Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Congratulations are in Order

Leo M. Gordon, presently Clerk of the U.S. Court of International Trade, has been nominated to be a Judge of that very Court. He will likely fill the slot vacated by Judge Aquilino who has taken Senior Status.

But, that is not the main point. The main point is that for what is very likely the last time in his life, Mr. Gordon is listed next to and ahead of Judge Samuel Alito on this Senate list of nominees.

One Face at the Border. No, two!

It has never been clear to anyone why in the process of making the Department of Homeland Security, half of Customs was carved off into another agency. Previously, we had the U.S. Customs Service in the Department of Treasury. Customs had compliance folks, entry personnel, and investigative agents (known as "Special Agents"). When Customs moved to Homeland Security, it was merged together with Immigration and Naturalization folks and some Agriculture Inspectors. The stated goal was to produce "one face at the border." This required cross training Customs Inspectors for agriculture issues, Immigration inspectors for customs issues, etc. There is a certain undeniable logic in this.

But, the Special Agents (and their Immigration equivalents) were moved into a wholly different bureau called Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

This has not worked all that smoothly. There is growing pressure in Washington to merge the agencies. That would make sense. Special Agents are there to help enforce the customs laws and regulations as well as to interdict narcotics and the instrumentalities of terrorism. Their job would appear to require constant contact with other customs and immigration professionals. They need to be coordinated and there is probably some redundancy in function and expense.

Right now seems to be an opportune time to do this. The Commissioner of Customs is, as of today, a private citizen. And, Julie Myers, the nominee to head up ICE has not been confirmed (and may not be). Maybe what is needed is a single person designated to run both agencies simultaneously with the stated goal of bringing them together by some date certain.

There is a good article about some of this here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Another Blogger Exposed

Sadly, Underneath Their Robes is no more. This was a great blog that focused on the judges of the federal judiciary the way People Magazine focuses on Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie. The blogger, who went by the nom de blog of "Article III Groupie" and was apparently female, turns out to have been a male Assistant U.S. Attorney from New Jersey. According to this article, he was frustrated that he received no credit for the great success of his blog. He was voluntarily outed in a New Yorker column by Jeffrey Toobin. Now, following a discussion with his boss, the site is locked down. Too bad we won't be able to follow the Alito confirmation process through UTR.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

People who need my services but don't know it.

Prospective client 1: Brooke Burke.

According to this New York Times article, Ms. Burke (and other celebrities) have endorsement deals with foreign-based internet gambling sites. These deals are potentially illegal under federal law. Now, I am not a criminal lawyer, but there is a trade law issue here. In March of 2003, Antigua and Barbuda requested WTO consultations with the US to discuss whether US anti-gambling laws prohibiting on-line gambling through sites operated outside the US violated US commitments under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). In November of 2004, a WTO panel held that the US had, in fact, violated its commitment to permit free trade in services including gaming. So, it would seem that the US might have an incentive to loosen up these laws and Ms. Burke could keep her gig. Unfortunately for her (and the others including Jesse Ventura and James Woods), the US appealed and won in an April 7, 2005 Appellate Body Report. The report says the US can prohibit online gambling under the protection of public morals exception but has to adjust the rules of interstate betting on horse racing.

So, even though just about every state has a lottery and most have casinos of one sort or another, the US can protect the public morals by prohibiting people from playing cards online for money. It is a good thing the US has stepped in here. It would be terrible if the internet were allowed to become a portal through which indecency could be delivered into the homes of right-thinking Americans. Oh wait . . . .

Prospective Client 2: The American Association of Museums and its members.

This is more of a customs issue. This New York Times article discusses the issue museums are facing dealing with claims over the patrimony of cultural properties. This is a really interesting area of law that intersects with customs law because, in the US, CBP's Intellectual Property branch is the enforcement agency.

The underlying problem is that countries can lay claim to historically and culturally significant artifacts through local laws and the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The local laws basically declare that all artifacts undiscovered at a certain date are the property of the country. Anyone who digs one up and tries to sell it or export it is effectively stealing the artifact. Then, if it is entered into the US, it can be seized as stolen property. Also, the US has a process of recognizing claims by foreign countries through the State Department's activities under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. A list of designated protected countries and material can be found here.

As you might imagine, this is all very important to museums, auction houses, and private collectors. The worst case scenario is happening to Marion True, former antiquities curator at the Getty Museum.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Superior It's Said, Never Gives Up Its Whales

Today is the 30th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Those of us who live near the Great Lakes know that they are easily whipped up by storms and can provide treacherous sailing. I have a small sailboat (the one in the picture) on Lake Michigan and, on occasion, I see large ore boats coming and going. They are an impressive sight among the more pedestrian sailboats, fishing boats, and cruisers. Personally, as interesting as a lake passage might be on one of these boats, I have no interest in being somewhere between Milwaukee and Ludington when a storm hits.

You can find out everything you ever wanted to know about Great Lakes shipping here. One cool feature on that site is real time ship location reporting.

One thing I have never seen in Lake Michigan is a whale. I'll keep looking. Perhaps these folks can help.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bring Out Your Dead

President Bush just returned from a summit in South America. While there, he unsuccessfully tried to defribulate the comatose talks to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas. This agreement is sort of the Holy Grail of regional pacts. It would link 34 western hemisphere democracies in a loose trade bloc (think NAFTA writ large, not the EU). Cuba, by the way, is one country on the outside looking in. It turns out this is unlikely to happen. The US and Brazil are at loggerheads over agricultural subsidies and Venezuela is not exactly on good terms with President Bush (or Pat Robertson) either.

The bigger issue for the FTAA may just be that there is a bigger issue: finishing the Doha Round of WTO talks. That also looks like it need life support. The US and EU have made a proposals over the past month to reduce tariffs but neither side is happy with the other's proposal. The EU, driven by the French, insist the the US proposal cuts subsidies too deeply. Still, the US proposal is not a deep enough cut to satisfy some developing countries. That sound you hear is that approaching stalemate.

It appears that this impasse has actually grown into a breakdown. According to a transcript of a USTR briefing, USTR Portman said: "I am sorry to report that we've not made the progress that we had hoped to make in order to put together a program for the Hong Kong meeting that would enable us to set forth a framework or as the WTO language would be 'modalities' in order for us to complete the negotiation more rapidly." Without a framework for negotiations, the WTO meeting in Hong Kong may be useless.

The meeting could result in an agreement on the non-controversial low-hanging fruit. That would allow everyone to declare victory. Or, the meeting might be cancelled or postponed to let negotiators get past this hurdle. Or, the meeting might be held and fall apart. That would be a terrible blow to the WTO which is already staggering. But, it's not dead yet. Actually, it may be feeling quite a bit better. Perhaps Seattle and Cancun were nothing but flesh wounds.

The US did succeed in getting a deal with China to limit textile imports starting January 1, 2006. The deal imposes quotas on 34 categories of clothing through 2008. That is a win for the Administration and the domestic industry. Predictably (and reasonably), retailers see it differently.

Camera Toss (The Blog)

OK, I admit this is silly. It is also not a good way to treat a digital camera. And, I know David Pogue of the NY Times already mentioned it in his blog (which people actually read). But, it is oddly compelling.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Basement Cycling

The bike commuting season is over; at least for me. It is too cold and too dark. I know there is gear to resolve these issues. I am the king of gear. I love gear. I own expensive winter cycling clothes, Neoprene shoe covers, gloves and glove liners. No matter what I wear, my fingertips become painfully cold when it is under 50 degrees outside. As to lights, adding lights to my bike would involve an HID/LED system and I am not up for a $400-$500 accessory just so I can ride at night.

My alternative is the basement criterium. I prop my bike up in a trainer not as nice as this one, and then ride for a while. As you might imagine, riding to nowhere in the basement can be painfully boring leaving my mind to wander where it should not. So, if you are similarly afflicted, here are things to do to keep you going for a couple hours:

  1. Watch movies involving cycling such as The Bicycle Thief (little actual riding), Quicksilver (crazy messenger riding), Breaking Away (a great movie), The Triplets of Belleville (a surreal French cartoon about a Tour racer literally trapped on a trainer), and the best of the bunch A Sunday in Hell (about the 1976 Paris to Roubaix road-mud-cobblestone race).
  2. Plot various schemes to take over your personal corner of the world.
  3. Fill your MP3 player with music from The Bicycle Men.
  4. Swear at Troy Jacobson while following (or trying to follow) his Spinerval videos. These are hardcore spinning classes designed for cyclists much more fit than me. The workouts have names like "Sweating Buckets," "Suffer-O-Rama," "Have Mercy," and "Tough Love." I have three of these and can only finish one. The other two reduce me to a sweating, heaving, unintelligible heap.

Customs has been quiet for a while. I promise substantive content to follow.


Yes, I know, I forgot the unforgettable Pee Wee's Big Adventure.