Posts tagged Los Angeles Times

Airport security

Over in Washington, D.C., the usual bellowing blowhard brigade are bickering over what set of orders to give to airlines and airports about how best to run their own businesses. Here’s a little item that I noticed in the midst of it, which it may be interesting to consider in light of what I said the other day about cops and prison guards coming in many shapes and sizes.

I want the American people to understand this, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said at a news conference after the vote. The next time they’re stranded on an airplane and they’re wondering why they can’t get off, or why they don’t have food or water after four hours sitting there, it’s frankly because of Republican obstructionism.

No, it’s not.

Boxer sponsored a provision in the bill that would have required airlines to provide food, drinking water, cabin ventilation, toilet facilities and access to medical treatment for passengers on planes stuck on the ground for hours.

James Hohmann, Los Angeles Times (2008-05-07): Aviation safety bill stalls in the Senate

Hey, I’ve got an idea.

Rather than trying to pass a new law requiring airlines to provide better prison conditions for passengers forced to stay on a plane while it’s grounded for hours, why not let people get off the damn plane while they wait?

If I’m in a restaurant for hours without getting any service, I can get up and leave, and get my dinner somewhere else. If I’m waiting for my car to be repaired and it’s taking too long, and the coffee is bad and the television is blaring Judge Judy (as it always is), I can get up and walk down the street or hop on a bus to go somewhere until my car is ready. If I’m on a bus and the bus breaks down and another bus won’t arrive for an hour, I can get out and walk or call a taxi. I don’t have to worry about angry fellow customers, or bad ventilation, or no food and water, or my medical conditions, or overflowing latrines, because, in any place of business except for those that operate under a special license from the government and its National Security apparatus, I am free to just turn around and walk away, if, when, and for as long as I’m tired of being there, without being locked in, without being threatened, without being tasered, and without being arrested.

But when a federally-licensed flight crew seals the doors of an airplane, even if you are sitting on the ground for hours, you are legally their captives and it is (as they will very quickly tell you as soon as they want to make you sit down and shut up) a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison to interfere with the performance of their duties, which air marshals, the FBI, federal prosecutors and federal courts will happily interpret as meaning absolutely any disobedience to the the arbitrary orders of your smiling, uniformed captors.

If you don’t want people to face unbearable conditions on grounded airplanes, you don’t need to pass more laws and regulations to make their captivity less obnoxious. You just need to repeal an existing law and leave people free to go somewhere else when they don’t want to stay on the plane anymore. If you make flight crews and airport officials treat a grounded airplane as a prison, you shouldn’t act all surprised when passengers end up getting treated like prisoners. The obvious solution is to open the gates and break the chains.

See also:

Does this mean we don’t have to listen to Noam Chomsky anymore? Part 2

Sometimes I hate being right.

Los Angeles Times 2005-11-30: U.S. Military Covertly Pays to Run Stories in Iraqi Press:

WASHINGTON — As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

The articles, written by U.S. military information operations troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country. …

And, just in case you were wondering:

The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group’s Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets. …

Some of the newspapers, such as Al Mutamar, a Baghdad-based daily run by associates of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, ran the articles as news stories, indistinguishable from other news reports. Before the war, Chalabi was the Iraqi exile favored by senior Pentagon officials to lead post-Hussein Iraq.

Others labeled the stories as advertising, shaded them in gray boxes or used a special typeface to distinguish them from standard editorial content. But none mentioned any connection to the U.S. military.

The going rate seems to be as much as US $1,000 - $1,500 per story, although a few papers ran the articles for as little as US $50.

Military officials familiar with the effort in Iraq said much of it was being directed by the Information Operations Task Force in Baghdad, part of the multinational corps headquarters commanded by Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were critical of the effort and were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

A spokesman for Vines declined to comment for this article. A Lincoln Group spokesman also declined to comment.

One of the military officials said that, as part of a psychological operations campaign that has intensified over the last year, the task force also had purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece.

Anthony Gregory, 2005-12-01:

These days, so many news accounts hardly need commentary. …

That’s almost certainly true. In any case, if commentary is needed, it can always be recycled:

Welcome to the mainstream news media for the new millennium, in which Noam Chomsky has become obsolete: they aren’t even trying to hide it anymore. Interlocking interests and subtle mechanisms of control aren’t even the point anymore; the Bush machine and its clients now pass out government-manufactured news segments and lucrative tax-funded bribes for useful political commentators. The Bush League may not be making government smaller, but they are making radical critique simpler—may God help us all.

Patents kill

So, it turns out that today is—by edict of WIPOWorld Intellectual Property Day 2005. Among the objectives set out for the day are:

  • To increase understanding of how protecting IP rights helps to foster creativity and innovation;
  • To raise awareness of the importance in daily life of patents, copyright, trademarks and designs.

Well, who could disagree with such educational goals? The Ministries of Culture and Science in this secessionist republic of one applaud the educational purposes of World Intellectual Property day, and offer the following in the effort to raise awareness of the importance in daily life of patents and copyrights, and to make sure that you understand exactly how protecting IP restrictions is fostering creativity and innovation.

Intellectual property restrictions are government-granted monopolies. They have nothing, actually, to do with property rights; what they do is seize ordinary people’s property and hold it hostage to the license-holders’ demands for ransom. They kill innovation because they kill new products; they kill new products because they invade other people’s real property — meaning pens, paper, scanners, computers, DVD players, and so on — in the attempt to lock down ideas — which are, by nature, non-rivalrous resources; this amounts to nothing less than a systematic and ruthless intellectual enclosure movement against what is and ought to be the common property of all humanity.

Now, as a techno-geek, I don’t like how this strangles the amazing innovation that we could be seeing in the intelligent use of audio, video, and text content, in this age of cheap computers and plentiful storage. But the plain fact is that this isn’t, really, about what your latest gizmo can or can’t do with your music library, and it’s not a topic for polite debate and economic wonkery. This is life and death. For example, in India recently:

India, a major source of inexpensive AIDS drugs, passed a new patent law yesterday that groups providing drugs to the world’s poorest patients fear will choke off their supply of new treatments.

The new law, amending India’s 1970 Patent Act, affects everything from electronics to software to medicines, and has been expected for years as a condition for India to join the World Trade Organization.

But because millions of poor people in India and elsewhere — including by some estimates half the AIDS patients in the Third World — rely on India’s generic drug industry, lobbyists for multinational drug companies as well as activists fighting for cheap drugs had descended on New Delhi to try to influence the outcome.

It’s very disappointing, but it could have been worse, said Daniel Berman, a coordinator of the global access campaign for the medical charity Doctors Without Borders. All generics could have been removed from the market.

Instead, all the generic drugs already approved in India can still be sold, though sellers must now pay licensing fees. There are also provisions allowing companies that make generics to copy drugs in the future.

But there are relatively tough criteria for such copying, and activists predicted that prices for newly invented drugs will be much higher, because drug makers will have the same 20-year patent monopolies as they have in the West. As AIDS patients develop resistance to old drugs, new treatments will become less affordable, they said.

In addition, it is unclear whether makers of generic drugs in other countries, like Brazil, China and Thailand, will fill any increasing demand for cheaper medicines.

All Western countries grant product patents on new inventions. Since 1970, India has granted process patents, which allow another inventor to patent the same product as long as it was created by a novel process. In pharmaceuticals, that has meant that a tiny tweak in the synthesis of a molecule yields a new patent. Several companies can produce the same drug, creating competition that drives down prices.

Before 1970, India’s patent laws came from its colonial days, and it had some of the world’s highest drug prices. Process patents on drugs, fertilizers and pesticides have extended life expectancy and ended regular famines.

In Africa, exports by Indian companies, especially Cipla and Ranbaxy Laboratories, helped drive the annual price of antiretroviral treatment down from $15,000 per patient a decade ago to about $200 now. They also simplified therapy by putting three AIDS drugs in one pill. Dr. Yusuf Hamied, Cipla’s chairman, called the new law a very sad day for India.

— New York Times 2005-03-24: India Alters Law on Drug Patents

And the same folks want to do the same thing to Latin America, through the adoption of CAFTA:

Found to be HIV-positive shortly before her husband died of AIDS-related complications last fall, an ailing Garcia was convinced of her own death sentence. But generic drugs have kept the virus in check and restored 60 lost pounds to her frame.

I now have hope, said the 52-year-old grandmother and flower vendor, who gets her medicine free from a nonprofit clinic.

Public health experts fear that hope might fade for Garcia and thousands of the region’s chronically ill if the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA, is approved this year.

Under the pact American pharmaceutical giants would gain a five-year edge on the development of new drugs by low-cost competitors. Generic versions of name-brand drugs are the main weapon for battling the AIDS pandemic in the developing world.

Healthcare activists say those intellectual property protections would drive up the cost of treating chronic conditions, particularly HIV/AIDS, sufferers of which routinely develop resistance to old medications. About 40 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and more than 275,000 of them live in the six Latin American CAFTA nations, according to United Nations statistics.

— LA Times 2005-04-22: AIDS Patients See Life, Death Issues in Trade Pact

Patents kill people. They mean that the pharmaceutical cartel can call up the armed bully-boys of almost every government in the world in order to enforce artificially high prices for their top money-makers; and that means that State violence is being used to prevent affordable, life-saving drugs from reaching the desparately poor of the world. The multilateral so-called free trade agreements of the past couple decades — NAFTA, the WTO, and upcoming plans such as CAFTA and the FTAA — are slowly cutting back on traditional industrial protectionism while dramatically expanding the scale, scope, and deadly reach of intellectual protectionism.

To hell with that. Intellectual property is not about incentivizing or encouraging or opportunities. It’s about force: invading other people’s property to force them to render long-term rents to you long after you have stopped putting any particular work into what you’re claiming to be yours. A necessary corollary is that it also means invading those who offer innovations based on the work that you have done unless those innovations comply with a very narrow set of guidelines for authorized use. You have no right to do that, and you sure don’t have the right to do it at the expense of innocent people’s lives. A free society needs a free culture. Patents kill and freedom save people’s lives. This is as simple as it gets. Écrassez l’infâme: écrassez l’etat.

Further reading