04/6/15

finding Fresh Roots

“Fresh Roots”, a poem by Rumi.

I started reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander this weekend. So far, it feels like I’m finally paying attention to a deep rot that I knew has always been there, in my already decrepit house—my country. I have a lot of thoughts already but I’ll save them for when I finish the book.

03/29/15

ISDS: the crown jewel for global plutocracy

Wikileaks has publicly exposed another chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and in effect, has delivered a massive blow against this secret, multinational trade deal. This time it was the text on Investment, which has, among many other things, language on what’s called “investor-state dispute settlement,” or ISDS for short. This investor-state process essentially enables corporations to file lawsuits against governments—federal or state/provincial—over policies that the company claims harms their investments or “expected future profits.”

There have been ISDS cases involving oil companies suing small countries, like Ecuador, which tried to enact rules to protect the forests and rivers. There have been cases where an energy company sued a country for deciding to shut down its nuclear power plants. And there have been cases where a court found that an over-broad medicine patent was invalid, leading the pharmaceutical company to challenge the ruling in an ISDS process.

I’ve briefly ranted about ISDS before. Now that we’ve seen the text, we can confirm it’s utterly as evil as we expected it to be. This is about corporations having sovereignty, and having the power to challenge government rules, even if the law was passed democratically and is seen as totally legitimate in the eyes of the people. Given all the other provisions in trade agreements, such as those on “Intellectual Property”, ISDS enables corporations to challenge the way government interprets those provisions as long as the corporation can claim that the law stifled their profit-making abilities.

Think about that.

These rules mean that private industries can unravel public-interest policies, through the singular, self-interested justification that their ability to make money has been made more difficult…Since when do companies have an unalienable right to profit, at the expense of everyone else’s concerns?

More importantly, why the hell are public officials selling us out to mega-corporations? Are they just getting lobbied so hard, and have become so intimate with myopic corporate representatives as to believe that this is remotely compatible with an actual functioning democracy?

 

03/15/15

stream of consciousness: march 2015

this is a stream of consciousness—i’m writing anything that comes to my mind.

On Friday I went to the dentist and they fixed a tooth that got chipped while I was eating a bowl of salad I made with Trader Joe’s fancy Red Quinoa. This particular tooth was already fucked up—a snaggler that jutted out taller than the others on the front bottom row of my mouth. In middle school, when my appearance became a sudden and painful new part of my every day consciousness, I was really embarrassed of it. I covered my mouth when I laughed to avoid people noticing it. But eventually I got over it and didn’t care anymore. Every time I changed dentists and they asked me if I wanted braces, I’d defend its right to stay. “It’s fine and it’s not gonna hurt me right?” But on Friday they changed it. They first added whatever gunk they put on it to account for the missing chip, then asked me if they should just file it down. “Uhhh…Yeah.” I nodded, while my mouth was held open. “Great! It’ll only take a second.” When they started, I realized that it’d lose it’s charm. My teeth would be boring now. I’d lose my ability to make weird bite marks on apples…! But it was too late. They had an electric filing device in my mouth filing that lil’ guy down…

~

Saxophones haven’t been cool for as long as I remember. It was at its pinnacle while John Coltrane and Charlie Parker ruled the jazz scene. But then who killed it? Kenny G might’ve been the first wave of uncooling, then was the sexy sax man the final nail in the coffin or was it just making fun of the complete utter deadness of its cool? Anyway, I think it’s creeping back into the mainstream. It’s in that Ariana Grande song, in Macklemore’s Thriftshop, and Big Gigantic does it electronica-styles.

One night a few weeks ago I was under-the-influence wandering around the Internet and I found this Tiny Desk Concert session with Moon Hooch. They sounded nothing like anything I’ve heard before, despite being just three white dudes who looked like they just got plucked out of Humboldt County. I was hypnotized by their performance, recorded in that awkward little NPR studio. So I immediately bought tickets to see them when I saw that they were coming to SF.

The show was on Friday and it was pretty amazing. As Andrew said they were a mix between being really talented musicians and being strangely comedic in their performance. I feel the same way, but I wonder if it’s just because I still can’t shake the thing about saxes being the butt-of-the-joke instrument. But that actually made me enjoy the show MORE. I feel like I mostly see the same instruments being played on stage, and while I appreciate talent with those, they’re just something extra eventful about seeing that kind of artfulness with instruments you don’t usually enjoy. So yeah, it was good.

~

In the bathroom I found this sticker on the stall door. This is how I feel about writing/painting/reading:

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- fin -

03/8/15

I’m proud of this one.

I wrote a piece for my job this week about how the White House has started to intensify its propaganda campaign about Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and I think it’s in the top 10 best blog posts I’ve written at EFF. It even got republished in TechDirt, which is a first for me!

Thought about writing somethin’ else for my weekly personal blog post, including some reflections I had about an interview I did with a libertarian trade policy analyst about trade policy, or how much I enjoy the annual Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt that I just did for the third time over the weekend. But I’m just going to re-post the piece I did for EFF cause I just don’t have much writing juice flowing through my brain and fingers atm. Here it is below!

—–

The White House Has Gone Full Doublespeak on Fast Track and the TPP

Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Orrin Hatch are now in a stand-off over a bill that would put secretive trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement on the Fast Track to passage through Congress. The White House meanwhile, has intensified their propaganda campaign, going so far as to mislead the public about how trade deals—like the TPP and its counterpart, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—will effect the Internet and users’ rights. They are creating videos, writing several blog posts, and then this week, even sent out a letter from an “online small business owner” to everyone on the White House’s massive email list, to further misinform the public about Fast Track.

In a blog post published this week, the White House flat out uses doublespeak to tout the benefits of the TPP, even going so far as to claim that without these new trade agreements, “there would be no rules protecting American invention, artistic creativity, and research”. That is pure bogus, much like the other lies the White House has been recently saying about its trade policies. Let’s look at the four main myths they have been saying to sell lawmakers and the public on Fast Track for the TPP.

Myth #1: TPP Is Good for the Internet

First, there are the claims that this agreement will create “stronger protections of a free and open Internet”. As we know from previous leaks of the TPP’s Intellectual Property chapter, the complete opposite is true. Most of all, the TPP’s ISP liability provisions could create greater incentives for Internet and content providers to block and filter content, or even monitor their users in the name of copyright enforcement. What they believe are efforts toward protecting the future of the Internet are provisions they’re advocating for in this and other secret agreements on the “free flow of information”. In short, these are policies aimed at subverting data localization laws.

Such an obligation could be a good or a bad thing, depending on what kind of impact it could have on national censorship, or consumer protections for personal data. It’s a complicated issue without an easy solution—which is exactly why this should not be decided through secretive trade negotiations. These “free flow of information” rules have likely been lobbied for by major tech companies, which do not want laws to restrict them on how they deal with users’ data. It is dishonest to say that what these tech companies can do with people’s data is good for all users and the Internet at large.

Myth #2: Fast Track Would Strengthen Congressional Oversight

The second, oft-repeated claim is that Fast Track would strengthen congressional oversight—which is again not true. The U.S. Trade Representative has made this claim throughout the past couple months, including at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in January when he said:

TPA puts Congress in the driver’s seat to define our negotiating objectives and strengthens Congressional oversight by requiring consultations and transparency throughout the negotiating process.

Maybe we could believe this if the White House had fought for Fast Track before delegates began negotiating the TPP and TTIP. Maybe it could also have been true if that bill had ensured that Congress members had easy access to the text and kept a close leash on the White House throughout the process to ensure that the negotiating objectives they outlined were in fact being met in the deal. However, we know from the past several years of TPP negotiations, that Congress has largely been shut out of the process. Many members of Congress have spoken out about the White House’s strict rules that have made it exceedingly difficult to influence or even see the terms of these trade deals.

The only way Fast Track could really put “Congress in the driver’s seat” over trade policy would be if it fully addressed the lack of congressional oversight over the TPP and TTIP thus far. Lawmakers should be able to hold unlimited debate over the policies being proposed in these deals, and if it comes to it, to amend their provisions. It would be meaningless if the new Fast Track bill enabled more congressional oversight, but if it did not apply to agreements that are ongoing or almost completed.

Myth #3: Small Online Businesses Would Benefit from Fast Track

Then the third misleading claim is that Fast Track would help small businesses. Their repetition of this has become louder amid increasing public awareness that the TPP has primarily been driven by major corporations. What may be good for established multinational companies could also benefit certain small online businesses as well. The White House says that tariffs are hindering small online businesses from selling their products abroad, but research has shown that the kinds of traditional trade barriers, like tariffs, that past trade agreements were negotiated to address are already close to non-existent. Therefore it is unclear what other kind of benefits online businesses would see from the TPP.

Even if there were some benefits, there are many more ways that the TPP could harm small Internet-based companies. The TPP’s copyright provisions could lead to policies where ISPs would be forced to implement costly systems to oversee all users’ activities and process each takedown notice they receive. They could also discourage investment in new innovative start-ups, even those that plan to “play by the rules”, due to the risk that companies would have to sink significant resources into legal defenses against copyright holders, or face heavy deterrent penalties for infringement established by the TPP.

Myth #4: TPP and Other Secret Trade Deals Are a National Security Issue

The last, and most confounding of the White House’s assertions is that the TPP and TTIP are an “integral part” of the United States’ national security strategy, because its “global strategic interests are intimately linked with [its] broader economic interests.” As we have seen with the U.S. government’s expansive surveillance regime, “national security” is often invoked for policies even if they directly undermine our civil liberties. It is hard to argue with the administration whether the TPP and TTIP are in fact in the United States’ economic or strategic interests, since only they are allowed to see the entire contents of these agreements. Either way, it seems like a huge stretch to say that we can trust the White House and major corporate representatives to determine, in secret, what is in fact good digital policy for the country and the world. We may be hearing this line more and more in the coming weeks as the White House becomes more desperate to legitimize the need for Fast Track to pass the TPP and TTIP.

Conclusion

The fact that the White House has resorted to distorting the truth about its trade policies is enough to demonstrate how little the administration values honesty and transparency in policy making, and how much the public stands to lose from these agreements negotiated in secret. The more they try and espouse the potential gains from Fast Track—while the trade agreements this legislation would advance remain secret—the more reason we ought to be skeptical. If the TPP is so great and if Fast Track would in fact enable more democratic oversight, why are the contents of either of them still not public?

02/21/15

it’s filicological.

oh
fern,
scaley
green spiral
unfurling for 360
million years in quiet
wet forests vivid & outstretched.
they once brushed against the skin
of dinosaurs, ignored as they ran or
walked grazing. then, a 100 mi wide asteroid
struck us. earth dark for countless millennia,
blanketed by dust and death of species but they
survived, when others didn’t. just shrubs armed with
tenacious spores. fractal leaf blossoms peculiar, strong,
and elegant. struck by pteridomania, we encased them in
glass to love and shield from new urban dust that even they
weren’t a match for. so…are we their next catastrophe, that they’ll
again ride out for millennia, outliving us. forever rising, unfolding,

from the ashes?

02/8/15

life is so much better when your throat isn’t a festering mess

on Monday i felt good—stressed, but good. my day started early with a conference call, dense with meetings, and ended with me teaching choreography to some others in preparation for the big climate action that was planned for this weekend in Oakland. By the time i was in bed, i was exhausted by the full day while undeniably worried about the things I didn’t get to.

dammit i didn’t respond to that email yet and i didn’t get a chance to check in with **** about that task why can’t i get that blog post done yet that doc has been open for a week now would ***** think it’s rude if i didn’t respond to that DM i just don’t know what to say fuck i think my roommates and i need to sort that issue out but it’s impossible for us to meet in person i have to write a diplomatic email to everyone man i really don’t like my hair right now is getting a haircut for growing it out a thing i haven’t been eating healthy enough i need to make better lunches for myself that conference is coming up i have so much to do for it, for all of it ………….

on Tuesday i woke up feeling, again, like a creaky old lady. My body hurt, my head hurt, my throat hurt. But i had some stressful calls i had to do so i worked all day from bed in wrapped in my down comforter wearing two layers on all my body. my teeth still chattered. It got really bad by the evening—sweats, fever, no appetite, and god awful pain everywhere—it was even worse by the next morning. People close to me thought i was dying and told me to go see my doctor.

“Say ‘ahhh’.”
“Ahhhhhhh~”
She shined a light down my throat and says “Yikes. That’s strep alright.”

She then told me the lymph nodes in my neck were so swollen i might have to get them drained. wut. o_o “I’ll set up an appointment for you at a head and neck specialist tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I’m gonna get you going on antibiotics.” i told her this was the second time i got it in 6 months. “Have you been under some stress lately?”

thankfully the head+neck specialist didn’t need to drain anything nor remove my tonsils (yay) but also asked me about my stress. “y’know, that can have a huge impact on health—not sleeping well, not eating right—it can all add up and do a real number on your immune system.”

yes, fine. i’m stressed. i always have so much to do and so much on my mind. maybe it’s that i wake up every morning and listen to Democracy Now’s war and peace report, a thing i started to do as a way to motivate myself to fix the broken messed up world. i can’t give that up though—the constant hum of indignation that i feel in my bones is a part of who i am. it colors my actions and decision every day to do work that could make the world better, more just, or just make some more goddamn sense.

i don’t know. i think it’s a lot of things i need to reassess about my life, but i’m not gonna stress about my stress. i’m gonna try and stop worrying about things that are out of my control and that aren’t part of my current task at hand. to be more present throughout the day so that i’m still productive, but not wasting my brain-energy fuel on those dumb nagging feelings in a way that’s unhelpful and exhausting. that’s probably a good first step.

02/1/15

bike ride to point bonita

warning: this is a broring photo life update

It was a gorgeous sunny day out on Saturday so we decided to go out for an afternoon bike ride up to Marin, across the big ol’ Golden Gate.

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Tourists were out in droves, but I couldn’t blame em. The Bay looked ridiculously clear and it felt like the kind of summer you earned after a bitter wet winter…which of course we hadn’t. :-|

(null)

On the way back as I was biking back home up Market Street, I was hit by a car. But I was hit very, very slowly. So slowly it was more like I was gently shoved over. The guy immediately got out, apologized profusely and stuck out his ID for me take a photo. I wasn’t hurt at all though, except maybe my road-confidence. Honestly a giant pine cone that fell out of a tree and stuck the same spot earlier that day hurt more and left a bigger bruise.

Anyway, it was a great day and I needed it. I’m expecting Fast Track to get introduced any day now so I knew I had to recharge to get ready to fight.

I’M READY.

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01/26/15

what's the point of modern trade policy?

At my job, a major project has been the fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Specifically, I organize EFF members to oppose the many digital policies that would impact how signatory countries implement laws—the underlying problem being that the negotiating texts are kept secret from the public while it’s overwhelmingly influenced by major corporate interests. So I spend a significant amount of time reading, and watching the politics behind US trade policy, in order to identify opportunities and targets for direct action.

Over the last 3 years or so that I’ve been watching these TPP talks unfold, one of the things that confound me is how proponents—mostly the White House and some Congress members—defend this and other secretly negotiated agreements. The primary argument is that enabling “free trade” and breaking down protectionist barriers will mean job creation and economic growth. Job creation and economic growth…they both sound like wonderful motives, but the implication that this means that more people, in the US, would live more prosperous, stable lives seems to be extremely dubious.

What we should be asking is, what kind of jobs would this lead to? And at what cost? For example, one of the big arguments I hear for the XL Keystone Pipeline is that it would lead to employment of thousands of workers. But first, how permanent are those jobs, will they be paid well, and what are they actually doing to promote a sustainable future? The jobs that project would create are those that would be paying individuals to literally help shove poison into the earth, and into our water. You can’t think about public policy in such a narrow, irrelevant frame as “job creation”, especially if that means nothing more than putting people at work at a task that doesn’t pay well enough for people to live healthy, decent lives.

When I hear that justification for a policy, what it sounds like to me is a more twisted version of trickle down economics. By helping mega-corporations to make more profit (even if it means infringing on people’s rights, even if it means putting peoples’ lives at risk) they can hire more people and spread that wealth all around. That’s just not how this happens though—companies aren’t incentivized to hire more people for the hell of it, because they can. They’ll only do it if it means yielding more or better product, so they can capture even more profit…

Now’s not the time to flesh this out as much as I’d like, but the point I want to get to is the huge deception of modern trade policy. What they, trade delegates, allege is being negotiated for the benefit of their nation, is actually only for the benefit of the wealthy, influential figures in that given nation. That’s why each country is willing to give up flexibilities on other policies as long as the dominant industry gets its deal. For instance, Vietnam may be willing to cave in to worse copyright rules, insisted by mainly Hollywood companies, as long as it gets better access to US’ textile/clothing markets. That isn’t a reflection of what the people of Vietnam want or need, it’s just that of the powerful textile manufacturing industry.

So if other countries agree to more extreme digital policies, it may harm future opportunities for the tech industry to thrive there. The US, in having the most flexible copyright rules, might be the country where starting certain tech businesses might be more conducive, while it forces other countries to worse rules that would prevent such industries to thrive there. Is this the point of trade agreements? I know for sure that they’re now solely there for the purposes of propping up private industry, but is part of the goal, the point, to have countries become more specialized producers for certain products?

01/4/15

art-making is gonna happen, 2015.

Some friends of mine mentioned that this year, they were going to forgo yearly resolutions for aspirations instead—a broad set of ambitions, rather than a set list of objectives. It seems like less pressure, allowing you to be more realistic about what you want to accomplish while forcing you to think more directionally and long-term.

So I’m gonna give it a shot.

The only one I’ll write here for now is…

Work towards becoming a part-time artist.

I want art-making be a more regular part of my life. I kept thinking it was just a matter of making time to sit down and draw, paint, write, etc., but when it came down to do it, it was stressful and awful every time. It had been so long since I did it regularly that I’d come to be creatively constipated, worrying and self-doubting what I was making and what I was trying to “say” with my work.

Finally, I came up with an assignment for myself that lets me make something without getting too caught up with all of that: to make a big 30″ x 40″ painting of a California poppy to put up in my living room shared with my roommates. The subject needs to be non-offensive, decorative, and composed and painting well. It took me three straight hours of hand-wringing to realize that I need to just get in the habit of making, so I can at least get the craft of it feeling natural again.

I’ve only really sketched it out and done a color wash (below) but I’m so excited to keep working on it. :D

poppypainting_phase2