out the 05/09/08 show, which I hadn't previously heard. Both are very much worth listening to if you'd like to have a better idea of what's going on with the economy, precisely what it is that Paulson and friends are hoping the bailout will accomplish, and why.

It does a pretty good job of making the case that maybe the bailout is necessary (with the modifications made by the Senate, which I still think should have gone farther in protecting the taxpayer and preventing the bailed-out companies from profiting off it until the taxpayer is paid back). It also does a pretty good job of making one continue to wonder if it will even work.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Argumentation by Intimidation

What is Jenny McCarthy doing in my political blog? Being an example of deteriorating intellectual and political discourse in America through this quote run by Time online:

"[She] has a lot of balls to come forward and be on that side, because there is an angry mob on my side." - Jenny McCarthy, actress, on fellow thespian Amanda Peet, who said that parents who don't vaccinate their kids out of fears of autism are irresponsible

This kind of intellectual intimidation, a fallacy combining Appeal to Ridicule and Appeal to Belief, is a common part of political dialog today. It is an appeal to the ugly "tyranny of the masses" flipside of the currently popular "the wisdom of crowds" perspective.

Whether or not it is presented in an intimidating manner, a big problem is that "wisdom of crowds" is in and of itself fallacious grounds for drawing a conclusion about an issue. "The wisdom of crowds" is, when applied to argumentation (rather than, say, marketing research), simply a whitewash rephrasing of Appeal to Belief.

And celebrity pull-quotes in political discourse is a form of Appeal to Authority, an intellectual affliction which both muddle-headed pseudolefty acolytes of the Hollywood quote machine, and theircounterparts in the dittohead armies loyal to the shrill false pundits of the right-wing talk media empire. That these so-called authorities primarily gain their pseudointellectual street-cred by being grand masters of Appeal to Ridicule makes the situation all the more depressing.

I'd like to console myself that nobody cares what Jenny McCarthy thinks about vaccinations, but I'm not that naive. Famous peoples' one-liners can often carry far more weight than the most carefully reasoned newspaper or magazine article on a subject (never mind books, which mostly go unread). I think it is irresponsible of Time and similar news venues to present these sorts of pull-quotes without analysis.

We, as a nation, bemoan the insubstantial and mean-spirited political campaigns of recent years, but then refuse to take responsibility for our part in creating it. It's high time political discourse returned to substantial arguments about significant issues.

The Pen And The Damage Done

The Bailout Bill has passed.

Here is what Dennis Kucinich had to say about it:
"This bill fails to address the fact that millions of homeowners are facing foreclosure, are facing the loss of their home. This bill will take care of Wall Street, and the market may go up for a few days, but democracy is going downhill."

If the Fed is going to bail out the banks, they certainly will need to bail out mortgage holders as well, otherwise the foreclosures will continue to drag down the economy, and the bailout will have been for naught. Once again, it seems, Socialism for the Ultra-Wealthy trumps both the American fiscal religion of so-called Free Market Capitalism and the so-called Compassionate Socialism of places like Scandinavia. Either of those would be preferable to another huge taxpayer bailout of huge corporations and their wealthy, at-fault officers which (according to a number of economist-pundit types) may not even accomplish its goals.

In America, "Socialism" is just fine so long as it involves taking from the middle-class taxpayer and giving to the ultra-rich. Both real Liberals and real Conservatives ought to be disappointed in this whole situation. But since it's costing me, as a taxpayer, so much -- I sure hope it works.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Orphan Works Bill

When it comes to copyright, my main concern is that artists/writers/creators are able to make a living, and that fair use doctrine strikes the balance that allows others to build upon the state of the art, as all human disciplines do. I support a more progressive fair use theory (including a more contemporary view on the novel contribution test for things like cut-up / mash-up works), and expiration of copyright after a reasonable period (rather than the continuing extending of that period of time as has been happening for a few decades now).

However, I do not support the Orphan Works Bill. I agree with both the claims that it will cause undue burden on copyright holders to pay a fee to a third-party registry to make their work "findable," and that it changes the underlying fundamentals of copyright by making it no longer a de-facto, passive right (because of the need to make the work "findable" in order to receive protections). While I'm not sure about their interpretation of the bill on every point, The Illustrators' Partnership has a lot of interesting things to say about it:


The architects of the Orphan Works Act have already placed testaments to the bill on their websites:

Senator Leahy: http://leahy.senate.gov/issues/OrphanWorks.html
Senator Hatch: http://tinyurl.com/3jsq5o

They say this "landmark intellectual property bill" will "unlock proverbial attics of copyrighted works" whose owners can't be found. Is that really what all the fuss has been about?

No. If that were the case, the problems could be solved with a modest expansion of Fair Use. It's not proverbial closets we fear seeing unlocked. It's our commercial inventories, which would be exposed to potential infringement.

And while one Senator pointedly writes that the bill "does not dramatically restructure copyright law" (emphasis added), he's right: it doesn't "restructure" it. It merely redefines an orphaned work so broadly that it would let users infringe millions of works as orphans on the premise that some might be.

And why, if the bill is only meant to benefit libraries and museums, have the doors been opened wide for commercial usage?

A Fundamental Change to Copyright Law

For us, the saddest of these postings is on the Copyright Office website itself. http://www.copyright.gov/orphan/ There, Marybeth Peters, the Register of Copyrights explains that this bill is necessary because the U.S., in trying to harmonize our law with international agreements, has created too many orphans.

But that's not the sad part. There are orphans. She's entitled to her belief. And as Register of Copyrights, she's entitled to lobby for a change in the law. But what's sad is that the Register, who we've respected for years as an advocate for creators rights, has chosen to justify this legislative scheme by mischaracterizing the honest objections that creators have raised in good faith, again and again.

Here's how she summarizes the objections of the hundreds of thousands of artists, writers, photographers and musicians who oppose this bill:

"Some critics [she writes] believe that the legislation is unfair because it will deprive copyright owners of injunctive relief, statutory damages, and actual damages. I do not agree."

Well, those are all real issues, but they've never been our focus. We've made our case clearly, simply and often.

Our objection goes to the heart of the matter. Here it is, as one of us expressed it in his opening statement at the Small Business Administration Roundtable, August 8:

"The bill's sponsors say it's merely a small adjustment to copyright law. In fact, its logic
reverses copyright law. It presumes that the public is entitled to use your work as a primary right and that it's your obligation to make your work available. If this bill passes, in the United States, copyright will no longer be the exclusive right of the copyright holder."
- From "Orphan Works: A Hobson's Choice for Artists," by Brad Holland August 8 2008

And in case the point needed elaboration:

"This exclusive right matters to artists for three reasons:
· Creative control: No one can change your work without your permission;

· Ownership: No one can use your work without your permission;
· Value: In the marketplace, your ability to sell exclusive rights to a client triples the value
of your work.
-
http://ipaorphanworks.blogspot.com/2008/08/orphan-works-hobsons-choice-for-artists.html

The Orphan Works Act passed by the Senate Friday explicitly voids that exclusive right as expressed in Article 9 of the Berne Copyright Convention:

(1) Authors of literary and artistic works protected by this Convention shall have the exclusive right of authorizing the reproduction of these works, in any manner or form.

(2) It shall be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union to permit the reproduction of such works in certain special cases, provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author.

(3) Any sound or visual recording shall be considered as a reproduction for the purposes of this Convention.
http://www.law.cornell.edu/treaties/berne/9.html

There can be no responsible argument that the Orphan Works Act is consistent with Article 9 of Berne. None.

Simple reason: the Orphan Works Act does not limit exemptions to an author's exclusive right to "certain special cases." Case closed.

There are many other reasons to object to this terrible bill: it violates the entirety of Article 9. But we only need to make this single point to show that it's a radically new copyright law.

Hiding the Rabbit

The key to the Congressional magic act has been to hide an anti-copyright rabbit in an Orphan Works hat while misdirecting attention to a tedious debate about "reasonably diligent searches," injunctive relief and statutory damages.

Meanwhile the secret of the trick has been simple: redefine an orphaned work as "a work by an unlocatable author."

This new definition would permit any person to infringe any work by any artist at any time for any reason - no matter how commercial - so long as the infringer found the author sufficiently hard to find.

Since everybody can be hard for somebody to find, this voids a rights holder's exclusive right to his own property. It defines the public's right to use private property as a default position, available to anyone whenever the property owner fails to make himself sufficiently available.

This is a new definition of copyright law.

The headline on the Copyright Office website should read:

In the United States, Copyright Will No Longer Be the Exclusive Right of the Copyright Holder.

This headline would at least have the virtue of candor.

On March 13, the Register of Copyrights testified before the House IP Subcommittee. On page 1 of her testimony she said:

"Every country has orphan works and I believe that, sooner or later, every country will be motivated to consider a solution. The solution proposed by the Copyright Office is a workable one and will be of interest to other countries."
http://www.copyright.gov/docs/regstat031308.html

You can bet it will be of interest to other countries, because the copyrights of other countries can now be orphans in the U.S. too. The Copyright Office and the Senate have thrown down a gauntlet to the world.

Tell the House Judiciary Committee not to adopt the Senate version.
We've supplied a special letter for this purpose:
http://capwiz.com/illustratorspartnership/issues/alert/?alertid=11980321



You can also find out more at the Illustrators' Partnership's blog specifically about this issue.

To reiterate, I am not a draconian "eternal copyright" supporter by any means. Personally, I do want:
- A way to verify what work has passed into public domain and is available for unlimited reuse
- A Creative Commons type of option where artists retain copyright passively but can actively choose to make work available under a variety of blanket usage parameters as they see fit (though I have problems with the Creative Commons model and philosophy which I'll blog about some time)
- Sensible, not over-generous, lengths of copyright protection
- A reassessment of Fair Use doctrine with an eye towards permitting mash-up, collage, and related work while not going too far and stripping original artists of their rights (another topic I'll get into more at a later date)

But I think this particular bill is the wrong solution, one which goes too far in granting public rights to an artist's work while at the same time not really addressing the issues above. This is a bad bill, and I encourage you to write your lawmakers and tell them to find a better way to deal with this issue -- one which leaves copyright fundamentals in-tact, and which won't be potentially cost-prohibitive for independent artists and small copyright-driven businesses.

Arts Positions of the Candidates

I received this today from Americans for the Arts, and wanted to share it with you:

Americans for the Arts Action Fund is pleased to present you with its just released summary of the Arts Positions of the 2008 Presidential Candidates. (Also see side-by-side comparison table below.)

As you may know, Americans for the Arts Action Fund launched its ArtsVote2008 initiative in May 2007 in order to educate presidential candidates on issues impacting the
arts and arts education with the goal of securing—for the first time ever—formal position statements from the top candidates.

To date, we have shared with you Senator Barack Obama’s comprehensive arts policy proposal that he began issuing in February 2008. Unfortunately, the McCain campaign has not been as forthcoming, despite numerous formal requests from the Arts Action Fund and Senator McCain’s own supporters over the last year. However, we are pleased to report that Senator McCain has now issued a short statement that he released in an article for today’s Salt Lake City Tribune.

With this information in hand, we ask you—the arts advocate—to take action by doing the following things:

  1. Share this side-by-side comparison of the presidential candidates with your friends, family, and colleagues.
  2. Blog about this issue on any sites that you are affiliated with.
  3. Post the comparison chart on your social network sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and others.
  4. Send a Letter to the Editor of your local newspapers and journals. We’ve made it easy for you by drafting a customizable letter at our E-Advocacy Center that you can personalize. You will then automatically be given the choice to e-mail your letter to all the key media outlets in your area based on your zip code.
  5. Ask questions about policies on the arts and arts education to both your Congressional and presidential candidates in any kind of town hall forums, online chats, or any other
    public forums.
  6. Vote for the candidates that you feel will best advance the arts and arts education in America.

With only 32 days left to Election Day, now is the time to act and show your support for the arts!

Arts Positions of the 2008 Presidential Candidates

Sen. Barack Obama
Democratic Nominee

Sen. John McCain
Republican Nominee

Campaign has met with Americans for the Arts Action Fund to
discuss policy issues.

Yes
Meeting held 4/1/08

Yes
Meeting held 4/1/08

Campaign has published policy proposals on the arts and/or arts education.

Yes
Read policy proposal 2/28/08

No

Candidate has made statement on federal support of the arts.

Yes
View Pennsylvania speech on 4/2/08

No

Candidate has made statement on federal support of arts education.

Yes
View Texas speech on 2/28/08

Yes
Read Statement 10/03/08

National party platform includes statement on the arts and/or arts education.

Yes
Read platform
statement on
page 49

No

Candidate has pro-arts Congressional record.

Yes
Co-sponsored S. 548, Artist-Museum Partnership Act, 2/25/08

No
Voted to cut funding or terminate the National Endowment for the Arts (see listing of votes*)

*Roll call votes on 7/12/00, 8/5/99, 9/15/98, 9/18/97, 9/17/97, 7/25/94, 9/15/93, 9/15/93, and 9/14/93.
Source: Americans for the Arts Action Fund, as of 10/03/08

Americans for the Arts Action Fund is the bipartisan advocacy arm of Americans for the Arts, engaging citizens in ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to appreciate, value, and participate in the arts. Arts Action Fund members are citizen activists who are committed to helping make certain that arts-friendly public policies are adopted at every level of government and in the private sector. ArtsVote2008, a program of the Arts Action Fund, was created to secure bold, new policy proposals in support of
the arts and arts education in America from candidates in the 2008 presidential campaign.

For more info visit
www.artsvote.org, or call 202-371-2830

Hillary Supporters for Palin?

I find it mind boggling that this strategy on the part of the McCain campaign didn't completely fail out of the gate.

And I completely respect the Republican Spin Machine. The way they can take a whole litany of things their candidates do often (shrill derision of half the American people with every speech, sexist comments, slanderous political campaigns, etc.) and spin it around on so quickly, it's rather amazing. They have some really talented spin doctors working for them.

What I want to know is when the hell the mainstream media is going see through the ruse and stop whitewashing Palin and do some real reporting? I am so sick of hearing her compared to Annie Oakley, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earheart, and the friggin' Virgin Mary, when the real comparison is obvious to me: Pat Buchanan.

It boggles my mind that social conservatives -- the architects who designed the glass ceiling back when liberals were tearing down the concrete one -- are suddenly considered, in the person of Sarah Palin, the targets of sexism. And when the same kind of ad-hominem attacks they vehemently deploy against the Clintons are unleashed on Bush or Palin, they get away with screaming bloody murder. It is genuinely impressive. The Liberal spin machine should take some notes.

Her supporters, including normally Liberal women who've jumped on the "any woman will do" bandwagon, have been claiming the Democrats and the media (meaning, presumably, Katie Couric) are treating her unfairly. Palin is the new Dan Quayle, and her getting Quayled by her opponents is supposedly sexist? Give me a freakin' break.

But she's certainly not getting Quayled by Newsweek, Time, Fox or CNN, so I'm not sure where this belief that she's being unfairly treated is coming from. Is it just that one interview, or did masses of people suddenly all start reading Mother Jones or something? Yeah, I'm sure the likes of Salon and The Hill are pillorying her just like most likely National Review Online and The Drudge Report are probably singing her praises. But the mainstream media seems to have bought Palin hook, line and sinker. Though the Couric interview fallout is starting to erode that goodwill and novelty, most of the articles still seem very "gee whiz" about Palin and her "compelling story."

Just how amazing is her story? She's a working mom? So are Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. She's got working-class street cred? Joe Biden is from Scranton, PA, a quintessential rust belt mining town. When his dad lost his work, he moved the family to little Claymont, Delaware. She's "folksy?" I find that one the most interesting. Folksy means affable, unpretentious, low-key. Pretense is not restricted to intellectualism.

Palin seems quite pretentious, indeed she seems downright self-righteous about the superiority of her small-town lifestyle and values. Her disdain for the 58% of Americans who live in large towns and cities is palpable. She's an provincialist elitist who rejects and denigrates the values and concerns of 58% of the population.

I'm also incredulous that Conservatives support her. Do they really want such a lightweight in their corner? Furthermore, as Governor, the thing she seems to be most known for is taking on Big Oil (and to give credit where it is due, she does seem to have done some valuable work there). So, Conservatives are willing to abandon their cherished economic policies so long as the candidate makes a good show of being folksy and religious? Where have all the Rockefeller Republicans gone? (The answer is probably the Democratic and Libertarian parties.)

What really amazes me, though, is the self-described Liberal women who support Palin (like the lesbian ex-Maoist former classmate of mine, who now supports Palin despite Palin's paltry platform having nothing whatsoever on offer for her). Palin may be a woman, but on what issues of importance to women is she actually aligned with these kinds of supporters? This amazing turnabout where suddenly an archconservative is the victim of sexism, and "Blue State" women are defending an anti-choice, religious fundamentalist, former beauty queen as a feminist icon is really amazing to me.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

TANSTAAFM

There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Market.

Whether or not it's desirable is irrelevant, because it's impossible. All markets are regulated, taxed, and manipulated. That's the nature of markets. After all, a market is a social contract between as much as a government is. People agree to participate in it, and they have expectations about the honesty and fairness of market transactions. When the people perceive that this is no longer the case, the one instrument they have to deal with it is the power of the government.

During the early days of the NYSE, American stock markets were nearly unregulated, but much of the rest of economic activity in the country was regulated. Stock markets do not act in an economic vacuum, and legislation about taxation, land use, wages, and a variety of other socioeconomic issues must be considered when claiming a market is a so-called free one.

And since no one person can have all information about all markets at all times, pro-polity, properly functioning government regulations such as disclosure and labeling, safety standards, and so on are enacted on behalf of the people to ameliorate unfair and dangerous market practices. Fraud, embezzlement, and coercion, for example, should be an illegal act, even though punishing these activities is regulation of potentially viable market practices. Yes, government can easily make bad laws that harm the citizenry, but it is the people's duty to use their voting and First Amendment rights to prevent that.

Simply saying "let the markets decide" -- meaning let the financial markets decide -- ignores the fact that government is a market participator. Businesses, as collectivist entities themselves, hold more power than individual consumers. Ad-hoc consumer groups can augment the role of government in such situations, but our form of government is specifically intended to be the representative of the people. The government is part of the markets, and what the markets have decided through unethical, and perhaps illegal, practices is to provoke the attention of this particular market actor.

So the markets have decided. They've decided to embrace practices which will cause the government to fulfill its role of representing the people by attempting to protect them from economic catastrophe. Whether or not I agree with the plan, and whether or not it accomplishes its goals, the government is performing a natural duty by stepping-in.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bailout Bonanza

Will the Senate version of the bailout bill pass? We'll know soon.

Here is Pete DeFazio's take on it from his NPR Marketplace Interview:
"...it is the same Paulson plan, which, in short, is what he started with. He gets $700 billion, unbelievable discretion in how he spends it. He can pick winners and losers on Wall Street. He can even buy credit card debt."

The Bill is 451 pages, and I haven't yet read the whole thing, but I am still opposed to weak oversight, a lot of discretion on the part of the Treasury Secretary, and any proviso that allows the Treasury to buy bad debts without receiving equity positions in the companies being bailed-out. I've read the sections that permits taking equity or debt positions in the bailed-out company (pages 31-32, 36, 85), but I can't really tell from their wording if they require it or not. Since the cap on salaries and golden parachutes for CEOs only seems to apply to companies where the Treasury receives equity or debt positions in the company, if there's a way around Treasury doing so, there's a way for Paulson to hook up his friends.

While some people may not agree with my position that all the panic talk is excessive, and is helping fuel emotional reactions that are causing big dips in the markets, I stick by it. I do agree with many of the points in that article about earlier "happy talk" causing the markets and regulators to ignore unsound fundamentals, but I think that to "make up for it" with panicked talk of cataclysm now isn't much help.

I'm not a big fan of basing our entire economy on gambling, but if we're going to do so, we should at least pay attention to the odds, and not make the typical gambler's mistake of throwing good money after bad by panicking after a bad run. Sometimes, it's best to just walk away from the table.

I don't know for sure if rejecting a bailout will cause another Great Depression (nobody knows for sure), but with a variety of economist pundits saying the bailout might not prevent one, either, given the shaky fundamentals we've allowed to take root, if the package doesn't include New Deal style aggressive regulations it may do very little to shore-up the situation (something Steve Fraser was discussing on NPR).