Friday, March 31, 2006

Tough New Counterfeit Goods Law

The President has signed the Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act. The law is based on the findings of Congress that counterfeit merchandise is a growing concern for the U.S. economy. The act specifically mentions automotive parts, electrical appliances, toys, and office equipment. The act also mentions a link between product counterfeiting and terrorist organizations.

The law adds language to the existing law to prohibit trafficking in tags, labels, containers, badges, wrappers, and similar products knowing that they contain a counterfeit mark. Products found to contain such marks are to be forfeited to the United States. While they're at it, the U.S. will also get the proceeds from the use of the marks and any property used to facilitate the commission of the offense. Look for that cool stuff at an auction near you. Lastly, the act forces the Sentencing Commission to review the relevant guidelines for criminal sentencing and, if appropriate, amend them.

U.S. & Peru Customs Cooperation

The U.S. and Peru have signed a mutual cooperation agreement for customs matters. According to this fancy video, the agreement will permit the sharing of intelligence, documents, and dog training expertise.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Immigration is Coming! Immigration is Coming!

Uh oh. Is immigration coming to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit? According to this article in the New York Times, it might be. Or maybe not. People seems upset about the idea. Except for those that proposed it.

Here's the thing, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit spends most of its time on patent cases. The rest is a mix of customs and trade, trademark, claims against the U.S., and certain federal employee complaints. The Senate is contemplating dropping about 12,000 immigration appeals on the Court and expanding it by three judges. The case load for individual judges would jump from 125 to 900.

I don't have much of an opinion on this is, but I think it is interesting. The idea seems to be that these cases are burdening the overloaded regional circuit courts and the Federal Circuit has the capacity to handle additional cases. Another point is that as a single forum, the Federal Circuit would provide a more uniform interpretation of the immigration laws. Of course, I worry that the the very significant increase in cases might delay action in customs and trade cases. The patent bar has apparently expressed a similar concern.

It looks as if Illinois' own Sen. Durbin will move to kill this proposal. We'll have to see. Another interesting question is whether opening discussions regarding the jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit might break open discussions on expanding the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of International Trade.

Friday, March 24, 2006

C

I'm not a science guy in any technical sense of the word. But, in the big picture, I am interested in science and I trust that it works. In the same way, I am dubious of any alleged phenomena that appear to violate a law of physics that I learned in highschool. So, I am willing to entertain the notion that there might be a big green monster in Loch Ness. I doubt that there is, but it does not violate any fundamental laws of physics, so what the heck. I am, however, not willing to accept reports of psychic healing, spoon bending, haunted rocking chairs, past life regressions, astrology, or a dozen other crackpot theories.

Today, while driving to work, a report came on the radio saying that Wisconsin is close to breaking a record for the number of deaths by snowmobile in a single year. The reporter from a Wisconsin radio station said, at least three times, that a problem with snowmobiles is that at night they "get out ahead of their lights." This strikes me as a problem of cosmic importance.

I know these souped up snowmobiles are fast, but I had no idea. To actually get out ahead of their lights (assuming we are talking headlights here), they would need to be going approximately 186,000 miles per second. My understanding is that if they were to do so, they would, relative to the rest of us, be gone for thousands of years. When they get back from the quick run to the local bar in the woods, everyone they know and love would be long dead. The Earth might be run by damned dirty apes.

Making matters more complicated, as the snowmobiles approach light speeds, they would (as viewed by a bystander) get taller, thinner, and heavier. Not something most of us want. At the same time, the careening snowmobiler would see the world going by all stretched out and flat.

None of this takes into account the many problems they would have accelerating to light speeds. Start with the sonic booms. Just a few hyperspeeding snowmobiles would cause havoc with the local environment. At some point, air friction would probably cause the snowmobile to burst into flames, also causing environmental damage. I have no idea how the operator breathes or withstands the G forces.

No wonder they are having accidents.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Instant Parking Karma

A big thanks to the stranger who helped me out this morning. The parking lot at my train station uses smart cards to pay the $1.75 meter. This morning, my card had only $1.50 on it. I figured I could deplete the card and put a quarter in the meter. No such luck. It would not split the payment method. I did not have enough in change to pay the full amount.

The guy parking next to me saw me walk away unpaid. I was going to the station to re-load the card. I would, however, have missed the approaching train. Without hesitating, the guy stuck his card in my meter. I offered to pay him in cash. His response was, "take care of someone else later."

Nice guy.

Thanks.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

When Calories Are Good

I think it is great when marketing and science collide. Marketing too often wins that fight. But, in the battle between Gatorade and Powerade, the science fight is going to court. Pepsi Sues Coke Over Powerade Ad - Forbes.com

The question seems to boil down to whether fewer calories in a sports drink actually improves performance. Coke seems to say it does. Of course, my highschool physics teacher would have us believe that a calorie is a measure of energy available in food. For performance and endurance sports, energy tends to be a good thing, not a detriment. Seems like Coke's ads might be sending exactly the wrong message to anyone who understands what sports drinks are intended to do.

I don't care, I'm a Powerbar drink guy anyway.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Last Guy at the Dance

Wayla-guy tells me that my blog volume is slipping. It's true. The risk of a substantive blog, rather than a completely anonymous personal blog, is that there may not be much going on. It's not that there have not been developments in customs law, its just that none have been all that interesting. If this were an entirely personal blog, I'd tell the world that I got my bike back from the shop and I'm ready for another season of commuting as soon as the weather cooperates. I'd also mention that I am in deep lust over a Felt F3c. It seems the folks at Felt can cram more carbon and better components into a bike at a lower price point than just about anyone. I'd also mention that I pulled the cover off my boat. A sure sign of spring.

But, that's not why we're here, is it?

How about this: Has anyone noticed that the WTO is starting to look a lot like that awkward kid with bad skin who no one wants on their kickball team? This is the same kid who ends up guarding the punch bowl at the dance because no one will ask him or her to actually dance. I don't know those kids personally, mind you. But, I hear they exist.

Why does the WTO look like an awkward loser? Take a look at the US dance card. We have free trade agreements with Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Chile, Australia, Jordan, Israel, Morocco, and much of Central America. We are also frantically flirting with Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Peru, and others. The primary objective of all this heavy breathing is the reduction of trade barriers between the parties and the imposition of formal rules to manage trade including dispute resolution (or maybe just to do favors for our international friends).

Funny thing, the job of the WTO is the reduction of trade barriers between the parties and the imposition of formal rules to manage trade including dispute resolution. Of course, the problem is that the WTO brings with it a certain amount of baggage. Generally, that baggage is the big economies namely the European Union, Japan, Brazil, and others. These are the countries where the US has actual trade issues of importance. It is these countries that present serious questions regarding agricultural subsidies and other issues. So, the difficulty in reaching a WTO-level agreement to reduce trade barriers and improve transparency comes from the big economies (and blocs of smaller economies).

So, the current US strategy appears to be to simply avoid those problems by cutting deals that can be cut. This is great for the countries involved because they will have expanded access to the US market. US investors will generally get better protection from unfair governmental action and US exports might see some increased trade. That's all good, but it is clearly the low hanging fruit.

Don't get me wrong, the FTA with Morocco is all well and good. But, it is not going to make much of a difference to the US economy. In the 15 years I have been in this practice, no one ever called me upset that they had no access to the Moroccan market.

If I were the WTO right now, I'd be headed to the dermatologist and the gym. The Doha round has not produced much in the way of important developments. The world is filled with people suspicious or hostile to globalization as a matter of principle. And, the WTO itself is hampered (if that is the right word) by its very purpose, which is to be a global organization. But all these bilateral or multilateral deals undermine the usefulness of the WTO as an entity. As long as the US, in particular, seems uninterested in the larger international stage provided by the WTO, the organization will look more like Urkel than the king of cool.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Updates

CBP on ICE

It seems some people in authority are taking seriously the notion that ICE and CBP should never have been separated. According to this article, Representatve Kendrick Meek (D-Fla) proposed an amendment to a DHS management organization bill to merge the two agencies. The amendment was ultimately pulled after there was an agreement to have hearings on the topic. Stay tuned.

Is That A Human Head in Your Luggage?

The woman caught smuggling a human head in from Haiti will have to wait a bit longer before getting into court. Apparently, her counsel is working on a plea deal to keep her out of jail. It seems if the voodoo really worked, she would not be too worried about jail time.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Condee, Call Me

Today's Chicago Tribune had a short piece about Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's recent meeting with Bolivia's President Evo Morales while in Chile for the inauguration of the new president there. During the meeting, Mr. Morales gave Secretary Rice a traditional Bolivian charango, which is a small stringed instrument. This particular instrument includes a back lacquered with coca leaves. The gesture is full of political overtomes because Mr. Morales was once the president of the coca growers union. The Trib describes Morales as having led a "sometimes violent" fight against U.S. efforts to eradicate his crops.

But, more relevant to me, the article quotes a State Department person as saying they need to check with Customs as to whether the thing is admissible (given that it is made of coca and all). I don't know the answer. But, I am pretty certain I know where to look and would charge a very reasonable fee for the advice.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Where's Larry?

As I have recently said, I have a very clear idea of how many people read this blog and some sense of who they are. This is not a big-time operation. It is something I do primarily for my own amusement. So, why do I feel guilty? Why do I feel pressure to post? Who knows, but I do.

The reason I have not posted in a while is two fold. First, I was on vacation. That was good. I came home from vacation sick. That was bad. Pretty much all week, I have been down with fever. I feel like a lizard--I seem incapable of controlling my body temperature. At least I did. Today I am feeling much better, thank you.

What I have been doing with my time is watching my new favorite show: History Detectives. This is a very cool show in which a team of professionals investigate the interesting little stories and artifacts people submit. For example, a woman from Greenwich Village asked whether John Wilkes Booth may have plotted to kill Lincoln in her living room. They hunt down real estate records, theater historians, and other evidence to determine that Booth was in New York at the relevant time and that the house had been occupied by an actor friend of Booth's. Eventually, they found that Booth's friend had given testimony to the congressional investigation recounting a meeting with Booth in which he explained a plot to kidnap Lincoln. It's very cool when it comes together like that.

In another episode, two sisters in Louisiana wanted proof that their short sword (technically a dirk) was given to their ancestor by Napoleon. Turns out the dirk was made too late to have belonged to Napoleon. But, they dug up info on the ancestor and found out that he was present at the Battle of Wagram. In fact, he was a hero and captured the enemy flag. Guess what, Napoleon did in fact give him an honorary weapon. But it was a pistol, not a dirk. Again, it is cool to see family stories revealed.

That is all relevant to absolutely nothing. But, it is what was on my DVR and what I have been watching while doped up on cold medicine and too addle-brained to work. It beats the heck out of Oprah, Regis, or--Lord help me--The View.

My flu fog is lifting. I hope to be back to substantive work soon.