Yes or no—but no ‘maybe so’—for the TPP

A contentious Congressional battle over the Trans-Pacific Partnership moved forward in late June when TPP advocates garnered the votes in both the House and Senate to grant President Barack Obama so-called ‘fast track’ authority on the controversial 12-nation trade agreement. Passage of Trade Promotion Authority (a.k.a. fast track) didn’t authorize the secretive trade deal per se, but it means that Congress will have only the option to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the TPP, with no ability to amend the agreement.

Critics derided the passage of fast track as a sellout to multinational corporations. Advocates countered by saying the TPP will enable U.S. products to reach more markets and revitalize the nation’s global economic leadership.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that passage of fast track “will help America write the rules of the road and ensure that our new global economy will be constructed to allow more hardworking Americans to compete and win.”

A slew of environmental groups, labor unions, and the majority of Democrats in Congress disagree. Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders issued a stinging rebuke on the Senate floor following the fast track vote. “In my view, this trade agreement will continue the policies of NAFTA, CAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China—agreements that have cost us millions of decent-paying jobs. We need a new trade policy in America, a policy that represents working families and not just the big money interests. I strongly disagree with the majority leader who called this ‘a great day for America.’ … It is not a great day for working families.”

Ross Ulbricht

“What you did in connection with Silk Road was terribly destructive to our social fabric.”

—Federal Judge Katherine B. Forrest, in handing down a life sentence to Ross Ulbricht, 31, creator of the notorious online marketplace for heroin, cocaine, LSD and other illegal drugs.

Silk Road operated in a hidden part of the Internet known as the dark web, allowing deals to be made anonymously and out of the reach of law enforcement. According to prosecutors, with Silk Road, Ulbricht had “developed a blueprint for a new way to use the Internet to undermine the law and facilitate criminal transactions.”

In handing down the maximum allowable sentence, Judge Forrest made it clear she was sending a message that “if you break the law this way, there will be very serious consequences.”

‘Actual Innocence’ Follow-up

Leon Brown, Henry McCollum

Two men wrongfully imprisoned for 31 years in North Carolina were pardoned last month, making them eligible for $750,000 each in compensation.

In April, Freedom reported the story of Leon Brown, who was serving a life sentence, and Henry McCollum, who sat on death row. The two men were released from prison in September 2014 after DNA evidence cleared them.

In 1983, McCollum and Brown—aged 19 and 15 at the time—were coerced into signing confessions written for them by police, and were subsequently convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl—in the absence of any other evidence they were involved in the crime.

The governor’s pardon allows the maximum compensation, which still amounts to less than $25,000 a year each for the time the men spent in prison. “It’s terrifying that our justice system allowed two intellectually disabled children to go to prison for a crime they had nothing to do with, and then suffer there for 30 years,” Ken Rose, McCollum’s attorney, said in a statement. “Henry watched dozens of people be hauled away for execution. It’s impossible to put into words what these men have been through and how much they have lost.”

TSA Fails 95 percent of the time

TSA Fail 95 percent of the time

Undercover Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents were able to smuggle fake explosives, weapons and other contraband past screeners at dozens of the nation’s busiest airports.

In an investigation by the DHS Inspector General, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) failed 67 out of 70 tests conducted by DHS personnel posing as passengers. In one case, a DHS undercover set off a metal detector, but during the ensuing pat down, TSA agents failed to find the fake bomb taped to his back.

After portions of the classified report were leaked to ABC News, the acting head of the TSA was reassigned and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) called for the rest of the security test’s findings to be declassified. “The publicly available facts are disturbing, but the classified details are even worse,” Sasse wrote in a USA Today op-ed. “Millions of families will soon fly to summer vacations, but if moms knew what members of Congress have learned behind closed doors, they would march on Washington demanding an urgent, top-to-bottom reevaluation of airport security.”

Subsidy news, regulation blues

EPA / FCC regulations


Following a move in February to classify the Internet as a public utility, the Federal Communications Commission voted on June 18 to subsidize Internet access for low-income Americans. The regulators opted to expand the $1.7 billion Lifeline program to give recipients a choice of using it for phone service, high-speed internet or both.

The move attempts to bridge the so-called digital divide faced by poorer Americans, and includes a proposal to put third parties—and not the phone or broadband service providers—in charge of determining the eligibility of recipients.


The Environmental Protection Agency announced in June that aircraft emissions endanger human health because they contribute to global warming. The endangerment finding begins a process to impose new emissions rules. The EPA was under pressure from environmental groups, which first petitioned the agency to regulate aircraft emissions in 2007 and sued it in 2010. A federal court ruled in favor of the green groups in 2012.

The airline industry says a global standard makes more sense, given that airlines operate all over the world. “If you’re a big airline and you’re flying to 100 countries a day, then complying with all those different regimes is an administrative nightmare,” Paul Steele, senior vice president at the International Air Transport Association, told Reuters.

Otherworld Rocket

Kudos for Otherworld Talent

Congratulations to Larry Niven, who was recognized in June at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) Nebula Awards. Niven, a judge in the 31st Annual L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest and author of numerous science fiction works, including the iconic novel Ringworld, was named the 2015 Damon Knight Grandmaster, one of SFWA’s highest honors.

“As Lev Grossman said in Time magazine about Niven’s work, ‘It’s a bravura demonstration of technology and psychology both playing off and feeding back into each other’,” says SFWA President Steven Gould. “This feedback loop—so fundamental to great science fiction’s power—is at the heart of Niven’s work: we create tools, and our tools shape the world, but they also shape us, in unintended and unexpected ways.”

You’re Speaking My Language

Remember Esperanto? Dr. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, a Polish ophthalmologist, devised the auxiliary language in 1887. He originally called it La Internacia Lingvo—The International Language—but it soon became known as Esperanto, which means “the hoping one.” Zamenhof believed that distrust between ethnic groups was rooted in language differences, so he created Esperanto as a lingua franca to break down barriers.

Esperanto attracted the suspicion of many totalitarian states. Esperantists were killed during the Holocaust (Zamenhof’s family was even singled out for murder.) and in 1935 the language was outlawed in Germany. Members of the Esperanto movement were also persecuted in Imperial Japan, Stalinist Russia and Francoist Spain.

But there’s still hope for the hoping one. According to a recent report by National Public Radio, between 200,000 and 2 million people still speak the language worldwide, with especially large pockets in Europe, China, Japan and Brazil. And the popular language-learning platform Duolingo will soon issue an Esperanto app. According to the company, the course has more than 32,000 students participating in the beta test.

La Universala Lingvo vivoj.

You can see what that means using Google Translate, which also supports Esperanto.