Thursday, May 14, 2015

5.14.15 THE WILD WIRED WEST


This article originally appeared in the 5.14.15 issue of Metroland.

Wonders never cease.  It looks like my mountain house in this tiny Berkshire mountain town is gonna get some serious broadband internet.  We’re talking fiber, and we’re talking something like $50 a month.

            I live in a broadband-free town.  I don’t think any cable providers serve the town, but some folks on the main roads get Verizon DSL.  Which sucks as far as serious internet goes.  And since Verizon is under no obligation to hook up everybody in town (like they are for landline telephone), those of us who live off the beaten path have been stuck with satellite internet.  Which totally sucks as far as serious broadband goes.  First you need to put up a dish to talk to the satellite – when I moved into my house I discovered I had to pay $5000 to cut down the three huge trees that were blocking my signal.  Then I got this slow satellite pretend broadband.  They say “lightening-fast speeds up to 15 bps” but it’s more like 2-3 bps.  And it’s metered, like cellphone data, so when I run out of my monthly allotment, I have to buy more.  And it’s expensive.  No Netflix for me! No Apple TV!  No Hulu!

            For awhile, I had something called Wild Blue internet.  It would shut down about once a week, sending me to customer service hell to find out what was wrong and when I might get my internet back.  Then last year my modem crapped out.  Wild Blue couldn’t manage to get someone to bring me a new one, and they couldn’t just send me one, that’s too simple!  So after being dark for three weeks I canceled my service and had the only other provider, Hughesnet, come out and put another dish up, and now I’m back in business.  Slow, annoying, expensive business.  And when you cancel satellite service, they don’t come take the dish down.  It costs too much and even a dead dish is free advertising for the company that couldn’t cut it.  So one day soon I’ll go out with a hacksaw and cut the damn thing down myself.

            A couple of years ago I heard that the state was putting fiber optic cables, supposedly just about the fastest, highest capacity broadband portals there are, along some main roads in rural Western Mass.  Like through my town.  But it didn’t matter, they weren’t hooking up houses, and they sure weren’t going up the side roads.  Then there was the announcement of something called Wired West, a not-for-profit looking to do some kind of “public-private partnership” was trying to figure out a way to provide “last mile” wiring so everybody had broadband. 

            I didn’t pay much attention, really.  I was PO’d that the phone and cable companies weren’t doing it.  This warm-fuzzy cooperative rah rah “initiative” seemed like so much hopeless drivel.

            Boy oh boy was I wrong.  Wired West figured out that under state law, if a town wanted to, it could form a “municipal light plant” to provide utility services to its citizens.  The town could then use its low-cost municipal borrowing power to get the money to build out the broadband infrastructure.  And if enough towns joined together on this, the thing would pretty much pay for itself from subscriber fees.  There were conditions: 60% of the households in each town needed to sign up and send in a $50 deposit, and the bond issue needed to be approved by a 2/3 vote at a town meeting.   For a while I was thinking “good luck with that.”

            Last Friday night we had our big town meeting to vote on this.  The fire hall was packed, SRO, and there were a lot of faces some of my local friends didn’t recognize.  There was energy in the room.  After a pretty detailed presentation from Wired West, the matter was put up for discussion. 

            Now, when I moved to Massachusetts from New York in the early 2000’s I discovered something about the ol’ Commonwealth:  they really like their participatory democracy over here.  All sorts of things that in New York would get decided by elected bodies or election day ballots get elected over here in public meetings.  After a “public discussion.”  It’s a grand thing in principal; in practice maybe not so much. Often times the attendance at the town meetings are less than 10% of the enrolled voters.  That certainly wasn’t the case Friday.  Then there’s the “public discussion” part.  Oh dear.  Bloviators.  There’s a few in every crowd, and this being a rather moneyed Noo Yawkah retirement town, there’s a few more than a few.  The questions came and came, not so much in search of answers but to demonstrate one’s incisive brilliance to friends and neighbors.  What if this? What if that?  Are you aware that yadda yadda yadda?  I almost yelled “What if God and Superman had a fight, you self-important twits?” but I refrained.

            After a couple hours it passed, nearly unanimously, as it has in a dozen other little towns and as it will in a couple dozen more.  And in a couple of years, we’ll have fabulous internet, TV and telephone, and we’ll own the company that’s providing it.  And you just can’t beat that, babe.


Paul Rapp is an IP attorney who tends to get impatient with the democratic process, especially after a few cocktails.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

4.30.15 Spinal TPP


This article originally appeared in the 4.30.15 issue of Metroland.

You may have caught wind about a bizarre firefight going on between Obama and some prominent Democrats, most notably Elizabeth Warren, over some trade agreements with catchy acronyms like TPP, TIPP, and TAFTA.  This is been a train wreck waiting to happen for a couple years; until now I haven’t paid much attention because the very thought of trade agreements tends to make me drowzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

            What?  Hey!  OK, I’m back.  There are troubling things aplenty with these agreements, one being the process of how they came about.  These agreements have been negotiated for several years in secrecy among various countries’ “trade representatives” who typically are “advised” by “industry leaders”.  Got that?  Absolutely no transparency.  Just government and corporations.  During the last several years virtually everything we’ve learned about these agreements have been via leaks.  While major corporations have had access and input, we regular folk have not, labor unions have not, economic and legal scholars have not, environmental agencies have not, human rights agencies have not.  Why the big secret?  Remarkably, the official word is that if people found out what was in these agreements, they’d never be adopted.  Which lead Senator Warren to observe a couple of years ago “[i]f transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”  Can I get a “duh”?

            Well, maybe it’s a big secret that, as Obama has been yelling, is actually in our best interests.  We should just trust him.  How much I would love to.  How much we just can’t.

            The little bit we know about these things include an expanded role for something called “corporate sovereignty.”   This is where a deliberative body of international business mucky-mucks will preside over what are essentially lawsuits brought by “investor-states” (meaning international corporations) against countries that institute laws or policies that might diminish the corporations’ profits.  The countries can be made to pay damages if this is found to be the case.  Yes, you read that right.

            Say a poor third world country, tired of having huge corporations raping its environment with clear-cutting, mining, particularly dirty industrial operations, etc. decides enough is enough and enacts environmental laws patterned after those in place in the United States.  The poor third world country would face an onslaught of highly paid corporate attorneys seeking compensation on behalf of their “investor state” clients.  Say a big movie studio gets upset with a US court’s fair use copyright ruling, or a pharmaceutical company doesn’t like a patent getting rejected, or an agri-business conglomerate doesn’t like losing a commercial disparagement case it brought against environmental activists?  You see where we’re going here?  Sickening, right?

            Obama has been uncharacteristically and disappointingly aggressive and disingenuous in his defense of these treaties, resorting to the kind of corporate-hugging doublespeak normally associated with Koch-funded Republicans.  He’s demanding that opponents specify what they don’t like about the treaties.  Well, (a) I just did, and (b) the sum total of my and everybody else who’s not a high-level corporate stooge’s knowledge of the treaties comes from leaks, because the full texts of the agreements are STILL SECRET!  Obama argues that the treaties aren’t secret because members of Congress can go the trade representative’s office and review them.  For god’s sake!  The deal is that individual members of Congress (just the actual members, no staff) can go to the office of the US Trade Representative somewhere in Washington DC and look at the treaty while being monitored by USTR staff because copying and note taking are not allowed!  What country is this again?

            Even worse, Obama is deriding opponents as “conspiracy theorists” and just this week claimed that the “corporate sovereignty” arguments are old news, because there are similar provisions in NAFTA, a trade treaty that’s over 20 years old.  This is just sad.  It’s a John Boehner move.  What corporate sovereignty is and how it works has been expanding dramatically in recent years, and what we know about these new treaties indicates new mechanisms by which corporations can run roughshod over countries.  Conspiracy theorists?  Really?  It’s like we’re all Peter Finch and Obama has turned into Ned Beatty screaming at us that we have all meddled with the primal forces of goddamned nature.  Give me a break.

            I’d like to think that this is yet another Obama rope-a-dope, where he’s posturing in order to get what he wants.  Because I can’t believe that he really wants these treaties as they appear to be, that he really approves of the way this has all gone down, that he thinks that this three-card monte of a process is how democracy ought to function.  But when I see him standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Mitch McConnell and the one-percenter robber barons who are championing this travesty, my heart sinks.


Paul Rapp is a local intellectual property lawyer who endeavors to persevere and thinks the new Sean Rowe EP is spectacular.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

4.16.15 LUSTRE KINGS GO GREEN


This article originally appeared in the 4.16.15 issue of Metroland.

GO GREEN

The Lustre Kings

Wild Boar Records

            This is the Lustre Kings’ fifth album and it’s a whopper.  The first thing that will hit you is the sound; big, luscious and right.  Liam Hogg’s drums punch, Chops’ bass is bottomless.  Wow.  Hats off to producers Cliff Lyons and Sten Isachson for crafting a big-league record.

            Like their soulmates, the late, lamented Morells, the Kings dig deep to find swinging obscurities that are a couple steps to the left of normal, and then serve them up with a wink and a spit-shine.  The trio of “It Ain’t Right” (Gordon Terry), “Wrong Wrong Wrong” (John Lilly) and “Can’t Find The Door Knob” (Jimmy and Johnny) left me dizzy from giggling.  Go Green is a great rockabilly record doubling as a master’s thesis on Americana weirdness.  That you can dance to.

            You can hear the smile in Mark Gamsjager’s voice, kind of a Dave Edmunds-y high and lonesome wail.  Kevin Maul’s expert steel guitar touches add a bit of Texas, and takes everything higher and lonesomer.  And then there’s Mother Judge, who I could listen to all the day and all of the night.  Her guest vocals on the Brill Building nugget “Fallin’” might be the best thing you’ll hear all year.  She’s the highest and lonesomest of them all.

            Maul’s featured on the Santo and Johnny classic “Sleepwalk”, which is drop dead gorgeous, and guest guitarist Bobby Henrie blows up the room with some killer shredding.  Go Green is an adventure, and a fun one, from start to finish.



Wednesday, April 01, 2015

4.2.15 Jesus, Etc.


This article originally appeared in the 4.2.15 issue of Metroland.

           

            So, the demented clown car that is the Republican, Christianista, fascist, hate-mongering right wing has had its karma chickens come home to roost.

            This is what happens when dark money fills up state legislatures with fake-conservative stooges, who redistrict the state to insure an anti-democratic stoogist hegemony for years to come, supported by a distinct minority of uneducated morons who are whipped into a lather by fake, big-lie “news” outlets controlled by the same sources of the dark money that put the stooges in office.  The issues that the fake news outlets peddle are all fear-based and phony, and the morons believe them and cling to their Bibles and guns and support the stooges who dutifully enslave the morons by quietly stripping them of their financial well-being in the name of “freedom.”  Welcome to Indiana.

            It’s beyond sickening.  A law called “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act” which is nothing more than a license to engage in wholesale discrimination.  Signed in a closed ceremony where Governor Mike Spence, Stooge-In-Chief, refused to identify the handful of lobbyist-attendees, some of whom were notorious anti-gay zealots.  Then we see Pence feigning outrage that anyone would consider the law as a portal to discrimination, cowardly playing the victim of “outside hostility”, and lying repeatedly about the law and its effects.  He even invoked a visit he made to Selma to try to prove that 1 plus 1 equals 3.  Some have suggested that Pence is just stupid.  I won’t give him that benefit of the doubt.  He is evil.  He is a stooge.

            To make this even more insidious, all of the major Republican presidential candidates have rushed to his defense, as have all of the right-wing fake news outlets.  And much of the mainstream press has presented the debacle in the sickening light of “false equivalence” that maybe there are two sides to this story.  There’s not.  There is nothing but hate, fear and greed cloaked in un-American, un-Christian dogma. 

            And in that delightful Southern tradition of shooting yourself in your big ol’ white-trash foot, the Arkansas legislature rushed through an identical bill, as if to say (insert pathetic southern accent here) “ain’t no gott-damn libruls gonna tell us what to do down hee-yah.”  Let’s break out the Bud Light, Skoal and Crisco and have a party!

            But, amazingly, there’s been push-back.  Big conferences scheduled for Indiana have been cancelled, huge corporations like Apple and Wal-Mart have gone public with criticism. Yes, I said Wal-Mart.  State and city governments have banned travel to Indiana, including New York and Connecticut.  Massachusetts is apparently just watching, with its newly-elected Republican governor not raising a finger against his Super-bowl betting buddy Gov. Pence.  Come on, man.  Grow a pair.  You won the bet.  Make it hurt.

            And then there’s Wilco, who canceled a May concert in Indianapolis in protest.  One wonders why more acts haven’t done the same thing.  A quick look at Pollstar shows plenty of shows coming to the hate-state, among them: Weezer, Imagine Dragons, Rihanna, Passion Pit, Neal Diamond, Chick Corea, Surfjan Stevens, Big Sean, Arlo Gutrie, Kenny G…  Maybe they’ll say something on stage.  Maybe.  The delightful Audra McDonald, who’s got a couple Indiana shows coming up, slammed Gov. Pence on twitter (“Some in my band are gay & we have 2 gigs in your state next month. Should we call ahead to make sure the hotel accepts us all?”) and then announced she’d donate the money she made in Indiana to the Human Rights Campaign.

            One wonders what kind of a haircut Wilco is taking by cancelling the gig.  They were going to play the 2500 seat Murat Theater in Indianapolis with tickets priced from $30-$50.  So let’s assume a gate of around $100,000, most of which would go to Wilco.  And then there’s lost merch sales.  There was probably a substantial deposit (often 50% of the guarantee) that will have to be returned.  And the promoter is out-of-pocket for hall rental, promotional expenses, and the like for which Wilco will be responsible.  Or will they?

            There is a standard performance contract clause, with the fancy name of the force majeur clause, that excuses each party from any obligations to the other under certain circumstances that would render the show “impossible, infeasible or unsafe.”  My favorite circumstance is the performer’s “inability to perform.”  Imagine.  The other circumstances include things like acts of God, civil insurrection (cool!), explosions, fires, bad weather, labor strikes, and “act(s) or regulation(s) of any public authority or bureau.”

            Could Wilco prevail claim that the passage of Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act made its performance in Indianapolis “infeasible” (which means not possible to do easily or conveniently) so it can invoke the force majeur clause?  When all these other acts are willfully doing their shows?  Maybe Wilco should invoke the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act and say that its religious beliefs make performing in a state with such a law infeasible.  That’ll show ‘em.


Paul Rapp is a local entertainment attorney who has no religious beliefs to speak of.