Friday, January 31, 2014

Tony Abbott continues his rampage against Australia

I think the quality of decisions Tony Abbott and his cabinet have made over the past 4 months are bad enough to call him the worst Prime Minister in the history of Australia. Hopefully this will be ended with an election sooner than

The Great Barrier Reef is a global treasure that is matched by very few treasures in the magnificent breadth and scope of diversity. It is a major feature of the world that has no equal in its size, scope, and beauty, and has been called the largest organism in the world. I have been fortunate to be able to see a small part of the Great Barrier Reef in person and is a memory I will never forget and I can't personally think of many other places that are as unique as the Great Barrier Reef that I would like to see, besides the rainforest that is only a few kilometers away from the Great Barrier Reef. Northeast Australia is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I am furious that Abbott's government is taking the easy way out of a short-term problem that will damage an unparalleled gem in the world.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The State of the Union 2014

I liked President Obama's speech. He listed several proposals that will help our economy, including paying government employees enough so they don't qualify for welfare.
  • His idea for a myRA is an excellent idea because it will make it so all people have access to a retirement plan, and will present competition to traditional IRA plans the way the Public Option was intended in the beginning.
  • Working towards employers paying employees enough to live on is what we need, it will save states money to invest in education and make sure every American has the opportunity to succeed. Hopefully the tax code can be modified to work like the one I have already posted which would reward companies for paying employees a living wage and eliminating the deduction for employees who are paid below a reasonable living wage which should be more than just the bare essentials for someone working 40 hours a week.
  • He mentioned solar power briefly, and extending tax credits to increase the amount of families who use solar power in the lower 48 and Hawaii will make a large dent on our greenhouse gas emissions and create thousands of private sector construction jobs.
  • He talked about trade promotion authority which is of course the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Increasing trade with China and making it so we have strong ties with the Pacific Rim is a good idea, but the Trans-Pacific Partnership has a number of very bad provisions when it comes to copyright and patents which will have impacts on everything from music to literature to agriculture that will be negative for the vast majority of people from what I can find out. I will to make a post on this with a counter-proposal soon on the problematic parts. It also does nothing for tourism around the Pacific rim which is one major problem I have with all of our free trade agreements.
  • His policy on Iran is very important. By using his veto pen (ideally) he can have more or less full power when it comes to Iran and negotiating with Iran to increase trade and bring them closer to the US and Europe as their President has stated he wants. Given how the last election was not fraudulent (and Ahmadinejad's last election was clearly fraught with corruption) it is clear where the Iranian people stand on this.
  • Investment in Preschool which I am very glad to hear.
  • Immigration was touched on and hopefully we can get important immigration reform passed to end the immigration problems that were started by George W. Bush of the severe limitations on work visas that clearly don't work.

When it comes to Representative McMorris-Rodgers speech I thought it was acid to the ears. I participated in debate for four years in high school and have done some judging since, and I have heard better arguments from 14 year olds. It was disconnected, and she keeps talking about how Republicans have better plans than Obama which she fails to elaborate on, and keeps rattling on about her children and how proud she is. She can be a proud parent, and good for her, but an official response speech is not the time to talk about your children, it's the time to present your counterproposals in a critical election year (because the question of whether any significant progress done by Obama for the remainder of his Presidency will be determined on November 4th in the Congressional elections, making this election, like all elections, extremely important). If the Republicans fail to present plans as the Response Speech has traditionally been used than the Democrats should start partying today because it will be a large uphill battle for the Republicans, so I think the Democrats can win the next election because the Republicans are just too crazy and incomprehensible to be taken seriously.

The response from the left I saw has been mixed. A lot of people I have seen have immediately grasped on to say that his speech has not been enough. Robert Reich claims on his facebook wall that Obama didn't show spine, and I couldn't disagree more. He stood up for 4 very important very liberal policies that have a chance to pass, and are first steps. No one should take this as the last step, and after a number of problems with the budget from the Republicans we need to recover ground to where we used to be. A lot of people on the left are taking his most progressive speech and immediately bashing it for being a compromise to the Republicans when the speech had the most similarities to the values he was taught as a child (given his Unitarian Universalist upbringing, "And we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation." is extraordinarily similar UU's first principle) I have heard from him since he became President. When people on the left shoot him for finally showing some skin in his speeches they are shooting themselves in the foot and losing credibility. It was a good speech and has a lot of potential to start moving towards an even better speech next year when the Democrats will be in control and they can make serious change like happened when President Johnson was President. I take this speech as a rallying call for this November's elections in some ways because he is starting to up the talk which is the first step to making real change.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Europe just looks worse and worse

Today it became almost apparent that President Hollande of France is involved in a sex scandal. Historically speaking, this doesn't look good and his impeachment is looking likely. This is a gigantic blow for the Socialist Party in France, and all of Europe.

The current political outlook of Europe is bleak. The past four years have seen the rise of radical right wing ideologues who have turned the economy from growth to depression. The economic growth rate of the European Union was -0.2% before inflation which was 2.6%, putting real GDP growth rate at -2.7% with inflation. This is horrendous. When you look at important trade blocs, the European Union is one of the largest in the world with a GDP (PPP) of $16 trillion, the United States is at $15.7 trillion, and China is at $12 trillion. The economies of China and India equal the economy of the European Union. To have such an incredibly large trade bloc undergoing a contraction of -2.7% whether it is concentrated or not is a moral crime, and the policies need to be observed at and improved on.

The current ruling party has shown absolutely no interest in changing their ludicrous policies of shrinking government budgets which are showing exactly what some basic understanding of GDP and the nature of the economy will predict, that we are all interconnected and when one part of a country or trade bloc undergoes economic policies that must be designed to destroy them the entire bloc will be damaged. That is all austerity is, an economy-killing lie, and it has completely failed in its stated goal of eliminating debt. Greece, Spain, and Italy have not seen their debt per GDP ratios go down significantly over the past four years, staying where they were, while people protests on the street and 20% of the Greek economy is gone after 4 years of economic contraction which was preceded by only one significant factor which is the grim reaper of economics, austerity.

What Europe needs is to see clear economic resistance to such idiotic policies that are proving once again how bad austerity is (as it did in the period of 1929-1933, part of 1937, and 1981-1982 in the United States when we practised austerity). The definition of an idiot, according to Albert Einstein is someone who tries something once and fails, and then tries the same action again expecting a different result. Merkel and the rest of the extremist leaders of the European Union undoubtedly fall under this definition of idiocy. The one leader of Europe's largest countries currently having a relatively strong economy to the victims of austerity who had the potential to threaten her power along with her allies was Francois Hollande but with his political future almost certainly threatened, there remains absolutely no leader of the political left in Europe.

It looks like Europe is going to have at least 4 more years of failed economic policies. This is extremely dangerous because it will feed the political ambitions of Golden Dawn who are successfully convincing Greeks that it is the Germans that are destroying Greece (and talking about governments they aren't completely wrong) which will lead them towards potentially leaving the European Union voiding the Schengen Treaty, which helps curb racism which feeds the political power of the self-described fascists in Golden Dawn, and removing trade connections with the rest of Europe which will make their economy suffer given how their largest trade relations are with the rest of the European, and people-to-people communication between Greece and the rest of Europe will suffer. All of this assuming that Greece leaves the European Union as a reaction to the idiotic policies.

Spain and Italy are in similar boats with the implementation of austerity and this can happen to them also.

I wish there was a bright spot of hope, but right now there doesn't seem to be anything that is likely to hold Europe together in the near future barring the unexpected rise of a compassionate uncompromising leader of Europe over the next 4 months which seems incredibly unlikely, which will not lead to anything good in my observations. There really doesn't seem to be anything good right now.

This also matters to the rest of the world because exports from America to Europe totalled $340 billion (2% of America's GDP, 2% of Europe's GDP) and exports from China to Europe totalled $396 billion (3% of China's GDP, 2% of Europe's GDP) and imports from Japan to Europe totalled $106 billion (2.3% of Japan's GDP) meaning that the continued fall of the European economy will be felt globally, and it should concern everyone in the world.

It's not just Europe that is looking worse than it did several months ago, it's the entire world.

Sorry to be such a bummer, but such things must be said.

Why Anti-Federalists are Anti-Federalists

Washington State has a very divided government currently, with an almost even split between Democrats and Republicans and several Blue Dog Democrats who have made the democratic majority ineffective and given the Republicans influence on important issues.

An article in the Stranger today talks about how the government of the State of Washington is further devolving power down to the county and city level when it comes to long-assisted mass transit for King County which is going to put King County and Seattle in a bind for paying for the mass transit system. I understand after visiting Europe that to make a city function extremely smoothly and save money on emergency services (in response to accidents) you need to have a well-functioning mass transit system.

When you have a mass transit system that works people don't need to park in the middle of gigantic cities (saving money and time searching for a parking spot), and it reduces traffic on freeways for people who are going to somewhere too remote for bus service.

Another function mass transit provides is for people who don't have a lot of income they can purchase a pass to get to and from work when they can't afford to buy a car. (assuming they live within a short distance from a bus/metro stop or live in a warm climate) The alternative is you have people who are unable to get around, given how they don't have the income to buy a car and pay for parking, and they don't have mass transit available to travel
to where the jobs are, which is detrimental to the economy. When calculating the costs of mass transit you have to take into account the economic value added from jobs, because it has implications far beyond the balance books. If you can make it pay for itself, all the more power to you!

Anti-federalism has never been about state rights. That is not the real reason, and it never has been. The people not wanting federalization in the late 1700s were from large southern states who followed an inherently broken economic system of mercantilism. The anti-federalists of the 1860s were mostly slaveowners. The anti-federalists of today oppose all assistance to people and want the same thing they always have, where people have to get themselves up with their own bootstraps with no assistance from the government, which sounds really good when you have always been given help from your family to get going, but when you are someone who always has to find your own way to get what you need you realize that romantic assertion of everyone getting themselves up without help from others doesn't fully represent reality.

Anti-federalists are at the core anti-poor and anti-minority. It has nothing to do with some ridiculous "states rights" but they subscribe to the nihilist doctrine that in order for one person to improve their quality of life someone else has to be worse off, which doesn't represent reality. Some people call nihilists realists, but their opposition to trade makes me disagree with this naming so I will call them nihilists because that is what they really are.

Today's anti-federalists are just repeating the same arguments they always have made, and have always been at the core been focused at the poor, which has never changed.

America is one country united, not divided against itself, and a house divided against itself cannot stand, whether it is through political disputes in a civil war or an immense distribution of wealth, as was one major factor in the survival of the USSR.

Monday, January 13, 2014

If musicians were small businesses, and implications

There is an interesting difference in our world between content creators and businesses. Composers in this world don't own their work. They will have a contract with the publication business, but the publication business owns their work for as long as copyright allows, and as long as the company is in existence or has been bought out by another company (when all of its property, including copyrights which are intellectual property will be owned by the new firm) which means that until copyright stops being lengthened we will likely see that nothing will enter the public domain for ever. The usual method for musicians to get published by companies is they have to sell their ownership of their work in order to get advertising, and a small paycheck based on the sales as determined with the company for a contract that will vary.

I have a small business, and when I looked at my microeconomics textbook I looked at a graph for the business of the revenue for the company and their costs versus what the content creator wants to be paid. I have a small business and have a few advertising contracts. I see the contracts between these companies and the artists as scams, swindles, and a total double standard. When I pay a company to market my company I retain my business license and ownership of all the parts that go with my business, but if I was to publish music I would have to sell my entire work. I would be locked into a contract forever and have no legal rights to the work I spent months creating.

The current situation of how music is published presents a lot of ethical quandries and questions for me. Personally, I think authors should retain their copyright for their work, and hire companies for contracted time periods the same way small businesses in any other business hire advertisers and other types of contractors, because that is all a publication business really is. They function like an advertiser in that they take something that already exists and then market it to other people. The contract would be legally binding and the artist/author and publisher would be bound by it for the time period specified in the contract (just like any other contractor). This is the way it currently works, that neither party can change the contract without the others approval. Nothing should ever change in this matter.

However, there are problems with authors/artists selling their copyrights. The biggest one is that if the author dies the copyright remains valid in perpetuity. You can't easily find George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue or American in Paris, and if the content creator has decided to stop selling the work because they find it unprofitable you can't just go legally purchase the work unless you find it in some used bookstore. There are thousands if not millions of old books and music pieces that are now out of print but not out of copyright. This needs to be rethought because it is bad for the economy and destroys potential production. Selling the copyright to the company means the musician/author can't then go find another producer for his/her work unless the contract states so. Since publishers of desired works don't usually go bankrupt, and when they do they will be purchased by a larger company. The company has no legal requirement to keep producing the work in order to retain ownership which means it is unavailable. If musicians/authors were like small businesses who sold the marketing rights to other companies but retained copyright they could sell it again when the contract expired, but the current system doesn't allow this.

There are a few solutions to this. The first is to amend copyright law requiring that the owner of the copyrighted work needs to keep producing the work at a certain interval or the work will be in the public domain, or the artists retain the copyright and when the contract expires they can find another seller. Since the artist retains the copyright for the work once the artist is deceased and the contract runs out the copyright will be nullified so works can be in the public domain when their creators are dead. As a musician this is important to me (Prokofiev is 40 years dead and the copyright owner said that my orchestra could not play Peter and the Wolf) and as someone who likes old books, this is important to me. Content should be available to use. The purpose of copyright is to "promote the progress science and useful arts" according to the US Constitution, and having a copyright on an old piece of work that no one publishes does not promote its progress, or have any use.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Legal status of airports

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

~ 4th amendment to the United States Constitution

A judge just ruled that border security guards may search any laptop at the border without reason or probable cause. This violates the 4th amendment because it is a broad warrant and doesn't fulfil the probable cause section of the constitution. We should be held to that standard.

However, the judge argued that the plaintiff was being unreasonable because Lebanon and Syria would go into his computer. The difference is that the United States is (supposedly) a free country, and has laws in place that prevent such actions in Syria (where the government is killing children, along with some rebel groups) or Lebanon (a truly fascist state where Palestinians are barred from having certain types of work, and political opponents are routinely detained).

I would hope that the bar for human rights is higher than Syria and Lebanon, and I would hope that the United States Supreme Court will reverse this decision in the near future. We should be a role model and set a higher bar for countries to compete with, not drop down to their level.

It doesn't matter if you are talking about the Soviet Union, Mussolini's rule in Italy, the Communist Party in China, or North Korea, the worst well-known countries in human rights indexes, there is no right to privacy in any of these places, but this doesn't mean we should sink to their level!

We should try to be the best country in the world which means following our laws that require warrants before the government searches people. Merely crossing and international border is not enough cause to search someone's personal possessions, or the law doesn't apply to our national police (which given their jurisdiction within 100 miles of any border makes them our de facto national police) which is a very dangerous prospect. They need to have more evidence than entering or leaving a country which is done by millions of people a day across the world, the vast majority of which mean no harm to anyone.